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1903 – 1972 Christian Author and Martyr in China
There have been more than 23 thousand people arrested for their faith in China. Many died as martyrs who for their unyielding belief in Jesus Christ. Watchman Nee, who became one of those martyrs, led a ministry and life that was a large part of Christianity in China, as well as other countries.
Watchman Nee was born in Foochow, Fukien province, China. Although he was born to a family that was very familiar with the gospel, he rejected Jesus Christ for almost all of his adolescence. Trying to decide whether or not to believe in the Lord, he began to pray. Suddenly the magnitude of his sins and the reality of Jesus engulfed him and on the 29th of April 1920, when Nee was 17, he accepted Christ alone in his bedroom. His original name, Shu-Tsu, was changed shortly after to To-Sheng, meaning the sound of a watchman alerting others to danger. This is how the name Watchman Nee derived.
After this life-changing event, Watchman Nee constructed his life around God. He buried himself in Christian literature (developing a collection of 3,000 Christian books), read Bible expositions, and had a heightened knowledge of church history. While others were reading novels in class, Nee was reading his Bible. He later left school to enter Dora Yu's Bible Institute in Shanghai. Because of his large appetite, and frequent late risings, he was asked to leave the institute. He then returned to school and graduated from Anglican Trinity College.
Watchman Nee had a twofold burden and commission that he successfully fulfilled: (1) to bear a testimony of the Lord Jesus and (2) to establish local churches. He began this task by traveling with Christians to share the gospel with people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. His deep, personal knowledge and experience of Christ's resurrection lead to the publication of numerous written messages and books. Focusing on the establishment of churches, he started small meetings in someone's house. When the group grew large enough, a building would be found to accommodate them. These house churches became known as the "Little Flock" as they spread throughout China.
While remaining faithful to the commission brought upon him, Nee endured a great deal of suffering. During his early years of ministry, Nee believed that he was to live purely for God and refused all employment opportunities that were offered to him. Ill health was another source of suffering that frequently struck Nee. Tuberculosis, chronic stomach disorder, angina pectoris (heart ailment) were some of the largest obstacles of Nee's health. Although there was much endured, sickness was not the only source of affliction for Nee. His largest concern was the number of brothers and sisters meeting with the local churches.
Many of them caused trouble due to various things such as immaturity and incompetence. When Nee preached about preserving the truth of the Scriptures he protested aspects of denominational ministries, which in turn led to a temporary excommunication from the church in his hometown. When Communists came to power in the late 1940's Nee became an obvious target because of his growing Christian ministry and belief, which contradicted that of the Communist Party. In 1952, Nee was arrested for his faith and for his leadership among churches. He was imprisoned in 1956 under a fifteen-year sentence. In the confinement of his cell, Watchman Nee died on May 30, 1972.
Watchman Nee's ministry and involvement with churches was a big part of Christianity in China. His books are readily available today in many countries and are frequently used for bible studies. House churches like the "Little Flock" are becoming more prevalent in China everyday. Although he is no longer here, it is clearly evident that Watchman Nee's legacy still lives.