Up until recently Churches and most all Christian activities in China have had almost total freedom. The Chinese government only wanted them to register with the government. There is so much potential unrest in China and so many different ethnic groups with their own “agendas”, this did not seem to be an unreasonable request. Many Christian groups even headquartered in the US , such as China Partner in Colorado Springs , have had great freedom for their activities in China . China Partner works with and supports the many Christian Seminaries across China by holding training seminars for the students and giving the students extensive quantities of training and pastoral reference books.
Pastor Yu is over all Christian activities in the Beijing area. We wanted him to come to Dallas and visit, however it took two years and great difficulty to get him permission. The reason was that when the Communists took over in China , they rounded-up all the Christian seminary students and incarcerated them. He was one of the ones rounded-up. They held him in prison for 27 years with consistent torture trying to get him to renounce any allegiance to Jesus. I tried to get him to talk about those years, but he never would. Finally, when he graciously escorted me to the Airport upon leaving Beijing after my second visit with him, he opened up and told me about it while we were in the back of his private car.
He said that as far as he could tell, he was the only seminary student being held that did not recant, commit suicide or loose his mind. With that background, the authorities there were not sure they wanted to allow him to leave the country.
When we finally got him to Dallas , he wanted the visit the different Christian seminaries there and also visit Dallas Baptist University . I personally took him to Dallas Baptist where he visited with some of the religion professors. However, though I never understood why at the time, he was so interested in one of the life size bronze statues there. There are several statues there showing Jesus’ apostles in scenes from the New Testament. However, one in particular has become more or less a motif for the University. It is a statue of Jesus washing Peter’s feet.
Pastor Yu took several pictures of it and had me take his picture standing next to it. Only later, when I was in Beijing with him did I learn why. There had been a Christian Seminary in downtown Beijing on very valuable land. Pastor Yu sold it and used the money to buy a factory on the north side of Beijing . Factories in China most all have dormitories to house the workers. This one also had many offices. With the dormitories and offices and quite a bit of land, it was ideal for a new Seminary.
Pastor Yu was so proud to take me there to see it and visit and speak with the students. Upon entering the gate to the grounds of the Seminary there was a roundabout in the road that led out to the different parts of the facility. Pastor Yu had taken those pictures from Dallas Baptist University and had commissioned one of the top artists in China to sculpt a life size statue of Jesus washing Peter’s feet out of two great blocks of pure white marble. He then had the scriptures from that section of the New Testament carved into the base and painted in bright crimson. He was so proud to show me. When I wanted to know why, he explained in detail: He said that the male students in China tend to have an authoritarian attitude when they become pastors. He wanted them to have a “servant attitude” and he felt that this statue in particular represented that servant attitude.
After that 27 years of incarceration and torture, I can attest that Pastor Yu’s heart is so very pure and anxious to see the Gospel spread over the Beijing area. He is proving a very capable administrator with a dedicated staff there. When he took over the job, one of his first tasks was with the 2nd largest church in the city, the Gangwashi Church.
It had a very old pastor and only an aged congregation. Pastor Yu replaced the old pastor with a 35 year old lady pastor named, Pastor Du. She was very popular and really “on fire” for Jesus. They were soon holding 5 services a week with overflow crowds.
In Beijing the original formal buildings such as this church were set back from the street with large, tree covered open areas separating the buildings from the main streets. However, the land along the streets became quite valuable as commercial sites. Thus, the open land along the streets became built-up into commercial establishments. That meant that in order to reach the older buildings, it is now necessary to go down fairly wide alleyways. At this church, they were covering the alleyway with awnings to shield the sun and rain and setting out huge numbers of folding chairs to take care of the overflow crowds and then broadcasting the services to these outside folks.
I became good friends with Pastor Du. I also took a pastor from the Mid-Cities area of DFW who was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Baptist’s Golden Gate Seminary in San Francisco and the Business Manager of that Seminary to Beijing with me. Pastor Du wanted my pastor friend to deliver the sermon for the Main Sunday Morning Service. His wife brought a beautiful Christian solo just before he preached. After his sermon he and his wife and his Seminary friend went into the church Conference Room. I stayed and did the follow-up with all of the many people who came forward after the sermon.
