A Prayer Over Hong Kong

Ryan moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China, at the age of twelve. Ryan received his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently serving as an Assistant Pastor at New City Presbyterian Church in his US hometown of Cincinnati, OH. He also serves as the China Partnership Translation Manager.


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“Father, we thank you for caring for Hong Kong. Thank you for the churches and for your children you have gathered here. We especially thank you that, since 1949, this city has been a refuge for the churches of China. We thank you for the saints who have passed away who rest in this city. We pray for the surging crowds of lost souls on the streets of Hong Kong. They have heard the gospel, rejected it, and march toward death.

Father, you have blessed the family churches of China through Hong Kong. You allowed us to use this city as a refuge during the past years, and we have had many gatherings here and experienced many blessings. Some of us live and serve in the same communities in mainland China, but in Hong Kong, we have met for the first time. Lord, thank you. We ask that through this city and through our gathering here your gospel would bless each city in mainland China, and your churches would be revived. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Pastor Wang Yi, 2014

In a recent meal with a group of church friends, we shared what is the most beautiful place we have visited in our lives. Pictures of Yellowstone National Park, Sicily, Prague, and the New England coastline flashed through my mind, but one image that returned over and over to me was the city of Hong Kong. The city’s skyline before a backdrop of green mountains as the sun sets over the water of the Pacific Ocean is hard to beat. I grew up in a southern Chinese city named Guangzhou, roughly two hours north of Hong Kong by train. We speak the same dialect, we sing the same pop songs, and we watch the same shows. I’m accustomed to calling Hong Kong my second home. 

Hong Kong is a small city packed with different sceneries, people groups, and cultures. It’s a place of fascination for me because it is the first lens through which I saw Western cultures, and yet it is also through Hong Kong where I caught a glimpse of what the best of Chinese culture can be. But one childhood memory adds to my fascination with Hong Kong. Very often in the middle of the 6:30 evening news from Hong Kong, our TV would suddenly switch to a color screen for five to ten minutes, and then everything would return to normal. Or during a special news report, our television would show scenes of birds flying over nature instead of the actual news report. My parents would react by saying, “Ahh, they are talking about something that we can’t hear again.” My 10-year-old brain didn’t understand why certain things could be considered off limits for those of us living in China, but that was my first experience of censorship.

As I immigrated to the United States and became familiar with the variety of political opinions and worldviews, I became more aware of the danger of censorship. What the audience is deprived of is not simply information on certain sensitive topics, but they are stripped of entire categories of vocabulary with which to process information. In other words, what people are denied is not just access to new information, but they are also deprived of different frameworks with which they can make sense of the information that they already have. 

An Intersection of East and West

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This is what makes Hong Kong such a fascinating place. It is an intersection of eastern and western ideas and cultures. The ninety nine years that Hong Kong was under British rule – commonly regarded as a source of shame by the people of China – gave the people in Hong Kong access to ideas and worldviews that most people in mainland China did not have. But this is also what has made Hong Kong such a dangerous place in recent decades in the eyes of the Chinese government. Under the agreement of “One Nation, Two Systems,” Hong Kong is given a degree of autonomy and freedom that the people in China do not have. As travel between the mainland and Hong Kong became much easier in the early 2000s, it not only promoted a greater exchange of commercial goods but also a greater exchange of ideas. The people – and house churches – from China suddenly had access to knowledge that they did not possess before. As Pastor Wang Yi said in his prayer, Hong Kong became a refuge for the churches in China, in which mainland Chinese pastors and believers could meet and gather together for training and prayer.  

All of this did not go unnoticed by the central Chinese government. Since its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong has noticed a gradual erosion of its freedom and autonomy under the rule of the Chinese government. The Extradition Bill was another big step in this unwelcomed trend, but even without the bill, this erosion seems to be an irreversible process that the people of Hong Kong have to reckon with. That could be a large part of why protests and unrest have not died down after the withdrawal of this bill. The people – especially the young people – fear that Hong Kong overtime will just become another Chinese city: they will have their access to social media limited, their actions will be monitored, their news outlets censored.

Over the last four months we have already seen that the protests and unrest are depicted very differently by various news outlets. There are worries that news stations and newspapers are beginning to take sides. There is a spin to everything. The conflict is not just between the people in Hong Kong and the Central Government in Beijing; the conflict is also among different factions of Hong Kong society, each holding to their own position and struggling to acknowledge the veracity and concerns of the other side. In a sense, censorship is already happening in Hong Kong, but it is a form of self-censorship because the various sides tend to see and interpret events in a way that supports their own positions. When the factions at play dig deeper and deeper into their own ideological position, the possibility for a political compromise and peaceful resolution becomes less and less likely. 

What Should the Church Do?

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In such divisive times, the churches in Hong Kong have faced questions about their social, political, and moral responsibilities from within and without, and from these questions have come pressures from all sides. Some accuse the Christian leaders in Hong Kong of being advocates of violence because protests and rallies are often preceded by prayer gatherings. Some accuse Christians of obstructing justice because they place their bodies between the police and the protestors. Some accuse the church and church schools as vehicles of Western ideology. Some call on the church to condemn the violence and stop harboring protestors. Some call on the church to protest against the government because churches should speak out for the oppressed and they also stand to lose in the erosion of their freedom. One thing is clear: different factions either see the Christian churches as allies or as enemies; they either seek to solicit the churches’ support or to ensure the churches do not make things more complicated. Facing pressure from within and without, some church leaders struggle to come up with the best way to move forward. 

The churches in Hong Kong are facing an unprecedented test, and it is becoming harder to discern how they are called to be a blessing to the city. But it is in this unprecedented time that the churches can stand up to point people to the gospel. Perhaps the way forward is not to please different sides of society or to form an alliance with the right faction. The way forward may lie in protecting the distinctiveness of being the church of Christ, and as such, being the scaffold of the heavenly Kingdom of God that is to come on earth.

The Church as a Witness to Another Kingdom

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The church holds the best perspective to see all the events through the lens of eternity. This perspective is revealed from God through the scriptures and it cannot be censored. While public opinions can be swayed like a tree by the breeze of news reports, Christians know where their eternal destiny lies: in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken rather than in the kingdoms of man.  The church must hold a steady course to preach the Kingdom of God, both in season and out of season. It is only when finding rest in our true hope that men cease raging.

With the proclamation of the Truth, the churches should also tell the truth. Because our hope is in a heavenly King, we do not have to take sides to promote the success of an earthly king. Christians do not have to bend the truth to support or denigrate any factions of society. If different sides are only interested in a partial narrative that supports their own ideological position, the church’s calling is to seek to shed light on the full narrative. Whether it is pointing out the mistreatment of police officers or the violence against protesters, the church is a defender of truths, and as such, it should call out any injustice that is done to anyone.  

Lastly, as the scaffold of the Kingdom and defender of truth, the church can be an agent of love and peace. Now entering the sixth month of protest and unrest, peace seems like a distant memory and a fanciful dream. With the fabric of Hong Kong society devolving into factions, it is almost impossible to get anyone to listen to each other, not to mention love each other. But Christians bear the calling to love our neighbors as ourselves, including our enemies. That neighbor could be a protester or a police officer, black shirt or white shirt, blue ribbon or yellow ribbon. The door of the church is open to all who seek refuge within because Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.  

Ultimately, the church in Hong Kong can show the very real hope they have in Christ by living as people who are truly free (1 Peter 2:16). It is right and just for churches to speak out against unjust laws and defend freedom, but they will never have to do it from a place of desperation.  They can perhaps learn from their brothers and sisters in the mainland, and from Pastor Wang Yi, who is now in prison for his faithfulness to the gospel. Even though individual rights can be violated and religious freedom can be limited, the church of Christ cannot be bound. The proclamation of the gospel may sound more distinct in the face of suffering because light shines brighter in the darkness. And yet in the darkness, our brothers and sisters in China have not ceased to pray for the people who oppress them, share the gospel with the officials who arrest them, and love the neighbors who report on them. We give thanks to God for preserving the churches in Hong Kong over the last hundred years and for two decades of relative peace and freedom under Hong Kong’s autonomous status. The future of Hong Kong is uncertain, but it is clear that more unrest and violence will follow. But in the midst of all the rubble, may the scaffold of the Kingdom of God rise up to build a better city.


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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

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Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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