Five years ago, more than 200 Chinese Christian leaders were detained before they could board flights to the most diverse gathering of evangelicals ever. Among the 4,000 leaders gathered in South Africa’s Cape Town for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, their empty seats signified the Chinese church’s challenges in engaging world missions.
But instead of tamping down the Chinese church’s desire for missions, the Cape Town 2010 incident acted as a catalyst, bringing together the right leaders inside and outside China, ChinaSource president Brent Fulton says.
In 2011, 100 of those house church leaders made it to Seoul, South Korea, where the Lausanne Movement held a special conference for them. And this fall, about 850 Chinese leaders gathered for their own missions conference even closer to home. They announced from Hong Kong a long-discussed goal: to send 20,000 missionaries from China by the year 2030.
The number is enormous, especially for a country that has sent only a few hundred foreign missionaries so far. Of the world’s top six sending countries, four hover around the 20,000 mark, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC): France, Spain, Italy, and South Korea. Only the United States (127,000) and Brazil (34,000) send more. (CSGC counts Christians from all denominations. Other estimates vary.)
But nobody’s ruling China out.
“China always wins when it comes to numbers,” said Fulton, who recently authored China’s Urban Christians. “China has a huge church.” It’s hard to pinpoint the number of Christians in China since there’s no official count. The Pew Research Center estimated 67 million in 2010. CSGC, which includes growth from unofficial conversions, put the figure at 106 million in 2010, and predicts more than 330 million by 2050.
By those numbers, reaching 20,000 shouldn’t be hard. The global average for Christians sending foreign missionaries is 175 per million, said CSGC’s Todd Johnson. If China has 100 million Christians, sending 17,500 would meet the average.
However, the Chinese church isn’t aiming for averages but repayment: Chinese leaders estimate about 20,000 missionaries have served in China since the days of Robert Morrison and Hudson Taylor.
“The idea of the 20,000 was based on a gospel debt or missional debt,” said 10/40 Window speaker and author Luis Bush, who addressed the Hong Kong conference. “They see themselves as an extremity of Acts 1:8.”
When Paul was prohibited from going to Asia, the gospel turned westward to Europe and—eventually—to the Americas. When the gospel reached China, “the ends of the earth,” it had nowhere to go but back to Jerusalem, Bush said.
“They see this as a closure, completing the circle of missionary work around the world,” he said.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra