Graham Highlights Progress With Religious Expression and Rapid Growth of Christianity
At the invitation of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Christian church, Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, concluded a 10-day visit with officials and church leaders in Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai.
Graham, who first visited mainland China with his father and mother 20 years ago, has been impressed with the vibrant growth of the church and the progress with religious expression in China.
“It’s one thing to hear stories or read about China in the news, but it’s another to meet with people face to face and learn directly from them about their country,” said Graham. “Leaving China, I am so encouraged by the growth of the Christian faith in this nation and also hopeful for the direction the government is taking in the area of religious freedom.”
A Historic Day for Religious Freedom
One of the highlights of Graham’s visit was his historic sermon on May 11, preaching to 12,000 people in the 6,000-seat Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian Church, the largest in the country. According to the senior pastor, this event was the largest Christian church gathering in China’s history. Following Graham’s sermon, 1,250 people responded to the invitation, and Bibles were given out to those who made decisions to follow Jesus Christ.
“Through all my travels, this was certainly a moment that will be special to me for the rest of my life,” said Graham. “Not only was it significant because of the size of the gathering, but it was the first Mother’s Day since the passing of my own mother who was born here in China. I believe, in a way, this was a continuation of her love and passion for the people of this nation.”
Immediate Response to Devastating Earthquake
Within hours of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands on May 12 in the Sichuan Province of western China, Graham, on behalf of Samaritan’s Purse, committed 1 million RMB ($150,000 USD) to assist in the immediate relief efforts. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has now matched the donation bringing the total to 2 million RMB ($300,000), and Samaritan’s Purse has staff in China continuing to work with local officials to look for additional ways to aid in the crisis.
“We want to do anything we can to help these people who have suffered so much,” said Graham. “I’ve been very impressed by the response of the Chinese government, but if needed, we are offering additional aid and assistance in the coming days and weeks.”
Urgent Need for Pastors
While in Nanjing, Graham spoke to faculty and students at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Leaders at the seminary expressed how the greatest need for the church in China is for more pastors. The church is growing so quickly that there is not enough theologically trained faculty to prepare the next generation of clergy.
During his visit to the seminary, Graham was presented with a commemorative Bible representing the 50 millionth Bible printed in China. “This gift is significant because now China is the nation that prints more Bibles than any other on earth. I believe in the near future, God may use the church in China to touch the world more significantly than any other country.”
Welcomed by Governments
In addition to meeting with local church leaders, Graham also met with several government officials and departments. U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt hosted Graham at the Embassy in Beijing and thanked him for his “significant visit” at such an important time in the history of China. The following evening the former Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States held a dinner for Graham at the People’s Republic of China State Guest House and invited him to the opening ceremonies of the upcoming Olympics in Beijing (Graham is currently scheduled to be in North Korea at that time).
“As I leave China, I know there is a greater understanding of each other and the positive impact the Christian faith can have on China,” said Graham. “When I passed by the new Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium I couldn’t help but pray that one day soon the church in China will have an opportunity to preach the Gospel in such a place. Until then, we can celebrate the growth of the church and the growing number of Christians in China. But we must keep praying for the people of this nation that God will continue to open doors and touch lives here.”
Franklin Graham and staff from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse were hosted in China by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Three Self Patriotic Movement, the China Christian Council and the China Association for International Friendly Contact.
As the Beijing Olympics approach, Graham encourages Christian groups that want to do ministry at that time to be sensitive and respectful to the local church and the impact we as outsiders could have on them.