The Heavenly Man, recommended to me by a missionary friend, is foreign to my personal experience and stretched my theology at times. Just the same, I found it moving and inspirational, much like reading a twentieth-century extension to the Acts of the Apostles.
Brother Yun, the “Heavenly Man,” was an uneducated man from a poor village in Henan Province who became a leader in China’s house church movement. I was amazed at the persecution he endured and his resolve to never deny his faith. The cost Brother Yun paid for wholeheartedly following Jesus was almost more than I could bear to read at times! But he prayed. He fasted. He meditated on God’s Word to the point that he knew it intimately and could quote it freely. He preached the gospel of Christ passionately at every occasion, even in prison. What an inspiration to read about a man in our own generation who was totally sold out to Jesus!
Though I can’t defend biblically a strict cessationist position (i.e., that the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased; that they were only for the apostolic age), I still found what I read to be very strange from my limited personal experience. For example, at one point in prison Yun claims to have gone without food or water for 74 days. He believes it was a miracle of God. Yun’s wife, Deling, writes, “At this time (in the early 1980s) we witnessed the greatest number of miracles in our ministry for the Lord. Supernatural visitations, divine healings, and people being delivered of demons were all common occurrences. Some remarkable incidents took place that led multitudes of people to salvation of the cross.”
During these years, multitudes came to Christ. “In some areas the power of God was poured out with such intensity that people came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit while walking to the meeting place. They would kneel down on the road and repent of their sins.” The new converts had such a hunger for the Word that they could listen to Bible messages that would go on for hours. “The pattern continued day after day. We found that some of our foreign visitors could only speak for 45 minutes before they ran out of things to say! So we asked that only those who were able to teach for at least two hours at a time should come to us.”
Love and Fellowship
Besides being impressed by the faith, courage, and passion of these Chinese house church Christians, I was also touched by their love for one another. During one of his most grueling times in prison, Brother Yun writes, “I recalled the night I was arrested, when Brother Zhang, Brother Zhen, and the other co-workers lovingly washed my feet. I remembered the beautiful scarf Zhang gave to me, saying, ‘This scarf will keep you warm from the cold.’ I felt as if my dear brothers and sisters were always with me, even in prison. I took great comfort as I thought about their sweet fellowship. I still had the scarf Brother Zhang had given me. I wrapped it around my waist to keep warm. In this way, I felt I was still bound together with the believers.”
At one point in the midst of many wonderful ministry opportunities, Brother Yun wrote: “Working for God had taken the place of loving God. I hid my condition from those who prayed for me and carried on in my own strength, until God decided to intervene in his mercy and love.” This is when Yun was arrested for a second time and taken off to prison again. Yun saw this second imprisonment as a punishment from God for making ministry his idol and for not listening to his wife and the Holy Spirit when they cautioned him about this. Later he also began to realize his imprisonment was an opportunity from God for physical and spiritual refreshment.
In reading the incredible stories of Yun, Deling, and other Chinese Christians in the house church movement, I often thought, “Lord, why am I so weak in body and spirit? Could I ever do what Brother Yun did?” Of course, I know God promises to equip us for whatever He calls us to do, so yes, if He called me, He would enable me, but at this point the thought is overwhelming.
Chapter 11 of Hebrews came to my mind from time to time while reading this incredible book. The author ends the great faith chapter as follows: “The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God has planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:38-40)
One more thing – when you read this book, be prepared to be inspired but also to receive some criticism of the Church in our part of the world.
P.S. For those of you who get this review and live in Brother Yun’s country, would you be willing to give me your evaluation of the book, please? There’s always more behind a book than the average reader can discern.