Daniel Hughes—a South African missionary who also works with SACON—worked as a missionary in Asia for 16 years before returning to South Africa to work with Chinese churches. His “funny Chinese” has helped in ministry, he said. But he admitted ministering to people with little or no exposure to Christianity is a long-term endeavor.
His initial focus is on building relationships. In 2008, Hughes connected with six Chinese shop owners all selling similar items but with no relationship with each other. “It’s a Communistic mindset,” he said. “You can’t trust your own people.”
He started to visit them and help with taxes, labor laws, and technology. Gradually, several of them started attending small group sessions at his home. Hughes said laughter filled the meetings.
“Many of the folk live in their shops. They don’t speak much English—they don’t have many relationships outside of their little group,” he said. “So when they started to come to our home, talking in their language, eating food together, it was like family again.”
From that group, two sisters and one of their husbands got baptized in 2018—10 years after Hughes first met them.
Other Chinese migrants are indifferent to Christianity. Hughes connected with a businessman and his family. The man was willing to attend meetings in Hughes’ home but said he will never become Christian. He later returned to China with his family.
“We cannot change a person’s heart, but we can sow into their lives,” he said. “We trust the Lord that something good was sown in their hearts.”
The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t change Hughes’ approach. At the SACON meeting, he reminded the team to be “careful but not fearful.” He shared how a Jewish community continued to take cakes to workers in Chinese malls now devoid of customers: “Somehow we need to bring the love of Christ.”
As in other countries around the world, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing Chinese Christians in South Africa to rely on technology even more.
As the number of coronavirus cases began to rise, Christians in the South Africa Chinese Methodist Church started wearing masks and using sanitizers. Gradually, people started to sit farther apart during Sunday services, and fewer people attended weekly study sessions.
The church moved the Wednesday evening Bible study to social media platform WeChat before suspending all in-person services.
Several members of the Chinese Covenant Church in Edenvale, near Johannesburg, traveled to visit families ahead of the Chinese New Year celebration in January. As they returned, the church implemented a 14- to 24-day waiting period before they could rejoin the congregation.
As cases worsened, weekday services similarly shifted to WhatsApp and WeChat.
Boaz and his wife, Hannah, joined the church in full-time ministry in 2016 (WORLD is also not disclosing their full names). The Chinese couple converted to Christianity in 2003, while they were students in Cape Town. Boaz said the majority of the Chinese business owners come from poorer families and focus solely on making money. That drives many of them to work every day of the week.
“It’s hard for them to separate time for the meetings or even Sunday services,” he said.
That’s what makes the digital community even more important for the church this season.
For Hannah, the ongoing outbreak is an opportunity to keep sharing the gospel as more people search for peace. “The only true peace we know comes from God.”