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.
Responding to Our Inner Calling - Supporting Refugee Children’s Education
(Wan Chai Church, CCC)
Translation: Dennis Chan
/ Nov. 25, 2022
The Church of Christ in China (CCC) Wanchai Church has been supporting refugee children’s education and their families in Hong Kong since 2015. Each schoolchild’s purchase of textbooks, uniforms, and other school supplies will be subsidized on an actual basis up to a specific amount. Moreover, we regularly care about their adaption, learning, and development as well as their family’s everyday life.
In the past two years, due to the severity of COVID, many schoolchildren had to stay at home to attend online classes which we supported with data SIM cards. Since they lacked anti-epidemic supplies, we also distributed masks, rapid antigen test kits, medicines, hand sanitizers, food, and other necessities to them several times. Doctors from our church gave many refugee families who contracted COVID free consultations through video conferencing. As food is quite expensive to them, the Hong Kong Church Network for the Poor donated supermarket cash coupons through our church to meet their urgent needs.
Thankfully, by the grace of our Heavenly Father, we could walk with the refugees during the pandemic; on the road in the wilderness, the Lord’s pillars of cloud and fire guided our and refugees’ lives, and He met our needs with manna.
Our History and Calling
Originally named Wanchai Gospel Church, CCC Wanchai Church was founded in 1863 by Rev. James Legge sent by the London Missionary Society to China, and Rev. Ho Fook-Tong, Hong Kong’s first Chinese pastor. The mission is primarily gospel preaching through education. CCC Wanchai Church established Wanchai School to provide educational services to the community. Later, the School was changed to a kindergarten with high-quality early childhood education. Moreover, in 1968, CCC Wan Chai Church established Kei To School in Yau Ma Tei and later opened CCC Wanchai Church Kei To Primary School and CCC Wanchai Church Kei To Primary School (Kowloon City).
In the past, CCC Wanchai Church was devoted to educational works and school establishment in Hong Kong. Based on the biblical principles and Christian faith to follow Christ's missional and serving heart, CCC Wanchai Church provided quality education for children and youth and nurtured talents. At the same time, we are committed to unleashing students' potential, fostering their holistic development, building their morality and spirituality, and cultivating them to become good citizens and contribute to the society and country. Therefore, among the many needs of refugees, refugee children’s needs are always in our hearts.
Although refugee children can attend government primary and secondary schools free of tuition, they need to purchase textbooks, uniforms, and many other items for study. Due to cultural and language differences, often refugee parents do not necessarily understand how schools operate, and misunderstandings between parents and schools occasionally arise. We walk with them by not only subsidizing children’s education expenses but also, more importantly, caring for their education and life, helping them adapt to life in Hong Kong, and strengthening their lives. Indeed, when we walk with them, their lives often bless our whole community. Jesus’s exhortation of "It is more blessed to give than to receive" is so true.
Thoughts from A Christian Who Serves Refugees
Let us share some thoughts from a Christian who serves refugees: “In the past few years, I mostly accompanied refugee families to buy school supplies, such as uniforms and leather shoes. Sometimes they might have special requests, for example, discussing with the landlord to fix the doorknob, or replacing a broken refrigerator. I had the opportunity to buy a second-hand refrigerator for the first time in my life, a second-hand schoolbag on social platforms, and many other firsts. I deeply admired refugees’ wisdom and goodness to survive in a foreign place.
"What impressed me most was accompanying parents and children to back-to-school supplies shopping. In the morning, we went to Cheung Sha Wan to buy uniforms. Later they wanted to buy shoes and led us to an economical shoe stall in Shum Shui Po. Because of the rainy day, the six children’s feet were somewhat wet. One of their mothers squatted down without hesitation and put plastic bags prepared by the stall owner on the children's feet (so as not to dirty his goods) so that they could try on different shoes. While I was trying to figure out the transactions and handle the receipts, the mother willed to squat down and stood up many times helping every child to try on leather shoes and sneakers. Occasionally she applied hand sanitizer to show her good hygiene and her willingness to serve humbly.”
Tips for Starting A Refugee Ministry
We believe that the churches in Hong Kong are a group of faithful Christians who are willing to care for the community, but they face difficulties to start a new ministry. Let us share our experiences for encouragement:
1. Get advice from pioneers: when we started to care about the refugees in Hong Kong, we asked Christian Action for advice. Basically, our education subsidy program imitated theirs, yet on a much smaller scale. We suggest that you connect with member organizations of the Refugee Ministry to serve refugees together.
2. Start with a small and dedicated scale: churches that are moved might not be able to handle the huge needs from refugees. We suggest that you may first set a goal, such as five schoolchildren per year, to control expenses in refugee service. Although the scale is small, the service policy has to be clear. It would be at ease to run the ministry and let donors know where the resources are used to serve refugees so that they could support wholeheartedly.
3. Understand different cultures: Refugees from different cultures come to Hong Kong. We might feel uncomfortable as we try to get along with them. However, we encourage everyone to befriend refugees so that our relationship is not merely giver-receiver, but close friends. As we connect with refugees and learn about their cultures, we will live more harmoniously and enrich one another's lives.
Introducing our Ministry - The Hong Kong Society for Asylum-seekers and Refugees
The Hong Kong Society for Asylum Seekers and Refugees
/ Dec. 11, 2022
The Hong Kong Society for Asylum Seekers and Refugees was established in Nov 2014. It is an organization jointly managed by local people and the asylum-seekers and refugees. It is an independent society that works and partners with other organizations, individuals, business corporations and Non-governmental organizations.
We are based in Pat Heung, and serve mainly the asylum-seekers and refugees who live in Yuen Long, Pat Heung, Tuen Mun and the New Territories North. There are also some asylum-seekers and refugees who live in Kowloon came to us for mutual support and friendship. Our mission is to provide support to asylum-seekers and refugees; to improve the well-being of asylum-seekers and refugees; to promote cooperation amongst asylum-seekers and refugees and to promote asylum-seekers and refugees’ rights.
Our goal is to run our society like a neighborhood group instead of a well-structured, hierarchical organization. We want the asylum-seekers and refugees to feel like home. Being away from home and living under meagre subsidies provided by the government is no easy feat to pull off in an expensive city like Hong Kong. So, our society provides different kinds of support in order to meet their needs. We provide help on their appeal to the high court and Immigration Department; help our members liaise and mediate with immigration officers and their case workers. We also help provide material support ranging from food and clothes, electrical appliances, books and stationeries and so on. We help them find homes and schools, liaise with landlords and landladies, and when children reach their school age, we also help to talk to schools to facilitate asylum-seeking and children’s study. We also organize weekly playgroup and festival celebrations so that we could all enjoy the fun time together. We have individuals as well as NGOs that offer us storytelling session; arts and crafts and dance classes.
We take pride in connecting them with the local community. Christian values centers on “Love thy neighbors”. It is therefore our target to provide as many opportunities as possible for Hong Kong people to know the group so as to dispel mistrust and negative stereotyping. The past eight years have been a blessing to us. We were very fortunate to have a lot of people extended their hands to help us, whether they are individuals, corporations, or NGOs.
The last few years have been a very taxing time for our society. Because of Covid, we were facing a lot of constraints in operating and managing the group. We had to be careful not to break the restrictions imposed by the government and yet we need to provide care and support and emergency relief if needed. The tension mounts when there was news about members of the ethnic minority who caught Covid. This news could become a reason for people to attack the Asylum-seekers and refugees. That’s why when we distributed items to the group we had to be very cautious in the logistical arrangement.
While the Covid has posed a lot of challenges to us, it has also provided opportunities for the local people to connect with us; and our members were showing their strength and resilience in terms of the crisis. Not only did they manage to help each other, supporting each other in need, they also helped the society to purchase masks in bulks so that we could provide masks for everyone, when Hong Kong was running out of masks. The mutual aid and support amongst them and between us and them are quintessential, Through the Covid crisis, we also see how the asylum-seekers and refugees can be invaluable asset and support to us. We were so grateful for our resourceful members, their contributions and friendships to everyone!
We are facing yet another wave of challenge from the Hong Kong government, who is further toughening up the policy on the group. May God bless us and provide us strength and support in terms of such difficult time
Introducing our Ministry - The Hong Kong Society for Asylum-seekers and Refugees
Translation: Candice Au
/ Jan. 26, 2023
Do you know any refugees in Hong Kong? Perhaps you will come to know someone, he may be your friend’s husband, your child’s classmate, your neighbor, or a brother or sister in your church. Refugees need to stay in Hong Kong for many years to be confirmed their status as refugees. They will continue their life in Hong Kong, getting married and have children. Therefore, they will be connected with Hong Kong people in different identities. Do you have any refugee friends?
From tutorial classes to setting up centers
In the middle of 2016, God called me to leave the pastorate of the local church and go to the community of asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong, telling them that their hope is that God is with them today. In May 2021, God opened a brand-new platform, leading me to concentrate on serving the next generation of this group. God said that this generation grew up in Hong Kong, or even was born in Hong Kong, and they will leave Hong Kong one day, perhaps they will be sent back to their hometown with their parents, or they will be accepted to live in other countries. By that time, the children may have grown up, and the challenges they face after leaving Hong Kong cannot be estimated. For this, God said they are to learn to be headed by HIM. I believe that it is difficult to win the battle of life relying on our own, but relying on God, the life that must be won.
Due to the epidemic in 2021, students' classrooms were transferred from physical to online. This kind of class mode is extremely difficult for refugee students. Around February 2021, the local missionary staff of the African Inland Mission recruited volunteers to help refugee children with their homework online. Later, the Hung En Lutheran Church in To Kwa Wan was willing to lend the venue, so we switched from online to face to face tutoring for our children. Later, it was transferred from the auxiliary mode to the central mode; and the number increased from a few children to more than ten children. The children are very happy to come to the center after school. They come, perhaps to meet friends, play with toys, do homework, etc. They all like to come and share their lives, some happy, confused, funny, and some are sad. Sometimes, neither I nor the other volunteers know how to respond, but we always pray for them.
Perhaps the most challenging thing about working with refugee children is that they come from different countries and religions. It will take a great deal of God's grace to share God's grace with them. Let me share with you an story from my time with them.
Refugee kids who don't like being 'happy'
About a year ago, a few elementary school students rolled toilet paper into a big ball to play with. It was reported by the church officer, and I summoned those students. During the "interrogation" process, I asked myself what to do. I thought about how God always forgives me and teaches me to correct when I make mistakes. So, I told the children that I would not punish them, but I wanted them to tell the truth and be willing to change their ways. They all promised and kept their promises to this day.
A few months ago, an elementary school student told me that he didn't like to be happy -- because when he was unhappy, other people would be happy. He felt like excluded at school and at home. I believe that God crying and laughing with us, and told him that maybe they were, but I wasn't laughing at him. After some talking and encouragement, he is willing to choose to be happy. I told his mother about it, hoping to cooperate with the family, and I believe it will bring greater blessings to this child.
Once, a refugee father told me that although we did not give money or material help, he was very grateful to our volunteers and the church for their willingness to help his children. He felt our love very much. He said that for the time being, we are the only one who set up a center near his home to help children study three times a week and give them space to gather with friends freely and easily.
Feeling that children have no future because of fleeing
Once again, a refugee mother asked me to pray for her and her daughter. She said that her daughter is about to turn 18. After the age of 18, the government will no longer provide free education. If she wants to continue her studies in Hong Kong, she will have to pay tuition fees for foreign students. Maybe the daughter thinks that it is impossible to go to higher education after the age of 18, and she is completely uncertain when she will be accepted by other countries. She is discouraged because she can't see the way forward, and the mother also apologizes for this. The mother said that if she hadn't had to flee, the child would have a future. I think that if this family also learns to put God first, they may not be discouraged, but they will be able to look up to God more.
About half a year ago, a refugee child was repatriated to his hometown with his mother. Before returning home, the child started to go to church, and the mother became a Christian from a Muslim. More than a month after they returned to their hometown, the child clamored to return to Hong Kong. He missed his friends in Hong Kong. The child was born in Hong Kong and was unfamiliar with everything in his mother's hometown, including language, daily life and religion, and had no acquaintances. That mother would occasionally contact me and ask me to pray for them. I hope that the child will also pray to God, just like her old days in Hong Kong.
In August 2022, a refugee living in Wan Chai sought help. In this way, God expanded the center for refugee children from To Kwa Wan to Wan Chai. In Wanchai, God has prepared the Church of Christ in China Wanchai Church. They are willing to lend the venue two days a week to provide center services for refugee children living near Wanchai. The center is still in its infancy and there are not enough volunteers, but I believe God will finish His work and provide for everything.
Perhaps, in the future, other communities where refugees live, such as Sham Shui Po, Yuen Long, Pat Heung, etc., will also set up centers for refugee children. On this platform, we hope that children will learn to be led by God, which is God's will. I sincerely hope that more churches (believers) will see and accept God's intentions for the refugees in Hong Kong, and take action to love the refugees in Hong Kong according to the portion God has given us.
Sports and Healing
RUN Hong Kong
/ Apr. 13, 2023
RUN Hong Kong is an NGO that supports vulnerable refugees to build resilience and nurture self-reliance for a more hopeful future. With sport as the springboard and education as the foundation, the organization helps refugees to create a life of safety and dignity, in Hong Kong and beyond. RUN’s main focus is on women and their children, most of whom have fled from some of the world’s most serious conflicts. Over 70% of the participants have suffered from horrendous human rights abuses, including torture, rape, physical and mental abuse or a combination of these. Many are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or similar conditions.
Princess (pseudonym), who is from the horn of Africa, says that "When I arrived in Hong Kong, I was fifteen. I was with my sister, she was seventeen. We had been through a lot. It was not an easy life. We were looking for a better future, to have a better life. But when we arrived, we did not find what we were looking for. For the first two years, we lived in a shelter. There were about ten to fifteen people in the shelter. Mentally and physically we were not there. One day, our lawyer asked us if we wanted to go hiking. We said, ‘what do you mean by hiking?' So she explained what it meant. First, we were scared. We were scared of the people, scared to go out. But she promised us that nothing bad would happen to us if we went hiking… The first day we went hiking, it was very painful for us. We really liked the view and the beautiful place, but when we were back home, we were still in pain. I said, ‘I don’t want to go back there’, but my sister said, ‘We have to, we need to change our life, we must try and meet better people.' So again we went back and we continued to go hiking. RUN helped me to be able to believe and trust other people. RUN showed they cared about us. It really meant a lot to us, as a refugee and a woman... When I saw that I had some people I could trust, I opened up to what happened in our life and I was ready to talk about that..."
RUN provides access to hiking, swimming and running to refugees in the city, and uses sport as a tool to tackle PTSD for adults and children alike. The organization serves 176 beneficiaries, and all benefit from RUN's holistic approach, and get access to education and essential support (medical, housing, food) at the same time. The positive impact of regular exercise on well being and mental health is indeed well documented, as it reduces depression and anxiety significantly. "When I hike out in nature with my friends, I feel better about myself and can feel hope for the future again" says Lynn (pseudonym) from South East Asia. Physical activity is starting to be wider widely used to support displaced communities, as it is "a proven strategy for both preventing and treating mental disorders, for promoting well-being and social connection, and for fostering a sense of community". Participants at RUN all report increased confidence, better physical health, reduced feeling of being depressed as well as being more hopeful about the future.
Today, Princess has been resettled to Canada with her sister, and has started a new life with the help of UNHCR and RUN, and aims to become an interior designer. She says "Before going to RUN, if someone in the street asked me what I was doing in Hong Kong, I tried to lie and said I was a student. I was ashamed to say I’m a refugee. But [the staff at RUN] told me not to be ashamed of who you are. Now I tell them I’m a refugee and that I was forced to be a refugee, I did not choose this. I’m not ashamed to be a refugee… I am not the same woman that I was 6 years ago. Now I feel mentally and physically strong... They taught me what I wanted to learn as a young girl - if tomorrow you have a bad situation, you can still look forward to a bright future".
