I was born in 1963 to a Christian family in a rural village not far from the city of Huai’an. My childhood years came during a time in China known as the Cultural Revolution.
Libraries were destroyed. Books were burned. Pastors, teachers and doctors were treated badly. All churches were officially closed.
But believers continued to meet, in secret. My family’s home became one of those meeting places, and my mother was the leader. Sometimes I attended the service and prayed with them. But I was not very clear about what was going on. The believers gathered only at midnight, and not on a regular schedule, knowing they would be arrested if others noticed what they were doing.
At that time, the church did not have a printed copy of the Bible, but only a handwritten copy of the New Testament, which was kept at my home. My mother hid it very carefully after each midnight service. In our younger years, my sisters and I were always amazed and wondered what the book was and why our mother treasured it more than her own life.
My father, a typical peasant, was not yet a Christian. But from the time I was very young, my mother would kneel by my bed and pray for my father, my sisters and me, dedicating us to God.
When I was 10, a Christian woman in our neighborhood was arrested. We all knew her and her family; she was in her 80s and was very influential. She had a son who was paralyzed, but she was still a leader in the church and helped a lot of brothers and sisters.
The policemen told the woman, “If you give up your faith, we can release you right now.” She responded, “No, never. Even if you beat me to death, I won’t give up my faith.” The woman’s powerful Christian witness activated my faith. That night I knelt down in the backyard and prayed to God: “Lord, please use me. I will give my life for You, even if I have the same experience.”
God heard my plea and saved me. Soon, I went to middle school. Because very few people in our church could read, I became a regular Scripture reader and song leader when I was a teenager. I also preached sometimes, until the church closed in 1977. There were only a few dozen believers, and most of our ministry to neighbors was restricted to the witness of our lifestyle.
I did not realize that I was called to full-time ministry until I graduated from high school in 1982. I wanted to take the national exam for college admission, but I was injured in a car accident and could not take the final exam.
With the Cultural Revolution over, the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary re-opened for students. Our church recommended me in 1984 since I had missed the opportunity for college. God is good! I passed the seminary entrance exam and became a theological student. I graduated in 1988 and went back to my hometown for a few years as a preacher.
In 1991 I was ordained, and I began to serve all the Huai’an churches (about 400 of them). In 2013, I was elected as chair for all the churches in Jiangsu Province (more than 5,000 churches and 4.6 million Christians).
God has blessed my family. My father became a Christian in 1984, as did my three sisters. I married in 1987, and my wife also serves the church. We have a son and a daughter, both devoted to God and serving in ministry. My son-in-law is also a minister of God.
When I look back at my life, I remember those difficult times when Christians were persecuted and looked down upon. But more than that, I remember God’s grace and the way He guided us through all of that. In life, we see changes every day. But no matter what comes, God is sovereign over all. He cares for us, and He will accomplish His good purpose. ©2016 BGEA
The Reverend Zhang Keyun is chairman of the Jiangsu Provincial Three Self Patriotic Committee and is president of Jiangsu Theological Seminary.