This is an open letter to my evangelical mission-minded western friends (well, I too am an American citizen, Asian American) in the guise of a blog post.
According to the above caption in Chinese, Hong Kong has the great contrast of the rich being twenty six times richer than the poor. Twenty six!! Not six, not twenty, but twenty six!
This week marks one of the biggest strikes in recent times on a labor dispute for the docks of Hong Kong. As one of the most prosperous free port of the world (ranked number three behind Singapore and Shanghai), Hong Kong corporations have been raking in the bucks since day one. Yet, the pay of the dock workers actually have decreased since 1997 handover to China. In other words, the rich is getting much richer and the poor is getting much poorer. The rich however is getting rich off the poor’s misfortune. The daily working hours of these workers are so high (twelve to eighteen) that they’d be better off working for minimum wage in the US. To make matters worse, Hong Kong, by and large is probably more expensive than ANY US city.
Do we have a gospel for these people?
One newly planted expat church from a US mega-church thinks it has the answer. It conducts a seminar on why happiness is not enough but true joy in Christ is better. Well, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this topic. In fact, as a Christian, I quite agree with the general proposition. In times like this, however, is this the best topic? It sounds to me more like a nicotine patch for a city full of chain smokers or a mirage in a desert full of thirsty people that religion is often accused of being by those who hate Christianity. Who can blame the haters? The timing of this topic about joy couldn’t be worse. No matter how many verses the speakers quote from, the message will never sound much like the gospel unless there is a true understanding of local conditions by spending quantity and quality time with the locals. Now, I cannot blame this innocent faux pas or can I? After all, why would a newly planted expat American church know anything about local conditions? Before you nod your head, you must see something wrong with the question I just asked. If not, think twice. Here’s a little missiological lesson for my western friends.
Before you head into an area to do “mission” and make “converts” for God, please make sure you know what mission is and what local needs are instead of coming in with fancy topics and unfulfilled hype. We certainly don’t see St. Paul coming into Athens speaking Christianese! I know a lot of you who are a little more mission-minded will think that Hong Kong is perfect for being the gateway to reach China. Yes, I know. I heard that message for years. Once again, before you nod your missiological little head, think about what I just said. Let me translate for you. What that message really is saying are the following. First, any westerner can “use” Hong Kong to get to China. Second, the converts in China, as potentially large as they will become, are more important than local needs in Hong Kong.
Let me respond. First, no one likes to be “used.” In fact, western colonial powers have “used” Hong Kong in modern China until 1997. The locals are not idiots. They know when they’re being used. Some resist; others oblige, but no one is unaware. Someone will ask me the inevitable question when we talk about reaching Chinese with the gospel, “What is the biggest obstacle in mission?” My answer? Based on real-world experience, most colonized people think that the gospel is a western religion (though it’s Jewish) used by colonial powers to exploit rather than edify. Many missionary efforts still look like religious colonialism even to believers like myself. Is this what the gospel is about? Second, if we bypass local interests and go straight towards the target China, we are essentially saying that conversion is all about numbers. Is that what the gospel is really about? Really? If you say yes, please stop reading my blog and go read the Bible, the ENTIRE Bible, again.
Is there a gospel for the oppressed dock workers? Not according to the recent missionary strategy I’ve seen. These new church planters seem barely aware of the economic and political situation and if they are, they’re choosing to ignore it, all in the name of the gospel. Planting yet one more English-speaking church in Hong Kong will only reach more English-speaking mostly very successful middle-upper class, often white elites. Is there a gospel in that? Not according to my Bible! You may say, “Isn’t preaching any kind of gospel is better than none? Isn’t getting more converts always great for the church?” To such questions, here are my retorting questions. Are you sure you’re preaching the gospel? Are you sure you’re converting the true converts?
Before we think any unreached people group (and Hong Kong is not unreached at all) with our gospel, we should make sure we have a gospel to preach. Otherwise, stay home!