Bian Yunbo was a brilliant, soft-spoken, humble servant of Christ. At great cost, he faithfully walked the way of the Cross. Bian was born in Hebei, but as a teenager fled to Yang County, Shaanxi, after Japanese soldiers occupied his home village in 1943. In spite of often being without sufficient food and clothing, Yunbo studied diligently to complete his high school studies and prepare for the college entrance examinations. During this period of deprivation and emotional turmoil, he met the Lord through the quiet ministry of a China Inland Mission worker, Doris E. Onion. He recalled that she had prayed for his lost soul many times, once being prompted by the Lord to arise in the middle of the night and intercede for him during a season when he was despondent and had stopped attending church services. This lesson about the importance of intercessory prayer was one that he would emphasize many times in his future ministry.
In 1944, Bian moved to Chongqing to attend the prestigious National Central University (now Nanjing University). He dreamed of becoming a famous playwright, but then became seriously ill with an untreatable form of pneumonia. While attending the first China InterVarsity summer conference in 1945, he was convicted of his prideful ambition to be famous and dedicated his life to the Lord. Taking a break from his studies, Bian returned to Yang County where, despite his frail health, he walked from village to village to preach the Gospel. By the spring, he found himself so poor that he had to sell his winter clothing to be able to eat, and, being prompted to do so, he broke off a relationship with a non-Christian girl he had cared for deeply.
In the summer of 1946, a team of teachers and students from the Northwest Bible Institute traveled to Yang County to evangelize the local population. One of the team members, Zhao Maijia (赵麦加), had a personal vision to preach the gospel in Mecca as a member of the Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band and he shared his vision with Bian.
That fall, after an X-ray revealed that Bian’s pneumonia had miraculously been cured despite his regimen of strenuous walking instead of the prescribed time of rest, he resumed his studies at National Central University, which had moved back to Nanjing. He wrote of his healing: “This made me feel even more convinced that this wisp of life and breath was a gift from God, and it impelled me to use my strength to live for the Lord as a response to God’s grace.”
Before he graduated in 1948, Bian received two tempting offers: one was a full scholarship to study at Edinburgh University and the other was to intern as a research assistant for a well-known professor. During this period Bian also met with several members of the Northwest Spiritual Movement, another stream of the Back to Jerusalem movement. Bian recalled, “After this, and for a long period of time, I would kneel every night by my bed and pray for those quietly serving workers. Slowly the Lord’s leading became clear to me. I myself should serve as they did.”
His resolve to do this was finally confirmed in early 1948, when he was back in Yang County and unexpectedly faced opposition from a pastor during a preaching tour. He got up at dawn and prayed as he walked in the cold countryside on a narrow levee among the rice paddies. God encouraged and strengthened him with a vision of Jesus on the narrow road to Jerusalem and the Cross. Then, he seemed to see the countless unknown evangelists who had walked similar roads down through the ages and—even at that moment—were trudging across China toward Jerusalem.
Later that fall, the 23-year-old Bian felt called to write a short poem to memorialize this resolve to preach the Gospel at all cost. However, instead of a short poem, he found himself moved by God much as Handel was when he wrote Messiah. For days, he labored over his work, hardly eating or sleeping. By October 30, 1948, when he finished writing his epic poem, To the Unknown Evangelist, My Brother (献给无名的传道者-我的弟兄), he was completely exhausted.
That winter with a few others, Bian traveled to Yunnan to serve as a missionary among the Miao people. During those months, a copy of his poem found its way to a publisher. It was later put to music and inspired many to dedicate their lives to Christ and His Great Commission.
After a few years of ministry in Yunnan, Bian was warned that he was in danger of being arrested and left the work there. For a time he assisted Wang Mingdao, who was then based in Beijing. In 1954, Bian started a house church in Tianjin. He was later arrested and spent years in prison and labor camp. Even after his release, Bian, his wife Bai Yaoxuan (白耀轩姊妹), and their three children suffered great persecution for many years in Tianjin. Even though his health was not good in his later years, Brother Bian still spoke before many churches and conferences; he also authored a book about the house churches, Recalling History in My Declining Years (残 年 忆史 ). On February 14, 2018 in Ningbo, Bian Yunbo entered the Lord’s rest at age 93.
In 1998, Brother Bian wrote: “Perhaps the revival in the Chinese and overseas church today is God’s preparation for an even greater revival. Let us ask the Lord to once again raise up a people who love Him as did Gideon’s 300, to take up their wonderful staffs and run the final lap of the race.”