16 October 2014

An Interview with Bob Fu - God's Double Agent

In early October, Simon Cox, Brand Manager at Lion Hudson, met Bob Fu in London during one of Bob's flying visits to the UK.  The following is the transcript of their meeting.

You grew up in rural China with no knowledge of the Christian faith. What was your first encounter with God?
That was around the time that my mother was dying. She had contracted a lung disease after years of being homeless and begging on the street. I remember coming back from school having been told that my mum was dying. My sister and I begged the village doctor to rescue our mum but he refused to help. My family experienced tremendous injustice and inequality because of our poverty. My sister walked to another village to look for another barefoot doctor and I walked back home. I was so scared. I couldn't imagine walking back to my mother’s bedroom so I stopped at the courtyard and kneeled and prayed my first prayer to the Heavenly Grandpa. My mum had told me that when she was begging for food almost every time when she was desperate she prayed to the Heavenly Grandpa. When we were starving and thirsty, and when winter was at its coldest she always found someone who would give her a bowl of food. She told me to remember that there is a Heavenly Grandpa and that I should call on him – even a blind donkey can find a way home with the help of the Heavenly Grandpa, she said.

Your mother played a big role in your early childhood – tell me about her impact on you.
She was loving, caring and compassionate, especially toward the poor. I remember at harvest time there were a lot of beggars. They usually came by during lunch or dinner time and she would instruct us to pick up what we were eating and give it to them.

She also encouraged me to help others. There was an elder couple in the village. They were designated as the enemy of the country because they were the old landlords. Under Chairman Mao their land was taken away from them and they were forced to sweep the street every morning. No one dared even to talk to them; they were considered to be poisonous. After dark my mum used to give me food to take to them, which I would slip under their door.

Her death must have had a big impact on you.
She passed away at a young age – in her fifties.  It was the first year after I had started college and I had made a commitment to her before I left that I would take her Tiananmen Square to see Chairman Mao's portrait – that was every country boys dream: to take their parents to Tiananmen Square. I was sad that I couldn’t take her.

You were at Tiananmen Square around the time of the massacre, weren’t you?
[laughs] Yes, it was around two years after my mother passed away but I was there for another reason. Without the student's movement I wouldn't have been there that early. At that time the atmosphere was very tense. We stayed in one corner of the Square in a tent. Several times the loudspeaker told us that the military were in Beijing and that they were approaching the Square from different directions. Heidi, who was my girlfriend at the time and later became my wife, had become sick from drinking the unclean water that was at the Square. She was hospitalised and so I had to leave three days before the massacre happened otherwise I would probably have been killed – I was certainly ready to fight!

How did you become a Christian in a country that is so hostile to the Christian faith?
After the massacre and the government crackdown on the student movement I was treated like a criminal. A special interrogation team was set up and I had to write a lot of confessions – it was a tough experience. I was at my most disillusioned when I learnt that my friends had betrayed me. I quickly discovered that people were unreliable and I couldn’t find hope. I was very angry and disillusioned; I even wanted to kill myself. As a country boy it is worse than death to be expelled from school and sent back to your village – your whole future has gone and it brings incredible shame to your parents and to your family tree if you are expelled from school for political reasons.
Around that time someone bought me the biography of Pastor Xi Zizhi. He had been an intellectual but then became addicted to opium. A British missionary sent by the China Inland Mission shared the gospel with him and he became a “new creation”. Through him hundreds of drug prevention centres were started and many were helped. I read this and thought, “This is the real deal”. This was what I had been yearning for; an inside out heart change. I had thought of myself as a righteous man but now I was full of bitterness and even meditated in my heart to kill others.

The Holy Spirit showed me that without Christ I was as deprived and sinful as my betrayers. He showed me how desperate and helpless I was without divine intervention. I made a decision: I want to become that new creation; I want to be a true follower of Christ. I went to my American missionary teacher and asked him how to formally become a Christian. He was scared, thinking that I’d been sent by the KGB but he led me to Christ anyway.

You started a church – tell me about that.
I went crazy sharing the gospel. I thought, “This is what China really needs”. Tiananmen Square had a huge impact – who would have thought the Peoples Government would kill its own people with machine guns? It was because of this that the student leaders started to turn their eyes toward heaven. Of the twenty most wanted student leaders, four or five became very prominent Church leaders.
The church started when I went to Beijing to continue my studies. The hearts of the students were thirsty and they were ready for the gospel. Until then, I had been worshipping in a government sanctioned church – the Three Self Church – but I encountered some problems there: the pastor was violently kicked out of the pulpit right in front of the congregation. I reasoned that this church could not be of God and so I started another one.

