EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “His heart, His hands, His voice — I am Southern Baptist missions” from Acts 1:8. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
DONGGUAN, China (BP) — The taxi races down the elevated 10-lane highway. There’s not much to look at on this journey. Endless rows of blank-faced factories barricaded behind 6-foot metal fences line both sides of the road. Off in the distance, high-rise apartment buildings and unfinished construction projects create a snaggletoothed skyline.
The view is disappointing. When entering a city nicknamed, “The World’s Workshop,” you expect something grand. Instead, Dongguan is practically invisible. There are no tourist attractions — just factories.
The bus stops, the monuments, the landmarks — everything exists to serve the factories.
The city is divided into 32 districts, each one specializing in a different kind of manufacturing. Cang-an produces electronic components, Humen is famous for high-dollar fashion and Houjie makes shoes. The list goes on and on, with more than 3,000 factories crammed into one city.
Every district looks the same: construction sites, cheap restaurants, factories, factories and more factories. Southern Baptist worker David Rice* sees this city through different eyes. His mental map of Dongguan is a labyrinth of ministry possibilities — a medical clinic here, management training classes over there and maybe a Christian coffee shop in the heart of a red light district.
The possibilities are endless. The impact on China is immeasurable. Rice believes that by reaching the factories with the Gospel an entire generation of migrant workers will take the message back to their villages — often so remote that they are not even on a map, let alone on the radar of Christian strategists.
“People come here from all over the country looking for a job,” Rice says, noting in one year’s time he has met at least one person from all 34 provinces.
The name used for migrants — liudong renkou, or floating population — implies an aimless mob, but Rice sees a potential army of church planters. The Southern Baptist worker and his ministry partners see this group primed for making major changes in their lives. They are away from the strongholds of their culture back home. They are lonely and searching for meaning.
Lanying Wu* openly admits she has no objectives or goals in her life. The 19-year-old factory worker deftly snips away at her sterile workstation, cutting the outline of a garment. A pile of hot-pink satin sits at her right while a crate of her finished work sits on the left.
She left her village to make money for her family and to experience something different. Wu is a second-generation factory worker and part of the largest migration in human history. For the past three decades, Chinese migrants flocked from remote villages and farms to factories in an effort to make money and better themselves. The government estimates nearly 210 million migrants work in various “boomtowns” throughout the country.
When the economy is good, these migrant workers push Dongguan’s population above 10 million. When times are bad, it can dip below 6 million. The only constant number in this city is the 1.7 million local residents.
A government system of internal passports, or hukou, prevents migrant workers from settling formally in the city without losing their family plot back home. Most return after two years. Nearly all return by the time they are 35, an age considered “ancient” in the nimble-fingered factory world.
This constant turnover makes Delun Kao*, a factory counselor and mentor, feel like he’s always starting over and constantly training new leaders. In the past 12 years, Kao has watched more than 600 migrants come to Christ. He works with Rice to disciple the new believers and train them to start churches.
“We know they won’t stay here forever,” Kao says. “So, the goal is to train them to be a catalyst for a new church.”
Through the years, Kao has seen the training model work as migrants return to their villages and start new fellowships. Still others switch factories and start churches in their new workplaces. Lately, however, it’s been hard finding someone who will commit.
“We are sharing the Gospel in the hardest time — when hearts are not as pure or open,” Kao says. “We have to pray and open their hearts so they will hear and receive.”
Wu, like most migrants, scoffs at the thought of any type of religion — her parents’ Buddhist beliefs or any other. She attended a birthday party at her factory where she heard Jesus’ name for the first time. The stories piqued her interest but not enough to give up overtime hours to go hear more.
For now, she depends only on herself and concentrates on earning as much money as she can.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Whether you are a poor migrant worker or a rich factory owner, the measurement for success is the same in this city — money.
“This city is all about money,” an American factory owner says while sitting in the lobby of a lush five-star hotel. “Things are cheap here — cheap production costs, cheap labor, even the girls are cheap.” A young woman walks across the lobby wearing a stylish T-shirt with glittery gold letters proclaiming, “I’m expensive.” With vacant eyes and a plastered smile, the black-haired beauty clings to a businessman three times her age.
Sex is part of the business climate in this factory town. Deals are brokered in the private rooms of saunas and karaoke bars as scantily clad women parade past.
To the casual observer, the prostitutes look like businesswomen, not the typical hookers you see in movies. Most of these young women left the factories to earn more money and work fewer hours.
“I think the men and women here are more open about greed and lust because they don’t have religion,” the 72-year-old American says with a sly smile as his “girl” comes to escort him to a business meeting. “They don’t have to hassle with the guilt of sin.”
Rice sadly confirms the American’s description. The city is known not only for the endless number of factories, but for its sex trade as well. The American is also correct about religion. Dongguan’s evangelical population is listed in the Urban Demographic Profile as less than 1 percent; more specifically, less than 43,000 in a city of millions claim Christ as their Savior.
“This is a never-ending task,” Rice sighs and leans back against the taxi’s bucket seat. His dreamy optimism about sending Chinese missionaries back to remote villages wavers, but only for a second as he spies something new out the window.
“Look over there!” the Southern Baptist worker exclaims. “That would make a great spot for some volunteers to cut and style hair for the factory girls. The volunteers could tell the girls Bible stories while they get pampered.”
Everywhere you look, there are still factories, construction sites and, of course, more factories. A closer look, though, reveals an old section of town in the process of being reduced to rubble and replaced with modern high-rise apartments. On another stretch of road, people pour out of the factory gates after work, hitting the streets in search of meaning.
That’s when it hits. Dongguan isn’t invisible. It’s unfinished, a city where everything — and everyone — is in the process of becoming something else.
*Names changed. Susie Rain is an International Mission Board writer/editor living in Southeast Asia.
1. Pray for Wu’s heart to open. Pray that in the process of recreating herself in the city of Dongguan, she becomes a new creation in Christ. Pray that other migrant workers will hear and receive the Gospel message.
2. Pray for those returning to villages with the Gospel message. Pray for resolve and spirit-filled words as they seek to bring abundant life to friends and family. Pray that as migrants return home, new communities of believers will be planted in villages that otherwise would never have opportunity to hear the Gospel.
3. Pray the young women involved in the sex industry in Dongguan will turn from the desire for physical wealth and seek spiritual wealth in Christ. Pray for the men dominated by greed and lust that breed in hearts empty of Christ. Pray God will give Christian businessmen the strength to stand firm against the city’s two biggest temptations and remain faithful to Him and their wives.