For nearly a century Chinese Christians have had the vision to carry the gospel “back to Jerusalem.” They believe that God has called them to evangelize the more than 5,000 unreached people groups that live along the old Silk Road between China and the ancient city where Christianity began with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Back to Jerusalem movement dates all the way back to the 1920’s, when a group of Chinese Christians called the Jesus Family walked from village to village preaching the gospel. Their motto was “sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering, death” [p. 39]. Although they were often persecuted for their faith, eventually some members of the group began to sense that God was calling them to carry the good news of Jesus Christ all the way to Jerusalem, and to establish churches in every community along the way.
Mainly because of martyrdom, the Jesus Family was never able to achieve this goal. Yet they never stopped longing for its fulfillment. As their leader Simon Zhao prayed during the four long decades of his imprisonment, “Lord, I will never be able to go back to Jerusalem, but I pray you will raise up a new generation of Chinese believers who will complete the vision” [p. 45].
Zhao’s prayers began to be answered in the 1940’s and 50’s. Under the leadership of Pastor Mark Ma, a group of eight young theology students at the Northwest Bible Institute committed themselves to preach the gospel in Xinjiang Province, a vast region of Northwest China inhabited by Muslims and Buddhists of many different languages.
As he prayed about this mission, Pastor Ma sensed that God was calling them to enlarge their vision to encompass people groups all the way from Xinjiang to Jerusalem. The group under his leadership agreed to call themselves the “Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band.” Here is how Pastor Ma described their goal: “My hope is that our Chinese church will with determination and courage hold fast this great responsibility and, depending upon our all victorious Savior, complete this mighty task, and taking possession of our glorious inheritance, take the gospel back to Jerusalem. There we shall stand on the top of Mount Zion and welcome our Lord Jesus Christ descending with clouds in great glory!” [p. 28].
The Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band expected to face many dangers along the way. “We may not reach there,” they said before their journey began, “we may die on the way, but we are willing to shed our blood on the highway to Mount Zion” [p. 29]. As it turned out, they did not die along the way because the communist government prevented them from crossing the border into Xinjiang. This was a bitter disappointment, yet it was also in the providence of God, who was planning a later mission with a larger harvest.
Today many Chinese house leaders are following in the footsteps of earlier pioneers by preparing to preach the gospel from village to village, all the way to Jerusalem. More than a thousand evangelists have already gone out, with many more to follow—as many as 100,000 workers, or more.
Many Chinese Christians believe that the church’s Great Commission will not be fulfilled until the gospel has completed its global circuit from East to West and returned to the place where it began. Then, they say, it will be time for Jesus to come again. According to the famous house church leader Brother Yun, “the destiny of the house churches of China is to pull down the world’s last remaining spiritual strongholds—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!” [p. 57].
Only God knows when Jesus will come again, but it is easy to see that China has a special place in God’s plan for the world. When the famous pioneer missionary Robert Morrison baptized his first Chinese convert, he prayed, “May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall believe!” [p. 5]. Morrison’s harvest prayer is now being answered—not just in China, but across the Far East.
The new generation of evangelists is prepared to face extreme hardship, up to and including death. In fact, many Chinese Christians now see their past fifty years of isolation and persecution as part of God’s preparation for their dangerous mission to Jerusalem and the world. “We have become soldiers of steel,” one of them wrote, “tempered in the furnace of affliction. We do not fear what people can do to us” [p. 106].
These missionaries hardly need our help, but surely they need our prayers. While they are on the front lines of the world’s warfare, we can become part of their supply line through prayer. At this very moment, Chinese missionaries are moving west with the gospel. These men and women are our own brothers and sisters. We should heed an urgent request that was first carried back to Britain in 1948, at the time of the original Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band, but is just as relevant for us today in America:
Will you help these young people with your prayers? The powers of evil in these darkened corners of the earth which are the habitation of cruelty and violence will not easily yield to the light of the gospel, but through prayer we may see the walls of brass tottering before these Spirit-filled young people who are going forth under the banner of Him who never lost a battle. Who will uphold them in prayer? [p. 36].
[The information in this Window on the World comes from Paul Hattaway, Brother Yun, Peter Xu Yongze, and Enoch Wang, Back to Jerusalem: Three Chinese House Leaders Share Their Vision to Complete the Great Commission (Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2003)]
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