Although today is the dawn of the Chinese New Year, most people are unaware that Chinese Christians are gearing up to be the world's most potent missionary force.
China? Christians? Sure enough. For decades now they've had plans to evangelize the Muslim world that lies along the old Silk Road route. This could be one of the most ambitious missionary enterprises in 2,000 years of Christianity. No national church has amazed the world as much as that of the Chinese. From 1 million at the time of the Communist takeover in 1949, it's grown to 100 million followers, a breathtaking growth in 60 years.
Evangelical Chinese Christians have come up with a way to evangelize a large portion of the world that will never see a western missionary. These are countries with large Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu populations, most of them located somewhere along a 7,000-mile route stretching from Xian in central China to the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch and Istanbul in the Middle East. Those were the ancient terminuses of the famous Silk Road.
Mission experts estimate there are some 2 billion people in these countries who've never heard of Christianity. And what nationality has businesses and enterprises in every nation on the Earth? And which is the most populous country with the fastest-growing church? Starting several decades ago, Chinese Christians began to strategize how to secretly plant churches along this Silk Road through an initiative called the Back to Jerusalem movement. The idea was to start businesses in countries from India to Iran that would never suspect that the Chinese grocer or restaurant owner down the street would like to convert them.
In the past 20 years, preparations to send teams to these countries has ramped up considerably. In 2000, Chinese house church leaders met in Thailand to strategize this. In 2003, a book "Back to Jerusalem" by New Zealander Paul Hattaway described this initiative where Chinese missionaries are either working in or planning and preparing to go to every nation between eastern China and Jerusalem. I've also heard at least 60 teams have been sent to Burma and a handful into Pakistan. An estimated 1,500 Chinese Christians are in the field but thousands more are in training.
Very little of this has been unreported in the secular media. The sole exception is "Jesus in Beijing," is a 2003 book by David Aikman, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine. He reported that Chinese Christians have enrolled in Arabic- language programs at Chinese universities to work in the Islamic world, filling professional positions such as interpreters, engineers or ordinary laborers.
China, he pointed out, is increasingly engaged in the Middle East as its energy needs are dependent on petroleum imports. China is already Saudi Arabia's biggest oil customer. China does arms sales to many rogue regimes and sends its technicians all over the world, often to countries where westerners cannot go. For any enterprising missionary willing to seek employ within the Chinese government, this is an open invitation to missionize in these countries.
Islamic authorities in Muslim states have worked hard to keep their populations from learning about Christianity, which is why visiting westerners are closely watched. They do not suspect a hidden fifth column of Chinese evangelists.
There's a lot of support for the Chinese church in the west with conferences like this "China Passion for Jesus" seminar next month in Kansas City. Even though Chinese and American governments may be at loggerheads, Christians in both countries cooperate on multiple fronts. That Chinese Christians are outdoing the West in terms of sending missionaries to Muslim countries may not be gripping news to some. But given the ascendant nature of the projected Chinese empire of the 21st century, this story becomes vitally interesting.
Does it surprise you that China, which is officially an atheist country, may be thousands of Christian missionaries overseas?