CNN spotlights persecuted Chinese Christians who have fled to Kenya -- and Queens

Being a Christian in China these days is a dicey proposition at best and one that might lead to a prison sentence at the least. The country’s leaders seem intent on tearing down as many churches as possible, as if that will solve the problem.

Too bad they’ve not delved into church history, which shows how the early church kept their faith alive by meeting in the Roman catacombs.

There are some believers, however, who feel that anything within Chinese borders is just too dangerous, which is why it’s revival time in east Africa.

CNN has put together a very good story on how beleaguered Chinese believers have sought refuge in highly Christian Kenya where for the first time, they’re enjoying religious freedom.

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Every Sunday morning in an affluent suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, the soaring song of Chinese hymns fills the empty corridors of a Monday-to-Friday office block.

Inside a small makeshift chapel, a kaleidoscopic congregation of Chinese migrants gather to pray. Among them are underwear importers, health workers and operators of the controversial new $3.8 billion Chinese-built railway that slices through Kenya, the country's biggest infrastructure project since independence -- and a sign of China's growing investment and footprint on the continent.

Unfortunately there was no video to accompany this piece.

Some have married Kenyans, others have Chinese children who speak Swahili as well as they do Mandarin. But they all share two things. Each person here has re-rooted their life from Communist China to Kenya, a leading African economy where 80% of the nearly 50 million people are Christian. And they have all decided to openly embrace God.

Americans are used to reading about how people seeking religious freedom have ended up on our shores. But the Christianized portions of Africa are just as welcoming and the ever-resourceful Chinese are enjoying safe harbors there.

Their religious awakening comes at a perilous moment for Christians in China, as the Communist Party government bans online sales of bibles, dynamites churches and arrests Christians for "inciting subversion of state power." The Communist Party sees any large group outside its dominion as a threat.

"Publicly, it's dangerous to be a Christian in China right now," says Jonathon Chow, 43, a senior pastor at the Bread of Life Church, which is headquartered in Taiwan but has 500 ministries, including many in West Africa.

Note to CNN: “Bibles” is uppercase.

The article goes on to explain why 1 million Chinese have moved to Africa in the past 19 years and how quite a few are chucking their atheist upbringings to embrace Christianity. (If they are converting to other religions as well, the article doesn’t mention that).

What sets this piece apart is how the writer did some extra research into the history of Christian missions in China. The factoid on the cultural and statistical collapse of Chinese Buddhism is remarkable.

It is not only the Chinese in Kenya who are embracing Christianity. Many Chinese students in America, Australia and the UK are returning home Christian, says Ian Johnson, author of "The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao." Their conversion chimes with a broader trend at home: China itself is on track to be the world's biggest Christian nation by 2030, by some estimates.

For much of the 20th century, Chinese citizens were taught to worship the founding father of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, the revolutionary leader who destroyed much of the nation's Buddhist and Taoist religious infrastructure during the Cultural Revolution. "There used to be 900 temples in Beijing alone," says Johnson. "Now there are 20."

Still, the Chinese embassy isn’t happy about all these converts and some Chinese in Kenya meet underground, afraid that someone will find out about their faith and send them to prison if they ever return home. It is a fascinating dilemma and a unique story that I’m glad CNN found out about.

Now, the Chinese government will delve into religion outside of Chinese borders if there’s money in it. Read this QZ.com piece on how the Chinese have built Africa’s largest mosque in Algeria. Too bad the Chinese would be tearing down that same mosque were it serving their own Muslim populations.

Chinese Christians are making waves in New York as well, according to this recent New York Times piece on large numbers of Chinese becoming Catholics.

Catherine Chen was sitting in a pew at St. John Vianney Roman Catholic Church in Flushing, Queens, practicing. It was mid-April and she had just completed a run-through of what to do when the priest pours the Holy Water on her head later in the month. Fifty or so other Chinese catechumens — people who are joining the Catholic faith — accompanied by their sponsors, sat in the pews around her, listening to the instructions delivered from the altar…

Of the 500 or so converting in New York last weekend, about a third were Chinese immigrants, some of whom are seeking asylum based on religious persecution in China. Most of the Chinese immigrants live in Brooklyn and Queens, and they are having a transformative effect on local Catholic churches.

The Guardian has a piece on how bad it is for Christians in China, which is worth reading while perusing where the diaspora has ended up.

The South China Morning Post is also keeping a running count of churches closed, pastors imprisoned and ordinary believers impoverished by the Communist Party’s atheistic cadres. Last year was said to be the worst persecution Chinese Christians have endured in 40 years since the good old days of the Cultural Revolution.

Reuters reported in March on how Sam Brownback trashed the Chinese government, during a visit to Hong Kong, on its lack of religious freedom, particularly for Muslims in western China. See Brownback’s speech in the above video.

One wonders if the first two articles are onto a 2,000-year-old tradition. It was persecution of the first-century church in Jerusalem that led so many Christians to flee to various corners of the Roman empire, which is how the faith spread for three centuries. Judging from CNN’s Kenya story, the same thing is happening anew 20 centuries later.

Fortunately, a few large media outlets are reporting on it.

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