Su Zuoyang was born May 22, 1916, on a home on Shanghai Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong. His ancestors came from Yangjiang County, Guangdong. A third-generation Christian, he grew up in the church. His maternal grandfather was Dai Yixin, Elder in the Church of Christ in China), in Jiangcheng County; and his parents were committed to service in the church. When he was six years of age, Su followed his older brother Su Tianyou to attend Sunday school and other meetings at the Peniel Church in Kowloon. From youth he loved music and literature. At eleven he began learning to play the harmonica, at twelve the organ. Within two years he was able to play skillfully more than two hundred hymns. He began composing hymns at the age of fourteen, and eventually learned to play ten different kinds of musical instruments, both Chinese and Western. In the course of his lifetime, he composed six hundred songs for the Short Songs of the Heavenly People and two hundred for the Hymns of the Heavenly People.。 Many songs have been translated into various foreign languages, which many have loved to sing. His songs created the spiritual tone for a generation of Chinese Christians.
In 1931, on his first evangelistic visit to Hong Kong, the famous preacher John Sung held a revival meeting in the Peniel Church. On this occasion, Su Zuoyang made a decision to commit his life to a ministry of evangelism. He went to study at the North China Seminary in Teng county, Shandong Province in 1934. Upon graduation in 1937, amidst the dangers of war he traveled alone by train to Changjiakou, Chahar province, to take part in an evangelistic meeting led by John Sung, after which he led a Bible study and devotional meetings at the churches in towns and villages in Shanxi province. Six months later, Su took a train back to Hong Kong, having completed his first evangelistic trip in China.
Su returned to his alma mater in 1940 to help with the editing of a Hebrew dictionary and to teach music. A year after that. he accepted the invitation of Pastor Yang Shaotang to teach Hebrew to female students at the Spiritual Action Team in Tianjin. He married Chen Zhenqian that same year. After the wedding, the couple returned to Hong Kong, where Su taught courses in the Bible in Bethel Seminary, thus completing his second domestic preaching tour.
The Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1942. Su and his wife fled for safety to Fujian Province. In Xiaoxi, Zhangzhou Prefecture, they established the Heavenly People, the name of which was changed to the Voice of the Heavenly People in 1961, when they were again back in Hong Kong. At first only a very small newspaper, it eventually become a publication with nationwide reach, and has recently grown into an international journal with readers from more than fifty nations receiving it without cost. Over the past seventy years, the Voice of the Heavenly People has built up the spiritual life of Chinese Christians all over the world, and furnished a model of indigenized Chinese Christianity and independent expansion.
In 1943, Su took up a position as professor in the Bethel Seminary in Guizhou Province. He also established the Gospel Magazine in the Miao language for the Miao people there.
The next year, at the invitation of Dr. He Gengshi, he travelled to Chongqing to teach at the Chinese Spiritual Training Seminary, where he worked with Pastor Jia Yuming for six months. In the summer of 1945, he went to the far northwest to take the position of general secretary of the Gansu-Ningxia-Qinghai Christian Churches Union, with the responsibility of visiting churches in the region and promoting cooperation among them.
Su Zuoyang was ordained as a pastor in June, 1947 in Gansu Province, after which he and his wife and daughter returned to Shanghai, where he initiated the evangelistic literature work for the China Inland Mission (CIM). He supervised the editing of gospel tracts, booklets, and books. In 1948 he returned to Hong Kong, having completed his third domestic evangelistic journey. He then taught and pastored in churches in Hong Kong and Macao for four years.
He resigned from those positions in 1953 in order to take up a new responsibility - preparing to devote himself to overseas ministry. At the time, his family and friends said, “Will you be able to support your family of seven?” God gave him two words that encouraged him to live by faith in God’s provision: “There is a path through the Red Sea, and there is no need of a bridge to cross the Jordan River.”
Su commenced an eight-year period of international travel in the Far East in 1953, during which he preached in thirteen countries, including Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, North Borneo, Sarawak, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and Indonesia. He used various dialects to speak to overseas Chinese, and addressed different sorts of people groups in these various countries. He saw each country as a mission field, encouraging Christians of every race and nation to go leave their countries and engage in international evangelism.
Between 1962 and 1976, expanded the reach of his ministry even more, Su circled the globe in his preaching tours, visiting six continents and more than fifty countries. He possessed a rare gift of languages, being able to speak in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan, Chaozhou, and Shanghainese. He also understood more than ten different European/Asian languages. He visited European countries and preached to the local Europeans, and was invited by various Christian organizations to conduct revival meetings. He also spoke in Canada and the United States to both Chinese and Caucasians in churches, seminaries, universities, and Chinese Bible study groups. His motto was, “Only be faithful to the Lord; don’t seek the approval of men.”
Su left the American continent and returned to Hong Kong in 1976 to assume leadership of the Worldwide Evangelistic Mission. He also founded the Heavenly People Depot and became the general editor. This press issued more than fifty different kinds of print publications, including a series on Old and New Testament theology, a set of ten books on Difficulties in the Bible, another series of eight volumes of Meditations on the New Testament, four books on Original Language Exegesis, Extra-biblical works, Meditations on the Five Books of Moses of the Old Testament, three volumes of Studies in the Old Testament, Reading the Psalms, and others. In this way, Su used Christian literature to spread the faith around the world.
Su decreased overseas preaching as he grew older, though he conducted a 42-day preaching mission in Egypt at the invitation of the Freedom Road Methodist Church. He encouraged Egyptian believers to form the Egyptian Overseas Evangelistic Mission to take the gospel to the whole world. Despite cataracts in both eyes, he persisted in literature work, continuing to edit the Voice of the Heavenly People, with old and new hymns as well as his own compositions. He was still faithfully serving the Lord through literary ministry with the Heavenly People Depot at the advanced age of 91.
On May 30, 2007, Su Zuoyang, while writing at home, suddenly fainted. He was sent to the hospital for treatment, after which he was transferred on June 22 to a nursing home. He was in and out of the hospital twice after that for several days of treatment. Finally, on September 27, at the age of 91, Su Zuoyang passed away while in the hospital. He had spent a lifetime in service to God and his fellow men.
- The main source was the 2004 Hong Kong Baptist University History Department graduation thesis of Xie Shiyong, “Su Zuoyang: Twentieth Century Chinese Evangelist.”