Signs in Hong Kong Stadium proclaim, “Hong Kong, Asia’s World City,” and one drive through the Central Business District verifies the statement. Skyscrapers rise in every direction, as do thousands of glowing billboards. Malls boast names like Gucci, Prada and Versace. Sidewalks are just as crowded as those in New York, London or Paris. Public transportation is safe, clean and modern–like the rest of the city.
But for many people in Hong Kong, life is not easy. Some feel enormous pressure to succeed in their careers. They work nine or more hours a day for six and seven days a week. They miss time with their children, and child-rearing is sometimes left to nannies and household workers.
Students compete hard at school, hoping to meet their parents’ expectations to get the right grades so they can go to the right college and get the right job. Young people lock themselves up at home in epidemic numbers, rather than risk the shame of failure.
Immigrants from South Asian countries or mainland China often find that the only jobs available to them are those considered lowly in Hong Kong society, such as household servants, custodians and nannies.
So when Franklin Graham assured the crowd of nearly 39,000 on Thursday, Nov. 29, at Hong Kong Stadium that God sees them, loves them and wants to have a relationship with them, many responded.
“God has a purpose and a plan for your life,” Franklin said. “Like Zacchaeus, you might feel small in the eyes of God. Among the millions in China and Hong Kong, you may think that He can’t know who you are. But He knows you. He created you, and He sent Jesus Christ to earth to die for your sins.”
At the evening services, inquirers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, packed into two counseling areas on the stadium floor, careful not to step off the plastic protecting the soccer field.
During the Friday night invitation, Franklin announced that permission had been granted for inquirers in front of the platform to step a few feet forward and onto the grass.
Suddenly, the hundreds standing in the rear section rushed across the length of the field. The sight brought tears to the eyes of Christians, who said that such a display of emotion is uncommon among the people of Hong Kong.
During the 1990 Billy Graham Hong Kong Crusade, Eric Tong was vice-chair of the counseling committee. On the last day of the Crusade, nearly 110,000 people came in the pouring rain, but the stadium could only handle about 38,000. A nearby soccer field was opened for the rest, but they could barely hear the message from the loudspeakers. Worst of all, the committee hadn’t expected such a crowd, Tong says, and there weren’t enough counselors.
For 17 years, Tong felt distressed whenever he recalled the many who had not spoken with a counselor. For this reason, he accepted an invitation to be site director and advisor to the site arrangements committee at the Franklin Graham Festival.
“I wanted to ensure that, if we expected the whole city of Hong Kong to be stunned by the power of the Gospel, we would be well prepared this time,” Tong says.
Festival attendance swelled each night during the Franklin Graham Festival, but three overflow venues were ready within walking distance–and they were full on Saturday. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 46,000 people filled the stadium more than an hour before the meeting, and some 80,000 watched the service on large screens in the overflow venues. More than 420,000 attended the six Festival meetings Nov. 29-Dec. 2, and more than 33,000 went forward in response to the invitation to commit their lives to Christ.
Reaching the Mainland and Beyond
The last large-scale evangelistic event in Hong Kong was the 1990 Billy Graham Crusade, and a lot has happened since then, including the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China.
At that time, Hong Kong feared that the Chinese government in Beijing would deal harshly with the city, but the government named Hong Kong a “Special Administrative Region” that would operate under its own government system within China–a situation called “one country, two systems.” As the 10-year-reunification anniversary neared in 2007, it was clear that the government was keeping its promise. Hong Kong still governs its own affairs except for issues related to defense and foreign policy. The city still has freedom of religion; it maintains its status as a world financial center, and the people of mainland China can now visit Hong Kong.
The Chinese government celebrated the anniversary with hundreds of official events–among them the Franklin Graham Festival, the only evangelistic event to be recognized. Christian leaders said that God used the unity of the 800 churches involved in the Festival as a testimony to the government that Christians are peaceful and loving people who want the best for their country.
“The churches of Hong Kong are uniting together,” said Ivan Ho, executive general secretary for the Festival. “And we would like to celebrate the love of God … bless our city and bless our nation. If we organize well, if we build the trust, if we do things right, not only to please the nation, but to please God … we believe that our government officials in China will understand that Christians are bringing blessings to our nation.”
A Legacy of Love for China
Franklin Graham shared the Hong Kong believers’ eagerness to spread the hope of the Gospel to the Chinese people. “My grandfather [L. Nelson Bell] came to China about 100 years ago,” Franklin said. “He felt God calling him to bring the Gospel to the people of China. Foreigners were not welcome at that time … and he struggled. But God used medicine in an area in China where he could have an influence and take the Gospel. And now 100 years later, I have an opportunity as the grandson to come to this part of the world and preach the same Gospel that he preached. I thank God for this opportunity.”
Franklin’s mother, Ruth Bell Graham, was born and reared in China. She always considered the country home, even when World War II forced her family to leave the country while Ruth was attending college in the United States. For the rest of their lives, Dr. Bell and his wife, Virginia, maintained their love for China and prayed that God would make a way for the people of China to hear the Gospel.
During Ruth’s lifetime, the door to China began to open again. In 1975 and 1990, her husband, Billy Graham, held Crusades in Hong Kong and, because of Ruth, longed to do more for the people of China. Ruth and her siblings returned to mainland China in 1980, and then Ruth accompanied Mr. Graham in 1988 when he preached in several Chinese cities.
Ruth’s family’s dedication to China hasn’t been lost on the two following generations of the family.
“When I was a little boy, my mother told me many stories of growing up in China,” Franklin said. “She gave all of us children a love for Chinese food–she cooked it every week. And it’s a privilege for me as her son to be able to come back. I feel … I’m coming back to my home. We love China, the people of China, and we pray for God’s blessing on China.”
This love for the Chinese people was demonstrated for China’s current generations when Franklin preached the Gospel at the Festival each evening, and his son Will Graham led a youth event on Friday afternoon. More than 5,600 students responded to the invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Festival also created opportunities for Franklin to meet with key leaders from mainland China. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (China’s officially recognized Protestant church), the China Christian Council, the State Administration of Religious Affairs and the China Association for International Friendly Contact extended an invitation for Franklin Graham to visit mainland China in May 2008, stating that the Chinese people remember how Dr. Bell lived out his love for them through his medical work in their country.
On Friday morning, Franklin said that the night before, as he invited people to put their faith in Jesus Christ, he couldn’t help but think that his grandfather and his mother (who passed away in June) may have been “looking over the edge of heaven and rejoicing” over the many who came forward to receive Christ.
A civil servant in his mid-30s came forward on Sunday and talked with a counselor named Patrick. Suddenly, Patrick realized that he had met the man before–the man’s mother had been a member of Patrick’s church. A few months before the Festival, while the man’s mother was sick with cancer, Patrick and some other church members had visited her at her home.
During the visit, the man’s wife prayed to receive Christ. His mother died soon after, but not before telling her son, “I hope my whole family will be in heaven, but right now we would be missing one member.”
On the last evening of the Festival, the man joined scores of others who decided that it was time to repent, to receive Christ and to become part of God’s family.
The rejoicing in heaven must have been great as tens of thousands came forward during the invitations to receive Christ. Even though Ruth Graham and her parents have now gone to heaven, God continues to answer their prayers for the people of China.