One Belt, One Road, One Mission?

Current presentations and discussions about China’s emerging cross-cultural mission movement often make reference to “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), the Chinese government’s push to develop infrastructure and industry along China’s former silk route.

The assumption is that Chinese business opportunities in the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, and beyond will create natural avenues for Christians from China to live and work in these regions. As a result they will be well positioned to have a Christian witness among peoples who have hitherto had little access to the gospel.

History has shown that the Holy Spirit may use a variety of means to move God’s people forward in the accomplishment of Christ’s redemptive purpose. “One Belt, One Road” could potentially be another one of those means. But drawing a straight line between OBOR and the success of a new mission movement from China may be overly optimistic, to say the least.

In his South China Morning Post column, business writer Tom Holland questioned whether OBOR will in fact live up to its lofty objectives. Among the cautions he raised:

  • The unrealistic expectation that infrastructure projects abroad could absorb a sizeable portion of China’s excess industrial capacity assumes a huge demand that simply is not there.
  • While the countries in question do need infrastructure development, their capacity to absorb new projects (particularly at the pace anticipated) is limited, raising the prospect of rampant corruption and a proliferation of white elephants.
  • Physical assets can be built in a matter of years, but developing the local human and institutional capital to operate these assets takes much longer. Without a commensurate investment in people, infrastructure projects like ports, railways or airports will not make a substantial contribution to the development of local economies and societies.

Before hitching the wagon of China’s emerging mission movement to the ambitious development plans of China’s economic planners, those who are mobilizing Chinese Christians for cross-cultural ministry would do well to think through the possible consequences, intended or otherwise, of “One Belt, One Road.”   

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