The news of late has carried a number of stories about the Olympic Torch and its precarious journey around the world. Protesters in many countries have gathered to make their voice heard about the atrocities committed by the Chinese government in its suppression of Tibet and its support for the bloodshed in Darfur.
Perhaps lost in this vocal and even violent protest over the plight of the Tibetans is the difficulties often encountered by Christians in China. Although the Communist Party has gradually taken a more tolerant position toward the Chinese Church, there are still incidents of persecution, imprisonment, torture, rape, and even murder. These atrocities are often aimed at members of China’s illegal underground church and, while many make it in to the western press, many others go unnoticed.
This article, however, is not so much about the persecution of Christians in China as it is about the heroic efforts of Chinese Christians to spread the gospel beyond the borders of the Middle Kingdom. The fact that these brothers and sisters in Christ plan and execute these missionary efforts is especially remarkable, considering the political environment in which they have to operate.
I lived and worked in China for over five years, serving as a “tent-maker” missionary. During this time, I became acquainted with many Chinese Christians, both members of underground house churches and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement, the government sanctioned church in China. It was through my friendships with these remarkable Christians that I first learned of the “Back to Jerusalem” project. Since returning to the States I have learned that very few western Christians are aware of Back to Jerusalem, so I want to share a bit of information about the movement in hopes that these brief words might motivate readers to pray for these courageous missionaries who, quite often, place themselves in the mouth of the lion.
Briefly stated, the goal of the Back to Jerusalem project is for Chinese Christians to evangelize all the nations between China and Jerusalem. The proponents of the movement understand that Christianity spread westward from Jerusalem and eventually to Britain and America. The faith then traveled from these two countries to China. The Chinese Church now feels it has both a call and a mandate from God to take the gospel message all the way back to its origin. In a geographical sense, the good news will have spread around the world.
The vision for Back to Jerusalem actually was birthed back in the 1920’s, but due to the ever-shifting nature of Chinese politics during the first half of the 20th Century, the movement fell off the radar for a number of years, only to resurface with great passion as the century drew to a close. Often hamstrung by a lack of funds, the proponents of the project never gave up. Against all odds, the initial missionary team was formed and trained.
In March, 2000, a team of 36 Chinese missionaries left the country for the mission field. A number of them never returned, but the project continued to move forward. Relatively unknown in the West, the Back to Jerusalem movement continued to arouse passion in the Chinese Church. Many of the initial missionaries had been subject to torture, deprivation, and ill-treatment in their home country, so they were well-prepared for what they might face in other lands that were hostile to Christianity, especially Muslim nations.
The Islamic countries are a high priority for the Back to Jerusalem missionaries. As I talked to people involved in the project and reflected on what I learned, I arrived at one salient awareness: Perhaps the Chinese are much better equipped to evangelize Muslim nations than we westerners, particularly Americans, are. The fact is, Americans have a bad reputation in the Islamic World. Whether this image is justified or not is not the issue here. The reality is, a Muslim is more likely to listen to a Chinese Christian than an American one.
Space does not permit a detailed analysis of the movement here. I would like, however, to encourage Christians here in the States to pray for these missionaries, their families, and for the success of Back to Jerusalem. Believe me, these folks need all the help they can get, spiritual and material. If you would like more information on the Back to Jerusalem project, visit the website:
Also, Paul Hattaway, along with three prominent house church pastors, has written a book entitled, Back To Jerusalem, which contains useful information.
In closing, I find it ironic that, with all the protest about the Olympic Flame and whether or not it will complete its journey around the world, the Chinese are carrying another flame, this one of the spirit, which is also attempting to complete a circumnavigation of the globe.
May God be with these courageous people.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved