JESUS.REFUGEES.US 

Jesus was also a refugee

Cecilia Yeung, Phyllis Wong (Kowloon Union Church)

/ Nov. 26, 2021

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Advent is an important season in the traditional Christian church calendar. Advent kicks off the beginning of a new year for the Church. It is a time of anticipation, preparation and celebration of the birth of Christ and His return.

When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we may be reminded of the story of Christmas when Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, were about to give birth without any hospitality, and not only that, they could not find any hotel to stay in, only a manger. It was in the manger that Jesus was born. This story is so familiar to us. Later in his ministry, Jesus taught his followers to be hospitable to travelers, strangers, sojourners and the poor.

However, the story of Jesus' birth does not only reveal that Jesus was not well received. More than that, our Lord, the one who redeemed the world, came to earth in the flesh to experience earthly suffering. His parents faced an even greater challenge when they were forced to leave their home to escape the control of the tyrant King Herod. In those days, they were refugees.


The story goes that King Herod secretly summoned some magicians to inquire in detail about the whereabouts of the star that would herald the birth of a new king.

So the magicians found the star there, went into the house, saw the child with his mother Mary, fell down on the ground, worshiped him, and opened their treasure box and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Then the magicians did not return to Herod and report the details, which made Herod furious. The angel's prophecy came to Joseph and revealed that Herod would kill all the boys under the age of two, and Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt with Jesus to avoid the mass infanticide that Herod had ordered. Matthew 2:13-15 (NIV).

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 

This biblical text does not provide much detail about the lives of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as refugees in Egypt. The text does not further describe their lives or the treatment they received in Egypt. In fact, this omission of detail can be seen as a writing technique on the part of the author, as the biblical canon provides nothing at all about Jesus. For example, where did Jesus live while he was in Egypt? Did anyone welcome him? What did his parents do during their stay in Egypt? Thus, the lack of detail in the scriptures does leave many unanswered questions for today's readers.


However, it does remind us that Jesus was also a refugee? And how would we treat Jesus as a refugee?

One thing we can be sure of is that Jesus was not the only refugee in history who was forced into exile. He was not alone. In fact, millions of refugees are facing the same challenges that Jesus faced then, from political to religious persecution, from war to natural disasters, and so on, and countless others are caught up in the spiral of refugeehood around the world today. In fact, the refugee crisis is not far from our present situation. From news reports, we know that after the civil war in Syria, the crisis in Afghanistan has started a new round of exodus in the Middle East. Perhaps we may ask, how are they fleeing? How do the refugees plan their escape? Where will they flee to? How will they meet up with other families on the way? Those who are not refugees, or who have never been in contact with this group, may have to speculate.

Beginning in November, the Refugee Ministry Group is launching a series of articles on refugees during Advent. We hope to raise awareness among believers and the church about the issues facing the refugee community in Hong Kong today, as they look forward to the coming of Jesus. One article per month.

Content includes:

  • Identity, Humanity, Solidarity 

  • Struggle and Suffering of Refugees 

  • Support v Empowerment for Refugees 

  • Children's Day: Child Refugees 

  • Hope for Refugees (via Testimonials)

  • Refugee Sunday            

  • World Refugee Day 

Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is also a refugee. He represents concern and recognition for the millions of refugees. Jesus Christ came into the world to live among us, and He offers salvation and blessing to all people in the world.

We are convinced that the perspective and awareness that the incarnate Jesus is also a refugee will help us to understand more deeply the connection between the Lord and this community, and thus encourage believers and the Church to see refugees with the heart of Christ, to understand and care for them as if they cared for and loved our Lord Jesus.
 

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Identity • Humanity • Solidarity

Pastor Farmer

/ Dec. 24, 2021

I would like to share the experiences of my life in Hong Kong. I have faced many difficulties in the last three years. When I came with my family to Hong Kong from the Middle East,  I did not know anyone or anything. I had zero English proficiency. It took me a long time to adapt to the new living environment. How schools educate in Hong Kong is also very different compared to my country. In an attempt to maintain my level of academic achievements, I suffered and felt upset and frustrated. Another difficulty is the living situation. The cost of living is very expensive in Hong Kong. I am the eldest son and feel responsible to maintain the quality of living for my family. However, for many reasons, I do not work which means I have no income. All in all, it is certainly not easy when you move to a completely new country seeking asylum.

 

I have joined many courses in Hong Kong, however, a year ago I was selected to join a course called “Resolve.” It’s about justice and racial equality in Hong Kong. I acquired knowledge in how I can fight for human rights legally and how to become a leader in my community. That was incredible. I just graduated from Resolve a few months ago. At Union Church Hong Kong, I joined the ALPHA course and I learnt more about Christianity. These are amazing opportunities. I have worked hard to overcome difficulties. I try my best to learn the language so I can communicate with people around me. I have developed harmonious relationships with many people in this new city. I see all these difficulties as challenges because I think this is a challenge for me and I want to win it.

 

The Christian community in Hong Kong has good contacts with refugees and helps them as best they can. I have a very good relationship with Union Church Hong Kong. This church has become part of my body because they help me and I am very happy. I feel that there is one eye looking after me and caring for me and being honest. This has helped make changes and I have learned about the humanity that we missed in my country. And I believe that these values come to us – love, peace, support and freedom – are from God and from those in the Christian community.

 

My dreams are to complete my high school education. I am doing my best to continue studying and I am looking for support to get to University. As you know, people seeking asylum here have no income – how can I continue my study? I believe that nothing is difficult for God. He will provide me a way to achieve my dream and I would like to help my community by my knowledge, education and experiences. I would like to fight for human rights in the Middle East, fight for freedom. People there are missing freedom.
 

Spiritually, I would like to share from my experience of Hong Kong. We need to educate people around the world about Christianity, especially in the Middle East, because there is a misconception of what we have learned about Christianity. What I mean is that there is a false image of Christianity. But for me, I got a chance to live among them, and I discovered that they are not as I learned. What I have seen is that they call for peace, for love, and want to help, which is what we need in the Middle East. I am willing to work on spreading the love and peace throughout all the world. For me, humanity goes first and if we have the humanity we will find the love and peace will be easy. This is what I want to share. God bless you all.

Struggle and suffering of refugees

Aimé Girimana

/ Jan. 28, 2022

Historically, people have been fleeing persecution and wars since Jesus’ time then during the political revolutions. The most known crisis is the Jewish persecution, but the world was still giving another interpretation to such kind of Migration. The word “REFUGEE” was not used until 1951, after the first and second world wars when United Nations come together and decided on how should be called this group of people who were forced to leave their countries. That was in line of looking for a way to help this suffering community members who basically left everything behind for safety reasons because of their Race, religious belief, Nationality, Political opinion, or their social Group and without hope to return home in the near future.


Sadly, this phenomenon looks like it will continue to impact the communities ‘lives which is turning to be a global truth.


In fact, long ago, Jesus family went through the same situation and became refugees, then the Jewish community, later they were refugees from Middle East, from Rwanda, From Egypt, Syria and list goes on and on. Today, we are talking about refugees from Afghanistan. The question we can ask ourselves now is:  From where will come the next refugees? Nobody can answer this question. In other words, unfortunately, becoming a refugee may happen to anyone at any time. Looking at the political instabilities, it is difficult to tell who is safe from becoming a refugee.


Though the history and the near past seem to tell us so, everyone expects tomorrow to be better or at least to be the same as today. But unwanted circumstances may change any time where, without choice, you have to make a decision to leave your country and your beloved family and live in foreigner land as a refugee.


Do refugees still deserve to be called” Human beings” like anyone else in the hosted countries? The answer is yes. Do refugees have lost their identities to bear the refugee identity? The answer is No.
They are our brothers and sisters who have the same needs and should have the same right as YOU. The only difference between A REFUGEE AND YOU are only CIRCUMSTANCES.


Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is a different story. Refugees are suffering and struggling around the world including in Hong Kong. They are wrongly labeled as abusers of the systems or illegal migrants.


That is a very sad situation which is fully related to a lack of understanding of their circumstances.
The results are that rich countries are trying to close the doors to refugees which is the case today, governments are providing inadequate welfare, refugees are denied legal representation, length of the refugee process is too long, refugees are discriminated, and are victims of negative rhetoric from officials and big newsletters.


