Book Review: “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway (2003)
“Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure!” (287)
Due to my interests, history, and goals, many people over the last several years have recommended this book to me. Though I am a busy guy with plenty of projects on my plate, I was finally “forced” to sit down and read The Heavenly Man—despite my heavy seminary assignments—by a friend who not only purchased it for me but also gave me a deadline for when to finish it. And I thank her for doing me the favor.
Brother Yun’s story is a modern classic. Though many believers in persecuted lands have gone through much of the same trials as Yun, few have been able to escape their captors’ hands and to broadcast their lives for the world to see. Yun’s transition to Germany has allowed him to publicize the pains he and many other believers experienced in China in the ’80s and ’90s, and he now travels internationally, sharing his story and unifying the Church in its prayers for the world’s persecuted believers.
Nearly every page of The Heavenly Man recounts a miracle, dream, or vision experienced by either Yun, his wife, DaLing, or another believing friend during their evangelization of China or their run-ins with the Chinese PSB, and through every instance, the power of God’s protective hand is evident. One could argue that perhaps Yun and Hattaway both have tampered with Yun’s history, inflating the accounts and embellishing his stories. Certainly, Yun’s having fasted from food and water for 34 days LONGER than even Jesus ever fasted seems a bit extreme; virtually walking invisibly through a crowd of angry guards seems excessive; being able to flee China only to get arrested in a neighboring country because of “pride” is a bit far-fetched. Yet who will deny his claims? Rather than denials by anyone besides his enemies, there is a spring of testimony from Yun’s associates, family, and friends which confirm these things actually happened over the past several decades. God is still actively saving humanity, supernaturally, from their lives of sin, so it not terribly far-fetched to believe that He is still actively showing Himself victorious over flesh and blood in other supernatural ways as well.
Truth be told, some items in the book left me figuratively scratching my head. For example, why did the authors have to use such high language to describe what should have been normal events (i.e. “washed their feet with my tears,” “our voices shook the house,” etc.)? In my opinion, it seems that they wanted to make Brother Yun so much an apostle like the men of Acts that they were willing to inflate his already amazing story by mirroring some of the language from God’s Book. Although I did not really appreciate that aspect of the book, I would not make it an issue of major contention, leaving it conveniently in the realm of “translation mishaps.”
I must also emphasize how the authors, despite their regular mentioning of dates, made the entire account of Yun’s life seem as though it happened yesterday in a country that never changes. Little is mentioned with regards to how China is changing for the better, leaving, in my opinion, the common belief that the Chinese government is still as violently opposed to Christianity as it was twenty years ago. This has both its positive and its negative sides. I understand that we Western Christians see China from one of two camps: either we see China as incurably Communist, treating its people as inhumanely as it did throughout the Cultural Revolution, or we see is as a sly chameleon, fooling the world into comfortable apathy before its strikes with deadly malice once more. Either way, we tend to hate China completely for its past behavior despite its current openness, and I think that Western Christians love this impression, because it fits snugly into our fashionable concept of what China should always remain in our eyes: the safest dangerous country to pray for. While I say this with my tongue slightly inside my cheek, it is partly true. We want China to be dangerous for Christians, but not in the way Brother Yun does (as seen in his quote above). We want to send our college students to China, and we want them to face the innocent persecution of hand slaps or visa denials, but still remain relatively free to share the Gospel pretty much wherever they want (which is the case today). We want our missionaries to “suffer for Jesus,” but not too much. Thus negatively, this method of writing gives the readership a sense of hopelessness for China politically, despite the strides it has taken toward modernization and openness (strides, I might add, which have allowed for the Revival that China is currently experiencing). On the other hand, this method of writing can have a positive effect as it draws our attention into China and then out toward other nations with governments even more intent on destroying Christianity and where the crime of believers is not “political subversion” but rather “being Christian” or better yet “not being Muslim.” There are nations in the world where Christians are still being beheaded today, where missionaries are regularly kidnapped and murdered, and where a “hand-slap” for believing that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life is imprisonment, rape, or torture. Making Brother Yun’s wounds still seem fresh has provided us a glimpse into the very real, very modern world of religious persecution, even if that persecution has mellowed somewhat in China itself.
I strongly recommend this book. If you are a fan of China, read it. If you love Voice of the Martyrs, then you’ve probably already read The Heavenly Man, but I’d say read it again. Make it change how you view persecution, both in China and abroad, and let it make you pray not “for the persecution to stop” or “for a lighter load to carry, but [for] a stronger back to endure!”