Having grown up in small towns in South Africa, I must admit that I do not like cities. I, therefore, did not expect to fall in love with a city in Asia. Definitely not Hong Kong. Yes, it was my first visit to the city; I was only there nine days; and I did not have time to think about cramped conditions. But I fell in love with the beauty of Hong Kong. The landscape, the MTR (!), the contrasts, the people and … the skyscrapers. God gives extraordinary gifts to people to create beauty—designing and building skyscrapers as well!
But the contrasts in Hong Kong touched me deeply:
- Knowing a bit about the work of Jacky Pullinger and others, I knew there was poverty in Hong Kong. And with the growing wealth in Hong Kong, I somehow expected some economic inequality. What I did not expect was to be reminded of the socio-economic inequalities of South Africa where the poor had been pushed out of sight of the rich so that they did not face poverty on a daily basis. I could see similar kinds of socio-economic inequality nearly everywhere in Hong Kong—the difference in wealth between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, the hidden poverty in many of the alley ways and even between some of the churches I visited. I now understand why Hong Kong is the twelfth most unequal society—not very far from South Africa in fourth place.
What surprised and then shocked me most was when I saw that the people sitting on footbridges, under roads and in parks on Sundays are Filipino and Indonesian house workers. It took me back to South Africa in the 1980s when nearly every white South African household had a low-paid African house worker working for them.
- I also knew about the linguistic differences between English and Chinese speakers. What I did not expect was that the difference between the Chinese and English speaking churches would be so much that it would be better to hold two separate consultations on the same theme for English and Chinese speaking churches. And though English and Cantonese are both official languages, I was surprised that there remains a significant language barrier that makes greater collaboration between English and Chinese speaking churches very difficult if not nearly impossible.
- With such an economic unequal society, it might have been expected that Christians in Hong Kong would be at the forefront of addressing poverty. I was very impressed with the Christian welfare and care institutions in Hong Kong. It is widely acknowledged that these institutions form the foundation of Hong Kong’s welfare structures.
What surprised me is how much support these institutions receive from the Hong Kong government and how relatively little they seem to be supported by Christian donations. One of the largest Christian welfare organisations receives only 1.19% of their budget from public donations.
It is therefore understandable that one researcher concluded that, though churches instilled a tradition of "giving to the poor" and taught "charity," they do not take as central a role in encouraging systematic and structured giving as they could. The figures from the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement support this conclusion. Only 234 of the 1,287 churches in Hong Kong give financially to organisations that are helping poor people. That represents only 18.2% of churches.
Yes, there are churches who give up to 50% of their income to ministries outside the church, and many churches give between 12-15% of their income to mission but my impression is that much more could and should be done to encourage a lifestyle of generosity (as expressed in the Generosity Declaration) and kingdom-focused giving in churches in Hong Kong.
Fortunately there are many resources that can help. To encourage a lifestyle of generosity, the Global Generosity Network together with Kingdom Life Publishing published Christ-Centered Generosity: Global Perspectives on the Biblical Call to a Generous Life. The book includes a contribution from Hong Kong and is available here.
Yet, I am encouraged with the way churches, Christian business groups, and ministries in Hong Kong motivate others to generosity and in many cases give sacrificially to help people in need. I was touched by the mission statement of one of the churches I visited: “To light up our lives with God’s love and live out the practice of ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Another church has a vision for “unprecedented generosity” in the church. I wish this would be the passion and vision statement of every Christian, church, and Christian group in Hong Kong! Just think what could happen in Hong Kong society if all Christians and Christian bodies in the city would be good managers of the resources God entrusts to them, share generously with those in need, and give to their full potential to see the kingdom of God become a greater reality in the lives of people in Hong Kong and other places in the world.
And finally, when I booked my flight and accommodation in Hong Kong, I could not understand why the flight from Kuala Lumpur and nine nights’ accommodation were so cheap. I soon realized that the hostel that I booked was in Chunking Mansions, a major gathering place for asylum seekers, refugees, and illegal immigrants in Hong Kong. These people face terrible challenges as they try to survive among the lights of the city. Praise God that many churches and ministries reach out to these refugees. Perhaps one of the challenges for Christians in Hong Kong is not only to be generous to these migrants but also to address spiritual, economic and social poverty in countries where the migrants come from.