BTJ history

History2The Back to Jerusalem vision was first heard of among the Jesus Family, a network of believers formed in 1921 in the Shandong Province. Out of that fellowship also came the Northwest Spiritual Movement. The people in that movement were ready to go all out for the Lord. They said, “Let’s rise to our feet and carry the cross to the nations where God is not known. Let’s go forth in Jesus’ name, giving up everything we have, even our very lives if necessary, so that the name of Jesus will be glorified among all the gentiles.” They were driven by the desire to preach the Gospel because they believed that Jesus would soon return. This was a very important part of the foundation for the BTJ vision in China.

In the 1940s, there were still many western missionaries working diligently to spread the gospel in China. And although the result of their work was not highly successful, it sowed the seed for what would become a great revival, and historic missions movement called Back to Jerusalem. In fact, God used one western missionary, James Hudson Taylor II, grandson of the famous missions pioneer from Great Britain, to found the Northwest Bible Institute in Shaanxi Province. At this school God spoke to a group of students about what later would be called the Back To Jerusalem vision. Led by Pastor Mark Ma, this group was given a specific call to take the gospel beyond China’s borders and carry it all the way back to Jerusalem. They would start – in groups labeled the Back To Jerusalem Band – by going to the Xinjiang Province of China. This was an area in northwest China where Muslim groups resided, as well as Buddhist and other ethnic groups.

From the early days of the BTJ vision up to our present time, the church in China feels called to help complete the Great Commission so that Jesus can return. It is their desire to close the circle of the gospel around the earth by taking it from China through the countries of central Asia and the Middle East all the way back to the starting point: Jerusalem. In the early days, in addition to the Jesus Family and the Northwest Spiritual Movement in the Shandong Province, and the Back to Jerusalem Band from the Northwest Bible Institute in Shaanxi Province, there were also initiatives from other groups who caught the vision to carry the gospel back to Jerusalem. There was an urge driven by God’s Spirit in several parts of the church in China in the 1940s to take the gospel and go west. It was very much driven by the sense that time is short and Jesus would soon return.

In 1949, everything changed in China. Mao Zedong took power and the Communist Revolution started. Western missionaries were thrown out, pastors and leaders arrested, and Bibles and Christian literature forbidden. The church went underground and all efforts to conduct church fellowship and evangelism became very difficult—let alone the effort to send missionaries to other countries. But somehow through this time, the Back to Jerusalem vision survived and the church grew explosively. And out of the persecuted Chinese church is now growing perhaps the biggest missions force in church history.

The sense of urgency to complete the march of the gospel around the earth is very much alive. This is a true work of God’s Spirit, a prophetic work for such a time as this. It all started with small groups of people whose work looked very meager from a human perspective. But because of the heavy persecution they endured, they have inspired the younger generation within the church of China today.

Simon Zhao, one of the early leaders in the Northwest Spiritual Movement, set out with great fire in his heart for the vision. But he and his family were seized in the Communist Revolution and imprisoned. His wife and young child died in prison and he spent some thirty years there, praying and keeping the flame alive in his heart. When he was finally released, his energy and strength were gone. But he became a powerful example to the younger generation of those who paid the price in the beginning to carry out this powerful vision. Brother Yun, the Heavenly Man, was among those who met Simon Zhao after his release and Zhao’s testimony deeply touched his heart.

The Back to Jerusalem vision lives on and the fire and urgency to complete the Great Commission and welcome the second coming of Jesus has flared up like never before among God’s people in China.