China is set to become the world’s major super power, and home to the world’s largest Christian population. Richard Reddie looks at how Black Christians can help evangelise this vast mission field
When I was growing up, my mother in her wisdom used to say, “Nothing lasts forever – except the Kingdom of God.” She usually said this after someone famous had died, but the phrase could easily have applied to an empire or nation, which are often characterised by their rise and fall.
According to academics, we are currently witnessing the escalation of China as the premier global superpower, and the waning of the United States; a fact borne out by economic forecasts that show it will overtake the USA sometime this year as the world’s leading economy. This should hardly come as a surprise, as virtually everything, from computers to clothes – once made in the USA – are now manufactured in China.
China’s pre-eminence can be seen in Africa and the Caribbean, particularly in infrastructure projects and business matters. On a trip to Jamaica a few years ago, my father pointed out that the new highway from the airport into Kingston was built by the Chinese. Similarly, on a trip to the island’s north coast, I could not help but notice the numbers of Chinese workers erecting bridges and involved in other major infrastructure projects. The situation in Africa is even more striking; in the last three years, China has given more loans to Africa than the World Bank has. And in the past decade, trade between China and Africa has increased to $120billion, making Africa China’s largest trade partner. It is estimated that there are over 500 Chinese companies currently trading in Africa, which own everything from farms to factories. Equally, figures suggest that over a million Chinese people now live in Africa and, given the Chinese penchant for migration, that number is likely to increase.
“China and its people present a wonderful opportunity for Christians, especially Black ones, to share the Gospel.”
So, if the 20th century belonged to the USA, this century – so the argument goes – belongs to China. Discussions have taken place on this theory from a geopolitical and social perspective, but nothing from a Black Christian standpoint. Despite its history of African enslavement and racial segregation, the United States has always been considered a land of opportunity for Black people from the Caribbean and Africa. For Black Pentecostals, it was the birthplace of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, and home to many of the Church of God denominations that altered the spiritual climate of the Caribbean, Africa and later, the UK. Indeed, it is still true that Black Christians continue to look to the USA for leadership and inspiration. How many congregations, especially wealthy ones, take pride in inviting over a dynamic US bishop to add some spiritual glitter to their annual convention? Likewise, Christian promoters know the value of having a big US gospel star on a concert line up, as this will guarantee a sell-out audience. It seems as if the ‘S’ in USA spells ‘success’, and those in the UK have always been attracted to it.
This cannot be said of China which, unlike the USA, does not consider herself a Christian country. In fact, the Beijing Government is often accused of the state-sponsored persecution of Christians, only sanctioning churches that meet its exacting criteria. Yet, despite this, as we read in the last issue of Keep The Faith, Christianity is growing in China, and it will soon overtake the USA as the country with the greatest number of Christians.
China and its people present a wonderful opportunity for Christians, especially Black ones, to share the Gospel. For instance, African- and Caribbean-based churches could do more to reach out to those Chinese workers currently in their countries. Once converted, some of these men and women would return home as mission-minded Christians. Likewise, from a UK perspective, more churches ought to consider the possibility of carrying out missions to China, as a precursor to planting churches. History reveals that Black British congregations have a good history of church planting, or affiliating with churches in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. And, despite the obvious political, cultural and ethnic tensions, it would seem logical for them to focus on China, with whom there are increasing commercial and cultural links. Churches should take advantage of the growing numbers of Africans living in China, and use these folks as their initial mission field for church plants. Estimates suggest that anywhere up to 200,000 Africans currently reside in the country, and Beijing plans to enrol 30,000 Africans on short-term professional training programmes between 2013 and 2015, while it plans to bring in 18,000 African students to its universities.
Any Black Christian focus on China would not be easy, but neither was the establishment of the first African-Caribbean congregations in the UK, which had to battle a range of forces in order to grow into what they are today. However, God was gracious and His Spirit was active, enabling these churches to transform Britain. God the Holy Spirit will undoubtedly assist anyone willing to step out in faith to win souls for Christ in China.
Richard Reddie is a writer and religious commentator. His latest book explores the history of the New Testament Assembly in the UK.