Building churches in Africa, restricting religion at home

The Chinese may not welcome religion at home but they love to build churches in Africa.

Fredrick Nzwili writes for Ecumenical News International about how more and more church building contracts in Africa go to Chinese firms:

At Holy Family Roman Catholic Basilica in Nairobi, African workers were recently singing lively Christian worship songs as they broke ground for the construction of a new office block for the Nairobi archdiocese.

However, they were not working for an African or British construction company. China Zhongxing Construction is building Maurice Cardinal Otunga Plaza, one of many church contracts Chinese construction companies have won in recent years as China has expanded its influence in Africa. Now, Chinese firms build many bridges, roads and stadiums across the continent.

“We have worked with them before and we have had a very good experience with them,” the Rev. Anthony Mwituria, who oversees construction in the archdiocese, said in an interview. “We issued a tender and they came with the best deal.” Church officials say the companies are reliable, quick and efficient.

“If you ask people to point out two things that China has accomplished, sometimes without difficulty, people will show you. Stadiums, roads, it is practical. If a road is to be built in two years, they give you a road,” the Rev. Mbaya Tshiakany, a leader from Church of Christ in Congo, Kasai Oriental Province, told ENInews.

In the past, construction was undertaken by companies from nations that had sent missionaries to Africa, such as Britain, and in recent decades, companies from North America.

Back in China there are two churches: the one that meets in state-sanctioned sanctuaries with state-sanctioned leadership and the one that meets less formally and more covertly in homes.

Liao Yiwu is a Chinese dissident and journalist who writes about the two churches in China. Ellen Bork of the Wall Street Journal reviews his book “God is Red.”

(Liao’s) books, which include one about the deadly 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, are banned in China and circulate mainly as bootlegs. In the early 1990s, he spent four years in jail for writing and recording “Massacre,” a poem about the killing of democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Recently he was warned that he faced going back to jail for the upcoming publication abroad of two books: a memoir of his imprisonment and “God Is Red.” In July, Mr. Liao slipped out of China and took refuge in Germany.

“God Is Red” consists of informal profiles of Christians in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu and Dali and in remote areas of the southwestern province of Yunnan. Beginning with a 100-year-old nun and ending with a recovering slacker in his 20s, his subjects describe the days of Western missionaries, the advent of communism—”like hearing the sinister caw of dark ravens,” the nun recalls—and the ambiguous tolerance of the post-Mao era. Most of the vignettes take the form of transcribed conversations, and the voices of individual believers are lively and immediate in Wenguang Huang’s translation.

Mr. Liao is an unlikely chronicler of China’s roughly 70 million Christians. Though skeptical about the vicious, anti-religious Communist propaganda he was raised on—he is 53—he is also skeptical of religion itself. Mr. Liao, who once worked as a street musician, gravitates to people from society’s “bottom rungs,” some of whose compelling stories he told in “The Corpse Walker” (2008). Yet it is precisely this interest in marginalized people and his staunch opposition to totalitarianism that led him to Chinese Christianity.

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