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Just As You Are

January 18, 2008

 The Hong Kong Church has just finished its biggest event of the year.

From November 29 to December 2, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Hong Kong Stadium for a series of evangelistic meetings under the banner of the "Franklin Graham Festival". If the name has a familiar ring, you are correct in thinking there is a connection with the famous Billy Graham Crusades.

ImageFranklin Graham is son of the Rev. Billy Graham. He has taken up leadership of the Billy Graham Association as it continues the quest to preach the Gospel around the world. The mass gatherings have been re-christened ‘Festivals', but everything about them is similar to Billy Graham Crusades - open air venues, lots of music, evangelical preaching and a call to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ.

The fanfare surrounding the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival was huge. The groundwork was laid over a year ago and the operating budget was US$2.3 million. Hong Kong churches were particularly eager to have this event in 2007 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China. In fact, the Government designated the Festival as one of its official events of the year-long 10th Anniversary celebration.

One of my friends asked me if I would go to the Festival.

"Go to the festival?" I responded with a laugh. "I'm helping promote it on the radio!"

Indeed, we used airtime on both our October and November religious broadcasting programs to highlight the Festival as a gesture of ecumenical support. But we need not have worried. Due to a high-profile campaign, I think just about everyone in Hong Kong knew that Christians were putting on a mega-event in Causeway Bay.

So, what happened?

ImageEvery day during the Festival, all 40,000 seats in the Stadium were full. Overflow went to the Happy Valley Racecourse next door to watch on giant screens. Music was provided by a 4000-member joint choir robed in white, a bluegrass trio dressed in black, and an American Christian singing group known as the Tommy Coombs Band. I'd have to say the band got the biggest applause for singing one of their songs in perfect Chinese!

The main event of course was Franklin Graham, who bears a remarkable resemblance to his father. In his opening remarks, he reminded the audience that his mother, Ruth Bell Graham, had grown up in China as the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. From there he launched into the simplest of messages based on the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Weaving Scripture with an urgent plea to come to God, Franklin Graham delivered basically the same message every time: God loves you, Christ died to save you from your sins, Be forgiven and come home to your Heavenly Father.

If you've ever witnessed one of these evangelical meetings, you know that the audience is asked to get out of their seats and come forward to the center stage to indicate their decision to follow Jesus Christ. And, without fail, hundreds do get up and go forward. Granted, some of these are counselors who will speak and pray with the new converts. Yet, the sight of so many people moving forward and standing to receive a blessing has always been mesmerizing.

ImageIn my earlier years, I might have been more cynical about meetings like the Franklin Graham Festival. I grew up in the Baptist Church and have a distinct aversion to emotional altar calls. My own journey of faith required being ‘born-again' into the ecumenical church. My understanding of ‘sin' and ‘salvation' go beyond a concern for where I will spend eternity. Surely the decision to become a Christian requires more serious preparation than one night in a football stadium.

So, what a surprise to discover that my attitude had changed.

When I saw all the preparation, prayer and commitment required to make an event of this magnitude happen, I was grateful. When I saw the genuine enthusiasm and cooperation from Hong Kong churches of every stripe, I was impressed. When I sat in the overflow of Happy Valley Racecourse attending the Festival with thousands of people, I realized this was truly a special opportunity for those who love Christ to share their Lord and Savior with others.

The invitation hymn that night was "Come, Just As You Are", sung in Chinese by a popular local singer. I had played the song earlier as the closing music on our radio broadcast, and I was touched to hear it again sung live at the close of the Festival. The words still echo in my ears and I close my last newsletter of the year with its tender message:

Come just as you are.
Hear the Spirit call.
Come just as you are.
Come receive, Christ the King,
Come and live forevermore.

In Christ,

Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council.  She is responsible for communications for the Council.  She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.

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