Aiding China's Shaken Church
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), was in China at the invitation of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and China Christian Council, and the China Association of International Friendly Contacts when the May 12 earthquake occurred. Graham, son of international evangelist Billy Graham, told the Associated Press that he opposes illegal missionary work at this summer's Beijing Olympics, saying, "I would not support any illegal activity at all." Groups such as China Aid and Open Doors blasted Graham for his comments.
What is your position regarding evangelism in China?
There are two issues. There's the evangelism that the church in China does. I'm not addressing that. What I'm addressing are outsiders coming into China for the Olympics. And my caution is that if people are coming on tourist visas, let's say, from the United States, and want to get involved in the evangelistic efforts for the Olympics, they need to be aware of Chinese law. For one, they can get in trouble. Two, they could even jeopardize the church. So my caution is, be aware of the law. And an Associated Press reporter asked me if I supported evangelism during the Olympics by outside groups. I would not be supportive of outsiders coming into the country and breaking Chinese law. That's what I'm talking about.
I'm not talking about the Chinese Christians, the Chinese church doing what it does. I would not attempt to tell them what to do or how to do it. The church in China has been growing pretty rapidly without anybody's help. So I don't think a few Christian groups coming into China is going to make a hill of beans worth of difference during the Olympics.
I support evangelism, of course. I'm just saying for any group coming in to check the law, and don't get yourself or the church in trouble. Because when the Olympics are over and everybody's gone, the church is still there. Christians from outside could do or say something that could jeopardize church-state relations for years to come. And there have been some tremendous improvements in the last 20 years.
What were some of your stops during your visit?
I met with pastors from all over Beijing. From there I went to Hangzhou to preach at the Chong Yi Church. The Sunday that I preached there were over 12,000 people in the church. The 6,000-seat sanctuary was filled. Their basement was filled. The lawn was full. And I was able to give an invitation. About 1,250 people responded. The church gave each one a Bible. Every person who stood was given a packet of information. The church follows up by having a new believers' class the following Sunday.
Then I spoke to the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. In Shanghai I met with the head of the China Christian Council, a young man in his 40s who was a student at Nanjing University when my father was there 20 years ago. Now he's the head of the church. A lot of these pastors today are younger men, very, very passionate, very aggressive, and very evangelical.
Where were you when the earthquake hit?
I was in Nanjing. I had just finished speaking at the seminary, had gone back to the hotel to get my suitcase, and was walking out the door when the earthquake hit. I wasn't sure what it was. It was just a little kind of a rumble where we were, nearly 900 miles away from the epicenter. I remember looking out the window, and there were a lot of people in front of the hotel looking up. I thought maybe somebody was on the roof, getting ready to jump or something. We got in an elevator and came down and got in our car to go to the airport. And as we were going down the road all the office buildings in Nanjing had emptied, and there were thousands of people on the street, and everybody was on a cell phone. We had no idea at the time how bad the earthquake was. It wasn't until that night that we began to get images from Sichuan Province.