Celebrating 50 Years of God’s Faithfulness in South Korea

Billy Graham and his interpreter, Pastor Billy Kim, at the 1973 Seoul Crusade. At the final meeting (above) of the five-day evangelistic outreach, 1.1 million people heard the Gospel, the largest crowd the evangelist ever addressed in person.
Billy Graham and his interpreter, Pastor Billy Kim, at the 1973 Seoul Crusade. At the final meeting (above) of the five-day evangelistic outreach, 1.1 million people heard the Gospel, the largest crowd the evangelist ever addressed in person.

On June 3, Franklin Graham will share the Gospel at a special anniversary event commemorating his father, Billy Graham’s, historic 1973 Crusade in Seoul, South Korea. Will Graham will proclaim the same Good News at an outreach for students on June 2.

In late spring of 1973, Billy Graham stood in front of a multitude of people—more than 1 million who gathered on a runway used during the Korean War. It was the largest crowd he had ever preached to in person.

“That was so incredible, I could hardly take it in,” Billy Graham later recalled.

Billy Graham stands with his interpreter, Pastor Billy Kim, in 1973. In December 2022, the Billy Graham Library dedicated Billy Kim Hall in honor of the evangelist to Asia. The room serves as a training facility and hosts special events.

It was June 3, 1973, the finale of his Seoul, South Korea, Crusade. Over the course of five days, 3.2 million people came to hear the American preacher, many walking long distances.

People were hungry for hope after years of Japanese occupation, war, poverty, and the transition to become the Republic of Korea.

Billy Graham shared about a living God, something many in this nation had never heard. His interpreter, a young pastor named Billy Kim, passionately interpreted Graham’s words and gestures, and when the evangelist invited the crowd to receive Christ, many prayed to commit their lives to Him. Altogether, 75,000 people made this life-changing decision during the massive outreach.

The historic event altered the spiritual landscape of this fragile nation, fueling a boom of new churches and faithful Christ followers. In the five decades since then, the number of Christians across South Korea has tripled.

Next month marks 50 years since the event, and Pastor Kim is leading an anniversary rally at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on June 3 to celebrate what God did through the Crusade. Franklin Graham will proclaim the same Good News his dad shared decades earlier, and Will Graham will speak to Seoul students at an evangelistic outreach the day before.

Korean soldiers listen closely at the 1973 Billy Graham Crusade.

‘I Wanted a Different Life’

“I can still hear his voice in my memory,” recalled Mi-sook.*

From where she sat, the 9-year-old couldn’t see Billy Graham’s face but remembers his words sounded loud and “echoey” over the speakers.

“If you’re willing to forsake all other gods, stand up,” said Billy Graham. There was a hush among the 1.1 million people, tucked close together and listening through loudspeakers placed throughout the mile-long runway.

By making a decision to receive Jesus Christ, many would be abandoning long-held Buddhist beliefs and possibly be rejected by family members.

They started standing, one here, one there, until thousands were on their feet, asking God in prayer to forgive their sins and surrendering their hearts to Christ.

Mi-sook had done this earlier that year, when an older neighbor invited her to church.

“I heard the Gospel and that Jesus died for me,” she said. “Once I heard that story, that was it. My life was changed.

“Going to church was the only thing I wanted to do.”

The young girl—whose family members were devoted Buddhists—would walk 30 minutes in the dark every morning for a 4:30 a.m. prayer meeting at a nearby church.

At overnight prayer services on Fridays, Mi-sook would pray all night. “My family situation wasn’t too good,” she said. “There was a lot of peace there [at church]—and I wanted a different life.”

After leaving home at 16, Mi-sook became a victim of human trafficking.

“I wanted to kill myself,” she said. At night, when she was allowed outside, Mi-sook would walk to a lighthouse nearby. “There were big waves [and] I just wanted to step into the water,” she shared.

Through tears, Mi-sook recalled how much the Gospel meant to her and how it kept her from ending her life. “God brought me out of there,” she explained.

When she was freed a few years later, she moved to the United States, where she met her husband. Together, they raised four children to know Christ.

Hearing that Franklin Graham is going back to Seoul floored the longtime Sunday school teacher.

“I couldn’t have imagined I would see this next generation [hear the Gospel] from Billy Graham’s son,” she said. “Just like his dad, he is working for God’s kingdom.”

Despite the pain in Mi-sook’s childhood, she has hope today because of Jesus Christ—and faith that He will use her past for His glory now and in the days to come.

“If God can use my story for His kingdom, I’m willing. What He’s going to do with it, that’s His part.”

*Name changed

Billy and Ruth Bell Graham were warmly greeted at the airport by the Korean people, as well as a choir.