In April, I received an invitation of sharing on the topic “living together in the hostile environment.”
The title really stirred my heart. And I think one of the reasons of my invitation is that they know we Hong Kong people were living in a hostile environment in the past few years, an environment that was not favourable to us.
And the Scripture that caught my eyesight was 2 Corinthians 4:1.
“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not” (KJV).
As a man of 60-some years, I grew up in a very good environment, I would say. Before all these changes, when people asked me how good Hong Kong is, I would say that Hong Kong is very good. If you live in Hong Kong, you’ll feel safe – let’s say you can walk on the street even at midnight; you’ll enjoy freedom of speech; good education system; good and low-priced hospitals; access to a job if you’re willing to work. And most of all, things work in Hong Kong.
However, it has changed. The Hong Kong I’m living in now is not the Hong Kong I used to know. Some people will say that it started in the year 2014. For me, the significant changes started in 2019.
On 4 June 2019, more than 180 000 people gathered at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate 30 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
On 9 June 2019, more than 1 000 000 people went out to the streets: they struck, they sang hymns.
It was basically a peaceful protest. However, one day after, there were clashes between police and antiextradition bill demonstrators.
On 12 June 2019, Hong Kong faced more protests against the extradition law change. This time, many church leaders came out and spoke to the government. Some brothers and sisters prayed and sang hymns in the spot. Christians were caring for peace and nonviolence in all the actions. Many people followed the Christians to sing the chorus: “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” on the streets. This time, more than 2 000 000 people came out to protest for their freedom.
Since then, protest and demonstrations never ceased. As time goes on, both the police and the demonstrators have gotten more and more violent. I have never seen this since 1968.
The slogan of the demonstrators changed from “Hong Kong people: add oil” to “Hong Kong people: protest” to “Hong Kong people: revenge”
For some time, there were protest almost every day. By the end of 2019, more than 7 000 people had already been arrested by the police.
“Where should we stand?” People outside the church want to know the church’s position. People inside the church ask their church leaders on which side their churches are standing.
In fact, Hong Kong people are divided into the Blue and the Yellow. The Blue are those who are for the government and the police. The Yellow are those who are against them.
There are conflicts in this society, in the families and in the churches. There is no peace. Our challenge is that: how to be a peacemaker when others choose to be violent? And how to live together in a hostile environment?
What positions are the churches taking?
I will never forget this: On 12 June 2019, I was standing in the middle of the road next to the Hong Kong government headquarters. On my right hand, there were Christians singing hymns and praying for Hong Kong, while on my left hand, there were protesters trying hard to block the main road outside.
In Hong Kong, some churches choose to stand on the Yellow side, and some choose the Blue. However, we Mennonites, as a Peace Church, we choose standing on Jesus’s side. We want to be a bridge between the Yellow and the Blue, a bridge between the peaceful and the violent, a bridge between the people and the government, a bridge between the protesters and the police. We have the obligation to promote peace. We regard that this is a way to fellow Jesus and “Here we stand!”
Right now, people are leaving Hong Kong. In our church, Agape Mennonite Church, 10 percent of our members already gone, mainly immigrated to England. And people are still planning to leave Hong Kong, to seek for a place of freedom, a place of hope.
Many years ago, I wrote a song inspired by a poem.
The title is like this: “Running away from famine – 3 million refugees leaving their hometown painfully.”
The poem was written in the year 1933. It describes the situation and feeling of refugees who moved to the northeast of China from their motherland because they had nothing to eat.
However, by that time, the northeast of China was under the control of the Japanese army. For me, they were running away from a place of hopelessness to a place of hopelessness. It touched my heart, and so I wrote a 13-minute chorus.
For these people, they did not know what their fate will be. They would not know what would happen after they went to the northeast. One thing they did know was that if they didn’t leave they would die.
Many people describe the immigrants from Hong Kong as refugees. If you immigrate, you’ll make good plans. If you don’t have any plans or if it is not your plan to immigrate, then you are a refugee.
Why do they leave Hong Kong? They are afraid of tomorrow. They have lost their hearts for Hong Kong.
In 2 Corinthians 4:1, the apostle Paul encourages the church:
“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not.” (KJV)
Paul encourages them not to lose heart. Why? Paul says that it is because “we have this ministry.”
Brothers and sisters, I’m telling you now that I’m not going to leave Hong Kong. We pastors are at high risk. We are the ones who need to leave. But I’m not going to leave because I am called to stay and to build the Mennonite churches in Hong Kong until I have finished my task and until I receive a new call from my boss, my heavenly Father.
Brothers and sisters, if you are in time of darkness, if you are facing an unpredictable tomorrow, if you are disappointed with people, just look up to God and look back to your calling.
At the end, I would like to draw your attention to the prayer of apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:17-19.
Paul asks God to open the eyes of the Ephesians in order that they will see three things:
- the hope of his calling,
- the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
- the exceeding greatness of his power.
May our heavenly Father open the eyes of the Hong Kong Christians.
May Jesus open the eyes of you and me.
May the Holy Spirit bless us all.
Because “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21, KJV).
—Jeremiah Choi serves as pastor of Agape Mennonite Church, Hong Kong, and as Mennonite World Conference regional representative for Northeast Asia. He is also trained as a composer.