When I finally got back to the Conference Room with the others, I was surprised to find 5 people there from the United States State Department waiting on me. Like……….”What do you folks want?” They explained what we already knew, that President Clinton was to be in Beijing the following week. He was scheduled to bring the morning sermon at the largest church in the city, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was to bring the sermon at this church. They explained that their boss was a “nice lady” but that she did not have a clue about bringing a sermon at a Christian church. They wanted her to get up and say a few words and for us to bring the Sermon to the congregation. We explained that we had to leave, that we would not be able to be there. I never heard what happened on that following Sunday.
One of the people that I met doing the follow-up was a lovely older lady who was teaching English at the main technical university there in Beijing . We later became close friends on the internet and still are. She explained that those top students wanted to learn English just as it was spoken and written in the US , not as it is spoken and written in England and other places. This lady was a really strong Christian and wanted her students to be exposed to Christian principles, also. Later, I would send her very, very evangelical messages in English and she would use those as examples of just how English is currently written and expressed in the US . Then she would have those students debate, in English, subjects from my material; subjects like…..”Is there really a God?”, and “What is Jesus’ connection to that God?” She would then report back to me about those discussions.
That proved to me that there is religious freedom in China, because I doubt that one could get away with what she was doing at most of our liberal universities in the US……not as evangelical as what I was sending there.
Like I mentioned earlier, Pastor Du and I became good friends. We even visited together when she was able to come to the US two years later. But I was still skeptical on that trip about how really free Christians were.
I had heard that there was persecution of house churches in China . Pastor Du explained that such was true only if they refused to register. She said that there was no attempt to influence them or what they taught and said, that they only needed to be registered. She then went on to explain, much to my amazement that her church sponsored over 300 house churches for mostly older Christians who could not make it to the main church services and as an aid to spreading the Gospel over that part of Beijing .
But skeptical me, I said: “Would you please take me to visit one of those 300 house churches while they are having a service and have a totally unannounced visit?” She readily agreed. So, she and one of her male assistants set out to take me and my pastor friend. She only had the address and time of the meeting. It was poring down rain. We wandered all over that really old part of Beijing trying to find it. Finally, we were successful in locating the place, but the service had already started. The 40 or so people there were so startled at the four of us arriving, unannounced, that they wanted to stop their service and cut the watermelons right now.
We insisted that they go on with their service, thought my pastor friend and I could not understand the Chinese. I sat there and wished so much that I could interview those much older Christians. I speculated in my mind what most of them must have gone through during the trauma of the Cultural Revolution. When the sermon was finished and the last Chinese hymn was sung, they did cut the watermelons and we had great fellowship time together.
On this same trip I got closely acquainted with one of the staff members of Pastor Yu’s organization. He was young middle age and spoke perfect English. Late one afternoon we were walking all the way across Tiananmen Square to its east side.
It was natural that I would bring up the subject of the massive student led rebellion that happened right there. I made the comment that they had made their statement and that they should have finally left and not remained to be slaughtered.
Much to my amazement he said, “No”, with very much emotion. He then said: “We almost, almost got rid of this oppressive government.” I was just shocked that he would say such. Then he went on to explain that he had been there and had been part of the student group.
By this time we were right on the east edge of that huge Square. He stopped and looked around and made mental calculations and said: “It was right here!!!” To which I said: “Right here what?” Then he went on and explained that he had been there several days and really needed a shave and to shower and clean-up. He said that he left, accomplished his tasks and had just returned right at dark. He explained to me that he had been in the Chinese Army and knew what that sound meant.
I asked: “What sound?”
He said it was the sound of an incoming mortar shell. He said that he instantly bolted away from the square toward the east and ran faster than he had ever run in his life. He said that everyone was killed right where he had been standing. He was knocked flat by the blast but was totally unhurt.
It was so dramatic to get this first hand account right there where it happened.
It is my opinion that it was God, Himself who saved this young man for the work that he is doing now for the advancement of God’s tasks there in the very heart of China!!!