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Chinese Immigrants in Panama

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Wherever there is sun and water, there are Chinese people.” This saying is true. Chinese people are spread out globally. In Panama alone, there are approximately 300,000 Chinese. Compared to the total population, that makes up 8 percent of the country.

Chinese immigrants are drawn to Panama for a few reasons. First, because the country runs on U.S. currency, there is a higher profit, which is their main goal. If you work hard and stay away from gambling, you could say it’s easy to make a living. Also, not being held under birth control laws is a huge blessing; an average Chinese Panamanian family has three to five children. Another reason is the year-round warm, tropical weather.

Most of the immigrants are from Canton province in China. They speak Cantonese and Hakka dialect. Many arrive through friends or relatives who live in Panama. But immigrants are indebted to their relatives for about four to five years, paying off their travel and document expenses. Once their debt is paid, they either choose to work elsewhere or continue in the same family member’s business with a paid salary.

Chinese business in Panama changes with need. In the past years, businesses such as mini supermarkets, laundromats, bakeries, hardware stores, gift shops, and restaurants have been popular. In the last five years, new businesses on the rise include cell phone stores and auto parts stores.

The challenge is bringing the gospel to the Chinese. They work 12–15 hours a day. They have a strong background in traditional culture. Because of the Communist education in mainland China, they believe in atheism and evolution. Changing their mentality takes a lot of work and time. By the grace of God, many of them have become believers. Some of them have stopped gambling.

We not only focus on adults but also the second generation that speaks Spanish. These young people face both Chinese and Panamanian culture. Lacking communication in the family, conflict between the two generations is unavoidable. To change this situation is to share the gospel with them and help them to know Jesus.

In the last few years, many apartment buildings and houses have been built in Panama City. Many Chinese have purchased apartments or houses. Because of this, the church’s ministry strategy had to change. We reach the Chinese in an apartment building by using the social area to have children, youth, and adult fellowship.

Furthermore, we plan to move our church to a new location called Condado del Rey where many Chinese live. There are about 8,000 Chinese without any Chinese church. We recently found a property in this area. If it’s God’s will, we will purchase it. We trust God will provide the financial needs and help the dream come true.

Pastors Andrew and Ruth Leung established the first Chinese Alliance church in Panama in 1998. My family came to Panama in 2001 when our two lovely daughters were five and six years old. Now they are both college graduates.

Today there are five Chinese Alliance churches and one Hispanic Alliance church in Panama. Praise the Lord! God has done great things and continues to show that He is the God of all peoples.

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