Editor’s note: Kevin Murphy, previously from Cape Town, South Africa, has been pastoring Watermark Community Church in Hong Kong for the last two years. He is married to Claire and together they have two wonderful daughters.
As many people know, the last 12 months have been somewhat challenging for the city of Hong Kong. Between June and December of 2019, our city was embroiled in massive social unrest, often turning quite violent, as years of frustration and anger at the political system overflowed into the public space. Like the rest of the world, the first 6 months of 2020 have been marked by fear and the unknown as COVID-19 has gripped our city, brought our schools to a halt, shut businesses and churches, and affected all areas of life. In addition, although a relatively small territory in the grander scheme of things, Hong Kong seems to have become a key battleground in the ideological and trade war presently playing out between China and the United States. Recently the city has seen the enactment of the Hong Kong Security Law. While some have welcomed this law as a means of restoring stability to the city, others are fearful of its introduction, worried about how it will be implemented and what impact this will have on the city going forward.
Much of what has underpinned the confidence and identity of Hongkongers has been threatened in the last year – the relative peace and political stability, the abundant economic opportunities, and the freedoms and autonomy many have enjoyed. These challenges have left many feeling like aliens and strangers in their own land, insecure and unsure of what the future holds.
As I have thought about what this means for the church and the kingdom of God in Hong Kong, I have realized how deeply the roots of Moral Therapeutic Deism have found their way into my heart. I don’t like it when things go wrong. I tend to think God should somehow make it all go away. Yet the New Testament purports no suggestion that the life of a Christ-follower will be one of ease or comfort. In the book of Revelation, the words for witness and martyr are used almost interchangeably: God’s people, who are called to bear witness for him, will suffer for their faithfulness to Jesus. If they do not suffer death, they will certainly experience inconvenience and discomfort. This is what it means to follow the One who ended up on a cross. Our brothers and sisters in mainland China have shown us this for years.
Revelation 17 and 18 speak of a great and glorious city. This city is pictured as an alluring woman who revels in her glory and majesty, yet is unexpectedly brought to her knees along with all those who trusted her. Over and against this stands another woman, the perfect bride of the Lamb. This bride is humble and unassuming, yet still radiant and beautiful. She is clothed, not in the glitz and glamour of the world, but in the righteous deeds of the saints. As some of the extravagance and shine of Hong Kong has been exposed as fallacious, I pray that the unparalleled beauty of the church – those who have been rescued and redeemed by the Lamb and are determined to live for his glory – will stand out in this city, being an incarnational signpost to the hope of Jesus for all of Hong Kong.
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This has a number of implications for church pastors:
1. In one sense, it has never been a better time to be an ambassador for Christ in Hong Kong. For many years the church has been speaking about Christ as the one true Rock of Ages, who is worthy of our devotion and is trustworthy enough to build our lives upon. In this season, many believers in Hong Kong are truly experiencing Christ as the sure and steady anchor we have spoken and sang about for years.
2. While it is tempting to organize a hundred new initiatives, programs and courses, my sense is that, more than ever, pastors need to be doing the regular work of ministry: praying for our city and our congregations, teaching God’s word more clearly and accurately than ever before, and individually discipling and caring for souls, always pointing people towards our one true hope, Jesus Christ.
3. We need to keep watch over our own souls: these are exciting times, but they are also challenging times. The demands of ministry have grown exponentially in the last 12 months. Many young people are suffering PTSD from what they saw and witnessed over the last year. Many families are experiencing deep divisions along political lines. Familial tension and fractures that have been there for years are coming to the surface. It is a wonderful opportunity to be a minister of the great Physician and Shepherd at a time like this. But we need to watch our own souls, carefully making sure we are being ministered to by Christ himself.
My greatest prayer for myself, my church, and this great and wonderful city is found in 2 Corinthians 4: 5-6. Paul says: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
More than anything else, every citizen of Hong Kong – pastors, politicians, the person working in the red-light district – we all need the God who said “let light shine out of darkness.” We need him to shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, as seen in the person of Jesus Christ, deeply into our hearts. This light cannot shine through quick-fix programs or simple solutions; it will happen through a supernatural move of God and through the faithful witness of his people in this city who embrace suffering and who glory in the cross.
If you could join us in praying for Hong Kong, join us in this prayer: that we would have a greater revelation of the glory and the majesty of God, as seen in the person of Jesus and the cross. Then, true and lasting hope will come to this great city.
What does it look like for God’s light to shine brightly in times of darkness and distress?