It was 1972 when President Park Chung-hee built a massive square made of asphalt in Yeouido, Seoul. The following year, Rev. Billy Graham, world-renowned U.S. evangelist, delivered a sermon to more than one million people in the square. The political situation was grim, but hopes for economic growth were high and shared across the nation. Korean people who left rural villages and moved to cities sought comfort from religion. Churches held evangelism meetings in South Korea, a trend led by Graham.
Your reporter was not at the 1973 convention in Yeouido, but attended the 1980 convention also held at the same venue and equally large in size. His sermon appealed to the heart, rather than by logical reasoning. South Korean Rev. Kim Jang-hwan translated Graham’s words before he could finish his sentences. Kim, who later served as the chairman of the Baptist Missionary Society, became well known after translating for Graham in 1973. Without Kim, who once worked as a house boy at the American army base in Korea, Rev. Billy Graham’s sermon would not have been as powerful.
In 1950, Rev. Billy Graham met with President Harry Truman and urged him to repel Communist North Korea, visited Korea during the war in 1952 and preached. He also visited North Korea twice in the 1990s and met with Kim Il Sung, who not only welcomed the chance to meet with the spiritual counselor of many American presidents but tried to leverage him as a dialogue channel with the United States. Graham tried to persuade Kim to build a church for foreigners in Pyongyang, but to no avail.
Rev. Billy Graham’s kinship with U.S. presidents and Rev. Kim’s connection to Graham had a significant influence on South Korea-U.S. relations. During the South Korea-U.S. summit last year, Rev. Kim made arrangements for Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, to meet with President Moon Jae-in for a one hour private meeting. President Moon spoke of his parents rescued during the Hungnam Evacuation, which was later communicated to the U.S. president and vice president and played a vital role in facilitating the meeting. Rev. Billy Graham, being a spiritual leader of the United States, played an influential role in world politics, one of the greatest preachers in the history of Protestantism, has passed away.