This story is cross-posted on Shanghaiist.
We’ve known it for a while now — China is destined to be home to the world’s largest Christian population. And if evangelists like Luis Palau have their way, gospel rallies and healing crusades in tents, megachurches and stadiums will become a reality before you know it. This month in Hangzhou, Palau, widely touted as America’s greatest evangelist after Billy Graham, will be preaching in a massive rally that is expected to draw up to 20,000. Christian Post reports:
American evangelist Luis Palau will preach to an overflow crowd of up to 20,000 people at a megachurch in mainland China this month.
Registered church Chong Yi in the eastern city of Hangzhou will host the evangelist for the March 20 event.
Chong Yi Church is designed to seat only about 5,400 people, but senior pastor Joseph Gu said he believes they can fit 10,000 people into the various buildings on the church property, said Fred Conklin, a full-time volunteer with the Luis Palau Association who is handling the ministry’s China relations, to The Christian Post.
Pastor Gu also plans to put loud speakers with screens outdoors and fit another 10,000 on the church property, if weather permits, so that a total of up to 20,000 people can hear Palau preach.
This will not be Luis Palau’s first time in China. He has been here for years now, working hard to sweeten the ground. According to Christian Post, Palau met with China’s house church leaders as early as 2004 to seek their “advice on how to best carry out his ministry goals in China”. The house church leaders refused to accept Palau’s invitation to join him in activities with the registered churches and since then there has been little contact between Palau and underground leaders as the evangelist began to focus his energy on developing relations with the government-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement instead. It didn’t take long before Palau began preaching in state-sanctioned churches around China, all with the approval of government officials. In 2006, Palau cowrote a book entitled ‘Riverside Talks: A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian’ with former spokesman for China’s State Council Information Office and atheist Zhao Qizheng. The next year, Palau is said to have preached to 8,000 people at Chong Yi church, out of which 800 “responded to Palau’s invitation to accept Jesus”.
Luis Palau’s proximity to government officials in charge of regulating religious affairs has not been without controversy. When former president George Bush visited the Gangwashi Church in Beijing in 2005, Palau was invited along. At the church service, Palau was reported to have told journalists that “some reports of religious persecution are unjustified”, much to the consternation of local house church leaders who say countless pastors and believers remain in prison today for their faith. These statements caused a huge ruckus back home in the United States and Palau eventually issued a statement expressing regret for his over-optimisim in China’s religious freedom.
While Palau’s friendly relations with the Chinese government have given him access to places where no other foreign evangelist has been, his goal, according to Christian Post, “is to be able to hold an open-air festival in China”, but each time he has raised this to government officials here, they have “politely but firmly denied his request”.
Another famed evangelist with friends in high places here is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham (and a good friend of Palau’s). In 2008, we told you of a China Daily report quoting Franklin Graham as saying that he “hopes to do more for China” through his international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Shortly after this, the Sichuan earthquake struck and Graham was quick to put his money where his mouth was by donating a whopping RMB2 million, or US$285,000, towards relief efforts.
For more on Christianity in China, please click here.Tags: Billy Graham, China, Christianity, Franklin Graham, Luis Palau, religion