Brother Yun, a Chinese evangelist, suffered intense persecution at the peak of China's clampdown on Christianity in the 1980s and 1990s. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

He hardly draws a second glance – a middle-aged Chinese man in a neat beige shirt walking around Singapore. But the weathered brown Bible in his hand’s tight grasp speaks otherwise.

Liu Zhenying, better known as Brother Yun by the Christian community, lived through China’s clampdown on Christianity in the 1980s and 1990s with an evangelistic determination so fierce that he was a wanted criminal in the eyes of his government.

In his book, The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, he testifies of the intense persecution he suffered and the even more remarkable ways God delivered him throughout his ministry.

A leader of the house church movement in China who travelled throughout the country to teach and encourage believers, the Christians met in secret in what he described in his book as “fleeing evangelism”.

Now the holder of a German passport after seeking asylum, Brother Yun met up with Salt&Light at the Chinese School Of Ministry in Tung Ling Bible College, where he revealed why, after years of intense suffering, he will not back down from God’s call to deliver the Gospel to all.

“Jesus, I need my father”

Brother Yun grew up in an impoverished family in a small farming village in Henan, southwest China. Born in 1959, a year before the Great Chinese Famine, he experienced intense food shortages during communism. One of six children, he lost a brother to starvation as the family struggled to survive.

“Wake up! Kneel! Call out to Jesus – only He can save us!”

In 1974, his father fell so ill that he was given less than a week to live. The doctor had already given up hope and told the family to prepare for the worst.

His father’s long-drawn illness had already been a financial burden on the family, but when it took a turn for the worse and he was expected to live less than a week, Brother Yun’s mother, already worn thin by the loss of her oldest son, despaired of living.

One night, she left the house and went to a nearby cave intending to commit suicide.

“But she encountered Jesus there,” Brother Yun recounted to Salt&Light.

“Jesus told her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home. I love you.’”

Brother Yun’s mother (left) and wife (right) in a photo taken in 1997 shortly after his escape from prison. When his mother passed on in December 2000, Brother Yun was already in Germany and could not return for her funeral. Photo from “The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun”.

Crying, she ran home, gathered her five children from their beds and commanded them: “Wake up! Kneel! Let’s call out to Jesus – only He can save us!”

She had heard of God many years ago through a missionary who had shared the Gospel with her before China had expelled them from the country.

“If not for Jesus, you wouldn’t be burying just one person.”

Uneducated and undiscipled, she knew and thought little of the faith until her personal encounter in the cave.

Brother Yun, who was 16 at the time, barely knew what was happening.

But obediently, he did what was told and, kneeling alongside his family, he prayed his first prayer: “Jesus, I need my father. I don’t know who You are, but I know I need my father.”

Within a week, his father made a full recovery. His parents sent the children out to gather their relatives.

They were expecting a funeral, he recalled. But when they arrived, his mother knelt before everyone and testified of the miracle.

Brother Yun recalled his mother saying: “If not for Jesus, you wouldn’t be burying just one person. My son is gone, my husband almost lost his life. I almost wanted to take my life.”

Many of his relatives became believers that day.

Divine delivery of a buried Bible

“My dad’s healing made me curious about who Jesus was,” Brother Yun told Salt&Light, adding that his mother had very little understanding of God beyond the miracle that had saved their family.

All she knew was that Jesus is the Son of God and that His words were recorded in a book called the Bible.

Desperately wanting to know more of this Jesus who had saved his family from certain crisis, Brother Yun eagerly prayed for a Bible.

Bibles were a sensitive contraband after the Cultural Revolution and he was barely literate at the time. But that did not hinder his faith.

“God gave me the Bible after three months of prayer,” Brother Yun told Salt&Light.

Wherever he goes today, Brother Yun always has a his Bible within arm’s reach. He continues to read and memorise the Bible daily. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

One night, Brother Yun had a vivid dream of an old man with two servants handing him a mantou (steamed bread) wrapped in a red bag. When he prepared to take a mouthful of the mantou, it promptly turned into a Bible.

“It was illegal to own a Bible then, so I wanted to memorise it quickly.”

