Friday, March 9, 2012

The Heavenly Man

The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway

I have seen this book around for years, so when Christian Audio made it their free book of the month a while ago I eagerly downloaded it. I listened to it on and off over a few months, so any inaccuracies are all mine in the remembering!

It is the story of Brother Yun, a Christian pastor from China. It tells of his conversion as a teenager, a strong sense of God’s calling him to preach, beginning a preaching ministry and continuing to serve God in China and later overseas.

It is a fascinating story – his life is full of stories of powerful conversions, visions and dreams from God, dramatic arrests, awful imprisonments, brutal beatings, miraculous healings and a continual conviction to preach the Word in every and all circumstances.

On one level it left me amazed. This one man has suffered and endured so much for the gospel. Yet he has also continually experienced God’s grace in many ways. After years of hardship in China, he has now left China and is in Germany and working for the Back to Jerusalem movement which seeks to reach many unbelievers with the gospel.

On another level it left me uncomfortable. The ongoing stories of prison torture verged on masochistic (sometimes I would listen to 40 mins non-stop of prison and torture tales). The miraculous signs and wonders which God performed in his life – he fasted for 74 days, he escaped prison miraculously, was healed miraculously, received many specific dreams and visions as warnings and instructions from God - are incredible to read about. Yet, I wondered: how helpful it is for some to read of them? Could someone read this book and think: “Why doesn’t God work in my life that way?” “Why am I not healed?” “Why doesn’t God tell me of his plans and what I am to do?” If you are likely to question God more over how he acts in your life, rather than praise God for his work in another’s, I suspect you shouldn’t read it. Although it also made me think: perhaps if we want God to act in our lives in such dramatic ways, we should also be willing to suffer much more for him.

Towards the end, Yun spends some time thinking about the Chinese house churches vs. the churches in the west. It is not a flattering comparison for those of us in the west, and rightly so, I suspect. He thinks we are soft, worried about our own comforts and less concerned with serving Jesus and giving him our whole lives. In the mission organisation he is part of it is clear that it’s members may well lose their lives for Christ. I’m not sure I’ve read that in any mission statements I have come across here.

Because I have no knowledge about the church in China, I asked a friend who has worked there. Here are some of her comments:
Indeed, he went through much suffering, miracles and preservation by the Lord, that it almost seems unbelievable. But having met many Chinese Christians, especially in the rural areas of China (including Henan Province where Brother Yun was born), how many of them came to know the Lord through miraculous healing (when they can't afford to go to the doctors), I'm humbled by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In her work, she worked with the registered churches (of whom Brother Yun is quite scathing):
“I can't comment much about the house churches as I work mainly with the registered church, to provide bible resources legally and openly. But having been to registered churches especially in the rural areas, where you see their love for Jesus, I beg to differ from Brother Yun about the total condemnation of the registered churches. The persecution he went through was mainly in the 70-80s, where undeniably, religion freedom was limited. But the China today is a far cry from what it was during Cultural Revolution (CR) and slightly post-CR.

I found her comments helpful. Perhaps you will too.

It is a challenging read. If others out there have read it, I would love to know your thoughts.

(This morning, Jean's blog helpfully pointed me to this arcticle by The Gospel Coalition, which helps explain why the situation in China is by no means straightforward - 8 Myths About China Today)


Sarah said...

Hi Wendy,
I found my way here via In All Honesty.

I have that book on my 'to read' list for this year so it has been good to read your thoughts. I'm bracing myself for the torture scenes!

Wendy said...

Hi Sarah - lovely to have you visit. Yes - brace yourself - but it is a good read!

Camilla said...

Yes I've read this and found your comments echo my own thoughts about the book.

It made me think that perhaps God intervened more dramatically in people's lives because that was often the only way that people had available to encounter God in the culture at that time? And as he says, perhaps that dramatic intervention sustains people in unusually trying circumstances, that we in the West rarely, if ever, experience.

While the torture was difficult to read about I wonder whether hearing it read aloud would be more difficult than reading it silently to oneself?

A thoughtful review, as always, thanks :-)

Wendy said...

Thanks Camilla, I think you are right about dramatic intervention in other cultures, an astute point.

And definitely yes about the audio - I would have skim read it much more if actually reading it!