Bob Fu is probably the world's best-known Chinese Christian. He lives in exile in Midland, Texas, where he runs the nonprofit organization ChinaAid, which supports human rights in his homeland. ChinaAid has been successful in extracting persecuted Christian leaders and political dissidents from China to safety in the West. In his autobiography, God's Double Agent: The True Story of a Chinese Christian's Fight for Freedom, Mr. Fu recounts the inspiring story of his personal spiritual journey, his persecution in China, and his escape to the U.S.
One of the epigraphs to God's Double Agent comes from the late Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's last wife and one of the radical Chinese Communist leaders known as the Gang of Four, whose brutal policies created enormous suffering during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. In Jiang's words, "Christianity in China has been confined to the history section of the museum. It is dead and buried."
Jiang, who committed suicide in 1991, did not live to see how wrong her pronouncement turned out to be. A remarkable fact of life in China in recent years is the explosive growth of Christianity. The number of Christians in China is estimated at between 100 million and 130 million. Which brings us to another astonishing fact: There are more Christians in China today than there are members of the Communist Party, whose rolls number about 82 million.
China is not the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, but, as God's Double Agent chillingly describes, Chinese Christians must live out their faith in a hostile environment. Beijing does not ban Christianity outright. Instead, it seeks to control it. It does so by various means, including channeling worshippers into official, government-sponsored churches; banning the printing of Bibles; limiting church-based social services; and monitoring the activities of religious leaders. Christians go to jail for distributing religious materials, founding unlicensed house churches, opposing abortion, criticizing the government, and other perceived transgressions.
Count Bob Fu guilty of all such "crimes." As Mr. Fu recounts in God's Double Agent, he and his wife Heidi fled China for the U.S. in 1997 after being tipped off that the police were planning to arrest them. They had already spent time in prison for their illegal religious activities and were not eager to repeat the experience.
Another reason for the Fus' decision to flee China was personal: Mrs. Fu was pregnant without the approval of the local family-planning authorities. As Mr. Fu explains, "To begin a family, couples were required to get a pregnancy permission card—a yellow card—before the woman could legally succeed." Without the all-important yellow card, a pregnant woman could be forced to undergo an abortion, even late in her pregnancy.
Mr. Fu makes a dark joke about the couple's "bedroom civil disobedience," but the consequences of such behavior were potentially enormous. He tells how family planning officials force women to undergo pregnancy tests and how ordinary citizens are expected to report women who look pregnant. "While we were filled with joy over Heidi's pregnancy," he writes, "we were also filled with trepidation."
Becoming a Christian
God's Double Agent begins with Mr. Fu's birth in 1968 in an impoverished village. As a child, he had zero exposure to Christianity and knew nothing about the concept of God. Yet, when his mother fell ill, he describes how he somehow felt compelled to fall to his knees and ask his "Heavenly Grandpa" to cure her. "It was my first prayer," he writes. Many years later, he recognized his childhood experience as the first time he felt God's hand at work in his life.
Mr. Fu became a Christian shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when government tanks rolled over student protestors. He was a college student at the time and had taken part in the pro-democracy rallies in Beijing. "Those tanks didn't force China's brightest and most culturally engaged students back into conformity," he writes. "The tanks set them on a course to find truth." A friend gave him a biography of a Chinese intellectual, Xi Shengmo, who converted to Christianity and performed good works.
Mr. Fu quickly learned the necessity of being discreet about his new faith. Students aren't permitted to be Christians, he was told. If you proclaim your belief in the "Jesus religion," you'll be thrown out of school and will end up as a potato farmer. So he and fellow Christians began to worship secretly. "Even though we had to sneak around," he writes, "my new faith made my college life full of joy and gladness."
His college years in Shandong Province, southeast of Beijing, provided his first experience of the underground church. In graduate school and then as an English teacher at the Communist Party School in Beijing, he devoted more and more time to secretly spreading the gospel.
'My Spiritual Tiananmen'
In Beijing, he and Heidi attended a government-approved church until the authorities removed the popular pastor, who had been successful in growing the congregation. The Fus showed up at church one Sunday and found that the religious affairs bureau had installed a new pastor in the pulpit and undercover police agents in the pews. The new pastor "didn't even mention Jesus," he recalls.
Mr. Fu labels that experience "my spiritual Tiananmen." It was a factor in his decision to reject the notion—popular among some believers in China—that Christians can practice their faith fully in churches that answer to the government. The "ultimate lord" of the government-run church is communism, he concluded, and "God had no place in it."
The Fus anticipated that their underground evangelism would eventually catch the eye of the police and that they would end up in prison. They were right. They were arrested after police discovered the existence of an illegal Bible school they had established in a Beijing suburb.
Mr. Fu's description of his months in prison is very moving. He was assigned the task of cleaning the toilet with another man in the cell they shared with 30 prisoners. They had only paper with which to do the job. "The toilet, for me, was a way to share the Gospel," he writes. "One by one I made some close confidants in the cell. Some poured out their hearts to me, confessing mistresses, misdeeds, and any number of crimes, and I—in turn—told them about the saving grace of Jesus."
For an American reader, a disturbing aspect of Mr. Fu's autobiography is the story of the State Department's indifference to his plight. The Fus had fled to Hong Kong, where the U.S. consulate rejected their application for political asylum. A chance encounter with an ABC News reporter brought the Fus' story to the attention of the American public and galvanized a grassroots movement on the family's behalf. The president of the National Evangelical Association, Don Argue, asked President Clinton for help. Soon someone from the National Security Council called the consulate in Hong Kong and ordered that the Fu family receive visas. The State Department's failure to do its job remains unexplained. If religious dissidents fleeing imprisonment and forced abortion aren't welcome in the U.S., who is?
Mr. Fu's personal journey, and the many stories he tells along the way of his fellow Christians, belie Jiang Qing's statement that Christianity in China is "dead and buried." To the contrary, it is thriving. God's Double Agent is one man's story, but it illuminates the trials of all Christians who face hardship and persecution on account of their faith.
Melanie Kirkpatrick, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is the author of Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad (Encounter). (CT's September 2012 interview with Bob Fu can be found here.)