Think about living in Hong Kong without work!

Imagine, if you are a father or a mother not able to provide even a chocolate bar to your child!

Imagine if you were not able to give a birthday gift to your son or to your daughter! Imagine if you were not able to pay your child’s school uniform or buy him a ball pen! Imagine if you were given only HK$40 (not cash) per day, to buy only ingredients in only one shop! 


This is the situation and lives of Refugees in Hong Kong. Eating and sleeping!  Such a west!


Will you say that you are living or surviving?


In short, refugees are not able to make any choices in their lives but rely on others. Their expectations of a better tomorrow or same tomorrow as today do not exist as their lives are not in their hands but in the hands of others. 


A life transformed from a GIVER and ACTIVE person to a RECEIVER and PASSIVE person.


Unfortunately, this situation can last for years and in some cases for decade.


Thankfully, they are Churches and Organizations who have understood their situation and help them materially, legally, and spiritually; by providing food and cooking material, clothing, legal advice and spiritual and financial support as well as learning activities.


How about you? How can you help?


BE INFORMED: Get to know why there are refugees in our city and the reason they come to seek protection from where you are. They are not here to look for a better life but for safety reasons
GET INVOLVED: As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead, so
Treat refugees as you wish to be treated (Leviticus 19: 33-34 – Welcome them – Love them – Feed them – cloth them (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) – Seek and do Justice for them

We are all equal regardless our social status for we are all children of God including refugees.
So, they deserve to be looked at as our brothers and sisters, our neighbors! 


“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me “(Matthew 25:40)


I believe that a good deed will always follow the one who did it and as Christians we are reminded here that whatever we do to our neighbor will affect our last judgement
 

Support for and Empowerment of Refugees

Chris Ng Tsz Nok

(Branches of Hope)

/ Feb. 25, 2022

“Helping refugees? Benefaction should be left to the charities!” “Aren’t we locals struggling enough and
are we now talking about serving the foreigners? How?” Hong Kong has always seen itself as an
international metropolis. Is discussion about hospitality towards foreigners in the midst of the current
context an unrealistic bunkum, or a topic for chitchats among a small group of people?


In Hong Kong, our understanding of refugees* is often constructed by the media reports we are exposed to. Armed conflicts, dangerous intercontinental crossings by sea… These are scenarios and narratives that imbued us, gradually developing into the image of what we think “refugees” should be. However, the refugee community living among us is seldom reported by the local media, and not many are interested in understanding their experience. It is particularly due to this hiddenness of their context that, as we explore into support for and empowerment of refugees, we should not overlook the reasons behind the difficult context in which they live in, nor expect to find immediate solutions that serve as a panacea to enable to them to be self-sufficient. We have to look at the context from the refugees’ perspectives, in order to discern the mission God is giving us with them.


To better understand refugees in Hong Kong, other than understanding the powerless reality facing them, it is even more important for us to see the disempowered context in which they live. Seeking protection in Hong Kong implies them losing everything that they used to enjoy in their home countries. Perhaps you were once an engineer, but because of your immigration status here, you are disallowed to be employed.


Maybe you used to have your own property and land, but because of your immigration status here, you can only rely on the support from the government or other people, barely enough to rent a small room, or even become homeless. You may have dreamt of becoming a doctor, but because of your immigration status here, and the inability to gather the amount needed to pay an international student’s tuition fee for tertiary education, you could only lay the plan aside. The powerlessness of refugees began when they crossed the border and arrived in a foreign place, and experienced the structural disempowerment. This is not because of their laziness or commitment of crimes, but due to persecution that they had to unwillingly flee from their homeland, where they were familiar with, to a powerless situation.


When the Israelites left Egypt where they were enslaved, they were commanded by God: When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt;


I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34, NASB) God knew clearly that the Israelites viewed these
strangers as outsiders, therefore He deliberately reminded them to love them as natives. Refugees may speak different languages from us, or upholding an unfamiliar faith, or even practising customs that are seemingly incomprehensible to us. God specifically commanded us to be hospitable to these strangers.


We cannot see the weaknesses in them and take advantage of their vulnerabilities, exploit them into
powerlessness. Empowerment is the process of restoring one’s identity in God. “I am the LORD your God.” This is not only a reminder for the Israelites back in those days, but also a timely wake-up call for us today. God is not just our God. In His eyes, refugees and us are all created by Him as His beloved. Our identity was coined by God and only He can define one’s identity. We are equally loved in Christ. Empowerment is about the necessity of refugees having their identity reinstated in Christ, after losing it in the process of disempowerment. This seemingly abstract concept is in fact mandating us to review the attitude we should hold towards these brothers and sisters.


Refugees lose their basic necessities through the process of disempowerment. If we insist that they can immediately find their footings and live a normal life, it is utterly disregarding the powerless reality facing them. If we choose to look away from their struggles and burden other than clothing, food, accommodation, travel, we are indeed hiding our face from our brothers and sisters. Support and empowerment often focuses on material needs, but this should not be the end of it, since this is only part of us. The late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that the first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Refugees experience loss and suffering, arrive in an unfamiliar place carrying the trauma, while having to face a disempowering context. Only through listening and trying to understand what they have experienced can we discern what they need with God given wisdom.


Our differences should not be distinguishing us from them, but rather encourage us to embrace them as participants in the community – we should not keep refugees as beneficiaries who can only be on the receiving end, but allow them to rebuild their identity in Christ within the community, and enable them to rediscover their gifts and bless others through their service.


Support for and empowerment of refugees should not depend on momentary sensations, nor be based on calculation of different stakeholders’ interests and political consideration. We have to see the commonality between us and refugees, which is the fact that only God can establish our identity as His children, and brothers and sister for each other. God does not intend us to privatize what we have been given, but through our deeds that refugees can see their promised identity as God’s children. Serving brothers and sisters should not remain in charity and donation. Instead, as their identity is almost hidden to the point that they do not exist, we should walk with refugees with God’s authority, since they are His beloved.


If we have experienced God’s love and truly believe that His provision suffices, may we humbly learn in Christ to embrace refugees, whom we may not be familiar with, but are deeply loved by God – the least of our brothers.


*Note: The term “refugees” is used broadly to refer to all those who are seeking protection in Hong Kong, including refugees and non-refoulement claimants.

Refugee children in Hong Kong

Isabella Ng, Sharice Choi

(Hong Kong Society for Asylum Seekers & Refugees)

/ Mar. 31, 2022

According to UNHCR, there are approximately 26.4 million refugees around the world in 2020, more than half of whom are under the age of 18. Many refugees spent their childhoods in misery. They may have been separated from their families, displaced; many witnessed or suffered violence, and even suffered abuse, trafficking or forced military service when fleeing.

 

Status of 900 refugee children in Hong Kong

There are around 900 refugee children currently living in Hong Kong. Many of whom were born in Hong Kong, but they cannot resettle in Hong Kong, nor can they become permanent residents. This is mainly because the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees signed by China does not extend to Hong Kong, and thus Hong Kong has no obligation to host refugees. Nonetheless, Hong Kong became the signatory of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) since 1992, which stipulates that States Parties shall ensure its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction (Article 12 of UNCAT). Its main role is to ensure that any person who lodge torture claim or non-refoulment claim in Hong Kong cannot be arbitrarily deported, or sent to a country where there is reasonable ground to believe that he/she will be tortured in that country. Therefore, the refugee children can only stay as non-refoulement claimants in Hong Kong. As soon as their claims are reviewed and finalized, they may be deported to their country of origin, or sent to another country that hosts refugees.

 

People seeking asylum in Hong Kong are permitted to lodge non-refoulement claim only after their visa expired. The claimants are forced to breach the Hong Kong Immigration Ordinance by overstaying. Refugee children who came to Hong Kong with their parents or were born in Hong Kong are treated the same as the adult non-refoulement claimants. Some refugee children do not enjoy the right of abode in Hong Kong even though they were born in Hong Kong. Since they do not have Chinese ancestry as prescribed by law, and also both parents are non-refoulement claimants, their birth certificates indicate their status as "Not established". They will not be granted the right of abode in spite of ordinarily residing in Hong Kong for seven years. As a non-refoulement claimant, the lives of refugee children are restricted in various aspects such as education, daily lives or basic needs. Moreover, since they are considered to be violating the Immigration Ordinance, they are not allowed to travel in and out of Hong Kong freely, and cannot travel overseas for training, or competitions or study tours like ordinary children of the same age.

 

Living difficulties and marginalization

For housing allowance, each refugee child will receive HK$750 every month from the International Social Service (ISS). They used to receive the same rent subsidy of HK$1500 as their parents after the age of three, but ISS is tightening the allowance for refugee children. Many children cannot receive the same amount as their parent. In terms of the food allowance, all refugee children receive HK$1500 which is the same as adult non-refoulement claimants, in the form of Smart Card payment. Furthermore, the smart card can only buy food items and milk powder, excluding snacks such as candy and ice cream. As parents have no right to work and no financial support, children do not have money to buy toys, and they cannot borrow books from the public libraries, and unable enjoy the happiness that ordinary children can enjoy.

 

Not only do the refugee children encounter various difficulties in life, but also suffer from the institutional injustice and being marginalized.  The statelessness has left the refugee children with an "original sin", this is because the government forced the non-refoulement claimants to follow certain measures after overstaying. Because they have "criminal records", in addition to being unable to travel freely, they have to report to the immigration centre regularly like adult non-refoulement claimants. They cannot be exempted from reporting to the immigration centre even if they have to attend schools, which is a big nuisance to their study and is akin to suspects who are released on bail. As a result, such policy has turned the innocent refugee children into "criminals" and being treated unequally and discriminated against. As for education, the refugee children are required to obtain the “No Objection Letter” from the Immigration Department before applying for school admission. Although the government has increased education subsidies for books and school uniforms since 2017, it is insufficient to meet children's learning needs. They still have to rely on the support of religious groups or NGOs. During the pandemic, schools have suspended face-to-face teaching and switched to online teaching. Their status makes it difficult for them to register for wireless networks, and the government has not provided support for purchasing computers or installing wireless networks, making their learning process more difficult.

 

Lack of legal protection for the best interests of children

Additionally, refugee children may face separation from their parents. Hong Kong entered a general reservation to the convention over immigration issues when it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Also, UN(CRC) is not incorporated into local laws. This means that the rights of refugee children cannot be protected. Some non-refoulement claimants who are legally married in Hong Kong have applied for merging their claims to the Immigration Department but were rejected. The Hong Kong government has not sought any diplomatic solution to solve the issue. Therefore, once their non-refoulment claims are finalized, different family members will all be sent back to their respective countries of origin, and their children will have to leave with one of the parents. For those families that have only one of the parents being a Hong Kong resident and the other a claimant, a child will be forced to separate from either the father or the mother when the parent who holds the non-refoulement claim is rejected and subject to deportation. In this case, while Hong Kong is the signatory of UNCRC, it has failed to protect the best interest of the child.

Children are our present and our future. Little Jesus was once a refugee, too! Jesus’s parents Joseph and Mary had to flee with Jesus to Egypt so as to escape from Herod’s grand slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth and survival bring hope and continuation of mankind. As children of God, shouldn’t we care, support and protect these asylum-seeking and refugee children more than ever under the premise of love and kindness?

Hope for Refugees - A testimony

Namagembe Adella

/ Apr. 22, 2022

My name is Namagembe Adella, I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.


My testimony is based on gifts of the Holy Spirit. 


I would like you to know that no one who is led by God’s spirit can say “A curse on Jesus!” and no one can confess “Jesus is Lord.” Unless he is guided by the Holy spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3-11


There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same spirit gives them different ways of servings, but the same Lord is served. 


There is a gift of ability for their particular service. 


Sometimes, I don’t want to speak out because I know very well that all human beings they don’t know how God works through Holy Spirit anyway I don’t blame them but I feel that they will not agree, take the message I tell them at times some doubt it.


I thank God for the gift of speaking God’s message. At first personally I didn’t know that really I have that gift but I came to realize and confirm it due to several experience I went through in life and which I continue to experience here in Hong Kong. 

I was born from a religious family and grew praying but when I was young I was not so focused on how to ask God will any other young child not until I grew up, then I started to pray following God’s guidance in prayers which states in Bible Mathew 7:7-8 (to seek God first then the rest will follow or given to me. Ask I will receive and knock the door will be opened for me” Good things will be opened for me”.


Every day I commit myself to God in all ways. If I don’t do it I feel confused, not settled, no peace, no joy. 


The day becomes disorganized whatever I do.


In life I leave, walk, guided by the spirit. 


One day I didn’t have a mattress because by then I was still (new) in HK but I had a room without anything. At night I sat down on the floor I laid down a blanket I slept on it and covered myself with a bed sheet.

 
I sat on the blanket and prayed as I was going to sleep at night. 


The following morning, I went out to find things to use in the room as it was new “empty room”.


At night as I was going back to my new room, passing by the (garbage) collecting place, I had a voice instructing to look at the (garbage) place, as a looked there I saw a brand new double bed mattress (Good quality), I went closer, checked it, turned it and carried it into my room, made a bed and miraculously I received. 


I was so happy, shared with my friend, and thanked God for it.


Through the speaking message of God I told my (colleagues) “fellow asylum seekers (Asire Asaba) had told me to tell her that her case is soon to be approved let her get ready, when I saw her I told her what God told me. She doubted what I told her but it passed only one week, Immigration approved her case, granted her refugee status to Canada. 


After that she came running so happy looked for me and told me that what I told her had happened.

2-secondly after time passed again, there (are) was an old man called Benjamin we used to pray with him in fellowship, God showed me in vision when Immigration officer checked his file, stamping papers God told me look for him and tell Benjamin that is the next to go will be granted refugee status. 


In fact when we went for fellowship, he delayed to come then I said where will I find him, I couldn’t settle until I told him. 


Also he did accept that will happen “But I told him that God said Benjamin you(r) are next to go” he laughed so much with doubt. Just few weeks passed he was granted refugee status and now is in USA.

Thirdly, Philipo’s family. It was also through vision God told me when to find Philipo to tell him that not to be so worried his (plus) line family are the next to be granted refugee status. I used to keep distance from him because was married but God said I must tell and unless I did it I couldn’t settle in anything I was to do that day.

So after fellowship I called him, he came near me and I told him I have a message for you, asked me which message? Tell me? I told him God told you not to get worried so much but these days from today pray so so so much than you ever prayed because soon you are going to be granted a refugee status don’t take these words for a joke, Philip(o) responded to me yes, He was gonna do it. 

One month passed Philipo came to church so happy. Whispered to me what I told him happened. Shock my hands.

 

Fourthly, In vision it happened to me several times on Saturday nights I was in deep sleep but singing with asylum congregation some (hymns) of songs, those songs whatever song I sing in vision is the exact “very first hymn of song” was sung on every beginning of worshiping.

Fifth, there was a time in vision passed years God showed a pair of shoes, the following morning I had a voice guiding where to go and passed. I followed it, the exact color, type, design of shoes I saw in the vision I found it that day where I passed. 


Sixth, sometimes in vision, Go instructs me what to do, guides me.

Seventh, God shows somethings which I cannot speak openly but immediately happens. 

Eighth, I follow the voice of God by moving with spirit in all ways. I don’t have any doubt in Holy Spirit is at work all the time days and night.

I pray that had blessed whoever seeks him will find him. In Jesus name. Amen.
 

World Refugee Day

Sherman Chau

(Island Evangelical Community Church)

/ Jun. 20, 2022

As I write this for World Refugee Day 2022, the last year has been the most encouraging in all the years of working with refugees. In the last 10 months, we have seen four families resettled to Canada, with two more families who will move there in the coming weeks. Some of them received news of their acceptance just before Covid. When Covid delayed their departure , we worried that they might lose the chance entirely, but sure enough, the moment when travel opened up again, they left for a brighter future in a country where they could start new lives, find work and pursue a path to citizenship. We rejoice for those who have been resettled to another country, but there are still around 13,000 refugees in Hong Kong who are here waiting. 

 

The life of refugees in Hong Kong is defined by years of waiting, easily 10 years or more. During this time, they are not allowed to work, which causes stress and anxiety from having to find ways to make ends meet. The monthly allowance they receive from the government ($1500 for rent, $1200 in supermarket vouchers, $300 for utilities and money for transportation) is insufficient for daily life.

 

Discouragement sets in when they face some of their best years swallowed up in lost time and lost dreams. Discouragement often turns to despair and depression.

 

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 ESV

 

The basic and brutal economic truth is that refugees need money in order to survive. But we believe that equally important to giving financial assistance is giving encouragement to help them get through the long years of waiting.

 

FRIENDSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP

Encouragement comes mainly through building friendships with our congregation. When we first started reaching out and welcoming refugees, we had hoped that they would attend our church services and integrate with the main congregation. We soon observed that the divide  on Sunday mornings at our church - a gap in language, culture and Christian culture - was unfortunately too wide and too difficult to bridge. The crowded, fast-paced environment of our church on Sunday was not an ideal setting for developing friendships between refugees and our regular congregation.

 

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you

not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV

 

We began to create special events where our congregants could meet and interact with refugees in smaller groups, more relaxed settings where we could share life together. One of most of the memorable experiences was an Easter retreat to Cheung Chau last year. We had an overall group of 12 families, with half of them from our congregation, who also sponsored the refugee families for the trip. This was the first holiday they had experienced in Hong Kong. The Egyptian families told us that it was very common for families to go on a holiday at Easter so the Easter retreat brought back many memories and created many new ones. We went to the beach together, played sports and games together and ate together. One of the most special memories for me was to see all of our children playing together. Some of these friendships continued on after the retreat. Many of the teens had not tried Island ECC’s youth group, but now with the ice broken and friendships established, it opened the way for the teens to attend Summer Youth Camp where they deepened their faith.

 

We have also had a Chinese New Year party where we help refugees have a better cultural understanding of the holiday traditions by teaching them calligraphy, songs and common Chinese blessings at New Year. In years where we have been able to eat together, we’ve made dumplings together, and the refugees always bring delicious dishes from their culture. This is a time where we can learn more about the cultures in their home countries and who about New Year celebrations and other major holidays.

 

We employed a refugee who had permission to work. It had been many years since he had a job and it was a relearning process. Through his job as a caretaker, we were able to reinforce life skills such as keeping a schedule, communicating with his supervisor and co-workers, and learning “customer service” in serving and helping the congregation. This continued until he found another job in the service industry. In addition to regular monthly support to some refugees, many congregants have supported refugees by donating their Consumption Vouchers to the refugees, who aren’t eligible to receive this, and this has been a great blessing and encouragement to the giver and receiver.

 

The support from church members is vital to keeping up one’s spirits and keep one encouraged. For one refugee, named Y., he has experienced God’s provision through friends from church, which showed him that God could do more than he could ask or imagine. When he lost his cell phone, he thought he would be given an old model as a replacement but a friend blessed with a nearly-new current model. Recently, a crucial operation that was originally scheduled after his departure date for Canada, was inexplicably and miraculously moved earlier to May and the bill was paid by a friend. All of these things have reminded Y. of God’s presence during discouraging times.

 

“God knows what we need. He knows what I need. For me, to be all alone here in Hong Kong, I could only survive here because of Him. If I didn’t have faith, then I can’t make it. It’s been a challenge, but by God’s grace, I am okay. I will miss Hong Kong, this is my second home country. I will miss all the nice people, I’ve made many good friends here. In [the gospel of] John, Jesus says, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

 

It is important to remember that our Lord Jesus was once a refugee. An angel told Joseph to take the Christ child and his mother to Egypt where they would stay until the death of Herod. In all that time, they were “aliens” in Bible terms. Today, they would be known as displaced peoples, asylum seekers, protection claimants or simply refugees. Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Caring for refugees is one of the most direct applications of that verse. To love and care for refugees and asylum seekers is to love our Lord Jesus.