SBC Life Articles

On the Front Row of a ‘God Thing’

Three years ago, Oliver Graham* had the perfect job. A medical sales rep with top-dollar contracts, he boasted a good salary, flexibility, and great clients.

But when God got the Grahams' attention for overseas missions, all they could say was "yes."

"We had put out a fleece and God (answered) in two hours," says Oliver, 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 Oliver and his wife, Joy*, began mentoring six Chinese believers a mere twenty months ago, those believers have started more than fifty-five churches and led four thousand people to Christ. And the conversions keep coming so fast, it's impossible to keep count.

But Oliver 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," Oliver says. "God was working in Q-city since the beginning, and He asked us to show up."

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

"If Oliver was telling one by one, Q-city would never be reached," Joy 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.

Difficult Journey

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 Oliver 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 Oliver realized he had taken matters in his own hands rather than depending on God, he called 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," Oliver 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 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."

The Big Picture

The Grahams and their Chinese partners continued fasting, praying, and petitioning God to provide a "person of peace" through whom to work.

And when He did, Joy says, it "was like Christmas."

"We were praying every step of the way," she recalls. "We rejoiced in every scheduled and unscheduled meeting. When Oliver would meet with (the other Chinese believers) and they shared their hearts to reach Q-city and agreed to pray and study with Oliver, our entire family cried and jumped up and down for joy."

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," Oliver says. "It was way faster than we ever expected."

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

Oliver 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, Oliver 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 Oliver 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," Oliver 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.



Come One, Come All

Oliver Graham isn't the traditional preacher-teacher-evangelist you might expect to fill a strategy-coordinator role in Q-city, China. He comes from a sales background — not ministry. But what might come as a surprise is how often Christ chose simple working men as His beloved friends and disciples — from Peter the fisherman to Matthew the tax collector.

And when Oliver and his wife, Joy, heard the call to missions, they responded as Peter did: They left everything and followed Christ.

"I am still amazed when I hear of people who say, 'I have never heard the name of Jesus before,'" Oliver 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?'"

Oliver has never gotten over the initial shock of realizing the depth of lost lives in China.

"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 (in China) would hear the name of Christ!"

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