Little did he realise that that same night, two believers from another village were starting their trek to his village.

An old evangelist had unearthed his precious Bible hidden underground as instructed by God and entrusted it to the two believers to deliver to Brother Yun.

Answering the discreet knock on his door in the early pre-dawn hours, Brother Yun finally laid his hands on a precious Bible, wrapped in a red bag delivered by two men – just as he had seen in his dream.

With only three years of education under his belt, Brother Yun bartered chicken, eggs and salt to get hold of a dictionary. He soon finished the Bible and then, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew, he started memorising a chapter a day.

“It was still illegal to own a Bible then, so I wanted to memorise it quickly. I forbade myself to have breakfast until I had memorised that day’s chapter,” he explained.

To this day, Brother Yun keeps two copies of a Bible – one for personal study, which he marks, and another kept in pristine condition in reverence of God’s Word. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

“And I have been doing this every day for the last 50 years. Reading. Memorising.”

Brother Yun quickly grew in the knowledge of God through the Word and started teaching it to those around him because they were illiterate farmers who were unable to read for themselves.

The commissioning

As Brother Yun started memorising the book of Acts, Acts 1:8 jumped out at him and he responded by asking God to fill him with the Spirit so that he could be a witness for God.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and a Voice telling him: “Go west and south to proclaim the Gospel and be a witness for Me.”

He began waiting on the Lord.

Several nights later, the zealous 16-year-old was about to go to bed when he felt a tap on his shoulder and a Voice telling him: “Go west and south to proclaim the Gospel and be a witness for Me.”

Unaccustomed to the voice of God, the teenager initially mistook it for his parents but quickly realised it was God speaking to him in his dialect.

That night, God revealed Brother Yun’s first task: He was to go preach the Gospel to people in two villages, one to the west and the other to the south.

When he arrived at the first village the next day, he found many parched hearts who were hungry for the truth.

“A preacher preaches God’s Word, not theology,” said Brother Yun. Any preacher he trains must commit the Bible to memory before they are allowed to preach so that even if they are imprisoned, they will still have access to God’s word in their hearts. Photo from Back To Jerusalem.

Without knowing what preaching meant or even what to say, Brother Yun closed his eyes and launched into a recital of all 28 chapters of Matthew.

He opened his eyes to an audience kneeling and weeping in repentance. The same scene repeated itself at the next village and Brother Yun went home with a full heart.  

His understanding of “west” and “south” has since expanded to include all of China, and the many nations that lie between China and Jerusalem as part of the Back To Jerusalem movement where Brother Yun is one of the leaders that trains and sends out missionaries.

The persecuted preacher

Over the next few years, Brother Yun continued living out God’s call to him to be a witness, travelling all over China to preach the Gospel.

He soon became a wanted man by the authorities and was constantly on the run with his faithful wife, Deling.

Brother Yun with his mother, wife and children in their home village in Henan, north-central China. Photo from “The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun”.

His nickname “the Heavenly Man” had come out of one such run-in with the authorities when he feigned insanity to protect the whereabouts of his co-labourer and to alert them to the police presence near the secret midnight meeting.

“I am a heavenly man! I live in Gospel village! The heavenly man will never become a Judas!” Liu shouted.

He anticipated the torture that would soon ensue to extract information from him about co-workers and the illegal house-church meetings they were holding. But he was resolute.

“Son, you must live. Jesus doesn’t want you to die for Him, but to live for Him.”

While detained in prison, Brother Yun decided that he would not eat, drink nor speak until he was released, if ever. It was the peak of China’s clampdown on house church movements in the 1980s.

“It was not about fasting – I told God I would rather starve and die than to speak and betray God and His people,” he told Salt&Light. “I was barely clinging to life by the end of it.”

His family was brought in to convince him to divulge information and renounce his “superstitious” beliefs.

By then, Brother Yun was almost beyond recognition. He had lost so much weight and suffered so many beatings that his mother was only able to identify him through his birthmark.

Regaining consciousness after a while, Brother Yun eventually rasped out the words to his tearful mother and then-pregnant wife: “I want to die for God. I will see you in heaven.”

