EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is one of six released by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in support of this month’s International Missions Emphasis, with the theme of “That All Peoples May Know Him: Seek God’s Passion.”
LIMA, Peru (BP)–Debbie and Wayne Brinkley thought they had a plan. They’d eat in as many Chinese “chifas” — diners — as they could to learn where the Chinese living in Lima, Peru, gather. When they weren’t eating in chifas, they’d drive around Lima, marking locations on a map.
They ate and marked, and marked some more. They noted more than 100 chifas on a single street alone. Little did they know they’d embarked on an impossible mission. There are almost 6,000 chifas in Lima.
The Brinkleys are International Mission Board missionaries who recently changed from working with Spanish speakers to focusing on the 400,000-plus Chinese living in Lima. Nearly 100 percent have no relationship with Jesus Christ.
“We were praying about how to reach the Chinese with the gospel,” Wayne says. “And we had the thought, ‘What if there was a church in every chifa?'”
Debbie answers the question. “We could reach everybody. All of the Chinese could have access to the gospel wherever they were in the city.”
Chifas are the center of Chinese life in Lima, regardless of socioeconomic level. Most chifas are family owned and operated. Living in an environment that is at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum from their own, Chinese are drawn to the familiarity, solidarity and sense of safety that chifas offer.
Chifas also represent an intricate network of associates closed to outsiders.
“The benefit is that it is a ready network through which the gospel can get out,” Wayne says. “The difficult part is getting into the network.”
The flow of Chinese arriving in Peru had been constant for more than 100 years until last year’s presidential election. Peru had been a transit point for Chinese wanting to immigrate to Canada and the United States. But the current president has made obtaining Peruvian documents more difficult. Still, the Chinese are deeply rooted in Peruvian culture and represent almost half of the 1 million Chinese living in Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru.
That’s why the chifas are such a significant ingredient in a church-planting movement. Family is important in Chinese culture and the chifas represent family units. Meals are important in maintaining family connectedness. And chifas allow for families and outsiders — not yet trusted — to come together in a setting where the Chinese are comfortable.
The Brinkleys are now building cultural bridges, finding ways to enter the network. They also are helping a few Chinese Christians develop as leaders. From such humble beginnings, their expectation is that thousands of Chinese churches will one day be scattered across the five countries. Their confidence comes from what God has already done.
“It has been so obvious that God was working before we accepted the assignment,” Wayne says. “We’ve had so many people and organizations contact us and say that they’ve been praying for the Chinese in South America and that they feel like God is calling them to be involved.
“That’s why now we don’t see our role as starting at ground zero but helping to connect all these people God has already called to the task of reaching the Chinese here with the gospel.”
With Peruvian documents more difficult to obtain and a steadily declining economy across South America, many Chinese are returning to China where there is considerably less freedom to share the gospel. The Brinkleys believe the Chinese living in western South America could be missionaries to China.
“South America is a window to China,” Debbie says. “If the Chinese here understand God’s desire for reaching China, they will be able to go places that North American missionaries can’t. They are already going back; the problem is that we haven’t reached them with the gospel yet.”
The Brinkleys believe the chifas are the key. More Chinese will accept Christ as chifa owners understand God’s vision for redeeming the Chinese. Until they do understand, the Brinkleys plan to hang on to their map and spend a lot of time building relationships. There’s another Chinese chifa right down the road.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SHARING LAUGHTER, CHIFA CHURCH and LATE-NIGHT WORSHIP.
— For receptiveness as the Brinkleys build relationships with the Chinese of Lima.
— For receptive hearts as the Chinese hear the gospel in the context of their Buddhist and atheistic background.
— For openness to allow Bible studies in the chifas.