Our China Legacy

By Compiled by Janet Chismar   •   October 15, 2009

The Pioneers – Twenty-two-year-old Lemuel Nelson Bell and his bride of six months, Virginia, first set foot in China December 1916. Bell had graduated from medical college only six months earlier but felt led to respond to a request for another missionary doctor at the Love and Mercy Hospital.*

Ruth, their second-oldest child, was born June 10, 1920. She spent her early years in China, learning the basics of Christian faith early through her parents’ example of daily prayer and Bible study, in addition to family prayers before breakfast each morning.

At age 13, Ruth’s parents sent her to Pyeng Yang Foreign School in what is now Pyongyang, North Korea (DPRK), so that she would have the education she needed to return to the United States one day.

That day came in 1937. Having finished high school, Ruth was back in Tsingkiangpu to get ready for college – and her eventual meeting with Billy Graham. On Oct. 22, Ruth said goodbye to her family and left China.

Although her family would remain there until 1941, it would be decades before Ruth returned to the land of her birth.

Billy Graham Catches the Passion – In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham describes how he “caught” the love of China from his wife:

“All our married life,” wrote Billy, “Ruth has talked about China–and with good reason. China was the land of her birth, and the place where she spent the first seventeen years of her life. … Growing up in China gave Ruth a love for the Chinese people and their culture that has never left her.

“Sometimes I think Ruth eats, sleeps, and breathes China! She has taught me to love China too, including its food; at least once or twice a week she fixes us simple but authentic Chinese dishes.

“For many years, Ruth’s greatest desire was to return to the land of her birth and to take me with her. She wanted to show me the places she loved and introduce me to some of the people she knew. She even prayed that it would be possible for me to preach in China.”

It finally happened in April, 1988.

“In a span of seventeen days, covering two thousand miles and five major cities, we packed in more speaking and preaching engagements, interviews, social events, and even sight-seeing than I remembered from any other trip I’d taken.

“Since that memorable trip in 1988, I have returned to China twice, in both instances stopping over for a few days in Beijing before going on to North Korea. Both times (1992, 1994) I have been staggered by China’s explosive economic growth, with massive traffic jams and skyscrapers under construction.

“On each visit,” Billy wrote, “my feeling about China’s strategic place in the future has been reinforced. We continue to pray for China, that it may become a spiritual power-house in the future.”

A Son Carries On – In addition to his current trip, Franklin Graham spent time in China in May 2008, some 20 years after visiting with his parents for the first time.

Last year, we asked Franklin what he found to be the most significant moments: “Meeting with students at the seminary and sharing with them the elements of the Gospel was quite an experience. After I spoke we were able to take questions from the students and you could see their passion for the Lord. Of course preaching to 12,000 people was also a highlight. I did not know what to expect so certainly that will be an experience I will never forget.”

Franklin also said, “The country is much more open to the Gospel than I anticipated. I’m very encouraged. Personal evangelism is alive and well here. The biggest need in China is trained faculty and pastors. The church is growing so fast they are not able to keep up with the demand for trained pastors.”

He added, “My mother was born in China, so I’ve always had a love for this country, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever have this opportunity or see this much change and progress here,” said Franklin. “To be able to come here and openly preach gives me great hope for religious expression in China.”


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