“BACK TO JERUSALEM” – “The Heavenly Man”
(Christian Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway)
Although China is a long, long way from Jerusalem, it’s one of history’s remarkable facts that the Holy Land has been connected to China by road for more than two millennia.
Some old accounts even suggest the gospel may have first entered China down this road just a few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Seven centuries ago the famous explorer Marco Polo came to China along the same highway. This key trading route allowed herbs and spices, treasures, new religions, and invading armies to flow in and out of China. At the other end, Jerusalem acted as a hub from where products dispersed into Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
The European aristocracy was amazed when they first imported a most remarkable creature from China – the silkworm. It lent its name to this rugged route – popularly known as the Silk Road.
Today, the nations along the ancient Silk Road are the most unevangelized in the whole world. The three biggest religious strongholds that have refused to yield to the advance of the gospel – Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – have their heart here. More than 90% of the remaining unreached people groups in the world live along the Silk Road and in the nations surrounding China. Two billion of the earth’s inhabitants live and die in this area, completely oblivious to the Good News that Jesus died for their sins and is the only way to heaven.
In the 1920s God first led a group called the “Jesus Family” to take the gospel on foot all the way from China to Jerusalem. They called the initiative “Back to Jerusalem”. Other Chinese church groups received similar visions to start missionary movements that would impact many nations in Asia and the Middle East.
Founded in 1921 in Shandong Province by a Christian named Jing Dianying, the Jesus Family believed members should sell all their possessions and distribute their wealth among the other family members. The five-word slogan of the Jesus Family encapsulated their commitment to Christ and their pattern of frugal living: “Sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering, death.”
They targeted towns and villages, preaching the gospel as they walked from one place to another. Their example of communal living and the Jesus Family’s deep Christian love amazed many onlookers. It attracted those searching for answers to life as well as those who were homeless, destitute and despised. Many blind people and beggars joined the Jesus Family and found eternal life in Christ.
As they continued to grow, the Jesus Family suffered terrible hardships. Often when this mobile community entered a new town the entire population came out to beat, scorn and humiliate them. The opposition didn’t deter them, however, and when they preached the gospel there always seemed to be a few people who were willing to forsake all that they had to follow Jesus.
By the late 1940’s there were some 20,000 Chinese believers enlisted in more than 100 different Jesus Family groups throughout China.
Several groups believed God had called them to take the gospel back to Jerusalem on foot, preaching and establishing the kingdom of God in all the territories along the way. After thousands of miles and many years of travel, a band of faithful preachers reached the border town of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Region of north-west China.
* * *
In the autumn of 1995 I was speaking at a house church gathering in central China. The Lord had given me a deep desire to be part of his plan to send many Chinese Christians as missionaries into Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim lands. I encouraged the believers to seek God for a worldwide vision. I challenged them not only to continue in their present ministries, but to expand their horizons to include the unreached nations surrounding China.
With tears in my eyes I sang a song I had learned from an old book about the Back to Jerusalem Movement:
Lift up your eyes toward the West
There are no labourers for the great harvest
My Lord’s heart is grieving every day
He asks, “Who will go forth for me?”
With eyes filled with tears
And blood splattered across our chests
We lift up the banner of Christ
And will rescue the perishing sheep!
In these last days the battle is drawing near
And the trumpet is sounding aloud
Let’s quickly put on the full armour of God
And break through Satan’s snares!
Death is knocking at the door of many
And the world is overcome with sin
We must faithfully work as we march onward
Fighting even unto death!
With hope and faith we will march on
Dedicating our family and all that we have
As we take up our heavy crosses
We march on toward Jerusalem!
While I was singing, I noticed an old man in the congregation who was visibly moved. He was weeping and could hardly contain himself. I had no idea who he was, and thought my preaching must have been really powerful to cause such a response! The old brother, crowned with white hair and a white beard, slowly walked to the front of the room and asked to speak. A respectful hush fell over the audience.
He said, “I am Simon Zhao, a servant of the Lord. Forty eight years ago my co-workers were martyred for the name of Jesus.”
He continued, “I was one of the leaders of the Back to Jerusalem Band. We marched across China on foot, proclaiming the gospel in every town and village we passed through.
“Finally in 1950, after many years of hardship, we reached the border town of Kashgar in Xinjiang Province. We stopped for a while and applied for visas to enter the Soviet Union. We were nervous and excited at the same time at what lay ahead!
“Before we ever had a chance to leave China, the Communist armies under Chairman Mao took control of Xinjiang. They immediately sealed the borders and implemented their strong-armed style of rule.
