Canaan Hymns

Please welcome my guest Martin Roth, author of Brother Half-Angel one of a series of novels about the persecuted church. We who watch religious liberty erode daily in the US can take instruction from the experience of the persecuted church around the world.

Canaan Hymns – The Sound of the Persecuted Church in China


One of the unexpected joys of doing research for my novel “Brother Half Angel” – set in China, and the first of my Brother Half Angel series of international thrillers – was discovering the gorgeous and moving Canaan Hymns.


These are Christian hymns, to be sung in church – in China. But they are somewhat different from the hymns we sing in our Western churches. Different from our traditional hymns, and different too from our modern praise-and-worship music.


How different? The best explanation I can give is that they are sentimental, carrying a sense of nostalgia, with unpretentious melodies and lyrics that speak of the beauty and majesty of China and of a simple life spent in the presence of God. They are slow, melodic and a little dreamy. They are not deeply theological. They will not be to all Western tastes.


When I lived in Asia I became a fan of the Taiwan superstar Teresa Teng, who died tragically of an asthma attack at the age of 42. She specialized in folk songs and romantic ballads, with a voice that was described as conveying “seven parts sweetness and three parts tears.” That’s what the Canaan Hymns sound like.


But just as moving as the hymns themselves is the story of how they came to be written.


One night in 1990 a young Chinese peasant girl named Xiao Min, unable to sleep, found a song flooding into her consciousness. Over ensuing weeks and months more songs arrived, unbidden, often while she was at her work in the fields picking cotton.

These were songs about God, about His great love for the Chinese people, about the Christian life of prayer, worship, joy and sacrifice.


But in 1992 she was arrested, beaten and imprisoned for her faith. For two months she was locked up with seven women who were being held on criminal charges. At the end of this time all seven women were believers, and Xiao Min had composed 14 more hymns.


Traveling evangelists realized that her songs were a direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and began to spread them throughout the underground church. Soon Chinese believers everywhere were singing these songs, and they became a key worship resource for the secret home church movement, despite some official attempts to ban them.


Over ensuing years Xiao Min received many more songs from God, until their number reached around one thousand. They were named the Canaan Hymns.


Go to YouTube and you can find examples, as well as some documentaries about the hymns and about the composer Xiao Min.


Here are some of the lyrics for “Dark Night,” one of my favorites:


In the dark night, flowers are more fragrant. In the dark night, footsteps become surer. A journey in the dark is nearing its end. Stay true to God.


Listen to it here, and experience, as I have, the warm feelings of love and compassion that percolate from these tender and very special hymns. Then pray for the persecuted Christians of China and elsewhere. And give thanks that God can raise one simple peasant girl in a remote region of China and use her so powerfully to feed and inspire the biggest underground church movement in the world.


Martin Roth is the author of many novels. You can read more about him at his website ( The Kindle edition of his book “Brother Half Angel,” a thriller about the persecuted church in China, is on special promotion from December 1-16, reduced from $3.99 to $0.99. To learn more about the promotion, and for the chance to win prizes, go to