While some Christian missionaries in China aim to fill spaces left by the suppression of traditional values and decline of Maoism, others work to convert members of already beleaguered minority cultures such as Tibetan Buddhism. Missionary work is generally viewed with deep suspicion by the authorities, but some officials in Tibetan areas seem willing to take advantage of its potential to erode the existing local religion. From Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore at TIME:
[…] Many missionaries today […] become Tibet scholars in their own right. Most entrench themselves in local life. Much of the informal English instruction in Xining is run by missionaries as are the majority of the foreign cafés. They translate the Bible into Tibetan, distribute flash drives containing their beliefs and rework Tibetan folk songs with Christian lyrics. Some help run orphanages. Targeting the young is key. When a South Korean missionary asked Tenzin which Tibetans needed help, he suggested the elderly. According to Tenzin, the Korean replied: “Not old people — [we want] children.”
[…] Open conversion […] remains rare. Few would risk the wrath of family members by abandoning their own faith. [Columbia University’s Robert] Barnett describes hearing about one case in which relatives threatened to kill a missionary who had converted their kin. As such it is impossible to know how many converts there are. Barnett says: “I think we are going to wake up one day and see these people have made serious inroads into a culture already under threat.”
Tibetans are not the only targets. Rabbi Anson Laytner wrote last month about apparent missionary work among the famous Jews of Kaifeng. From JNS:
The chief player in the endeavor to convert the Kaifeng Jews is an American Judeo-Christian named Timothy Lerner, who founded the first Jewish school set up in Kaifeng in modern times.
After studying in China in 2000, Lerner traveled to Kaifeng to open the Yiceleye (Israelite) School, instructing the Jewish descendants in Hebrew and gathering those interested for Shabbat dinners and festival celebrations.
[…] Almost immediately, suspicions were aroused among some of the Kaifeng Jews about Lerner’s intentions. Shi Lei, the first Kaifeng Jew ever to study in Israel, both at Bar Ilan University and at a Jerusalem yeshiva, was the first to sound the alarm. He blames Lerner for proselytizing the still Jewishly uneducated and somewhat naïve community.