“All the leaders of our movement were arrested. Five of us were sentenced to forty-five years in prison with hard labour. All the other leaders died in prison long ago. I’m the only one who survived. . . . For the sake of the vision to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, I spent 31 years in prison for the Lord.”
We were all stunned. We sat there with our mouths wide open and tears running down our cheeks, dripping onto the floor.
I asked Simon Zhao, the man of God, “Uncle, will you please tell us more?”
He continued, “When the Lord called us to this vision, I’d been married just four months. My beautiful bride had just found out she was pregnant! We were both arrested and imprisoned. Life in the prison was difficult and my wife suffered a miscarriage.”
He wiped away his tears before continuing, “At that time the Communists killed many missionaries and their Chinese converts. In the early months of my imprisonment in1950 I saw my beloved wife twice from afar, through the iron bars on my window. Then I never saw her again. By the time I was released many years later my precious bride was already long dead.”
We all wept loudly. We felt that we were standing on holy ground in the presence of the Lord.
I asked Uncle Simon, “When you were released from prison, did you still have this Back to Jerusalem vision in your heart?”
He responded to my question by singing for us,
How many years have bitter winds blown?
How many times have the storm clouds gathered?
Through the icy rain we couldn’t see God’s altar
The altar of God where he accepts our sacrifices.
God’s leaders are crying with broken hearts
Jehovah’s sheep are scattered far and wide
Tears of sadness well up in the chilly wind
Where have you gone, Good Shepherd?
Where have you gone, soldiers of God?
Where have you gone?
Oh, where have you gone?
After Uncle Zhao rested for a while, I asked him again, “Uncle, do you still have this vision in your heart?” He continued to sing,
Jerusalem is in my dreams
Jerusalem is in my tears
I looked for you and found you in the fire of the altar
I looked for you and found you in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands.
We wandered through the valley of tears
We wandered towards our heavenly home
After walking through the valley of death for forty years
My tears dried up.
Jesus came to destroy the chains of death
He came to open the path to glory!
The early missionaries shed their blood and tears for us
Let’s hurry to fulfil the promise of God!
He spoke in a faltering voice, “Every evening for decades in the labour camp I faced toward the west, in the direction of Jerusalem, and cried out to the Lord, ‘Oh God, I’ll never be able to reach Jerusalem on foot. Our vision has perished. Heavenly Father, I pray you will raise up a new generation of Christians in China who are willing to lay down their lives to take the gospel all the way back to where it started in Jerusalem.’”
I held his hand and assured him, “The vision God gave you has not died! We will carry on the vision!”
We brought comfort to the heart of Uncle Zhao. He stood up, blessed us with his holy hands, and encouraged us from Luke 24:46-48, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
He exhorted us, “You must recognize the way of the cross is the call to shed blood. You must take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Muslim countries, then all the way back to Jerusalem. Turn your eyes to the west!”
That meeting was a pivotal point in my life. I felt as if God passed a flaming baton from this dear old man of God to the house churches, giving us the responsibility to complete the vision.
The Lord had already placed the Back to Jerusalem vision in my heart, but after meeting Simon Zhao it became the primary focus of my life. I came to understand clearly that the destiny for the house churches of China is to pull down the world’s last remaining spiritual giants: the house of Buddha, the house of Mohammed, and the house of Hinduism, and to proclaim the glorious gospel to all nations before the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!
You need to understand that when we speak about “Back to Jerusalem” we’re not saying that Jerusalem is the main goal. We are not planning to rush there for a big conference! Jerusalem was the starting point for the gospel two thousand years ago, and we believe it will circle the whole world and return to its starting point. Our aim is not merely to evangelize the city of Jerusalem, but the thousands of unreached people groups, town and villages located between China and Jerusalem.
The vision for Back to Jerusalem is now the primary goal of all the house church leaders in the Sinim Fellowship. This is not one project we have among many. This is the main thrust and focus of all our activities. We talk about it over breakfast, lunch and dinner. We pray unceasingly, asking God to raise up labourers and remove all obstacles. We dream about it in our sleep.
A few years ago the Sinim leaders prayed about their involvement in the Back to Jerusalem mission. We then came together and each house church network revealed the number of missionaries they were committed to train and send overseas. When we added the number of workers together it totaled 100,000. That means we intend to send 100,000 missionaries outside China in the coming years!
A closer examination of history reveals there were actually three main “silk roads” leaving China. The one starting in Xian and heading through Central Asia and the heart of the Islamic world is the best known one. The second major trading route went through Tibet, across the Himalayas to Bhutan and Nepal, then towards Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, connecting up with the main highway to Jerusalem. The third Silk Road went through south-west China, where the majority of unreached minority groups live today. It headed south into Vietnam and then westward into countries like Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and India. This route went deep into the heart of today’s Buddhist and Hindu worlds.
