ChinaSource Perspective

The Great Repositioning

Current population shifts among Chinese communities globally bear the traditional marks of “push” and “pull” migration. For many in Hong Kong and the PRC, political conditions have pushed them to consider relocating elsewhere, resulting in a historic influx of Chinese into the UK, Canada, Australia, and the United States. For others, the lure of economic opportunity beckons them to pull up roots and face the challenges of adapting to a new culture in search of a better life. As the data presented in this issue indicates, opportunities created by China’s Belt and Road Initiative have resulted in a significant increase in the Chinese populations of many African and Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese attempting to cross the border between Mexico and the United States has skyrocketed.

In many ways the scenes that characterize Chinese migration today bring to mind the experiences of past generations. Yet, viewed through a missional lens, a different picture comes into focus.

As Jeanne Wu writes,

There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Our Lord is the lord of history, and everything happens according to his plan. The recent political developments in and related to China have impacted the movement and dynamics of the global Chinese diaspora. They have closed some doors for mission while opening others.

Within the current shifts in the global Chinese diaspora, we see a sovereign hand at work, repositioning Chinese Christians to assume new roles in advancing the gospel.

In Europe, for example, a region that has gone from being at the forefront of the church’s global expansion to itself becoming a mission field, Christians from China and Hong Kong are bringing renewal and fresh vision. Luke Zheng’s challenge to get behind this migrant mission force is a wakeup call for traditional sending organizations to rethink their approach to gospel ministry in Europe.

The collaboration Henry Lu describes between Chinese Overseas Christian Mission and several other entities in the UK to welcome the large number of arrivals from Hong Kong presents a valuable case study in partnership. Together these organizations are facing head-on the challenges of integrating the new immigrants into churches, as well as utilizing the gifts and talents of Hong Kong Christians who now join the UK’s growing Chinese community. As David Ng points out, Cantonese churches in Australia face similar challenges, with the number of new arrivals from Hong Kong more than doubling in the past five years.

In the short-term, existing churches will struggle to develop new multilingual ministries and to meet the needs of multiple age groups and demographics. Yet the very tensions posed by these challenges also point to burgeoning opportunities, including new church plants, culturally appropriate ministry models developed by immigrant believers themselves, and building on the Chinese immigrant experience to catalyze outreach to other immigrant communities.

In Canada, the Muslim-focused partnership between CCCOWE and Outreach Canada is an example of how diaspora Chinese believers can embrace the mission fields in which they find themselves. Francis Tam describes the unique contribution of Canada’s Chinese Christians:

Looking forward, the Chinese churches in Canada are poised to play a vital role in bridging cultural and religious divides, exemplifying the Christian mandate of love and service in a multicultural context.

As diaspora Chinese churches redirect their mission efforts due to fewer opportunities to send short-term teams to the mainland, God is taking them beyond what has traditionally been their natural field of service. Meanwhile, with the church in China sending out its own cross-cultural workers, there is the potential for Christians from the diaspora to come alongside this new mission force in Africa, the Middle East, and other countries where they are being sent.

The changing migration patterns discussed in this issue of the Quarterly take on eternal significance when viewed in light of the great repositioning taking place within the global Chinese church. The Lord of the Harvest is sovereignly at work, raising up laborers and sending them into new fields for his glory.

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Image credit: Joann Pittman.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio