Rev. Billy Graham's First Visit to China

Billy and Ruth Graham pay a visit to Wang Ming-dao.

[CW from left]: Billy Graham, Wang Ming-dao, Phillip Teng (translator)
Brother Zhang, Wang Ming-dao’s wife, Ruth Graham.

Billy preaches in Shanghai’s largest Methodist Mu-en church. April 24, 1988.

On April 22, 1988, for the first time in his life, the Rev. Billy Graham had the opportunity to visit Ruth’s homeland -- China. By this time, Billy was a world renown evangelist and was naturally welcomed by China’s Head of State and diplomats. He not only wanted to engage with governmental officials at the highest echelons in Beijing but most importantly, he wanted to fellowship and learn from China’s greatest resource – the common people.

When it came to learning more about China’s growing Christian population, he wanted to meet not only pastors and believers from the government-sanctioned Open churches but most of all from the House churches. In fact, after having arrived in Shanghai, one of his first requests was to meet the well-known House church leader Wang Ming-dao. East Gates’ present Project Director, Brother Zhang was a caregiver for Wang Ming-dao and his wife at the time. Although it was 30 years ago, he remembers Billy and Ruth’s visit as if it were yesterday. We share his testimony.

“The group traveling together with Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham arrived in Shanghai from Nanjing on April 22, 1988. Rev. Billy Graham would be preaching at the largest church in Shanghai, the Methodist Mu-en Church on Sunday, April 24, 1988. Before this major event, however, Rev. Graham wished to meet Wang Ming-dao and have it be one of his first official activities in Shanghai.

On the morning of April 23, 1988, the home of Wang Ming-dao was quiet as usual. The doctor of physiotherapy, Sister Lin, was performing massage and acupressure on Mrs. Wang. Around 10:00 am, someone knocked on the front door. I opened the door and saw Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham and their four co-workers standing outside. I invited them to come into the living room.

Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham’s schedule was relatively tight. As a result, their visit was brief; but after a nice conversation and before leaving the house, Rev. & Mrs. Billy Graham suggested that everyone quote a Bible scripture to encourage one another. Given my poor English, I could not understand all the scriptures recited but I do remember the scripture Wang Ming-dao quoted. He shared Revelation 2:10 with everyone and it made a deep impression on me.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

Although our meeting was short, I have never forgotten it. Today, Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham and their co-workers are all resting in the Lord’s arms but each one has shown me what it means to be “faithful until death.”
~ Brother Zhang

When it came to China, Billy and Ruth showed us what it meant to love beyond labels and religious boundaries. To this day, however, there still seems to be a clear demarcation between the Open and House churches. Oftentimes, believers from one group will not worship or fellowship with the other. It’s a complicated issue but like denominations in the West that seem to divide versus unify, the same can be said in China. Billy and Ruth Graham always saw beyond those nomenclatures and viewed themselves and each Chinese as a sinner saved by God’s grace. East Gates’ perspective is the same.

Over the past 25 years, the Lord has used East Gates to distribute over 4.5 million Bibles legally to Open and House church believers. Our ministry was given its name, East Gates, by a few well-known House church pastors. For us, every Chinese, despite their church affiliation is God’s child.

When we’re asked, “How many Chinese Christians are there in China?” Our immediate answer is, “How many Christians are there in the US?” The response is, “Hmm. That’s a good question.” We then point them to II Timothy 2:19-21.

“Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

May we always be about God’s ministry of reconciliation instead of condemnation (II Corinthians 5:11-21). East Gates has always and will continue to walk this path when serving our brothers and sisters in China.