It was the spring of 1984 and I was on a bus in Chicago, heading to the airport. For reasons I cannot recall, I was sharing with my seat mate everything I'd ever heard about the growing house church movement in China. She seemed a bit doubtful, but I assured her that the church in China was making great strides and many were being added by the day.
True indeed, but at what cost? Blasting information from the loudspeaker of my voice, I had no real idea what I was talking about.
But as I recently read The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, I got a graphic glimpse into why the church in China has grown.
Liu Zhenying (called Brother Yun by his Christian friends) was born in the southern part of China's Henan Province in 1958. His family were subsistence farmers, dependent upon the land and at the mercy of the forces of nature. Their life was difficult. When he was 16 Yun's father became very ill and God called his prodigal mother, who had known the Lord as a child but had not followed him for years, back to himself and used her as an instrument to bring healing to the Yun's father. It was this event that also led to Yun's conversion.
As a new Christian, Yun longed for a Bible. Through a pastor's wisdom and Yun praying for 100 days for a Bible, God gave him a vision of how he would receive his Bible. It happened just as he'd seen it in the vision. Throughout the book -- reading about God's provision of a Bible and his call on Yun's life; the the years of intense suffering endured by Yun, his family, and fellow believers; the missionary vision that propels the Chinese house church today -- I found myself holding my breath. I read of God's intervention in the lives of believers. They endured unspeakable horrors with unswerving faith. Brother Yun was labeled an enemy of the country and of the Party and lived on the run from the police. He was desperately mistreated and at one point so physically broken that his wife did not recognize him. Four times Brother Yun was imprisoned; four times God preserved him, even in the face of unbelievable torture.
With his first imprisonment he entered into what he called "a great fiery trial."
I decided to lean upon God's Word and fast and pray in order to face the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. I needed tho follow Jesus' example when he fasted in the desert to overcome the devil's temptations.The fast lasted for 74 days, during which he took no food or water and didn't speak when questioned by the prison staff. This is, of course, impossible by human reckoning. But God sustained him, even though during the fast he continued to suffer at the hands of the guards and his cellmates. "During the long fast, my days were full of struggle, miracles, dreams, visions, and revelation from the Lord. I experienced his strength every day. Although I had no Bible, I meditated on his Word constantly from the Scriptures I had memorized" (p. 125).
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Romans 8:35.
On my first day in Nanyang prison I concluded that God wanted me to fast and pray for the advance of the gospel, that thousands of souls would experience salvation, and that the house churches throughout China would be victorious (p. 97).
The fast, which began on January 25, ended on April 7, 1984. While I blithely poured out my thimble-full of knowledge about the growing house church movement in China to a stranger on a bus, the lives of my brothers and sisters there were in grave danger. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. This is what I have come to know through the reading of The Heavenly Man.
In 1949 there were 700,000 Christians in China. By today's estimates there are 50-100 million who follow Christ. The church has a passion for evangelism and actively shares the gospel with others both inside and outside China. The Back to Jerusalem movement, which began in the 1920s in China, equips and supports people to go as missionaries not to Jerusalem, but to the countries between China and Jerusalem where Christ is not known. It is just one more indication of how serious our brothers and sisters in China are about knowing Jesus Christ and making him known, even if it means suffering and death. See the video.
We, as Christians in the West, need to hear the stories of people like Brother Yun and others who have forsaken all for the cause of Christ. After all, isn't that what all followers of Jesus are called to do?
I challenge you to read The Heavenly Man. It is a book that will open your eyes to God's work in our world and open your ears to what God would say to you about following him.