EXCLUSIVE: ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Conference Features Persecuted Christians From Around the World: Part 1
MESQUITE, Texas — “You have to give forth great light in this time,” Brother Yun, a man who says he miraculously walked out of a maximum-security prison in China, told The Stream in an interview at the Voices of the Persecuted Church conference.
Several hundred people from around the nation and the world filled a meeting room near Dallas, Texas, October 22-23 to hear directly from persecuted Christians. Speakers told the audience stories of God’s faithfulness to them as they lived for God in China, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea.
“This once-in-a-lifetime conference will most likely never happen again, but we praise God that we were able to witness all these giants of the faith in one place,” Eugene Bach, one of the speakers, wrote after the conference on the website of Back to Jerusalem (BTJ), the international missions organization hosting the conference.
Speakers Tell First-Hand Accounts and Encourage Gospel Focus
Three of the speakers are particularly closely connected: Brother Yun; Isaac Liu, Yun’s son; and Peter Xu, Yun’s fellow underground church leader. Yun, a founding leader of BTJ, is known for his 2002 autobiography, The Heavenly Man, which has been translated into nearly 50 languages and features miraculous accounts from his life as a leader of the underground church in China and his eventual escape from the country to further the gospel internationally.
Yun elaborated on stories from his autobiography, saying his audience was likely already familiar with what he was about to share. He had thought he would die before leaving prison and never see his newborn son. Yet his son stood next to him at the conference, now an adult, translating for him in English in a public context for the first time. Yun rejoiced that he was on stage with his son and that his son also lives for Christ.
Yun spoke about his willingness to die for Christ — to be a martyr — and the more difficult call to live for Christ as a living sacrifice.
To explain this point, Yun said that during one of his imprisonments he fasted from food and water for 74 days, thinking he would die. Guards tortured him by driving needles under his fingernails. He closed his eyes so he would only see Jesus, but the guards forced his eyes open. He asked God to receive his spirit into heaven. He fainted. When he woke up, his mother, wife and sister were with him, visiting him in prison. His wife and sister didn’t recognize him in his thin, frail state, and told guards they’d brought the wrong man. Yun told his mother he would soon die for Christ, but his mother told him he must live for Christ. Yun recalled that as guards took his mother away from him, she told him, “My son, don’t forget this one thing in your life: Live for Jesus.”
“To live for Christ is very difficult,” Yun said. He compared living for Christ to marriage, saying couples make vows unto death, but when the daily difficulties of living for a spouse prove greater than their commitment to their vows, marriages end in divorce. “We don’t need people proclaiming ‘We will die for Christ,’ but, ‘We will live for Christ.'”
Yun cautioned the audience not to lose intimacy with Christ, confidence, bravery or the boldness to follow God’s Word. Persecution will only increase, so we must hold fast to Christ. Yun’s message was later summarized by the conference host as: God loves you. Don’t be afraid.
“I believe a great, glorious revival will come to USA,” Yun also said.
Liu spoke of growing up the son of persecuted parents, sometimes in jail, sometimes on the run. His grandmother, having only “one sermon,” reiterated to him many times: “If you have any challenges in your life, go down on your knees and pray to Jesus.” She had seen the power of prayer when God miraculously healed her dying husband through prayer.
Liu said scripture was precious to him when he was growing up and he sought to memorize it. When a preacher came to town, Liu would borrow the preacher’s Bible while the preacher slept, scour it for important verses to memorize and write them on his skin with a pen. He showered after he had memorized the verses.
Liu said of following Christ, “It’s not about believing in something. It’s about following the One who is the true king of heaven and earth.”
Brother Yun and Peter Xu
Yun and Xu recalled Yun’s miraculous escape from a high security prison as guards seemed blind to Yun and iron gates stood open, a story told in Yun’s book The Heavenly Man.
Bach wrote of Yun and Xu’s talk:
‘They smashed his legs with hammers,’ Peter Xu recalled about Brother Yun when he was in prison. ‘I pushed on my door in the prison cell and it supernaturally opened up. On the other side of my door was Brother Yun and he was preparing to walk out.’ Peter Xu shared how God told Brother Yun to walk out of the prison and miraculously that is exactly what happened! Brother Yun walked right out of the prison and every door opened and not one single prison guard stopped him!
