Visit Stirs Memories of Ruth Bell Graham

By Bob Paulson   •   June 12, 2010

On Wednesday Graham, his sister Gigi and his daughter, Cissie, visited six sites related to the family’s history of ministry in Huai’an. The following day, on the 90th anniversary of Ruth Bell Graham’s birth, they officially dedicated the Ruth Bell Graham Bible Institute and Museum, and Franklin preached at the Central Church of Huai’an.

The Bible Institute will train 60 to 70 lay persons at a time for more effective church ministry. The museum is a first in China, being a museum related to religious activity in this communist nation.

The exhibits trace three generations of ministry by the Bell and Graham families in China, beginning with Dr. L. Nelson and Virginia Bell, who arrived in 1916; followed by daughter Ruth, who would go on to marry evangelist Billy Graham; and continuing with Franklin Graham, whose ministry in China has included both evangelistic preaching and relief aid. And with Cissie Graham Lynch’s presence on this trip, a fourth generation was added to the family’s legacy in China.

Local Christians welcomed Graham, Gigi and Cissie at every stop in Haui’an, at times lining walkways, waving wreaths and chanting, “Welcome to hometown!”

At a small building called the East Church, which Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham and Franklin Graham had visited in 1988, Franklin Graham greeted the crowd that packed the small, rustic sanctuary: “So much has changed in 20 years,” he said. “But one thing has not changed, and that is our family’s love for China and for this city. … When my grandfather came to China almost 100 years ago, he was a young man with lots of dreams. But his No. 1 dream was that one day in China there would be a strong, vibrant church. And that dream has come true.”

Later, at Love and Mercy Hospital, which was founded by missionary doctor Edgar Woods, Jr. and directed by L. Nelson Bell from 1936 to 1941, Franklin reflected on the historic sites: “Today we had just a little walk down memory lane. We had a chance to go to the old hospital site where my mother was born. That now has been torn down, but yet the people still remember. We were able to go to the old church, and we could see the new church that is being built across the street. It’s just exciting to see what God is doing and has continued to do all these years here in Huai’an.”

The following day, the family joined with the Central Church of Huai’an to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Ruth’s birth. Franklin Graham preached an evangelistic message to the crowd of 5,600. “All of us are guilty of breaking God’s law,” he said. “And sin has to be removed. You cannot pay the debt of sin yourself. Only one person has paid the debt of sin, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son.”

At the invitation to receive Christ, more than 70 people responded and will be followed up by the church.

Graham put his visit in perspective, saying, “Many people ask about supporting missions: Is it worth it? Where does the money go? Well, my grandfather came to this city of Huai’an, then called Tsingkiangpu, nearly a hundred years ago. And the people today still remember Dr. Bell.

“And the church in this city has grown, and now there are a number of megachurches. So the seeds of the Gospel were sown back in the late 1800s, early 1900s. After World War II, missionaries were expelled, but the churches continued to grow and develop. So is it worth it to support missions? You bet it is; every dollar is worth it. You’re talking about evangelism, about sowing seeds of the Gospel. And some generations don’t reap the harvest. They sow, but sometimes it’s not till another generation that the harvest comes in, like we see here in China.”

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