Walking with Refugees - Community Care
Let Refugees Regain Their Dignity
Translation: Dennis Chan
(Youth Global Network)
/ Aug. 26, 2022
Behind the façade of Hong Kong’s prosperity, around 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world are living among us. Every day, they hope that the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) grants them refugee status to move to a host country. The USM is the process the Hong Kong government uses to assess non-refoulement claims against deportation, repatriation, or extradition by the authority. Asylum seekers must first become non-refoulement claimants to apply for refugee status at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Since the USM is quite complicated, asylum seekers generally have to wait in Hong Kong for three years or more; in some cases, the waiting time is even more than ten years.
Before arriving in Hong Kong, refugees and asylum seekers already experienced physical and mental trauma from genocide, war, persecution, natural disasters, or other causes. Since asylum seekers are prohibited from working to earn a living during their stay in Hong Kong, they could only rely on the government's HK$1,200 vouchers for necessities and HK$1,500 subsidy for housing. The more proactive ones would reach out to churches and non-profit organizations to get more financial assistance but still barely survive with such minimal resources.
In 2013, Youth Global Network launched the first refugee ministry called Global Youth Connect (GYC) under the Endowment for Youth Global Development. GYC aims to integrate local college students, students from Mainland China, and asylum seekers into a youth community. We believe that, by meeting new friends, participating in the new community, and integrating into that, young asylum seekers in Hong Kong can regain their dignity and affirmation. As they understand their identity more, they can face their current situations more positively.
As we connect closely with refugees and asylum seekers, we find that the general public lacks sufficient knowledge of them and pays little attention to their situations. Therefore, the ministry hopes to promote awareness and respond to their needs in creative ways. For example, the first “CArtREfugee” postcard design competition held last year aimed to raise public awareness in support of refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
Besides our care for the refugees and asylum seekers living in our city, our hearts are with the eleven million Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homes due to the Russian invasion. We dedicated this year’s “CArtREfugee” postcard design competition to Ukrainian refugees with the theme “We Care.” We printed the winners’ designs into actual postcards and then invited many Hong Kong church brothers and sisters to give heartfelt greetings and blessings in writing to Ukrainian refugees in the diaspora most of whom have fled to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, and other neighboring countries to seek asylum.
In addition, we have developed a new scheme called “Project I Dignity.” We work with local youth to invite merchants and service providers in different communities to offer discounts in support of refugees and asylum seekers with the “I Dignity” cards. Nearly 60 different merchants have voluntarily participated in “Project I Dignity” which would last for three years.
We are grateful to experience the mutual trust and good collaboration between churches and organizations in the refugee ministry. We hope that more churches and organizations will participate in the ministry to care for and support the refugees sojourning in our city, and witness the gospel with them!
Christian’s In Action
/ Sep. 23, 2022
Christian Action is an organisation that’s quite well known all over HK especially its impact with refugees from the times of Vietnamese boat refugees arriving in HK shores to being placed into refugee camps all over HK and some near our iconic old airport at Kai Tak.
That’s where our humble beginnings take place running classes, proving relief and support to the most vulnerable of communities fleeing war, persecution and tragedy.
Christian Action work evolved to after the handover as the Vietnamese refugee population eventually resettled to other countries and the crisis ended.
It’s focus moved towards new arrivals from mainland China who many families struggled with integration and poverty, we proved after school care, programmes and many relief initiatives to this often struggling community.
We also served Hong kings ethnic minority community by opening two drop in community centres in Jordan and Tuen Mun which were populated by Pakistani, Indians and Nepalese groups also growing community where their grasp of Cantonese language, lack of opportunities and isolation caused many barriers for their integration to local society. Our centres gave them many platforms for positive change and impact which we still see the amazing impacts today such as many who young youths who used our services getting into universities, finding mainstream jobs such as policemen, teachers and other high flying positions.
We also started a center for domestic migrant workers where we have intervened on many vulnerable helpers who served Hong Kong families so diligently and professionally have been abused, unlawfully terminated or ill treated. Here in our centre they can find dedicated case workers belong them navigate legal systems in their claims, provide a safe and confidential shelter and most importantly dignity and a place where they are supported.
Then in 2004, our CEO Mrs Cheung Siu Mei saw and heard the plight of a small but destitute community of asylum seekers and refugees. Early days when most of HK’s memory of refugees were either forgotten or of Vietnamese refugees. But these were Africans, south Asians feeling war, religious persecution and much more to land and find safety in HK bug without even basic support if shelter and food. Our ceo then got together with some church groups and imitated the centre for refugees in the most infamous and challenging places in Hk, the icnomic Chungking mansions where most Hk people have never set foot in or have negative image of their place. But regardless if this our Ceo and Ca felt we needed to be there to provide refugee and a home away from home. We started with some breakfast and basic donations renting just one small unit to now in 2022, 2 floors covering 3 units, a kitchen providing daily meals, English and Cantonese classes. Womens empowerment programs, sports, music and arts and most crucially a drop in centre opened 6 days a week.
We serve over 600 clients of families with children, adults from over 70 towns, religious and cultural groups. We have witnessed over 200 clients resettled to the US and Canada and many are leading very successful lives thanks to our support. We have one remarkable youngster who came in 2008 as an Unaccompanied minor who fed civil war in South Asia who eventually came to our doors and we helped him develop his IT skills and he was resettled to the US and got a high level position at Microsoft and now works at Bank of America in Vice President role.
Another remarkable client of ours was a journalist for a Christian channel in Egypt and was persecuted due to his work, even his camera man was shot dead, he managed to escape and came to us 8 years ago, today he is our community leader where we engages with The local public about the refugee situation, many local Hong Konger’s have come and visited our centre and were touched, inspired and motivated by his sharing.
We are an organisation that’s always served the unserved, Hong Kong’s most marginalized, disadvantaged and isolated communities. We believe that God has given us this role in society to be a vessel for change, for showing gods mercy and dignity. We often get asked how Christian we are, but the truth is it’s in our name, we are Christians in Action.
Peacemaking Programme - Refugee Ministry
(Kowloon Union Church)
/ Oct. 19, 2022
Fifteen years ago, Pastor Phyllis Wong, the current minister-in-charge, started serving at Kowloon Union Church. At that time, she noticed that many asylum seekers and refugee friends came to the church for Sunday Worship and Bible Studies.
At one Bible Study meeting, a brother from Africa who was seeking asylum shared his frustrating struggles in Hong Kong. Far away from loved ones, unable to work, forced to rely on others for relief. Language barriers, discrimination based on the colour of his skin and his status, and physical and mental exhaustion in the face of an unknown future. This brother shared that it turned out that he had escaped from his home and came to Hong Kong, only to enter another prison, and life was worse than death. After Pastor Phyllis heard this brother's cry for help, she felt uneasy and sad. She remembered Jesus saying, "I came that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). What does abundant life mean to refugee brothers and sisters? Just after this reflection, Pastor Phyllis saw the gifts and strengths of the refugee brothers. Everyone is loved by God, and He will give them different gifts to enable them to live happily and abundantly.
Pastor Phyllis found that this group of brothers from Africa were good at singing and dancing, and they were very motivated and infectious when they played the African drums, so she organized the "African Voices" group. The group is made up of asylum seekers from different African countries, both as a fellowship and as a sing group. They came together and played drums. Firstly, they sang in church worships, and then the church began to arrange some outreach sharing activities, allowing the refugee brothers to sing, play drums, dance and share their life stories, so that brothers and sisters in other churches and young students on campus can understand the life of refugees and their current plight, and learn to appreciate the rich African culture. Brothers who go out to share are "Christ's Ambassadors of Peace", spreading the message of love, acceptance, and diversity with one another. Through outreach participation, brothers regain confidence, build friendships with different communities, and increase society’s awareness of refugees.
Since its inception, "Peacemaking Programme - Refugee Ministry" has continued to develop according to the needs and circumstances of refugees. At present, the ministry is mainly aimed at the pastoral care of all aspects of refugees’ lives, and develops in the following three areas:
First, spiritual care – rooted in the teachings of the Bible and with the great love of the Lord, ministering refugees from different countries and religious beliefs, responding to their spiritual, emotional and life needs.
Second, empowerment activities - various types of empowerment workshops are held to enrich refugee friends and help them participate in society.
Third, community education - regular community education is held to enable all sectors of the Hong Kong community to understand the plight of refugees, and to promote the church community to care for refugees and to practice loving one's neighbour as oneself.
Some friends who participated in "African Voices" in the past still stay in Hong Kong after obtaining refugee status or right of abode, and they are committed to different local churches and non-profit organizations, and continue to provide various forms of support services to refugee groups.
Today, Kowloon Union Church serve asylum seekers and refugees from countries from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, ranging in age from newborn babies to 73 years old. Of these, 60% are adults and 40% are adolescents and children. Our activities include Refugee Fellowship, Refugee Kitchen, Outreach Sharing, Human Library, Adult and Children's Choir, Cooking Class, Sewing Class, Swimming Class, outdoor events and more. Although the ministry has been affected by the COVID epidemic in recent years, we still spared no effort in the ministry of pastoral care and outreach education.
We are part of the global refugee crisis
Over the years, the refugee ministry at Kowloon Union Church has been full of challenges. On the one hand, the instability of the group itself makes it difficult to develop long-term projects; on the other hand, the mobility of group members is relatively large, which means that we have to adapt to different needs and changes all the times, and we need to readjust our workforce every year as well as evaluate its sustainable development.
In fact, the structure of our refugee community is closely related to the global refugee crisis. These crises, including persecution, war, climate change, human rights violations, economic hardship, famine, gender and sexual orientation, all directly affect the demographics of those we serve today. In short, the impact of the refugee crisis is not limited to the problems and responsibilities of certain countries; rather, the refugee crisis is a call for the international community to participate in global justice. When injustice happens in this world, any citizen of the world is called to join in this mission. The church, as a community of witnesses to Christ, has a duty to do so.
