I wrote yesterday about how I’ve been praying about which books I should read and review this year, and how I felt led to read Across the China Sky by C. Hope Flinchbaugh.
As I began to read it, I knew there was something unique about this writer — sure enough, I later discovered that Flinchbaugh was a finalist in the 2003 Christy Awards in the First Novel category. Her writing is spectacular, and I felt like every time I picked up the book, I traveled to China. Part of the story takes place in a Chinese orphanage in Shanghai, and part takes place in the countryside, giving me a taste of both city and rural living in China.
You can read an excerpt from the book here. This novel made it very clear to me how powerful fiction can be for drawing in readers so that an author’s message can come through clearly. Although I probably wouldn’t pick up a non-fiction book right now to read about a dangerous cult in China, this novel made me aware of this terrible problem.
It’s such a joy to be able to introduce C. Hope Flinchbaugh to you via this interview! I thank the good people at Bethany House for making this connection for us.
Across the China Sky is such an intriguing title. Can you tell us what your book is about?
Across the China Sky is a novel based on the true testimonies of Chinese Christian leaders that I interviewed in China — leaders who were deceived and kidnapped by the Eastern Lightning cult. Across the China Sky follows the relationship of an engaged Chinese couple who struggle to keep their love alive while being separated and persecuted for their faith.
What inspired you to write this novel?
Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to China to interview some Chinese House Church leaders who were kidnapped by the Eastern Lightning cult. These Christian leaders were devastated by the kidnapping, and they begged me to tell their stories to “President Bush.”
I wasn’t exactly scheduled to have lunch with our president that month, so I wrote their story in my novel, Across the China Sky.
I was stunned to learn about the Eastern Lightning cult, and I was so thankful you included an actual letter from a Chinese pastor in the back of your book. Can you tell about this group? Are they still active?
Yes. The Eastern Lightning cult is a vicious group that seeks to kidnap Christians and brainwash them into believing that Jesus has already returned to the earth, and this time He’s come in the form of a woman who lives in China.
They base their beliefs on Matthew 24:27, which says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Their belief is that Jesus was the Western Christ. Now the EASTERN Jesus has returned to the earth, and he is a Chinese woman who is to be worshiped as God.
How does the cult operate?
Eastern Lightning cult members do not walk up to Christians and ask them to join their club. They are very subtle and deceiving. They have decided that instead of finding new converts in China, they would rather deceive and then convert the main Christian leaders. They hope that if they can convert church pastors in China, these will in turn tell all their churches to convert to Eastern Lightning.
To do this, an Eastern Lightning cult member will go to an underground church and pretend to become converted. They will be baptized, sing the songs, read the Scriptures, and even testify about what great things Jesus did for them. They gain the trust of the pastors and evangelists and then lure them away with the promise of bringing them some great blessing.
They promised Brother Chen and all his main leaders (34 of them) a biblical seminary training. The leaders were excited to have the biblical training, but in the end they found out it was all a lie and they’d been kidnapped by a vicious cult that tried to brainwash them.
Brother Chen (not his real name) said, “Let our stumbling be the warning for the future of the church in the rest of the world. May brothers and sisters be alert and watchful, to guard against and resist the schemes of cults and heresies, and to walk in the truth of the Lord.”
[Side Note: You can read details on the BP News website as well as here. They used the good name and reputation of the Haggai Institute to make themselves appear legitimate. The Haggai Institute issued a statement concerning this on July 31, 2002].
I understand this is your second novel. How does your first novel, Daughter of China, relate to this one?
Daughter of China is a novel based on true stories of the persecuted Christians in China and the intense persecution of Chinese women and their daughters due to the one-child policy in China. If you want to peek into a state-run orphanage that is not a showcase orphanage for tourists, read this book.
Your second novel made me more keenly aware of the agonies Chinese women must go through when they aren’t allowed to keep a second baby. It broke my heart and made me realize if I were Chinese, I would only be able to keep my oldest son. How did you become so interested in China?
As a child, I sat in on classes when my mother taught inner city children stories from Child Evangelism Fellowship about missionaries from various countries. China always struck my interest. As a teen, my father handed me books about great Chinese missionaries such as Hudson Taylor, John and Betty Stam, Adoniram Judson, and Watchman Nee.
How did you become interested in the topic of Chinese orphans?
My interest in the orphans began when I saw two documentaries on television, each depicting the dying rooms in China’s state-run orphanages. Videotapes do not lie.
I saw babies lying in a room left to die—they looked like so many scattered rugs on a hard floor. I looked at my second child, a one-year-old baby girl, and realized she would not be with me had I given birth to her in China. I knew then that I had to do something to help these orphans.
I researched the Chinese orphanages by doing interviews with people who had been to China. After one look at Human Rights Watch Asia’s report on Chinese orphanages, called Death by Default, I knew I had to write the book. The lame boy in my first book is named Zhu, after a little one in the Death by Default book. Zhu died of starvation while the workers around him ate three meals a day.
Daughter of China has inspired a number of couples to adopt children in China—it doesn’t get any more rewarding than that.
Who are your sources of inspiration?
The great scientist Isaac Newton was asked in his old age how he accomplished so much in his life. Newton answered, “If I have seen further than anyone else, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
My giant was my dad — my biological and spiritual father, a mentor, friend, and great evangelist at heart. He personally led thousands of inner city children and teenagers to the Lord through his chalk art evangelism.
When I was a child, he drew chalk pictures at camp meetings, inner city parking lots, street corners, and churches. I sang and played the guitar or piano as he drew, bringing squeals of delight from children as he changed the lights above the picture to yellow, blue, and red, revealing in the end a “hidden picture” under a black light.
My dad and I went to China in October 2002 and met with the leaders together.
Do you know what he did? He fasted meals and gave away every penny he had to the leaders who were still brokenhearted from their recent kidnapping experiences — leaders who needed a gray-haired pastor to love them and tell them it was going to be okay. My dad did that — and they respected him.
Dad drew chalk pictures for Chinese children, put coins into the cups of beggars we saw on the street, and taught in underground seminaries. He died in June 2006, and would you believe, I am still standing on his shoulders? You can see a picture of the two of us together on my website.
That is a wonderful picture of you and your father. What a blessing that you were able to be with him in China. Thank you so much for writing this book and for sharing your insights into the persecuted church in China. I hope to be able to visit there someday.
For now, the very least I can do is pray for my brothers and sisters who are there, struggling to keep their faith strong.
Hope Flinchbaugh is an author, freelance writer, and homeschooling mom from Pennsylvania. Daughter of China received a Catherine Marshall Christy Award of Excellence in 2003. Hope’s nonfiction book, Spiritually Parenting Your Preschooler, was released in August 2003. She’s also a contributor to Soul Matters, a series released in bookstores and Sam’s Clubs in 2005.