Mariam Ibraheem spoke about her imprisonment in Sudan with her infant son, Martin, who became a toddler in prison. She was already pregnant with her daughter, Maya, to whom she gave birth in prison. Mariam was imprisoned and sentenced to 100 lashes and hanging for being a Christian whom authorities thought should be a Muslim. Legally, she was considered to have left the Islamic faith because her father was a Muslim, though she was raised by a Christian mother. For her Christian faith she was hated by her fellow inmates and called “stupid.” The other women threatened to kill her children in the night, saying she was a bad mother for refusing Islam. She kept constant watch over her children and never slept more than an hour at a time.
Prison officials tried to instill fear in her, but instead she was bold. Her boldness caused prison officials to suspect she knew someone powerful who would get her out of prison, and they needed to know who it was. In their fear, they searched her hair and Martin’s diaper for some hidden technology such as a microphone. There was no microphone and no one powerful behind her except Jesus and many praying people.
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Her boldness continued to affect officials. One of the guards was taking women to another room to rape them. She told him to stop, and he stopped.
She was allowed visitors whom officials thought might help her convert to Islam. A nun, dressed as a Muslim woman, visited her and snuck her a Bible. She tucked pages of the Bible in her hair at night and read them in the bathroom. A Muslim man who had been a Christian visited her as well. He told her he had left Christianity for “the religion of peace.” She asked what his Christian community had done to him when he left. (Nothing, of course.) She pointed out to him that, in contrast with his peaceful exit from Christianity, she was facing execution for her exit from his “religion of peace.”
Eventually Ibraheem escaped Sudan with the help of the Italian government. She told the audience that Muslims must clean themselves and have a clean place in order to pray, but Christians can pray anywhere, including a bathroom. She said that through the prayers of believers, “so much courage and strength came to me.” She asked listeners to continue to pray for the persecuted church, that they will have strength and courage, and that they will have access to God’s Word.
Interview with Brother Yun: A Conference to Encourage Believers to “Become a Great Light, Not Just a Little Candle”
BTJ has never hosted a public conference before, and, based on Bach’s quote, doesn’t intend to do so again. Yun spoke to The Stream through a translator about the purpose of the conference. He said, “I think the time for God to move is here. We’re close to the end. It’s like the world is confused, doesn’t know which direction to go in. So the Lord has put a burden in my heart to take the gospel ‘Back to Jerusalem.'”
BTJ’s website explains the Back to Jerusalem movement “is the goal of the Chinese church to evangelize the unreached peoples from eastern provinces of China, westwards towards Jerusalem.” The organization with the same name as the movement trains and sends Chinese missionaries to unreached places, “including Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu nations.” The ongoing movement dates back to the 1920s and 30s, Bach told The Stream.
I want to take that message not just to the European church, but to the American church.
In the future, the world will experience plagues, unimaginable difficulties, earthquakes, disasters, fires, famines, all sorts of different things, wars. That’s the place where the world is going. I feel this in my spirit that this is the direction the world is going.
People see it and they say, ‘Brother Yun, it’s the end times. It’s surely the end times.’ People say it’s as if the third world war is going to break out. There’s so much turmoil.
But my perspective is a little bit different. Jesus will not come back just in war, or just in famine, or just in emergency. He will also not just come back in the midst of great injustice or in the midst of a great plague. But Jesus will also come back when the gospel is taken to all nations and becomes a light to all nations. … The church is ready for that moment. … The house of the Lord truly is filling up. Families are getting saved. The gentile harvest has come in.
Jesus is going to come back in great power on the clouds in great glory. He’s not coming just to solve the Ukraine problem or to solve this geopolitical problem or that problem. … So this conference is to encourage brothers and sisters in the midst of great darkness … to become a great light, not just a little candle. You have to give forth great light in this time. That’s the words of the Lord. That’s His promises. That’s His calling for us.
This is the first part in a four-part series on The Voices of the Persecuted Church Conference. The next three parts will feature the three remaining speakers: Esther Chang, Naghmeh Panahi and Eugene Bach. Chang is a Chinese missionary to North Korea. Panahi is an Iranian-American who works with the underground church in Iran. Bach is a member of the Chinese underground church, author and co-author with several of the speakers. Find all the parts of the series as they publish here.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected on Nov. 18, 2022, to reflect that the series consists of four parts and updated with a link to the series page.
Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow Aliya on Twitter @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.