The ‘Route Runners’ Are Coming to America. Are Chinese Churches Ready?

Chinese Christians reflect on the challenges and opportunities that the new immigration trend presents for evangelism.

Thousands of migrants from mainland China are trying to enter the United States illegally through various countries in Latin America. The desperate “route runners” (走线者 in Chinese) are deeply disillusioned and dissatisfied with the political and economic realities of today’s China. They desire to flee the country but lack the capital or ability to seek legal immigration by investment or as skilled professionals.

The migrants occupy lower socioeconomic levels in China. To migrate to the US, they fly to a South American country that does not require a visa for visiting Chinese citizens, then cross the dangerous mountains and deserts of the American continent, avoiding border police and trafficking mobs, hoping to smuggle themselves across the US-Mexico border into the US and then apply for political asylum. The success rate of such “route running” is usually low, carrying a high risk of denial of entry, deportation to China, or even loss of life.

Although the number of people in this group is small (3,855 Chinese migrants crossed the Darién Gap in the first three months of 2023 according to a Wall Street Journal report), it has caught attention from Western and overseas Chinese media because of the desperate and extreme measures these “runners” employ to flee to the US.

A new wave of immigration quietly rises

This group of border – crossers is only part of a new wave of Chinese immigrants. In the last two or three years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new term has quietly become popular on Chinese social media: 润 (run), along with its derivatives run xue (润学, the study or philosophy of run) and run chao (润潮, the wave of run). The Chinese pinyin for 润 is “run,” so it …

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