November 29, 2022

Press Release

Missing Letters from Influential 20th-Century Church Leader and Martyr Rediscovered

WASHINGTON – A pair of handwritten letters from Watchman Nee, an influential Christian leader and martyr, were recently discovered and are on display for the first time at Museum of the Bible. Tracked down by a relative of Watchman Nee, the two letters provide eye-opening insights into the final days of Nee’s life. 

As a Chinese church leader and teacher, Watchman Nee was instrumental in spreading the Christian faith and establishing churches in China from the early 1900s until his arrest in 1952, when he was imprisoned for his religious beliefs and leadership in the local church. Founder of the “Local Church” movement, Watchman Nee was known for his unwavering faith and passion for sharing the Bible, despite knowing that the government of China at that time would treat him harshly.   

During his imprisonment, Watchman Nee composed several letters to his family, each offering a look into his sufferings and experiences while in prison. The last known letters from Watchman Nee were recently rediscovered by his nephew-in-law, their original recipient. Drafted on May 22 and May 26, 1972, just days before Watchman Nee’s death on May 30, the letters contain Nee’s plea to his family to provide a place of refuge upon his release.   

The discovery of the May 26 letter offers a never-before-seen paragraph omitted in previous recordings of the letters, such as the one found in the book Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, written by Watchman Nee’s successor, Witness Nee. The second paragraph was likely omitted because of Nee’s criticism of the state for his punishment in 1967 and subsequent refusal of his scheduled release. 

“The revelation of these original letters is extremely significant,” said Amy Van Dyke, Museum of the Bible’s lead curator of exhibitions. “The editing of the letters for publication in 1991 provides a glimpse into how concerned the community was about the government's response. They feared a ‘massive ripple effect’ on the Chinese Local Church community, just two years after the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.” 

The letters were found ahead of the National Convention of the Church, which Watchman Nee himself established. On November 24-27, the International Thanksgiving Blending Conference welcomed individuals from all churches to join for a time of fellowship in Washington, D.C. Thousands of attendees had the opportunity to observe and reflect on the newly rediscovered letters and the omission of the second paragraph within.   

“Despite imprisonment and death, Watchman Nee’s legacy lives on in China and beyond,” said Van Dyke. “His influence has impacted thousands of Christians and churches worldwide. We hope visitors to Washington will enjoy learning about his extraordinary life and recently recovered letters in our Watchman Nee exhibit.”   

For more information about the Watchman Nee exhibit, visit