After we considered these facts the church leaders decided God was calling us to follow these three main directions with the gospel. The Holy Spirit had already called certain networks to focus on specific areas. For example, one network had many missionary families already working in Tibetan areas. It was natural for them to lead the thrust into the Tibetan Buddhist world. Another network for years had the burden to reach the minority groups in south-west China. Most of these tribes spill across borders into countries like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). That network assumed the responsibility of taking the gospel “back to Jerusalem” via the southern route.
We are not ignorant of the fact that these nations don’t welcome the gospel! We’re well aware that countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia will not take kindly to preachers in their land!
We also understand that in order to send missionaries they will need to be equipped, trained with language and cultural skills, and supported so they can fight for the Lord with maximum effectiveness. Today there are hundreds of Christians inside China learning foreign languages such as Arabic and English, in preparation for missionary service outside China.
We have also come to understand that the past thirty years of suffering, persecution and torture for the house churches in China were all part of God’s training for us. The Lord has perfectly fitted us to go as missionaries to the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu worlds.
Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, “I’ve been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.” This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on them. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, “The government will be on his shoulders.” Isaiah 9:6.
God has used China’s government for his own purposes, moulding and shaping his children as he sees fit. Instead of focusing our prayers against any political system, we pray that regardless of what happens to us, we will be pleasing to God.
Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.
This is true freedom!
There is little that any of the Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu countries can do to us that we haven’t already experienced in China. The worst they can do is kill us, but all that means is that we will be promoted into the glorious presence of our Lord for all eternity!
The Back to Jerusalem missionary movement is not an army with guns or human weapons. It isn’t a group of well-dressed, slick professionals. It’s an army of broken-hearted Chinese men and women whom God has cleansed with a mighty fire, and who have already been through years of hardship and deprivation for the sake of the gospel. In worldly terms they have nothing and appear unimpressive, but in the spiritual realm they are mighty warriors for Jesus Christ! We thank God that he chose “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1Corinthians 1:27-29.
God is calling thousands of house church warriors to write their testimonies with their own blood. We will walk across the borders of China, carrying the Word of God into the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu worlds. Thousands will be willing to die for the Lord. They will see multitudes of souls saved, as well as awaken many sleeping churches in the West.
Hundreds of Western missionaries spilled their blood on Chinese soil in the past. Their example has inspired us to be willing also to die for the Lord wherever he leads us with his message. Many of our missionaries will be captured, tortured, and martyred for the sake of the gospel, but that will not stop us.
God has not only refined usin the fire of affliction for the past thirty years, he has also refined our methods. For example, we’re totally committed to planting groups of local believers who meet in homes. We have no desire to build a single church building anywhere! This allows the gospel to spread rapidly, is harder for the authorities to detect, and allows us to channel all our resources directly into gospel ministry.
Some people have challenged the fact that we are sending missionaries outside China. They say we should stay in China and win our own country before we go out. To this illogical argument I respond with a simple question, “Then why does your country send missionaries? Is everyone in your country saved?”
If we stay in one place and refuse to advance until we’ve completely finished the job there, we’ll never be able to impact the world with the gospel. Surely God’s way is for us to be winning our home at the same time as we’re sending new workers to the ends of the earth! Believe me, our vision to reach the world does not mean we’ll stop or slow down our efforts to reach all of China with the gospel!
The two will take place hind-in-hand.
In fact, I believe the best way for the Chinese church to remain strong is to keep it motivated to reach out to the nations of the world. When believers focus on serving the Lord and reaching the lost, God blesses them and the church remains sharp. When we become self-centered and critical of each other, Satan has won already and the church will become a blunt, useless instrument.
We knew from the beginning that there is a high price to pay for this. Back to Jerusalem mission. I’m not just talking about money! I’m talking about the many Chinese who will be martyred and suffer as this vision unfolds. Many will go on one-way tickets, realizing they’ll never return to China to see their loved ones again.
We also realize Back to Jerusalem will cost a lot of money, but even though our churches are so poor, we have already collected tens of thousands of dollars to support our missionaries. Like the Macedonian church, many Chinese believers have given literally all they own, “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” 2 Cor. 8:2-3.
The Chinese church is willing to pay the price.
Since my escape from China in 1997, I’ve been responsible for the training and implementation of the Back to Jerusalem missionaries.
When the first batch of thirty-nine missionaries left China in March 2000, thirty-six of them were arrested. They didn’t lose their vision however. They went back home, prayed, and found another way to get across the border.