Hong Kong offers beautiful outdoor space that is close to the city through its four major hiking trails. However, the first step on these trails is the hardest to make. Women especially face barriers, whether due to their culture, social values or childcare duties. RUN helps them to overcome these barriers by creating a safe environment where they can meet at RUN's center, have access to childcare support and nutritious food, and use the outdoors equipped with the right gear. Many of the women who initially thought that they would never be able to conquer the hills, have become avid hikers. Some are even tackling races within a range from 5 to 100 kilometers, have become hiking leaders and will let staff know when hikes are too easy.
Over RUN's 7 year existence, the organization has been able to create a tight knit community, with many now resettled in the US and Canada, who use sport to bring back hope in their lives and create a family again, after having lost everything. Nature does not judge, and when we hike together, country of origin, financial opportunities and skin colour do not matter. What matters is that we can hold each other's hands and be together.
/ Jun. 16, 2023
Having the privilege to be one of the 2022 Hong Kong Humanity Awardees and someone who turned from a Law background person to a Humanity Seeker, I am very pleased to share the below message.
I believe that you and I are not living as animals in the wild.
In other words, every single human being around us matters no matter what her/his social status or wealth is. So we should live just as Christians; who are called to live as brothers and sisters.
It happened that people have different beliefs, yet in our differences, all the teachings and preaching talk about love and care for one another, thus calling us to build a Human Humanity.
To do so, compassion is the key.
Originally from Latin, the word "compassion" meaning "compati" "suffer with", gives us the very need of this precious word in our current world we live in.
The habitants of this world are going through different types of sufferings, there are physical sufferings such as pain resulting from sickness, disability, and mental sufferings following grief, separation, anxiety.
The truth is that every person, living near or far from where we are, is suffering in some way; it may be worries about something or someone or struggles to find the right path to take in life.
Therefore, everyone needs compassion!
We don't have any established laws about compassion but only many and various guiding books. The rest is how and when we make the choices to be compassionate people.
The bible is one of the books which leads Christians to compassion.
It provides a good number of compassionate stories and characters which can serve us as examples and motivations on how to respond to suffering and the need of others.
Those stories are full of kindness and mercy, as well as calls to follow the examples of those who practiced acts of faith before us.
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
This means that practicing compassion should not be interpreted as just God's commend, but also a character of God's people.
Ruth's story, as a compassionate person, is one of the very inspiring passages in the Bible.
Ruth journeyed with Naomi in her sufferings until she was forced to return to Bethlehem and she settled there with her.
Having the adjective "Ruthless" in the English dictionaries is not in vain, rather the English language is highlighting the importance of Ruth's story as an example of compassionate deed to those in need.
In addition to Ruth, Jesus, Joseph, the Good Samaritan and Barnabas named also "Son of Encouragement" have revealed to us the greatest stories of compassion in the Bible.
The word compassion is often understood by people as huge sacrifices in terms of money or time.
That is partly wrong! It is true that compassion may appear in the form of material help, but in many cases, a simple smile or simply being fully present means a lot to someone in need.
Interestingly, practicing compassion doesn't help only those who receive compassion, but practicing compassion makes also us happier and healthier. Exercising compassion strengthens relationships and unites communities as well.
I can witness that practicing true compassion can change the way we live within ourselves and with others.
In fact, once you consciously identify someone's suffering, and you are able to be present physically and to solve someone else problem, that fact enables you to understand more of you compared to others, therefore enable you to control your own sufferings.
I am convinced that it will be harder to build a human humanity without practicing compassion.
"Suffering with" means "Taking action."
Compassion goes beyond awareness of another's suffering, a simple desire to reduce suffering and take simple action to help is enough for practicing compassion.
One of the groups in need of compassion is the Refugees and Asylum Seekers community.
As Christians are commanded to "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor" (Zechariah 7:9-10).
I am grateful that a group of Churches as well as NGOs, including Justice Centre Hong Kong, have understood the situation of the refugee community in Hong Kong and committed to reduce their sufferings.
Justice Centre Hong Kong is a non-profit, non-political organization which envisions Hong Kong as a fair and inclusive society where even the most marginalized enjoy fundamental rights and access to justice.
Justice Centre provides people seeking protection in Hong Kong with free and independent legal information and specialized legal and psychosocial assistance.
My Prayer: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us all in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)