What is the Back to Jerusalem movement?
The name unfortunately leads a lot of people to believe that it's about evangelizing Jerusalem or Israel. That's not the case at all. When the Chinese say "Back to Jerusalem," they're talking first of all about a geographical advance of the gospel throughout history. The gospel started in Jerusalem and then spread in a generally westward direction into North Africa and Europe. Throughout history it has continued to spread westward around the globe, with China as its farthest advance. With a Chinese mindset, they see that to fulfill the Great Commission is to encircle the whole globe with the gospel, until it goes back even to where it began. Their aim is not Jerusalem or Israel, but all the countries and unreached people groups between China and Jerusalem. Along the old Silk Road, which once brought trade from the Middle East to China, you find approximately 5,200 unreached people groups and tribes.
How did it start?
The vision goes back to the late 1920s, when a group called the Jesus Family had formed in China. They lived like the church in Acts 2, sharing all their possessions in a common pool, and preaching the gospel as they walked from one village to another. They faced tremendous opposition. Often the "scum" of society would believe in Christ, so it would be the cripples, the blind, and the beggars. Whole villages would come out and throw rocks and rotten fruit and vegetables at them.
It was that group, or a derivative of that group, that first believed that God was telling them to walk on foot all the way back to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel and establishing churches in every town and ethnic group on the way. But they never got to see their vision come to fruition. A small group of Chinese missionaries got right to the border. But then the vision died for a long time. It went into the ground from the early '50s to the late '80s.
When did it reemerge?
One of the great catalysts was a man named Simon Zhao. He was one of the leaders of the Back to Jerusalem movement in the late '40s and early '50s, and was arrested along with all the other leaders when the Communists took over that part of China. He was given a 40-year prison sentence. It's a very touching story. His wife was pregnant—they had only been married a short time. She was also arrested and suffered a miscarriage in prison. She died a few years later, and he never saw his wife again. Simon Zhao said that many nights in the prison labor camps he would face toward the west, toward Jerusalem, and he would say, "God, the vision that you've given us has perished, but I pray you'll raise up a new generation of Chinese believers to fulfill this vision."
Simon Zhao got out of prison in 1983 and had no money, no family. He didn't know any Christians anymore. People had forgotten that he existed. He began to live right outside the prison labor camp, just under a piece of canvas, because he had nowhere to go and no money and nothing to do. Once the believers heard about his story, they brought him back and had him share his vision. God used his ministry to raise up this new generation. He died recently. . .
The Free Methodist Bible School in Kaifung China also felt strongly led to send young missionaries "Back to Jerusalem" in the late 1940s. The descendants of this group most of whom now worship in Three Self and in Unofficial Churches in Henan Province are still pursuing this goal of reaching the unreached peoples along the Silk Road...
God is still at work!