BAODING CITY, October 17, 2009 – Under a clear blue sky, amidst colorful pageantry and received by an enthusiastic invited crowd several thousand strong, Franklin Graham helped dedicate a new Lay Training Center at the Bethel Church of Baoding, the second largest church in China.
When Franklin strode Saturday afternoon under a helium-filled bright red balloon archway into the church’s mammoth concrete plaza, people began clapping and waving their hands welcoming the oldest son of Ruth Graham, who was born and grew up in China and the grandson of Dr. L. Nelson Bell, who served as a medical doctor among the Chinese people for 25 years.
A 45-member drum and brass band dressed in white trousers, red jackets and matching berets played first “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” followed by “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Two dozen pastors dressed in formal black robes with gold, red and green sashes around their neck greeted Franklin, heartily shaking his hand. Then a young girl stepped forward and presented Franklin with a huge bouquet of flowers.
But the crowd reserved its most vocal appreciation when Franklin declared during the dedication ceremony, “My prayer is that there will be young men and women who will leave this training center to go throughout China and the rest of Asia to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” People erupted into rousing applause, punctuated by shouts of “Amen!”
Located about 120 miles south of Beijing in one of the largest cities in China with 12 million people, the foundation for the six-story training center was laid in October 2008 and construction began this past May. It was completed in time for the dedication service. It will be able to accommodate 120 to 150 people, many of whom will be coming from rural areas in Hebei Province and surrounding areas. An additional 50 students can stay in the church’s basement, where training classes have been held up until this point.
A Pressing Need
With a pressing need for more qualified leaders to help guide churches within the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council, the Lay Training Center is designed to better equip men and women to study and teach the Scriptures and to enable members to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to live out their Christian faith in daily life, as well to contribute to a more harmonious society. In addition to classes on the Bible, theology and church administration and management, students will be also trained in practical evangelism.
Participating in the joyous dedication service in front of the training center on the back side of the church were several area pastors and municipal officials. A 45-person choir, donning white and blue robes adorned with a red cross, sang two special hymns and then were joined by the large crowd in other songs.
Franklin opened his five-minute presentation by stating, “This new building is a beautiful testimony to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He then described how his grandfather came to China in 1916 and invested the next 25 years as a medical doctor to the Chinese people. He also related how his mother told stories of her life in China and how she instilled in the five Graham children a love for the people for China.
For a New Generation
Next, Franklin turned to 2 Timothy 2:2 to explain that there is a critical need for pastors and lay leaders who can boldly declare to another generation that Jesus Christ is the “Truth and the Life and that no man comes to Father but by Me”–and that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Again, the crowd clapped in agreement and exclaimed “Amen.”
Following the ceremony, Franklin toured the facility, walking through rooms that will serve as classrooms, offices, a library and boarding rooms, where students could stay for classes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full year.
During an interview after the service with the magazine editor of the church’s magazine, Franklin was asked what his hopes were for the training center. He replied, “To see over the next 10 to 15 years hundreds and hundreds, and eventually thousands of men and women trained in God’s Word who can proclaim the Gospel message throughout China and Asia.”
Then he added, “And I pray that there will even be graduates that can come from here to the United States and bring the Gospel to America.”
Franklin is scheduled to preach at Bethel Church Sunday morning. Then he will leave to visit two other cities in China, where Samaritan’s Purse has had a significant impact after last year’s devastating earthquake and ravaging floods two winters ago.
Billy Graham preached in Shanghai, China on April 24, 1988
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Richard Greene is an assistant editor for Decision Magazine.