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Former sales rep helps start a ‘people explosion’ in China

EDITORS’ NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Dec. 4-11, focuses on eight strategy coordinator missionaries and a church serving as a strategy coordinator, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Today’s story is the sixth in a series. Strategy-coordinator missionaries play a key role in reaching the whole world with the Gospel, focusing on people groups and cities by studying cultures, learning languages and developing master plans for reaching every individual with the Gospel.

CHINA (BP)–Three years ago, Oliver Graham* had the perfect job. A well-paid medical sales rep, he had top-dollar contracts, great clients and flexibility.

But when God got the attention of Graham and his wife for overseas missions, all they could say was yes.

“We had put out a fleece and God [answered] in two hours,” says Graham, who describes himself as a simple country boy. “We knew this ‘going to missions’ was serious business.”

Now the Grahams are on the front row of what Oliver calls a “God thing” — an explosion of decisions for Christ in picturesque Q-city*, China.

Since Graham and his wife, Joy*, began mentoring six Chinese believers a mere 20 months ago, those believers have started more than 55 churches and led 4,000 people to Christ. The conversions keep coming so fast that it’s impossible to keep count.

But Graham is clear about one thing: He didn’t start it — God did. And he’s worked primarily through Chinese believers, which is the foundation of a lasting church-planting movement.

“God is in the driver’s seat,” Graham says. “God was working in Q-city since the beginning, and He asked us to show up.”

As a strategy coordinator, Graham wants to evangelize through the Chinese themselves rather than forming a ministry dependent on him.

“If Oliver was telling [the Good News] one by one, Q-city would never be reached,” Joy Graham explains. “He wants this to be as Chinese as possible and not get in the way of what God is doing. He’s asking [Christian] brothers and sisters here to share daily, and that’s what makes multiplication.”

The Grahams want to fan the glowing embers of the Gospel into a raging fire — and leave it sweeping across China when their work is done.

But the incredible growth hasn’t come easily.

Q-city, where noisy marketers peddle rice, cats and bins of red peppers, has a history of Chinese traditional religions as longstanding as the mountain shrines. Language barriers and spiritual warfare challenge the entire Graham family, even on the brightest of days.

In the early days, as Graham wrestled with stacks of training material that didn’t always seem to fit, he wondered if he had come to the right place.

“I had to work through translators, and the Chinese believers just weren’t getting it,” he recalls. “We’d be teaching the same material over and over again. I spent literally months with my nose in my Bible saying, ‘This just isn’t working!’

“I came to a point where I thought, ‘It’s going to fail.’ Coming out of a sales background, you can’t fail. If you do, you lose your job, lose money. You have to become creative — and you don’t always have to depend on God.”

When Graham realized he had taken matters in his own hands rather than depending on God, he called his Chinese partners together and asked forgiveness.

“When I began to tell the guys, ‘I don’t know — let’s seek God’s face on this,’ this is when the breakthrough in trust came,” Graham says. “It changed our relationship when I told them, ‘I don’t know.’ It wasn’t me standing up front telling them what to do — it was us.”

The moment was a crucial turning point.

“He meets with brothers, shares their joys and pain, prays and plans,” Joy Graham says. “They cast a vision, and they hold each other accountable. They will meet for hours. They are partners, and their opinion means more than Oliver’s. He loves these guys. They are his closest friends.”

And as God poured His Spirit on Q-city, people began to come to Him in vast numbers.

“It exploded so fast that we didn’t know how to handle it,” Graham says. “It was way faster than we ever expected….

“I am still amazed when I hear of people who say, ‘I have never heard the name of Jesus before,’” Graham says. “I say to myself, ‘Can this be true? How can this be? We have so many folks back home who have heard. How can there be people who have never heard?’

“When I learned there were really people like that in the world, I quit worrying about what the mold [of a strategy coordinator] was,” he says. “I just wanted to get to the field and do what it took to put people and resources in place so people would hear the name of Christ.”

To handle the exponential numbers of new believers, Graham and his partners put their heads together and made plans for stronger churches, stronger leadership and rapid evangelization.

Graham is thrilled to see the miracles God has done in Q-city — from independent churches to healings to thousands of saved lives.

It’s bittersweet, though, because coming from a sales background, Graham knows this means he will soon be done.

“You close out your ends, and then you leave,” he says. “There are many occurrences every week where I have to let things go. You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing — you’re working yourself out of a job. But you come here and do all this stuff, and suddenly you’re not needed.”

But the Grahams’ passion and message go on through their Chinese partners committed to evangelizing Q-city.

“Oliver pushes us by providing a good model and a good example,” says Danyili*, one of the original six believers Graham mentored. “He and his family made themselves available to God, and that’s an encouragement to me — and for them to love the Chinese people so much.”

“Today, when they look at all God has done, they’re amazed,” Graham says. “We can’t believe that it’s actually happening. How could anyone really be prepared for this? It was and is truly beyond my wildest imagination.

“Being from the country, I learned early on that you hang on with all you’re worth to bulls. This has definitely been a bull ride!”
*Names changed for security reasons
For ways you can help reach the Chinese, check out these volunteer opportunities:

— Teaching English — Chinese of all ages want to meet others and practice English. English camps, classroom activities and other English language-related projects are offered each summer.

— Backpacking — Many of China’s Unreached People Groups live in remote villages that are not easily accessible.

— Small-city adoption — Nurture a church-planting movement in some of China’s smaller cities, taking responsibility for opening doors and developing evangelism, discipleship and training.

For a complete list, e-mail the East Asia office at [email protected] or call 1-866-879-0233.

For more information about how the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering makes it possible for thousands of people to hear about Jesus for the first time, visit http://ime.imb.org.

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