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Jesus in Little Africa

Following nearly two centuries of migration from China, there are diaspora communities in “Chinatowns” all over the world, including San Francisco, London, Berlin, Bangkok, and Jakarta. More recently Chinese immigrant communities have begun to emerge in African cities such as Nairobi, Rabat, and Lagos. 

While China, at least over the past 30 years, has had communities of expats (mostly from the West) in many 1st and 2nd tier cities, it has typically not been a society open to large scale immigration from any country. But globalization and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have brought changes, one of which has been the influx of Africans, particularly into the southern city of Guangzhou, where there is now a neighborhood known as “Little Africa.” Articles in the New Internationalist, The Diplomat, and NPR have given a glimpse of this community.

A recent article in Eurasia Review, however, titled “Congolese Churches in China: How the BRI Changes Chinese Cities,” focused on the life of faith that can be found in this African immigrant community in Guangzhou:

These China-Africa relations, however, excessively focus on what China is doing in Africa and neglects how Africa is also changing China. Although the BRI has facilitated China’s outreach to Africa, it has also enabled African immigrants and refugees’ easier access to Chinese cities. In fact, about 500,000 Africans are estimated to be living in China. Guangzhou, located in the southern part of China, hosts the largest African immigrant community in Asia with a population of around 100,000, and its Xiaobei neighborhood is known as the ‘Little Africa.’

Reporting on a lecture given by Dr. Gerda Heck, Assistant Professor at the American University of Cairo, and posted to the Asian Religious Connections YouTube channel, the article is a fascinating look at the rise of Congolese Pentecostal churches in Guangzhou.

The inflow of Congolese migrants also meant the introduction of Congolese Pentecostal churches in Guangzhou. Xiaobei area, with the largest sub-Saharan African population, hosted these Congolese immigrant churches – most of which are not registered, and escape the surveillance of Chinese authorities.

For instance, L’Eglise de Lumière—meaning ‘Church of Light’—is one of the eight Congolese churches in Guangzhou that has existed since 2015, located in one of the commercial buildings in the Xiaobei area

“While on the first floor, retailers are selling clothing, electric devices and African drapery, on the tenth floor the Sunday worship starts at 11 am. About 100 churchgoers were attending the worship,” said Dr. Heck, describing her visit to the church, “a Congolese pastor and trader from Kinshasa, who frequently visits the church on his business trip, was preaching.”

These churches mainly preach economic prosperity and social success, adapting to the reality of churchgoers’ daily business of local markets. The service is not only limited to the word of God but also instructing how to yield profit.

Here is the full lecture on YouTube.

To read more about the Chinese church involvement in Africa, I also invite you to revisit the autumn 2019 issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, in which we looked at the growing ties and cooperation between China and Africa and explored the ways in which Chinese and Africans are working together for the sake of the gospel.

Clearly, God is on the move!

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Image credit: Ray_LAC, via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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