Reaching Latin America's largest Chinese community

LIMA, Peru (BP) -- Most people wouldn't think of Peru as being a hub of Chinese work, but there are more than a million Chinese in the country, 200,000 in Lima alone.

In Lima, Peru -- Latin America's third-largest city with 10 million people -- a unique initiative is emerging for sharing the Gospel with Chinese immigrants, an effort encompassing Baptists locally and in the U.S. as well as IMB missionaries.
IMB photo provided by Ben Lin
They began coming to Peru three generations ago when the abolition of slavery left a void in the country's workforce. They were indentured servants, and once they fulfilled their contracts, many stayed and opened their own businesses.

Today, Lima's Chinatown is a bustling center of activity with markets, stores and an abundance of delicious food that Peruvians have grown to love.

What is missing is churches. There are only 90 known Christians among Lima's Chinese who meet together for worship.

Veteran IMB missionaries Joe and Kim Busching arrived in Lima in 2016 after collaborating with churches in Venezuela for 14 years. As they surveyed this gateway city, taking stock of the task of reaching the lost, they were impressed by the presence of so many Han Chinese. Teams had tried to initiate a work among them in the past but were unsuccessful.

The Buschings, from Wildwood Baptist Church in Acworth, Ga., sensed God's leading to try again. This time, they've been dumbfounded as they've watched God pull together an international network of people burdened to reach this group.

IMB worker Joe Busching (center) embraces new Chinese immigrants in their restaurant's kitchen in Lima, Peru.
IMB photo provided by Ben Lin
"My surprise has been how God appears to be answering the prayers of His people -- how God is moving in the hearts of Americans, Peruvians, Bolivians and Chinese to shine the light for the Han Chinese of Lima," Kim said.

The history of the Chinese in Lima has been one of oppression, prejudice and human trafficking. As indentured workers, they were a shade more fortunate than African slaves because they could earn their freedom. After completing their contracts, these hard-working laborers focused on establishing their own community.

In 1983, China eased emigration restrictions and many more Chinese came to Lima to pursue business opportunities, making it the largest ethnic Chinese community in Latin America. The Chinese work ethic is reflected in the busy, crowded streets of Chinatown, which hosts more than 25 percent of the vendors in Lima's city center.

But along with legitimate businesses, Chinatown's narrow alleys also provide cover for crime and mafia activity. And the sway of shamans, palm readers and traditional Chinese religious practices lurk in the shadows.

Finding the Chinese

Lily (name changed), a Chinese immigrant who operates a Spanish-language school in Lima, Peru, combines learning and prayer in her yearning for new immigrants to hear the Gospel.
IMB photo provided by Ben Lin
The Buschings highlighted the need to reach the new influx of Chinese both to their leadership and to an IMB worker in East Asia, Ben Lin, who reached out to a partnering church in Kansas City, Kan. -- Emmanuel Chinese Baptist Church -- which sent a team to Lima to learn more about the need.

They quickly came to understand the difficulty in accessing the Chinese. As the team prayed and walked through Chinatown, the crowds and chaos were overwhelming, yet they had trouble finding any of an estimated 130,000 Chinese who were new immigrants in Lima, causing Lin to wonder, "Where are they hiding?"

Since the new immigrants did not have the language skills to communicate to anyone on the street or to neighbors, they tended to cluster in Chinese neighborhoods that are not obvious to strangers.

"It is like finding needles in a haystack of 10 million Peruvians," Lin said.

In desperation, the team prayed for God to show them how to proceed. Just then, they saw a local Chinese woman, Lily*, with a big smile. She invited them to her language school, leading them down a narrow street that led to a quiet neighborhood and an apartment complex with hundreds of Chinese immigrants.

It turned out Lily was a Christian who opened a Spanish-language school as a way to reach newly arriving Chinese immigrants.

"She grew up worshiping idols like most Chinese. She emigrated to Lima to start a business. She was wealthy [but] with a broken family and a failed business, hopeless and suicidal. But one day someone pointed her to Christ, and her life was transformed," Lin said. "She wanted to reach out to the new immigrants to lead them to Christ, to help them find the real purpose in life, the real joy."

Meeting Lily was a confirmation for the team from Emmanuel Chinese Baptist Church. For Lin it was even more meaningful.

"It was a tremendous joy -- many answered prayers -- like welcoming rain after years of drought," Lin said. "The Lord is already at work in Lima. He sent Lily to us."

Building an international team

Jerry Jean, pastor of Emmanuel Chinese Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan., walks along Calle Capon, the street at the main Chinatown entrance in Lima, Peru.
Photo provided by Ben Lin
As the Emmanuel team shared the Gospel with the students at Lily's language school, God impressed the great need on their hearts. The pastor, Jerry Jean, started recruiting more workers during the initial trip. He shared with a group of Peruvian Baptist pastors his burgeoning desire to plant a Chinese Baptist church and challenged them to come alongside him and help. Jean believes any work started there will be healthier if a national Peruvian church is involved. Two local pastors responded enthusiastically and offered their assistance and a place to meet.

When the Emmanuel team returned to Kansas and shared all they had experienced, the church decided to adopt the Chinese of Lima with the goal of planting the first Chinese Baptist church in the city.

"But God wasn't done yet," the IMB's Kim Busching said. Another missionary colleague in Lima, Amy Fisher, attended a conference for South American missions called COMIBAN where she heard of a woman from Bolivia who wants to work among the Chinese. "So now we are praying and exploring how to help her answer God's call and join in this work," Busching said.

Two Peruvians with a call to the Chinese also have been identified.

"Our team is exploring ways to help them be obedient and join in this harvest field," Busching said.

Emmanuel is trying to find someone to come fulltime as a missionary, and there is even a possibility that a Chinese missionary may come from China to work in Lima.

"Once they have someone on the ground, then the U.S. Chinese church [will] send in short-term teams to help with evangelism and other opportunities," said Fisher, from Westport Road Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. "Lima is a very big city with lots of Chinese spread out all over. We need to have more churches to reach them."

As this gateway city team forms and the vision grows, the team is praying for wisdom to know where to focus their efforts, seeking the right connections within the Chinese community. But they have full confidence that God already has a place in mind and is leading them step by step.

"When I look at what God has done, it has been a great reminder that the task isn't for an individual or a team or a single church," Fisher said. "This task is for believers of every tongue, tribe and nation. As He unites all of us, please pray that His vision alone would guide each of our hearts."

*Name changed.

Nicole Leigh writes for the International Mission Board.
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