Doors of Opportunity

By Bob Paulson   •   June 19, 2008

SARA oversees all religious activity in this socialist nation that holds 1.3 billion people, one-fifth of the world’s population. Franklin had been invited by a coalition of government and nongovernmental bodies: SARA, the China Association for International Friendly Contact, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and the China Christian Council (see “Groups at a Glance,” p. 10). He had come to listen, to learn and to discuss possible future ministry by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in China. Any such ministry would need SARA’s approval.

Meeting With the Government
As Franklin approached the headquarters, two large, wooden doors swung open in grand style to the room where he would meet Wang Zuo An, SARA’s deputy director general. Would these opening doors be symbolic of opportunities to come?

Franklin’s schedule was packed with meetings, and this initial one was crucial, due to SARA’s role in China’s religious affairs. After a brief tour of the compound, Franklin met with Wang and other SARA leaders.
“We’re very happy to receive this delegation,” Wang said, adding that the Chinese name people have given to Franklin, Ge Fu Lin, means “Bring the Good News.” “We hope that your visit to China will bring understanding, trust and friendship.”

Franklin spoke of his family’s long relationship with China, going back to 1916, when his grandparents L. Nelson and Virginia Bell arrived in China as missionaries. His mother, Ruth Bell Graham, was born in China in 1920.

“My mother, in her heart, was Chinese first,” Franklin said. “She loved China.”

Franklin went on to say that he’s interested not only in China’s past but in its future and in the Chinese church.
“I have come to listen and to learn from you,” he said, “and I hope that in the years to come we’ll be able to work closely together.”

As he did at every opportunity, Franklin communicated the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He also asked if it might be possible, at some point, to hold a Christian celebration in one of the stadiums built for the Olympics.

A stadium event is not currently possible, Wang said, but other events have happened recently that would have been unimaginable even three years ago.

Franklin met with a variety of Chinese church and government leaders from across China. He was honored with a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He held two press conferences and also met with the Beijing Christian Council, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council, the China Association for International Friendly Contact, pastors in Beijing and Shanghai, and Shanghai’s State Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee.

Preaching the Gospel
On Sunday, May 11, Franklin preached the Gospel at Chong Yi Church, a vibrant congregation with an evangelistic emphasis and a mixture of contemporary and traditional worship. He commented that it was an honor for him to be speaking in the land of his mother’s birth on Mother’s Day.

Church leaders said the service was their largest ever. The 6,000-seat sanctuary was filled, and another 6,000 people gathered in overflow areas. “The penalty of sin is death,” Franklin said, “and there is no way that any of us can pay the debt of sin. So God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die and shed His blood on the cross for you.” Franklin added that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and that we can be forgiven of our sin, but we have to come to God through faith in Jesus Christ. More than 1,200 people received Bibles after making a commitment or inquiring about faith in Christ.

Encouraging Future Leaders
Franklin also spoke to students and faculty at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, where He shared his own story of coming to Christ and responding to God’s call to preach. Following his message, he took questions from the students.

After Franklin left the seminary on May 12, the massive earthquake that killed thousands and left millions homeless shook the province of Sichuan. Although the epicenter was more than 800 miles away, the quake could be felt in Nanjing and in even more-distant cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. As reports came in about the great loss of life, Franklin announced that Samaritan’s Purse and BGEA would each donate about $150,000 for the affected areas. (See page 14 for more details on the earthquake relief effort.)

A First Step
At the end of his visit, Franklin said, “As relates to the government’s policy toward the church, I’ve seen a lot of change in 20 years. I want to encourage the government of China to continue these changes. There is much that still needs to be done, but I’ve been very impressed with what I have seen take place in recent years.”

On the final evening of the trip, Ren Ji Chun, a SARA representative who had accompanied Franklin and his team throughout their visit, said, “I think your visit is a first step in our future cooperation. We can say your visit opened a new chapter between the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, SARA, and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council.”

Then, in a comment recalling that first day Franklin approached the SARA headquarters, Ren added, “The gate of SARA is always opening to you.”

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