Franklin Graham preached to some 12,000 people in mainland China on Sunday at the largest church in the country.
The event was described as historic for the magnitude of listeners in attendance, given that China has often been criticized for repressing religious freedom. According to the senior pastor of Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian church, Graham's event this past weekend was the church's largest gathering ever.
"Franklin Graham's May 11 sermon at Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian Church is very significant," said the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "It highlights the strong possibility for cooperation that exists between United States and Chinese religious institutions and marks a positive path forward."
Graham, the president and CEO of BGEA, preached a Gospel message about the cross and asked those present to stand if they wanted to become followers of Jesus Christ. Some 1,250 people responded to the invitation, and Bibles were given to those who responded, according to BGEA.
Following the event, Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian Church is also offering an eight-week course for those who want to become followers of Jesus Christ to teach them the basics of the Christian faith.
During his message, Graham shared that he has always loved China because it is the land where his mother was born. But he also admitted to having previous doubts on whether he would ever have the opportunity to "see this much change and progress" in China.
However, coming to China and having been able to openly preach gave Graham "great hope" for religious expression in China.
Graham is in China for 10 days, May 6-15, during which he will visit Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai for official visits with government and church leaders.
"I believe it is more productive to meet face to face and encourage the progress that has been made here," he said. "Stronger relationships are forming and we're developing a greater understanding of each other."
Although China has shown improvement in freedom of worship, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) still recommended that the State Department continue to blacklist the country as a "Country of Particular Concern" this year.
A CPC designation is the worst label for a religious freedom violator, and the country can face sanction by the U.S. government for such a designation.