Former BR doctor publishes memoir of her shaken faith
Dr. Lily Hsu’s Christian faith sustained her through the brutal Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II and later coercive brainwashing by the communists, but what she witnessed when her church leader went on trial proved too much.
In “The Unforgettable Memoirs: My Life, Shanghai Church and Watchman Nee,” Hsu, a retired pediatric neurologist who practiced in Baton Rouge, describes how she gave up her faith for a time after hearing Nee admit sexual immorality and seeing him convicted of corrupt business practices.
What made the confession and conviction of the world-renowned Chinese theologian so shocking, Hsu, 81, said, was the evidence — evidence that few Christians in the Western world are even aware of.
“They showed me the nude pictures,” said Hsu, who moved to Texas but is visiting friends in Baton Rouge this summer.
Her 360-page book — seen as a cautionary tale by some and as a rehashing of communist smears by others — was published last year in Chinese. Hsu is searching for a company to publish it in English and provided a digital file of the English translation for this story.
Born Nee Shu-tsu in 1903, Nee adopted the name “Watchman,” as a biblical watchman on the wall, following his conversion to Christianity at age 17. He is credited with founding the Local Church Movement that planted hundreds of churches in China and later evolved into the modern underground “house” church movement. With his theological focus of “Christ in you,” Nee’s many books such as the best-selling “The Normal Christian Life” and “The Normal Christian Church Life” still can be found in the libraries of many pastors.
“Not very many Christians in the United States — or even in China — know he was excommunicated by the Shanghai Christian Assembly,” said Hsu, who insists Nee is not the martyr for the faith some make him out to be. “All the bad things have been covered up. The church leaders knew something, but they kept silent. I want to clear the fog.”
But Chris Wilde, director of communications for Living Stream Ministry, the primary publisher of Nee’s writings, calls Hsu’s book “mainly a re-statement of the old ‘official’ government charges that have been floating about concerning Watchman Nee since his trial in 1956.
“It is common knowledge that prominent Christian and other religious leaders were accused by the Chinese Communists of all manner of nefarious deeds during those years and the credibility of the Party’s allegations during that era has been viewed as highly dubious by most objective observers,” Wilde said in an email.
The daughter of a physician, Hsu grew up attending a Protestant church and a Christian missionary school, experiencing a personal salvation in the fall of 1947 at age 16. She was baptized, along with about 100 others, by Witness Lee, the renowned assistant to Nee. “When I came up out of the water, I had a sense of total victory,” Hsu said.
After graduating from high school in 1949, she studied medicine, regularly attended invitation-only lectures by Nee and became a leader in the church’s student group, attracting the attention of the communists.
By the mid-1950s, the “Campaign to Eliminate Counter-revolutionaries” was sweeping China with what Hsu describes as “fear, horror.” Children “confessed” against their parents and siblings, Hsu said. Christians were classified as “counter-revolutionary” and were systematically persecuted.
Hsu described being “isolated” from other Christians and even assigned a communist “shadow” who never left her alone for months at a time, even sleeping in her room.
She was in the courtroom when Nee admitted he made a motel-room film of a nude female church co-worker that was found in his personal belongings, Hsu said.
Communist prosecutors displayed negatives of the film frames at a public exhibition and at his trial, Hsu said, and she knew the woman in the film and was told her, “I told him (Nee) over and over again to destroy that film.”
“My personal morals are bad,” Hsu quotes Nee as telling the court before he was convicted for “counter-revolutionary activities in the guise of religion.” He was sentenced to prison, where he died on May 30, 1972.
“My whole heart was to church — to him,” she said, explaining how she felt cheated and quit her faith at age 23. “I was not against Christianity. I did not proclaim I deny the Lord. I just did not have God.”
And she was not alone. Hundreds of members of the Shanghai Christian Assembly, the flagship church of the Local Church movement and, the largest and most evangelical church in China prior to the communist takeover, were “shattered” in their faith, Hsu said, which is exactly what the communists wanted.
“I prayed for six months every day sincerely but no answer,” Hsu said. “Many other Christians did not get response from God. Two-thirds left the church.”
In 1980, after decades of emotionless living, agnosticism and two failed marriages, Hsu was gently reminded of her forsaken faith by a Christian medical professor she worked with in Shanghai.
“As I kneeled down, I could not control myself,” Hsu said, tears brimming up in her eyes. “There is a hymn called ‘From the day I have Jesus,’ I have joyful flooding in my heart!”
Likewise, many of her Chinese friends eventually returned to their faith and are “serving God with contrite hearts in their old age,” she said.
After returning to Christ, she came to the United States, passed required medical exams, completed a residency program in Florida and served a fellowship in her specialty at a children’s hospital in Ohio. In 1989, she moved to Baton Rouge, where she worked at the NeuroMedical Center and then the Baton Rouge Clinic, retiring in 2006.
She just wanted to forget the Shanghai church and Nee, but friends encouraged her to share what she knew.
“We’ve all seen national — and even local — spiritual leaders fall prey to sexual issues,” said the Rev. Mark Lubbock, a friend of Hsu and a Methodist minister who serves as executive director of Louisiana Men of Christ. “The context of Dr. Hsu’s book is a cautionary word of warning to all spiritual leaders to be sure they have in place an accountability process and structure to help them deal with the inevitable temptation.”
Similarly, another of her friends, Alex Cui, an evangelical Chinese pastor in Seattle, said, “Like everybody, Watchman Nee has sinned and some of his teachings are wrong.”
Hsu’s book describes how Nee controlled the church by demanding “absolute submission to the ‘Delegated Authority of God,’ Watchman Nee.” Some church members read Nee’s books on their knees, a practice she describes as “idol worship,” she said.
“If we do not learn the lessons that God blessed and disciplined the Local Churches in China, it can continue to happen,” Hsu writes, comparing Nee to Samson in her book’s conclusion. “Samson shamed the name of God but in the end glorified God.”