I remember walking through the ruins of an ancient town on Kenya’s coast and being surprised to see Chinese pottery in the display cases. China’s contact with the east coast of Africa pre-dates the beginnings of Islam, as noted in one of the articles in the recent ChinaSource Quarterly, although those early interactions were minimal and had no lasting impact on the culture. Modern connections between China and East Africa began in earnest in the post-colonial Cold War era of the 1960-70s, particularly in Tanzania (Uganda and Ethiopia in those decades were aligned with the Soviet Union while Kenya remained connected to the West). The 21st century, however, has seen a remarkable (and controversial) increase in China’s involvement on the African continent through the Belt and Road Initiative and dozens, if not hundreds, of joint business ventures.
Since most of the CSQ articles, as well as most of my personal experience, are focused on East Africa, I will limit my observations to that portion of the continent, recognizing that China’s involvement in other regions, and the responses of African Christians there, may be different. The editorial expands on and illustrates the “from everywhere to everywhere” characteristic of today’s global Christian faith. The articles that follow touch on just about every possible combination: Chinese Christians going to Africa to make disciples among fellow Chinese as well as Africans (with the attendant challenges noted well), African Christians sharing their faith with Chinese expatriates, and even Africans, particularly university students, in China.
Christopher Lai’s article makes note of the challenges for Chinese Christian workers who are in Africa for disciple-making among fellow Chinese. Some of those challenges are the same for African Christians engaging Chinese people on their continent, such as access when Chinese workers are kept within their own compounds. Another bridge challenge is the sometimes negative attitudes of Africans towards the Chinese, even among Christians. In spite of the Bible’s teaching on loving your enemies, motivation to proclaim the gospel to those you dislike is a problem not limited to African Christians. Added to this is a significant language barrier and other cultural factors that impede communication. And like their Chinese Christian counterparts, African Christians also frequently lack even the most basic training in cross-cultural communication skills.
Even so, the church in Africa offers incredible potential for disciple-making work among Chinese people living on that continent. The articles by “Fred” and Faith Wanjiku Mworia demonstrate strategic ways that African Christians are creatively engaging the Chinese in their midst. Christians everywhere need to “plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers” into this harvest field. If the African church were to rise to this opportunity, the impact for the gospel would be tremendous.
When our team first arrived in Kenya in the early 1980s to begin work among a Muslim people group on the coast we found many churches filled with Christians from other tribes but no interest in reaching their (literal) neighbors. In fact, some of our well-meaning Kenyan Christian friends even tried to talk us out of working with this people group. And this was in spite of the fact that they were zealous in sharing the gospel with others from their own ethnicities. Over the years we prayed for God to change this attitude and by the time we left the area in the late 90s the work was largely run by Kenyans and large churches in Nairobi were sending workers to unreached tribes in other parts of the continent and beyond (the Presbyterian Church of Kenya sent missionaries to re-evangelize Scotland).
It is time for African Christians to take the next step in cross-cultural disciple-making and engage the Chinese in their midst. Fred and Faith and their colleagues have shown the way. May many others join them as well as develop new creative ventures for the sake of the gospel.
Garry Morgan is Professor Emeritus of Intercultural Studies at University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN). He and his wife previously lived many years in Kenya, working there as well as serving as a cultural trainer/consultant to teams in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania. He has also made multiple trips to China. View Full Bio
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