Brother Yun Co-author of 'The Heavenly Man' speaks in Surrey
A million Chinese Christian converts per month -yet 400 leaders imprisoned, missionary informs St Saviour’s
Over a thousand people crowded into Guildford’s St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Woodbridge Rd to hear the remarkable testimony of Chinese pastor Brother Yun 52, co-author of worldwide best-seller 'The Heavenly Man' (published by Monarch Books), over the weekend of 13-14th November.
The work has been translated into almost 20 languages, and won the UK's Christian Book of the Year Award in 2003. It chronicles events identical to those in the Biblical Book of Acts, which have been witnessed by house church movements across China. These include reports of mass baptisms, and healings of the blind, deaf, and lame. Yun has served as a worldwide representative for some of the streams. German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke says of Yun's biography “You may begin reading the book 'The Heavenly Man' on your couch, but you will finish it on your knees.”*
Yun has spent seven years in prison for his faith and been arrested around thirty times. He is known throughout China as “The Heavenly Man”, as a mark of respect, after this was the name he gave himself to protect other believers, when beaten and asked for his identity by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in 1984.
Missionaries had to leave China in 1949 as Communism took hold, and approximately 800,000 Christians were left without Bibles or churches, the audience was informed. Seventy million, 10% of the general population, died from starvation during Chairman Mao Zedong's “Great Leap Forward” experiment.
By 1958 all overt church activity had been ended by the Chinese government. In 1978 Mao Zedong's widow, Jiang Qing told foreign visitors “Christianity in China has been confined to the history section of the museum. It is dead and buried.”
In Brother Yun’s County of Nanyang, believers were crucified on the walls of their churches and pastors dropped repeatedly from cranes until dead. Yet the number of Christians grew during the Revolution to 30 million, and today 150 million, with a million new converts per month.
Yun’s father was a tough captain in the Nationalist Guards, later tortured for having fought the communists. In 1974 he was battling the latter stages of lung and stomach cancer. Yun’s despairing mother turned to faith instead of suicide. After praying “Jesus heal Father” all night with her five children, his father recovered, and young Yun -Liu Zhenying “Hero of the Garrison” converted aged 16, along with all his farming family and their friends.
After crying and fasting for a Bible for a hundred days, Yun reported in his book, written with the help of evangelist and researcher Paul Hattaway, that he received a vision of a “bread feast” from an old man’s trolley being brought to him in a red bag by two servants. The same men then knocked at the front door, with a Bible previously buried in a tin. It belonged to a badly tortured evangelist who had allegedly received a vision of Yun and his precise location three months earlier.
Yun reported that following a dream of the same old man calling him to the south and west, still aged 16, he found himself being despatched around China’s most densely populated province of Henan –meaning south of the (Yellow) River. On occasion Yun reported in his biography, being translocated in moments, and often receiving precise visions of communities who had been praying and fasting for Scriptural teaching. By 1978 holes would be cut in river ice at night to baptize hundreds, who would not find the water cold.
The young preacher was arrested at the marriage office, due to being on a Public Security Bureau wanted list. His wife Deling had earlier received a vision to dip her hands and feet, scarred from haemophilia, in crystal clear water and awoke healed.
In 1983, a protracted “bird-hunting” season was declared against Christians not aligned with the state’s Three-Self Patriotic Church Movement. House church leaders were branded “spiritual pollutants,” and thrown into prison and labour camps. “We felt so honoured to be wanted criminals as we walked hand-in-hand together for Jesus” Yun recalled, as he strode past the wanted posters of himself, with his wife.
House churches objected to TSPM alignment because ministry was forbidden without permission, evangelism discouraged, outreach to children, and teaching on divine healing, The Second Coming of Christ and Revelations were banned.
While the TSPM gave the appearance of there being religious freedom in China, authorities mocked Yun, saying “this is your free choice” to be tortured via electrocution or whipping.
By December, the young preacher found himself paraded for half a day, with a large red cross leashed to his back, through the streets of Shangnan township in the mountainous western province of Shaanxi. He was ordered to kneel in the dirt, before being publicly punched and kicked in the face and chest, for not being prepared to compromise his faith. Yun was then forced to stagger around the streets again, behind a police car fitted with loudspeakers, which proclaimed that his preaching had seriously disturbed the peace and confused the people.
Deling received a vision. “Yun has been arrested in Shaanxi. He needs a great miracle to get him out.” The church fasted and prayed. The rope binding Yun's hands at the police station snapped. As he clung to the eight foot perimeter wall, topped with broken glass, the preacher said he found himself hoisted clear, of both the wall, and a ten foot diameter septic tank.
In 1984 Yun was arrested in Wuyang County, Henan Province, and returned to Nanyang, where his 15 or so cell mates were informed by the PSB that Yun was an anti-government criminal, and urinated on him. Yun's pastor, wife and extended family, testify he fasted for seventy four days without food or water. He offered up a prayer petition during this time, that through his sacrifice, thousands would be reached for the Gospel. His cell mates converted, and before being moved on, Yun was promoted cell leader by the prison director.
At the 5,000 inmate Xinyang Prison Labour Camp in southern Henan, where Yun subsequently served out the four year sentence of the Prefecture People’s Court, the warden commented “I’ve read your court papers. You were labelled a counter-revolutionary and an enemy of the state, but I know you’re really just a Christian pastor who wants people to believe in Jesus. I don’t know why our government sends people like you to our prison camp.”
In April 1988, Brother Xu Yongze, head of the Born Again House Church Movement, was arrested in a Beijing park, 24hrs before raising Yun’s case with American evangelist Billy Graham, and imprisoned without charge for three years. When Yun was subsequently accused of being a deadly criminal and plotting with foreigners against the government, Yun highlighted he had twice been voted best prisoner.
After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, mass disillusionment with Communism meant many converts were now students and government workers, rather than, as before, frequently elderly farmers. A further wave of persecution against house churches followed in May 1991.
Yun was charged with “seriously disturbing the social order”, but at Da’an Prison Labour Camp in North West Henan, soon found himself playing gospel songs as head of prison music, leading the prison education programmes, and helping edit reports sent to government showing criminals’ lives had changed for the better –especially after conversion. “They had no future hope or joy, so they cherished the word of God like a priceless pearl.” Yun’s three year sentence was reduced to two for good behaviour.
In 1996, five representatives of the largest house church streams, agreed to form a unity coalition, called the Sinim Fellowship (named after converts from the eastern Land of Sinim, referred to in Isaiah 49:12). The Beijing government feared the possibility of political opposition. Yun was arrested at a meeting of 11 house church leaders in Zhengzhou City in March 1997, after jumping out of a second floor window. The judge had Yun’s legs permanently broken saying “we’d like to see you escape now!” Yun shared at St Saviour's, that this had been the lowest point of his life.
However, following a vision of his wife beckoning to him “Why don’t you open the door?” and recalling a vision from his 74 day fast, 13 years previously, of the iron prison doors swinging open before him, Yun found his legs miraculously healed. He was able to walk out of Zhengzhou Number One Maximum Security Prison, witnessed by three pastors, from their cell windows, but unnoticed by the 30 or so guards in the courtyard, who would have been mandated to shoot him on the spot.
Two guards were normally assigned to each of the three iron doors he had to pass through. Yun found the main prison gate onto the street open, and a taxi waiting. The driver commented “you look like you’re in a hurry!”
The Christian family he sought sanctuary with, were expecting him, after praying and fasting for Yun and his co-workers for a week. The mother said she heard from the Holy Spirit “I will release Yun and the first place he will stop will be your home. He will stay for a short time and will pray for you.” A family member helped him pedal away via the local alleyways.
Meanwhile guards' increasingly exasperated calls of “cripple where are you?” went unanswered. The Security Police, PSB and People’s Liberation Army were mobilized to find Yun, and unsuccessfully searched every house in the city. No one had previously escaped from the high security prison, and the event was a significant embarrassment for the Chinese government. The resulting investigation concluded Yun had received no human help, though two guards lost their jobs.
After careful examination by the German Embassy in Beijing, Yun in 1997, and later his wife, son and daughter, who fled via Burma and Thailand in 2001, were granted refugee status in Germany. Yun was welcomed back from Burma later that year by evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, following a seven month and seven day prison term there, cut short from seven years, thanks to petitions from the German Government.
Yun has spoken extensively in Europe, Asia, and in North America, including New York’s Times Square Church. On release from prison in 2000, Brother Xu Yongze, as head of the unity coalition of Chinese house churches, told Yun within minutes, he recognised a strategic role for him in assisting the Chinese and western churches to co-operate, and in testifying about the exciting works in China.
“Before I travelled to the West I had absolutely no idea that so many churches were spiritually asleep.” Yun wrote in his book. “Many meetings are cold and lack the fire and presence of God that we have in China.” He continued “The Chinese Church is like Peter at the Beautiful Gate. When he saw the crippled beggar he said, Silver or Gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you... I pray that God might use the Chinese church to help the Western church to rise up and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yun observed “Christians want to stop and enjoy his presence and blessings too long” rather than carry the fire to the corners of nations. The sharp truth of God's Word, backed up by actions such as soul winning, are often missing, he perceives.
Today Yun helps with the training of Back to Jerusalem missionaries. The aspiration is for perhaps 100,000 to eventually return along the route of the old Silk Road to un-reached people groups, around 90% of whom live in its path. House churches highlight a need to reach the 100 million indigenous minority and tribal peoples also.
Prospective Back to Jerusalem missionaries are taught how to suffer and die for the Lord, and how to witness in any circumstance, even in a police van on the way to an execution ground. However they also “teach the missionaries special skills such as how to free themselves from handcuffs, and how to jump from second-storey windows without injuring themselves.”
Raising associated questions:
Evangelicals Now: China -leaders distance themselves from “the heavenly man”
Answering associated questions:
*Asia Harvest publishes open letter from co-author Peter Hattaway addressing concerns
*Evangelist, researcher and co-author Peter Hattaway: “I have been really blessed and encouraged by the feedback of Christians from all parts of the world -from India to Iceland, Argentina to Zimbabwe -who have written to say how the book challenged and inspired them to a deeper walk with the Lord.”