Little more than a year later, the number of Chinese house church missionaries outside China already exceeded four hundred, serving in more than ten countries. The floodgates are beginning to open.
Each Back to Jerusalem missionary receives training in several main subjects. These include:
One. How to suffer and die for the Lord. We examine what the Bible says about suffering, and look at how the Lord’s people have laid down their lives for the advance of the gospel throughout history.
Two. How to witness for the Lord. We teach how to witness for the Lord under any circumstance, on trains or buses, or even in the back of a police van on our way to the execution ground.
Three. How to escape for the Lord. We know that sometimes it is the Lord who sends us to prison to witness for him, but we also believe the devil sometimes wants us to go to prison to stop the ministry God has called us to do. We teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-storey windows without injuring themselves.
This is not a “normal” seminary or Bible College!
If you ever visit one of the places where we are training our Back to Jerusalem missionaries, you will see how serious we are to fulfil our destiny in God. You may see people with their hands handcuffed behind their backs, leaping from second-storey windows!
Nothing less is required if we are to break down the walls that separate Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists from knowing the sweet presence of Jesus.
* * *
When the elders of the Sinim Fellowship heard how God had miraculously allowed me to escape from China, they appointed me as their “Authorized Representative”, to speak for the house churches around the world.
The elders of the Sinim Fellowship drafted the following letter for me:
To Brother Yun, our holy brother who is a close comrade of Christ the Lord and who is filled with the Spirit of the Power of God:
You are the “chariots and horsemen of Israel” of God! You carry the victorious message of the expansion of the kingdom of Christ in you!
Dear Brother, you are sent by God from the Sinim Elders’ Committee of the Chinese house churches as our authorized representative overseas!
God has shown you, according to his guidance and Lordship, that life is the foundation, building up the church is the centre, and the training of workers is the point of breakthrough – the strategic place from where expansion can be carried out in all directions, radiating to every nation and people in the world, so that the ground that the sole of your foot walks on will become your inheritance!
March forward towards the Muslims, the Hindus and the Buddhists in Europe, America, Africa, Australasia and Asia!
We pray the Lord will give you wisdom and power from above, so that your message is filled with heavenly authority. Like the fire Samson tied to the foxes’ tails, it will burn wherever you go.
May you accomplish the holy mission God has given you, to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, until the last holy disciple is added to the church and the bride is prepared to welcome the return of our Saviour Lord Jesus Christ, so that the kingdoms of the world become the possession of our King! Our holy goal is that he will be King forever and ever.
We are ready to work hard with servants of the Lord all over the world, who are members of his body, serving one another with the spiritual gifts we have received, so that the holy mission of God can be fulfilled!
Dear Brother Yun, this is the conviction of all the servants of God in the Sinim Elders’ Fellowship. May the Lord strengthen the task entrusted to you, lead you, and open the way ahead. We and all our co-workers are your solid shields. May the will of the Lord be done quickly, on earth as in heaven. Amen!
Your co-workers in Christ and Elders of the Sinim Fellowship
NOTE:Following are a few words written by Paul Hattaway in his Introduction to this book:
There are lessons and experiences from Yun’s life that can greatly encourage Christians around the world as they seek to follow the Lord Jesus.
Brother Yun’s testimony is one that reflects the faithfulness and goodness of God in his life. His is a story of how God took a young, half-starved boy from a poor village in Henan Province, China, and used him to shake the world. Instead of focusing on the many miracles or experiences of suffering he has gone through, he prefers to focus on the character and beauty of Jesus Christ. He wishes the whole world to know Jesus as he does, not as an historical, distant figure, but as an ever-present, love-filled, all-powerful Almighty God.
In researching this book I interviewed dozens of Christians in China who were eyewitnesses of, and completely verified, the events contained in the pages that follow. Interspersed throughout the book are short contributions from Deling (Yun’s wife) and a few Chinese house church leaders. These insights will help the reader gain a different perspective – and a more complete picture – of some of the key incidents in Yun’s life. Most of Deling’s reflections were made while her husband was imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.
It has been said, “It is not great men who change the world, but weak men in the hands of a great God.” Those who know Brother Yun can vouch that he is a humble servant of God who does not want any part of his life to bring glory to himself or man.
Brother Yun desires that his story would focus all attention and glory on the only true Heavenly Man – the Lord Jesus Christ. – Paul Hattaway
The book “The Heavenly Man” with Paul Hattaway was first published in 2002 – USA: ISBN 0 8254 6207 X
It is distributed in USA by Kregel Publications, PO Box 2607, Grand Rapids Michigan 49501. The above quotations are made to support this book’s distribution.