The well-known expression “Back to Jerusalem” that fills the hearts and minds of China’s house church pastors is not new. In the early 1940’s, a small group of students led by Pastor Mark Ma, the vice-principal of the Northwest Bible Institute in Shaanxi Province, consecrated themselves to carrying the gospel outside China’s borders into the Islamic world, all the way back to Jerusalem. While in prayer, Pastor Ma heard the clear call of God to enter and preach the gospel in Xinjiang Province, the vast Muslim region of northwest China. It was, and still is inhabited by millions of Muslims. The majority speak languages from the Turkic linguistic family, such as Urgur, Kazak, Kirgiz, and Uzbek. Other Muslim groups include the Chinese-speaking Hui people. A large number of Tibetan Buddhist nomads also inhabit the area.
In March 1947, after several years of prayer and preparation, two men and five women set out on the long westward trek to Xinjiang. Each carried only one small bag and a washbasin. This was the first group of messengers, who called themselves the Back to Jerusalem Band, to enter this difficult territory with the gospel. Riding camels, the little band was turned back by government authorities who refused them entrance because of political developments. Sadly, they returned to Shaanxi, but a great volume of prayer resulted from this seeming defeat, both in and outside of China. The little band continued to pray fervently for an open door during the months that followed, but God’s timing was different. The Communist army swept down from the north and conquered the land setting in motion one of the darkest periods in China’s history. The Cultural Revolution under Mao plunged the nation into the horrible pit of darkness and anguish. All churches were forcibly shut down except for one or two that were allowed to remain open in Beijing for propaganda purposes. One of the darkest periods in the church’s history in China ensued and the vision of Pastor Mark Ma dimmed under the horrible persecution that took place. Looking back, Chinese leaders recognize that the church was not ready to succeed in God’s great call for evangelization in the Muslim lands on the way back to Jerusalem. At that time, the church had less than one million believers in all of China, but by 1985 when China began to open up again, that small number had unexpectedly exploded into many millions, and is estimated by many today as high as 100 million.
Many pastors who had caught this vision spent 20 or more years in prison for their faith, and though the light seemed to have been extinguished, actually it was burning passionately in their hearts, and they knew that the day would come when China would emerge from the night of persecution, and the vision would burst on the church once again. Without a doubt, that vision was sharpened by the persecution and by much earnest prayer from prison cells across the land until the day of release finally dawned. Then, it burst with renewed intensity in the hearts of men and women who now understood the pain and the blessings of suffering. Today, the church is consumed with a white-hot passion to do God’s will and to send forth 100,000 messengers with the Gospel. Right now, valiant men and women are already on the front lines of ministry in Xinjiang and other countries to the west of China. And just as Jesus said in Matthew 16, not even the gates of hell can prevent the onward advance of the gospel through these lands that have been so resistant to the gospel. Let us join in prayer with the Chinese Church and claim the release of millions of people from the bondage of sin. For additional prayer requests and information, log on to www.ChurchInChina.com