When this ministry first took off, many of the asylum seekers were Africans from central Africa who had desperately fled their countries because of genocide, religious and political persecution. Since 2010, asylum seekers have come not only from central Africa, but also from countries in northern Africa such as Egypt, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Egypt is one of the most difficult countries for Christians to live in. The country’s laws are based on Islamic principles and the country is governed by Islamic principles. Most of the Egyptians we serve have been forced to flee their homes because of religious persecution. Famine in Somalia and civil wars in Yemen and Libya have also forced local people to flee their homes.
Therefore, when planning the development direction of the ministry, Kowloon Union Church affirmed the three-stage pastoral care, providing appropriate pastoral care for the refugee families and their children we serve, and helping them build a whole life.
Simply put, in the first phase, when asylum seekers come to our church, we are concerned with their individual spiritual needs and psychological conditions. In the process of fleeing, they often face various traumatic challenges. Formerly citizens of a country, but now asylum seekers in Hong Kong, we must remind them of their status in the Lord: although their status on earth has changed, each of them is a child of the Lord, who is constantly being loved deeply by the Lord.
In the second stage, after they apply for asylum at the Immigration Department in Hong Kong, they will still face various life challenges arising from their lack of financial means. At this stage, we provide them with practical material support to help them settle down in Hong Kong. Their daily activities are also restricted for the same reason and we will encourage them to participate in workshops organized by our church or local organizations according to their abilities, interests and expertise, so that their body, mind and spirit can develop healthily.
In the third stage, some people in the group will adapt to life in Hong Kong relatively quickly, and their spiritual life and quality of life will also be ready to testify for the Lord. So, we invite them to become "peace ambassadors" to share their testimony among different groups. It is an empowerment exercise that gives them the power of affirmation and recognition from their status as "asylum seekers" or "refugees".
In fact, before making them feel the hospitality of others, the most important and practical part is to help them accept their special status as "seeking asylum" and recognize that the Lord personally led them to Hong Kong. The Lord is not here to see them suffer, but for them to walk on the path that the Lord has prepared for them with a mission, and to bless the people and cities around them during their asylum-seeking journey.
Outreach beyond charity
Imagine if a person doesn't even have a bed and has to sleep on the ground, or a person whose stomach is empty on a daily basis, how can s/he have the spirit to discern God's guidance for his life? As a church, we do need to support their practical needs, providing rent support and meal support as part of our pastoral care for them. For example, in 2022, we partnered with the Justice Center to distribute fresh food and groceries to refugee families in the community. But as a church, we need to do more than that.
The refugee issue not only awakens the society's attention to humanitarianism, but also awakens the need for the church community to properly practice hospitality. In our contact with refugees, what I particularly noticed is that after they came to Hong Kong, they were often able to understand the power of faith during their stay. For example, they learned patience, reconciliation with family members, and perseverance in the midst of hardship during the indefinite waiting for deliverance. It is during this time that many of the good nature of God manifested in their lives.
To help them internalize their experience of walking with the Lord, another major focus of our ministry is community education. Through community outreach activities, asylum seekers or refugee friends can share their life stories, their experiences fleeing from persecution, and to bring the gospel of peace to the local community.
The lives of these stragglers, like the jars of clay that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 4, faced enemies on all sides, persecuted, knocked down, fragile and full of rifts, but their lives had the glory of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, in the hardships of their lives, shining through the cracks in the earthenware. As a church, we have a responsibility to keep this light shining and illuminating the darkness.
When the world condemns refugees as a burden to the city, we show the world their perseverance.
When the world labels refugees negatively, we can tell the world that they are only a small group of diaspora, and the stories they experience are real and cruel.
When the world is clamoring to help refugees in faraway Ukraine, we tell the world that refugees are living in our cities too.
When churches don't seem to see the need to host refugees locally, we tell the churches to have faith and ask Christ to provide us with what we need to do local cross-cultural ministry to serve them.
For a long time, Kowloon Union Church has been devoted to the refugee ministry and testified to the church community. Based on our experience walking with refugees, we honestly don't need to have anything substantial to think about developing this ministry, it all started with a prayer from the heart. We have few resources, but whenever we want to develop various pastoral activities, we always receive timely and sufficient donations from different churches and organizations to achieve and maintain the development of the ministry.
In refugee ministry, the groups we serve, through different levels of participation, serve each other, not only appreciate the benefits of helping others to help themselves, but also build the communal spirit of mutual help in the Body of Christ.
The incarnate Christ gave human beings abundant and complete life. After fifteen years of service, we have continued to minister the whole refugee community in the direction of "abundant life" and "whole life".
Since last year, we have added elements of somatic education to help refugees observe their own body and mind. From the experience of physical and mental perception, to the exercise of the ability of physical and mental awareness. The process focuses on the relationship between personal spirituality and physical health, guides them to be aware of their physical, mental and spiritual needs through activities and sharing of personal stories to heal their various traumas caused by their escape experience and living in a foreign place.
It is hoped that in the days to come, in addition to continuing the existing activities, we can develop the direction of caring and storytelling from the unity of body, mind and spirit, and minister to the whole refugee community. By combining spirituality and the Word, reflecting on faith and life, and citing it in outreach community education, walk humbly with refugees to build a community that respects humanity and peaceful communion.