His mother rebuked him with an impassioned plea: “Son, you must live. Jesus doesn’t want you to die for Him, but to live for Him.”

Moved, Brother Yun decided to break his fast and ate the small mantou issued to him.

He spent four more years in that prison, but that choice led to 14 more years of preaching afterwards, despite multiple other persecutions and imprisonments.

Prison doors miraculously opened

In March 1997, when Brother Yun was 39 years old, he went to a leaders meeting at a house church in Zheng Zhou and was ambushed by officers from the Public Security Bureau (PSB).

With guns pointed at him, he made a run for it and lunged out of the second-floor window feet-first, breaking both his legs in the process. He was beaten until he passed out.

Images of the now-defunct prison in Zheng Zhou, Henan province in China. Later on, Brother Yun found out that his escape was discovered and the alarm raised barely five minutes after he had left. Though the police, security bureau and even several army units were mobilised on the manhunt, they were unable to recapture him. Photo from “The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun”.

Detained in a maximum security prison under solitary confinement, he could not walk from his multiple beatings and had to be carried everywhere by a fellow prisoner – even to the bathroom.

Two months after being imprisoned on May 5, 1997, God spoke to him and said simply: It is time to leave.

A series of visions and confirmations followed. Obeying God’s vague but direct instructions, Brother Yun got up from the floor and shuffled towards the iron gate outside his cell. That he could even stand was a miracle.

He passed a total of five prison doors, down a flight of three storeys, across the prison courtyard and out into the street where a taxi had pulled up with uncanny timing and headed straight to the home of a Christian family who were ready to hide him.

The night before God had spoken to the couple in a dream to prepare for his arrival.

“That was how I walked out,” Brother Yun told Salt&Light. “As I walked, doors opened.

“I simply obeyed and told God, ‘If the guards shoot me, God, You receive my soul’,” he said unflinchingly. The maximum security prison had a shoot-to-kill policy and its guards carried live ammunition.

Brother Yun shows how the needles were inserted up his fingers during the torture he endured while authorities tried to get him to reveal the names of other house-church leaders. He described how needles were jammed into his fingers from underneath his nails right up to his second knuckle joints until he passed out from the pain. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

He eventually escaped the country and now holds a German passport after he sought political asylum there.

Today, Brother Yun is one of the leaders of the Back To Jerusalem movement where he is responsible for the training and sending of missionaries. The movement calls for the Chinese church to step up and bring the Gospel to the countries between China and Israel.

“If you have encountered God, share it”

After almost 50 years as a believer, his fervour for the Lord has not been tamed.

“Jesus has been with me all this time, so I am still following Him and walking with Him,” he told Salt&Light, adding that God has moulded and refined him through seasons of pride, self-reliance and the occasional disobedience.

“I only desire that when I see my Abba God, He will hug me and tell me, ‘Child, you’ve done right.’”

“God has never changed His original call to me. All my weaknesses, the turns and detours I’ve taken,” he paused. “At the end of the day, I have to come back to this one thing: Follow Me and be My disciple. Preach the Gospel to the West and to the South.

“And I only desire that when I see my Abba God, He will hug me and tell me, ‘Child, you’ve done right.’

“That is enough for me.”

When asked about how anyone could possibly relate to his miracle-filled life of supernatural dreams, visions and Spirit-directed circumstances – let alone the intense persecution and suffering he has endured – Brother Yun merely laughed and said: “If you have encountered God, share it as a testimony.

“Your family doesn’t need you to talk about big concepts and theology; they know you personally. They see the transformation in your life.

“Once you’re healed, once you’re set free from demons, your whole life has hope. This was how my family came to know Christ.

“All these years, I have not spoken about anything else except Jesus Christ crucified. I don’t know anything except this one thing: Jesus was crucified on the cross. Yet it is not about Jesus being crucified, but about knowing the power of His resurrection.”


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About the author

Tan Huey Ying

Huey Ying is now an Assignments Editor at Salt&Light, having worked in finance, events management and aquatics industries. She usually has more questions than answers but is always happiest in the water, where she's learning what it means to "be still".