It seemed like a rote international news story: ISIS kills a Chinese couple in northwest Pakistan, one of the most dangerous areas in the world for a non-Muslim.
Then came the Reuters story with an unlikely claim: ISIS was saying the murdered pair were “preachers.”
It was then that I realized these might have been no ordinary Chinese expatriates. They were possibly part of one of the most ambitious missionary enterprises in 2,000 years of Christianity plotted by none other than Chinese Christians. First, the story:
Pakistan identified on Monday two Chinese nationals recently abducted and killed by the Islamic State and, in a new twist, said the two were preachers who had posed as business people to enter the country.
The interior ministry named the two as Lee Zing Yang, 24, and Meng Li Si, 26, and said their violation of visa rules had contributed to their abductions. Previously officials said they were Chinese-language teachers.
The two were abducted by armed men pretending to be policemen on May 24 in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan province. Last week, Islamic State's Amaq news agency said its members had killed them.
"Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning (the) Urdu language from a Korean national ... were actually engaged in preaching," the ministry said in a statement.
Interesting word, "posed."
Of course, they could have been involved in business projects AND in efforts to work with and support local Christians. They could have been, to use the Christian term, "tentmakers" who had legitimate business skills and interests, as well as a commitment to spreading Christianity.
Anyway, I checked with Dawn, the English-language Pakistani daily, about these murders, but the newspaper only said the pair were Chinese language instructors. What reporters obviously don’t realize –- but somehow ISIS did –- was that these weren’t just any instructors.
It is quite possible they were part of a Chinese initiative called the “Back to Jerusalem” movement.
Seeing themselves as the world’s most vibrant church, Chinese Christians have come up with a way to evangelize a large portion of the world that will never see a western missionary. These mostly Muslim countries are located along a 7,000-mile route stretching from Xian in central China to the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch and Istanbul in the Middle East. Those were the ancient termini of the Silk Road.
Starting several decades ago, Chinese Christians began to strategize how to secretly plant churches along this route. The idea was to start businesses amidst communities of mostly non-Christians in countries from India to Iran that would never suspect that the Chinese grocer or restaurant owner down the street wants to convert them.
Never heard of this? Well, it’s barely been reported on. I did one piece on it for a Washington Post blog in 2011, but the folks involved in this were not anxious to have media coverage. Charisma magazine has written about this movement several times -- but that’s about it.
But now that China is investing $57 billion in Pakistan related to a new Silk Road initiative connecting Chinese markets with the Middle East and Europe, the presence of this fifth column of Christians may become an issue. And not only in that Islamic nation, but everywhere that China is assisting developing countries with aid, building infrastructure and investment. Not only is China Africa’s chief donor, but it’s paying plenty to invest in Kazakhstan, another Muslim majority country that borders China.
Any reporters wishing to connect the dots would do well to glance at the BacktoJerusalem.com site that has a story connecting the slain couple (pictured above) to missionary efforts. There are at least 100 BTJ missionaries in Pakistan, reports the site, which also has a chart showing how many of these undercover workers are in missionary-phobic places such as Uzbekistan, Iraq and Bangladesh.
Quoting a Chinese source, the BTJ site gives many more details of the killings, including how this couple was part of a group -- headed by a Korean -- that was openly teaching the locals about Christianity.
It’s not clear whether ISIS was targeting this particular couple or whether they just happened to be a pair of unlucky Chinese nationals who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistan is expending huge amounts of energy guarding some 14,000 Chinese workers in the country. China has a free trade agreement with Pakistan, so it’s quite the international incident when a Chinese national is murdered near where China hopes to build a major highway from its border to the Arabian Sea.
So were these two unfortunate people martyrs for this movement?
There are many Christian groups in China feeding into BTJ, so I have no doubt this couple was linked with one of them. Will any media understand that these two language teachers not only had a Christian motive but a vast network of Chinese churches behind them?
I'm not holding my breath for any western media to get on this story, but I'm hoping that some enterprising reporter in Pakistan or China or Korea may take this and run.