Many people in the West are familiar with the Back to Jerusalem Movement, which refers to a movement of Chinese Christians to take the gospel to Central Asia, and then "back to Jerusalem."
Fewer people, perhaps, are aware of the fact that this movement, or vision, is not something new; it really began in the 1940's when God called a group of Chinese believers to take the Gospel to Northwest China (Xinjiang) and Central Asia. They formed a team called the "Preach Everywhere Gospel Band," and fanned out across Xinjiang.
In January, one of the original members of the group, He Enzheng, passed away in Kashgar at the age of 97.
The Gospel Times published a story about the life of "Grandma He" and the history of the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band. The article is translated in full:
About the Preach Everywhere Gospel Team.
On January 16, Servant of the Lord He Enzheng passed away in Kashgar, Xinjiang. She was 97. She was one of the first to receive the vision of taking the gospel "back to Jerusalem." She, along with her husband Zhao Maijia (Mecca Zhao) were the founders of the "Preach Everywhere Gospel Band." "Grandma He" was said to be the last remaining member of China's Back to Jerusalem Movement from the 1940s. The following is an introduction to the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band based on a collection of various resources and information.
In his dissertation for his doctoral degree, titled "Northwest Bible Collegea Vineyard in a Wasteland," a pastor at the Shaanxi Bible School writes about the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band. This group, established by the college, made significant contributions to the pastoral training and Biblical teaching of the Shaanxi China Inland Mission. The creation of the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band made a deep impact on the gospel work in northwest China, and was an important event in the history of the Chinese church as a whole.
The Northwest Bible College was established in 1941 by pastor Dai Yong Mian (1894-1978) in the county town of Feng Xiang in Baoji City. In 1926, Dai had returned to China from America and launched into evangelical work in Luoyang, Henan, assuming the position of Kaifeng Bible College director. In June of 1938, however, the Japanese army entered Kaifeng. Because of the resulting war, Dai was unable to continue his work in the city. Consequently, he made a plan to meet up with his family in the city of Yantai, where they would all buy tickets to return to America together.
At that time, the call to preach the gospel in the northwest came to Dai. His entire party made the decision to return their tickets to America and go to Shaanxi instead. In 1940, they moved to Fengxiang in Shaanxi, and in 1941, they cooperated with the China Inland Mission to found the Northwest Bible College; Dai became the director. The unique vision and calling of this Bible College was to spread the gospel to the northwest.
On the night of November 25, 1942, while teachers and students at the college were praying, they saw a vision of the Chinese church owing a gospel debt to every nation. Following this meeting, Associate Dean Mark Ma held another prayer meeting in 1947 for the specific purpose of praying over paying back the gospel debt. At this second meeting, Pastor Ma felt that God had opened a road for Chinese disciples to take the gospel back to Jerusalem.
Pastor Ma was an only child born to Christian parents. He was originally from Henan Province and later educated in Kaifeng. As a young adult, Ma was a teacher before he became a Christian. After losing his son to pneumonia in 1937, he laid his broken heart before the cross and accepted Christ. He then left the teaching profession and enrolled in Kaifeng Free Methodist Bible College. During the second Sino-Japanese war, Ma and his whole family went with Dai Yong Mian (Hudson Taylor's grandson) to Shaanxi. In 1941, when Dai established the Northwest Bible College and became the Dean, Pastor Ma became Associate Dean.
Later, under Dean Dais direction, more than 70 students and teachers resolved to pray for the five provinces of northwest China every Wednesday. In 1943 the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band was officially established, with its name originating from Matthew 24:14. Pastor Ma became the editor of the Preach Everywhere Gospel Newspaper, and missionaries to northwest China were given the name "Back to Jerusalem Corps," of which Ma was elected Director-General. The Preach Everywhere Gospel Band was an inter-denominational Chinese Christian organization that didnt accept donations or contributions from foreign Christians or denominations.
In the summer of 1946, Mecca Zhao, Dai Yanzhong, Huang Qingzhi and others from the Gospel Band were sent to Qinghai to work. The road they took passed through the cities of Lanzhou and Xining and ended in Huangyuan, Qinghai province. Because the gospel was needed so badly in Huangyuan, Dai Yanzhong stayed there while Mecca Zhao continued west. In the spring of 1948, Zhao went back through Gansu to Xinjiang, passing the cities of Zhangye, Jiuquan, Dunhuang, Hami, Turpan, and Korla as he followed the north ridge of the Tianshan mountains. Along the way, he carved stamps in order to support himself and his work. Several months later, he finally reached the city of Shulei in far western China. Pastor Huang Qingzhi still serves in Xinjiangs Mingde Church today.
The next year, in March of 1947, Fengxiang Bible College teacher He Enzheng led five Northwest Bible College students to meet up with Mecca Zhao in Xining. After being commissioned by their congregation in Xian, He and her students, Fan Zhijie, Lu De, Wei Suxi, Zhang Moxi, and Li Jinquan, began their journey. The group passed through Pingliang, Tianshui, Gangu, Lanzhou, and other cities, serving at revivals and evangelistic meetings along the way as the Lord led, until they reached Urumqi in September of 1948.
In 1949, several more students from the Gospel Band were successively dispatched to Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Mecca Zhao and He Enzheng also went south to Kashgar at this time. The ultimate aspiration of the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band was to start in northwest China and follow the Silk Road to Afghanistan, Iran, Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, eventually taking the gospel back to Jerusalem. However, after China took control of Xinjiang in 1950, the work of the Gospel Band stagnated.
After experiencing the Cultural Revolution, the Preach Everywhere Gospel Bands members returned to their home base, but resolved not to lose sight of their calling. As Zhao Maijia put it, The road from Xinjiang to Jerusalem might be temporarily closed off, but while we may not be able to reach our ultimate goal, we hope our children can take on this task as their own.
Currently, little is known about the Preach Everywhere Gospel Bands development from the Cultural Revolution until the present day. Relevant information still needs to be gathered, and interviews about the history of the group need to be conducted. A fairly complete history of the Preach Everywhere Gospel Band can be found in Wang Ruizhens "Warriors of the Kingdom of God The True Story of Pioneer Missionaries to Southern Xinjiang, Mecca Zhao and He Enzheng."
To sum up, the development of Christianity in Xinjiang has over 100 years of history. In 1946, Christians in Urumqi, China established the Xinjiang Christian Church. That same year, Shandong believers organized the "Northwest Spirit Work Group" and published their manifesto titled "Bringing the Gospel Back to Jerusalem." Shaanxi Christians organized a "Preach the Gospel to the Northwest Band" and arrived in Urumqi around 1948. Together, these three Chinese Christian organizations became the foundation of Christianity in Xinjiang today.
Original article: (translated and posted with permission)
Image credits: The Open Road, by Peter Morgan, via Flickr
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