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Missionary Spotlight – Hong Kong

July 1997

Features

An area of 413 sq. miles, parts of which are attached to mainland China, namely New Territories and Kowloon, a mountainous peninsula. The most important area in the territory is Hong Kong Island. This is the largest of 230 islands and has one of the world’s finest natural harbours. The waters of its busy container-port are heavily polluted. The island is connected with Kowloon by an undersea railway.

Since its colonization by the British in 1842 Hong Kong has grown rapidly to become one of the world’s leading financial, industrial and trading centres and a major artery for trade passing in and out of south China. It is claimed that Hong Kong brings in half of China’s foreign exchange. Exports include textiles, electronic goods, watches, cameras and plastic products. It is only 40 miles from Portuguese Macao and 80 miles from Canton (in China).

Population: 6 million. One of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 93% urbanization. 97% of the population are Chinese and nearly half of these are refugees and economic migrants from the mainland. Filipinos make up the largest minority. Indians and Europeans are also represented.

Cities:Victoria, 1,269,000; Kowloon, 2,163,000; and Tsuen Wan, 2,243,000.

Religions:Chinese religions (Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism); Roman Catholicism; Islam. Many Protestant denominations are also represented.

History

Hong Kong Island was claimed for Britain from China in 1841 as part of the spoils of the opium war. It became a Crown colony in 1842 and was rapidly developed over the next 20 years. The other parts of the territory were all acquired between then and 1900. Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese in the Second World War and restored to British administration in 1945. Significantly Britain leased New Territories from China on a 99-year basis from 1898. However under the recent Treaty of Beijing the British agreed to cede the whole Hong Kong region back to China on 1 July 1997, having been given assurances by China that its capitalist way of life was safe for at least 50 years.

Current situation

There is a large Protestant presence with some 400,000 professing Christians and 1200 churches. Many of these would profess to be evangelical. However, there is much nominalism. The most widespread denominational influence has come from the Anglican Church, although Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Brethren assemblies and independent churches are also present. Christian schools have made a significant contribution to teaching Hong Kong’s children basic Christian truths. There is also an active Christian witness among university students, although such witness is more sparse in poorer areas and rural areas.

Evangelical Times’ enquiries have revealed a great lack of sovereign grace doctrine and Christ-centred preaching in the churches, or even a basic understanding of some of the great doctrines concerning the sovereignty of God in salvation so clearly taught by the Reformers and defined in the historic confessions of faith. It is claimed that they are ‘not compatible with Chinese culture and way of thinking’. Some missionaries, indigenous pastors and publishing houses are more open to the doctrines of grace, but preaching in Protestant churches centres on Christian practice rather than on its doctrinal roots. The net effect favours an experience-centred approach. Similarly a free and loose inter-denominational interaction among the churches has not promoted a return to the Reformed faith but rather a downplaying of doctrinal distinctives, even if not outright ecumenicity. The ecumenical movement is represented in Hong Kong by virtue of the presence of those denominations which participate in the World Council of Churches.

On the other hand it is reported that there are Christian young people who are willing to stand for the truth rather than conform to pressures from their Buddhist families. Many elderly people are afraid of turning away from Buddhism for fear of offending the gods. For example, mothers and grandmothers depend on children to perform certain rites for them that will keep their spirits ‘at rest’ after death, and Christians can come under great pressure to take part in these rites.

The usual difficulties of living in an urban, secular society are also present. Life is distinctly in the ‘fast track’. It is required practice to work ‘fast’ on whatever employers demand. There are cultural obligations on young Chinese people to support their parents as well as their own families and many work long hours at two jobs.

Hong Kong has many social problems with large numbers of Chinese living in the poverty of squatter settlements or on boats or in high-rise flats. There is an extensive underworld. Organized crime thrives and secret societies make profits from drugs, prostitution and gambling.

The future

Hong Kong will become a ‘special administrative region’ within China on a ‘one country, two systems’ basis. This imminent handover has dominated the territory for months, if not years. Now the territory and the world breathlessly await the outcome. The new legal agreements for the ex-colony guarantee continued freedom of conscience and worship. However,many have not trusted Communist intentions and have already emigrated. Emigrees have included some ‘church leaders’.

The reality is likely to be that any future freedom actually enjoyed will depend much on how local officials interpret the law at the ‘grass-roots’ level. One likely change that will occur will be a rapid decrease in the numbers of missionary agencies which have hitherto used Hong Kong as a springboard for missionary work in mainland China. It is unlikely that the new rulers will permit the region to be used as a base for uninhibited radio and literature evangelism.

Some sections of the church have sought to safeguard the future by active involvement in the territory’s politics, but this looks like the path of compromise. The risk of persecution for the gospel’s sake must always be present under a regime such as China’s, however benevolent it may seem at any one moment and whatever guarantees it gives for the future. The whole situation is charged with uncertainty and it could be that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, is about to lead his people in this area into a time of suffering and refinement.

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