I travelled to other parts of the country. The growth of Christianity had been explosive so there was a huge requirement for training and Bible teaching. I remember a visit to one province where there were 600 churches with just two Bible teachers. I established an underground seminary in the suburb of Beijing with the help of some missionaries from the US; ultimately it led to my arrest.
Tell me about your arrest and what life was like for you in prison.

I was teaching English in a communist party school and in the evening I was preaching, ministering the gospel and managing an underground Bible school – it was a busy time! The Bible school was discovered by the authorities.

One day, having finished teaching, I went home where I received a phone call telling me that the Public Security Bureau from Beijing wanted to talk to me. I lived in an apartment and they asked me to walk down to the ground floor. I prayed with Heidi and gave her the church address book – it had all the addresses and contact details of our brothers and sisters – and asked her to hide it so that they wouldn’t be harmed. They were already coming up the stairs. I was cornered and escorted back to my apartment. They turned it upside down looking for evidence. Heidi was also arrested but she had hidden the book in time – it was a miracle.

We were accused of illegal evangelism and put into jail. The first few days and nights were non-stop interrogation. I was beaten. They hit me around the head and tortured me with sleep deprivation. They wanted to break my mind so that I would reveal my contacts and tell them who the other church leaders were.

How did you both escape?
We were released from prison after two months and put under house arrest. We were then advised that we would be escorted back to prison on the 1st October, which was National Day. The authorities wanted to demonstrate the stability of the capital.

At that time Heidi was pregnant. You needed a permit to have a baby and of course, we didn’t have one. We decided that we had to escape. We left at midnight.  I jumped from the second floor, which was about twenty feet and Heidi, having disguised herself, walked straight out the front door! We hid in the countryside for a few months before the Lord opened the door for us to escape to Hong Kong where we stayed for eight months. Three days before Hong Kong was handed over to China we were accepted by the US as a result of President Clinton's direct intervention. Usually you have to go through the UN.

How has your faith helped your through times of hardship?
I was really close to the Lord in prison. Without Him you have nothing to rely on so you pray every day and fix your eyes on Him. I called on Jesus; I wanted him to show me the needs of others in prison.

In the West you don’t understand something we call ‘prison theology’. This is a part of the biblical theology of the cross. Before we can enjoy the blessings of the resurrection of Christ, we are always reminded that we need to partake of his suffering and death first – there is no shortcut. If you want to have a shortcut, you change the nature of Christianity. Theologically the West has tried to omit this; it wants the good things of Christ without participating in his suffering.

What do you think about the church in the UK relative to China?
You can learn about obedience to God, 100% obedience. You have a rich history and take for granted the freedoms you have. There is much materialism and it penetrates every sector of society – it makes the Christians static because there is no need for God. A Christian faith and being a member of a church is often just an additional layer for your life. For the Chinese, it is the backbone; a core penetrating every area of life.

You now run ChinaAid.  Tell me about that  and what you are trying to do.
ChinaAid was established in 2002, when I was studying at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. It was triggered by a major church persecution case: five leaders in one particular church group were sentenced to death. I had organised a retreat in Maryland to talk about the gospel and the future of China. We invited Os Guiness and David Aikman who were keynote speakers. There were former members of congress and some prominent political dissidents – two of them were eventually kidnapped by Chinese Special Forces and they are now serving sentences in a Chinese prison. We stopped the conference and prayed.

We didn't have a strategy but there was a former member of Congress who was scheduled to meet with the Chinese President. He brought the case to him and we hired some lawyers. I wanted to find a Christian organisation to help these prisoners but no one wanted to touch it. I said OK and established my own. It was very tough. ChinaAid was created to advance religious freedom in China by exposing the abusers, encouraging the abused and equipping the leaders – we call it the 3e mission.

What is the biggest issue facing Christians in China today?
The biggest challenge to the church is in the area of training. Some say the growth is the fastest in history: a conservative estimate is that there are 60m Christians; most say 80-100m, there were less than 1m when the communist government took over. The Daily Telegraph reported that China will be the largest Christian nation in the world by 2025 with 233m Christians.

What can Christians in the UK do to help?
We can pray for them and provide encouragement. We have a rich teaching tradition here in the West. A dynamic church like the one in China needs solid, biblical teaching for healthy growth. China also has the largest number of cultic teachings and some are very dangerous – this came about as a result of poor teaching.

Another challenge is the state church. I want a healthy church state model to protect all – this is my ideal practical contribution. A lot of issues and tension could be resolved if the church understood its biblical role.

What does the future hold for you? What are you excited about?
My greatest desire, having lived in the free world for 17 years, is that I never lose my first love for the Lord. It is very easy to lose. I was a beggar’s son living in the street, now I live in West Texas, in a rich city. I pray that my heart would stay as pure as when I was first encountered by the Lord and that I wouldn’t lose my first love. God has his unique purpose in creating me Chinese: 1.4 billion people are still hungry for the gospel – that is my prayer and concern.

Bob’s book, God’s Double Agent, is available from all good bookshops.

ISBN: 9780801015908

23 December 2013

Favourite Christmas Books...

...and why they're loved!  Last week I ran an offer on the Woman Alive Facebook Group.  For the chance to 'win' one of three books, two of which were the Revell titles A Simple Christmas Wish and The Unfinished Gift, I asked members of the group to tell me which were their favourite Christmas stories, and why.  I have always been a bit of a fan of Christmas stories, so I was interested to know whether other readers are, too. 

The responses resulted in quite a list of favourites for Christmas! Some very familiar, others less so.  Here are the books mentioned:

The Advent Calendar by Steven Croft - this one was mentioned twice!  The first nominee is still reading it, enjoying it very much, intrigued and touched and asking questions, the second nominee enjoyed it so much she passed it on to a friend.

Bah, Humbug! by Heather Horrocks - loved for 'happy endings'!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - great and memorable characters, tension, love, a moral, the wonderful happy ending and great catchphrases like 'God bless us everyone'

A Christmas Collection by Patricia St John - the stories are very moving, even though they are dated, the nominee can read them again and again as it is still the same 'Lord Jesus'

The Christmas Mouse by Stephanie Jeffs (I think this is the right one!) - it tells the story from the perspective of a little mouse who gets transported into the stable.  The nominee of this one says "Both my daughter and son sit transfixed while we read it, and it comes out year after year."

City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge - wounded ex-soldier Jocelyn is in the cathedral for the Christmas service with his grandparents and cousins, and is struck that 'if these... whom he held to be his superiors, were believers, then their belief was  more likely to be true than his own unbelief."

A Cup of Christmas Tea - makes the reader teary every time she reads it! 

The Fourth King: The Story of the Other Wise Man by Ted Sieger - oozes love and mercy and kindness...

Heading Home by Naomi Reed - not strictly a Christmas book, but with a title that says it all

The Nutcracker - the nominee of this story used to love it as a child, and was also transfixed by the ballet.  She says "It is wonderful to see how my daughter's imagination has come alive with the story too."

The Secret of the Fourth Candle by Patricia St John - the nominator of this remembers reading the story to her son.  The second author to be mentioned twice.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley - light, a good escape at a busy time of year, and it makes the reader laugh!

The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh - this one touched the reader for very personal reasons which I won't post on-line.  I know you'll understand.

The Bible was also mentioned!

My own favourites include the Anne Perry Christmas novellas, the latest of which is A Christmas Hope

For sheer fun and laugh-aloud enjoyment, one I dig out every year because it is such a gem is The Twelve Days of Christmas, by John Julius Norwich, Illustrated brilliantly Quentin Blake.  It is one of the funniest Christmas books ever.  If you haven't read it, it will change your view of the Christmas carol of the same name!

Finally, the one Christmas book which I've given copies away of because it is so fantastic, is Christmas Jars by Jason Wright.  Simply wonderful Christmas reading!

If you like Christmas stories, there must be something among that little collection to whet your appetite!

Happy Christmas!

01 November 2013

Great Need? Great God!

Corrie Ten Boom's book The Hiding Place is one of the most influential books I've ever read. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so. It is utterly compelling, and will transform your thoughts on forgiveness.

Yet as well as The Hiding Place Corrie wrote several other books, one of which was a collection of short devotionals for each day of the year.

You know a book is saying something of value when it stands the test of time.  Each New Day was originally published thirty-six years ago.  It has been reprinted more than a dozen times since. 

Corrie wrote of it, "A person is either a missionary or a mission field.  Sometimes I wrote for Christians who know that they are called to be a light of the World.  On other days God gave me a message about what it means to come to him...  I know that the Lord gave me these words.  They are from him who loves you and who spoke through me to you."

Here is the entry for 9 October (the date on which I prepared this post):

There are great lessons to learn concerning faith and the nature of character of faith when you read in the Bible about the disciples.  I am grateful for the record of every mistake they ever made and for every blunder they committed.  I see myself in them.  The Bible speaks the truth and shows and pictures every human frailty.

And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?"  Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
Matthew 8: 26 RSV

Lord, thank you that you do not ask a great faith, but faith in a great God.

14 October 2013

Encouragement for Your Heart. For When You're 'Just Not Feeling It'

Are you struggling with finding the motivation to chase your dreams? I know that I've been there.  When even the things I love to do, and want to do more of - my own 'God-sized dreams', seem to take more energy, perseverance and ability than I have.  But sometimes it's when we least want to do something that we just have to do it anyway

Holley Gerth looks at this very issue in her latest book.  I usually mention the title here (and I will, further down), but at the top of this post, I'm going to mention the sub-title instead: 40 Days of Encouragement for Your Heart.  Does your heart need a little encouraging today?  If so, read on for some helpful words from Holley.

When You're Just Not Feeling It

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galations 6:9

She sends me an email.
Or walks up to me at a conference.
Maybe whispers it across the table at lunch.
It starts with something like, "I know I'm called to write or speak or cook or do spreadsheets" - her voice gets lower here - "but what about the days when I'm just not feeling it?"
I nod.  Because I know.  Oh, how I know.

What I don't know is how our culture has convinced us that any other skill is okay to practise, but if it's spiritual or art or both, then you have to feel it every time.

As I'm writing this, the Olympics are still fresh on our minds.  I'm picturing an interviewer asking an athlete, "How often do you practise?" And the reply being, "When I feel like it."
We don't ever hear that from athletes at that level.

As Aristotle said,"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."
What do you do when you don't feel it? You do it anyway.


There is no such thing as a God-sized dream that doesn't have seasons that are just plain ol' hard, unglamourous work. 
(Emphasis added by the blog poster!)

When we persevere through those times, we honour God, because that is when we're dying to ourselves.  We're saying, "I will obey even when all my flesh wants to do is sit in the corner and eat a cookie."  When you choose to be disciplined in the pursuit of your dream, even when you don't want to, you do a lot to destroy the work of the enemy.  And even though it doesn't feel like it, your faith is probably even stronger than when you have all the warm, fuzzy emotions that we like a lot better.

So keep going, friend.
You're doing better than you know.
You're growing more than you realise.
You're making a difference even if you can't see it.
And someday soon, you will.

Extracted from Day 16's reading in Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream.
ISBN: 9780800722807
Price: £8.99
Available through your local Christian bookshop, or any other bricks and mortar or online bookshop.

For more short and thought provoking reading, Holley's blog is well worth spending a little time browsing, as are her books You're Already Amazing, and You're Made for a God-Sized Dream.

16 August 2013

Here Comes Award Number Three!

Fantasy fiction, while having a very long and established track record, is frequently dismissed as not fitting the Christian fiction mould, and it is often difficult to find the audience.  Partly because many Christian readers of fantasy do not look for them or expect to find them in Christian bookshops. 

So here is a reason to take note of this series, and an opportunity to talk about it.  Starflower, book 4 in The Tales of Goldstone Wood series, has just won the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction.  Earlier books in the series won two Christy Awards, including the 2012 Award for Visionary Fiction.  So the series now has a hat-trick of awards.  Not bad going, especially when you consider that Heartless, the first in the series, was the author's debut novel.

* * * * * * *
The Black Dogs Are on the Hunt, But Who Is Their Prey?
When a cursed dragon-witch kidnaps fairest Lady Gleamdren, the Bard Eanrin sets boldly forth on a rescue mission... and a race against his rival for Gleamdren's favor. Intent upon his quest, the last thing the immortal Faerie needs is to become mixed up with the troubles of an insignificant mortal.

But when he stumbles upon a maiden trapped in an enchanted sleep, he cannot leave her alone in the dangerous Wood Between. One waking kiss later, Eanrin suddenly finds his story entangled with that of young Starflower. A strange link exists between this mortal girl and the dragon-witch. Will Starflower prove the key to Lady Gleamdren's rescue? Or will the dark power from which she flees destroy both her and her rescuer?

"Fans of Tolkien...will be drawn into Stengl's effusive prose and wonderfully scary worlds...a series to stretch your imagination..."
USA Today

"...readers will enjoy this romantic adventure story, which is subtly laced with legends and Christian allegory akin to C. S. Lewis' Narnia series."
Elizabeth Ponder, Booklist (on Veiled Rose, Bk 2 in the series)

Starflower is available now.
Price: £8.99
ISBN: 9780764210266
You can order the book via your local Christian bookshop, or any other bricks and mortar or online bookshop.
For digital readers, this is also available in ebook format.

09 August 2013

Review: Rules of Murder

Julianna Deering set out to write a book influenced by the classic mysteries of the 1920s and 30s, and thought it would be fun in the process to break or bend the 'rules for mystery writers'*.

The result is an entertaining English Whodunit, with a good dash of gentle humour sprinkled through the pages.

Drew Fathering arrives back at his Hampshire manor to discover it full of guests. Including the very unwelcome Mr Lincoln. The guest list at Fathering Place is increased with the arrival of Drew’s step-father’s American niece, who turns out to be far more welcome and catches Drew’s eye, and very quickly his heart. Unfortunately, an early opportunity to spend some time with Madeline is nastily interrupted when they discover a body. Then a second death follows...

This is a very engaging story. Deering keeps the pace up throughout, and her characters are interesting. Complicated enough to keep you wondering whether you’ve really guessed what’s happened (twice I’d got it right, and once I hadn’t), it’s a light and easy read, perfect for whiling away time enjoyably. Drew and Madeline are likeable leads, though there didn’t seem to be much any ‘courting’ between them meeting and being a couple. In less than a day they go from total strangers to being romantically involved which is a bit too sudden for me.
As an English reader, I was on the lookout for American outtakes in this novel, and must congratulate the author on their scarcity. Most of her conversation reads true to both the setting and the period, and she correctly uses ‘mum’ and ‘holiday’! Oh, and the book contains one of my favourite Marmite related paragraphs: “The door, appropriately marked MANAGER, was opened by a stubby little boy of perhaps ten. Bespectacled and fussily dressed, he looked annoyed at being disturbed when more than half of his Marmite sandwich was yet to be eaten.” 
The oddities are few. The most irritating for me was the use of the phrase ‘to be sure’ by Drew. It just isn’t right, and makes the English Gent sound Irish! Sedan is not an English term for any kind of car. Hired on is not right, nor is quarter after – the English say ‘taken on’, and ‘quarter past’. I have never in all my life heard or read anyone say a ‘trig little frock’. I had to Google that one! Homicide is not used in general conversation in the UK either in the way it is in Rules of Murder – we would say murder. However, these ‘nit-picks’ wouldn’t have stopped me reading this book, and didn’t stop me enjoying it. 
Recommended, and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.

 *The 'ten commandments for mystery writers' were outlined by Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), and English priest and theologian, in his 1929 Decalogue.

Review by Anne Rogers, and all views expressed herein are my own.

Rules of Murder is released in the UK in September 13
Price: £8.99
ISBN: 9780764210952
Full book information and a sample chapter is available here..
You can pre-order the book via your local Christian bookshop, or any other bricks and mortar or online bookshop.
For digital readers, this is also available in ebook format.


01 August 2013

Books With Bite: For Such a Time (Sneak Peek)

Working in publishing I see a lot of books, and I tend to see them a long time before they are actually published.  Sometimes so far ahead that when the actual, physical (sorry, I'm an old fashioned sort of girl) book lands on my desk I think 'but hasn't that been out for ages already'?  In general, I try not to talk about things too early but every now and then something comes along which I just have to shout about early.

And this week, something has.

The 'something' in question is For Such a Time, a wonderfully engaging and compelling novel from an author with a bookselling background.

It turns out that I am not the only one who is already loving this book.  Here's a review from Debbie Macomber.  Someone with a bit of a wider audience than myself!

"I absolutely loved this book.  For such a Time kept me up at night, flipping the pages and holding my breath wanting to know what would happen next.  Based on the biblical book of Esther, the story takes the reader to a concentration camp inside World War II Czechoslovakia, where a young Jewish woman has captured the attention of the Kommandant and has the opportunity to save her people, much as Esther did in the biblical account.  The story is gripping, compelling, and I dare anyone to close the cover before the last suspenseful page."

There are lots of re-tellings of Bible stories, and some work better than others.  Being an old fashioned kind of reader, I like my novels to just tell a great story which hooks me in.  My favourite books are those you read in so completely engaged a way that when you close the covers you have to pull yourself back to the day to day reality from the world you've been engrossed in with an almost physical effort.

This is one of those books.

ISBN: 9780764211607
Price: £9.99
Publication Date: May 2014 (UK)
You will be able to order this book in the UK via your local Christian bookshop, or any other bricks and mortar or online bookshop.
It will also be available as an ebook.