The Back to Jerusalem movement began in the 1920s. From then until communism, a number of groups, independent of each other, were given the same vision of taking the gospel westward from China and pursued that vision. One western missionary in China called it “a movement of the Spirit which is irresistible.”*
When communism arrived in 1949, the movement was carried on by only a few and these few headed towards the nation’s northwest border in three groups, bringing many of the soldiers they encountered along the way to believe in Jesus. They hadn’t yet managed to leave the country before they were all arrested and put into prison. None managed to survive their sentences except for one young man, Simon Zhao.
“Simon was beaten [and often tortured] for most of the thirty-one years he spent in prison” but he never renounced Jesus. He prayed, he preached to those who would listen and he experienced God’s presence in a number of ways. By the time he was released as an elderly man in his 60s, he was certain no one would remember him or know who he was. Having no place else to go, he set up a make-shift shelter outside the prison gate, and spent his time praying and praising God, waiting for life to end.
Somehow, the local church learned about him and helped him in ways they could. News about him spread until distant parts of China heard about “a miracle man [who] had been sustained by the power of God during thirty-one years in prison for the sake of the gospel.” Simon didn’t want to give his testimony or have any attention drawn to him but eventually one distant group of believers persuaded him to come to them and tell his story.
God had begun to bring the vision of Back to Jerusalem back to life amongst Chinese believers and one day, a number of years after Simon had begun to share his story, while he was worshipping with others, a well-known Christian leader, himself imprisoned and tortured many times, began to sing an old song from the Back to Jerusalem movement of the 1940s. Simon began to cry uncontrollably and moved towards the front, asking to speak.
Forty-eight years before, he and his colleagues had written that very song. He told how all but he had died in prison, including his bride of four months. The believers asked if he still carried the vision for Back to Jerusalem in his heart. He replied by singing first one song and then another which urged the believers to pick up the torch he had carried. And then he said, “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!”
Brother Yun, the man who sang Simon’s song and now one of the chief leaders of Back to Jerusalem has a few things to say to us in the western Church that are very sobering:
- “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.”
- “The Back to Jerusalem missionary movement … is 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.”
- “God is calling thousands of house church warriors to write their testimonies with their own blood…. Thousands will be willing to die for the Lord."
- “We are going into battle because we know that for more than seventy years God has been speaking to the Chinese church, telling us to take the gospel back to Jerusalem for his glory. That is why we can march forward….”
- “The very thing some people may think a failure [such as imprisonment and death] may turn out to be the point of breakthrough and victory.”
God, give us all this courage and faith!
P. S. Simon Zhao was given twenty post-prison years of ministry for God before he died at the age of eighty-three in 2001.
*Phyllis Thompson quoted in Back to Jerusalem p. 41
All other quotes can be found between pages 46 and 60 in Back to Jerusalem.
A Hundred Years Later is a previous post in this blog about Back to Jerusalem.