Supporting Article

The Involvement of Hong Kong Churches in China

Hong Kong enjoys a unique status in China: it is already a part of China but not yet fully integrated into the political system of China. Hong Kong has its own mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which maintains Hong Kong as an autonomous district with full connectivity to the worldwhile China is still gradually opening up. Hong Kong citizens enjoy visa-free full access to China while Chinese citizens need a special visa for Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s high accessibility to China places it in an advantageous position for establishing China-related enterprises, be they commercial, charitable, academic, governmental or missiological.

Historically, many of the churches in Hong Kong have had a special relationship with churches in China. This is especially true for churches in Guangdong Province, since before 1950 churches in Hong Kong and southern China, such as Guangdong, often belonged to the same ecclesiastical or denominational district, synod or conference with common headquarters in Hong Kong or southern China. Churches in Hong Kong were separated from churches in China in 1950; yet, personal contacts have been retained and later relations were re-established and flourished as China began its Open and Reform Policy in the late 1970s.

At that time, churches in Hong Kong became some of the first ecclesiastical bodies to contact Christian communities in China, and Christians in Hong Kong were the first Christian groups since 1979 to help build and rebuild China’s churches, to establish church-sponsored kindergartens, elderly retirement hostels and to do pastoral training in China. Such tradition of China ministry by Hong Kong Christians has continued to the present day in various manifestations such as ministry directly by Hong Kong churches, Hong Kong based parachurch agencies with a China focus, Hong Kong faith (Christian)-based charitable or development organizations with operations in China and Hong Kong Christian business establishments in China.

Many churches have direct involvement in China in the form of mission ministry. Although the Chinese government does not allow mission activity by overseas people (applicable also to Hong Kong compatriots) in Mainland China, according to the most recent (2004) church survey in Hong Kong, of the 715 churches which responded to the survey on mission involvement, 129 have specific mission ministry in Mainland China and 444 have mission ministry overseas and in Mainland China. In other words, 673 out of 715 churches in Hong Kong (over eighty percent) have China ministry within their mission programs. About thirty-five percent of these churches replied that they have sent missionaries to China. Some of these churches deliberately did not reply to this survey or did not mention their China ministry programs because their ministries are supposed to be of a clandestine nature, illegal or involved with the non-registered sector of the Christian community in China. Again, many churches in Hong Kong may have sent workers into China but will not admit this openly as many of these workers are serving, technically speaking, not as missionaries but as teachers, professionals or merchants and their work is of a clandestine nature.Therefore, the over eighty percent figure for churches in Hong Kong with mission work in China is a conservative one. In fact, it is hard to find a church in Hong Kong that has no involvement in China.

The Christian community in Hong Kong has a rather high number of parachurch organizationsseveral hundred Christian organizations among 1,300 church congregations. This is, perhaps, due to the lax and easy regulations for setting up a company and incorporation. In fact, there are more than four million registered companies in Hong Kong which has a population of about seven million. Most Christian organizations have registered as a limited company and this can be done as quickly as in one day. Afterward, this registered company can apply for tax exempt status so long as it is of a non-profit nature, such as a religious or charitable organization. While the more established Christian agencies have been increasing their China focus since 1997, there are also a large number of newly established Christian organizations dedicated to China ministry, many of which are supported by Hong Kong Christians. There are also the Hong Kong offices that provide logistical support for the China ministry of international ministry organizations. The numbers of these agencies are increasing, and many of them operate in a semiclandestine nature in China with a legal entity in Hong Kong.

There is also a large sector of Christian based groups among the thousands of charitable organizations in Hong Kong. Some of the larger ones have a major share of their operation in China while there are hundreds of smaller ones. Organizations ranging from as large as a hundred full-time personnel to as small as a handful of volunteers are operating many kinds of development projects in virtually every province of China, staffed and funded by Christians from Hong Kong. These types of operations touch millions of lives in China that otherwise would never have a chance to be in contact with Christians. It is impossible to tabulate the extent and size of operations of these groups for virtually every one operate on their ownand China is a vast country.

In addition, there are the Hong Kong Christian entrepreneurs who have business operations in China such as factories, companies and chain stores. Often these Christian enterprises will have personal managers who also serve as chaplains to their employees. It is not uncommon to find that many of these companies and factories conduct services and various Christian meetings. Many migrant workers from rural areas hear and receive the gospel through the ministries of these Hong Kong Christian business people while they work in these factories or companies. As these workers return to their home villages, they take back with them not only capital and skills which they have acquired while working in the industrial areas but also the Good News.

Hong Kong has been the window to China during the past fifty years. Skills, capital and ideas that fueled the engine of the Reform and Open Policy of China were first supplied by Hong Kong. Even now, with the development of other Chinese financial centers such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, a large number of multinational corporations still base their China operations in Hong Kong due to the efficiency of its society, the security of its legal system and the freedom that it enjoys. There is no better place to have access to China yet remain in a free society than Hong Kong. Naturally, Christians in Hong Kongthose who have opted to stay in Hong Kong despite the 1997 changeoverseem to assume a mission mandate for spreading the gospel in China, somewhat similar to Esther’s realization that her destiny as Queen was for the salvation of her kinsman.

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Kim-Kwong Chan

The Rev. Kim-Kwong Chan, PhD, DTh, is the Executive Secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council.View Full Bio