Christians around the world are celebrating the life of Dr. Billy Graham, who concluded his earthly journey this month at the age of 99.
Although he was often called “America’s Pastor,” Graham’s ministry stretched far beyond the borders of his own country. His most visible impact was through large evangelistic crusades, where millions around the world heard and responded to the gospel message.
Less visible, but equally significant, was Graham’s behind the scenes work of building unity within the evangelical world. As founder of the Lausanne movement, Graham spent countless hours conferring with leaders across the theological spectrum. His patient relationship building laid the groundwork for partnerships that today span the globe, uniting Christians in a host of ministry areas, from serving among people with disabilities to youth outreach, urban church planting, and many others.
Graham’s vision for partnership extended to China as well through the Billy Graham Center, a hub of training and networking located on the campus of Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College. There the Institute for Chinese Studies was established at the Center’s founding in 1980 in honor of Mrs. Ruth Bell Graham, who was born in China of missionary parents. As China’s process of reform and opening took shape under Deng Xiaoping, the Institute began convening evangelical leaders to consider how to respond to new opportunities for service in China.
Momentum for collaboration built into the 1990s, when a new multi-organizational effort based out of the Institute gave birth to what would eventually become ChinaSource. Formative work in those early years included producing media to inform the Western Christian world about the church in China, developing new courses to train those going to serve, launching the journal ChinaSource (now ChinaSource Quarterly) and convening leaders who compared notes as they explored new approaches to partnering with believers in China.
All these were made possible through the gracious encouragement of the Graham Center team and the resources and connections that the Center provided. Although “Mr. Graham”—as he was referred to at the BGC—did not personally visit during those years, his influence was keenly felt.
ChinaSource, like many other evangelical institutions born in the 20th century, owes much to the legacy of partnering left by Billy Graham. His vision was not simply the proclamation of the gospel, but Christians proclaiming and living out the gospel together in a visible demonstration of the unity that all believers have in Christ. His untiring pursuit of that vision created pathways for collaboration that will continue to shape the journey of future generations.
Image credit: Billy Graham by Daniel Lobo via Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio