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.