China’s missionaries re-tread “back to Jerusalem” on the Silk Road

The new presence of missionaries in nations that are hostile to Christianity is an “unintended and often overlooked by-product of China’s aggressive drive to develop new trading routes and carve out influence across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Hundreds and possibly even thousands of the country’s growing cadre of Christian missionaries are along for the ride too—even if Beijing doesn’t want them there,” reports BBC News (September 4). The killing of two Chinese missionaries in Pakistan last June by the Islamic State surprised observers who had not realized China’s emerging mission presence. The article notes that a mission movement among Chinese Christians began in the 1940s to spread Christianity westward toward Jerusalem. When Mao Zedong ushered in a repressive era for Christians, the “Back to Jerusalem” movement lay dormant for decades. “In the early 2000s, coinciding with China’s emergence onto the global stage as a major power, the movement revived and Chinese missionaries began travelling out to what some evangelists call the ‘10/40 Window’—a zone between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator that stretches from West Africa to South East Asia and is home to the least-Christian countries.”

This mission zone overlaps significantly with the new Silk Road that China is trying to promote, and in the last few years, as Chinese workers have gone overseas to these countries in droves, hidden among them have been hundreds, perhaps even thousands of missionaries, according to members of the movement. The article notes, “In countries like Iran, Iraq or Pakistan, Chinese missionaries have little trouble getting in. …‘They let them straight through. They [sic] last thing they would think [a Chinese person could be] is a missionary,’” said one missionary. The movement’s goal is eventually to have 100,000 Chinese missionaries serving across 22 countries in the 10/40 zone. Many such missionaries are already serving in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Burma. The article concludes that the violence these missionaries faced is not likely to put them off: “But Beijing knows that as more and more Chinese missionaries follow the new Silk Road, other cases like this are bound to occur.”