A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13 June 2010 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 2:13-15.
· The United Nation has designated June 20 the World Refugee Day. This has reminded the Church to care for the millions of refugees in the world. This is a day for the Church to remember our Lord God has never forgotten the cries of the refugees who are living in a foreign land as strangers, or as aliens.
· Roy has prepared a slide to share with us about refugee today in his place where he is from. (slide show)
My encounter with asylum seekers and refugees – share, love and grow
- Although I have never experienced what the asylum seekers go through, as shared by Roy in his slides. I may still not fully understand their trauma and pains. But I feel for them.
- Now, the refugee is not someone distant and far away from my life. I have had a chance to know and share the life struggles of asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong after I started my Christian ministry at Kowloon Union Church.
- When I began getting in touch with the asylum seekers, I not only met them in the church. I went to visit a few of them in the psychiatric hospital and the detention center. When I heard their stories and experience, I shared their sorrow and sense of grief. It was very disheartening.
Life is difficult for asylum seekers/refugee in HK, below is a brief summary:
- They have had to stay away from their loved ones; future is uncertain as they have to wait for years of their application being assessed.
- They endure isolation, without good social and emotional support, especially at after first arriving in Hong Kong. There is the language problem. Many speak no Chinese and English. Ninety percent of the asylum seekers come from South East Asia; ten percent are from Africa.
- They have no right to work so they have financial problems. They have to depend on others’ mercy for help
- They have health problems due to bad nutrition and traumatic experiences
- They are discriminated against, which I observed first-hand when I went to help an asylum seeker from Africa rent a room. Many landlords are reluctant to rent their rooms to asylum seekers because of their color and stereotypes. They think they are smelly and will bring them troubles.
A faith-based reflection on asylum seekers and refugees
God’s asylum seekers and refugees who stay away from home their countries and move to a foreign place are strangers, the word ‘aliens’ is used in the Revised New Standard Version, while ‘foreigners’ is used in the Good New Bible version. From the Christian faith point of view, God has indicated to his/her people and the church how to live with them.
First of all, Jesus was a refugee. Right after his birth, his life was threatened for the King Herold wanted to kill him. Joseph, Jesus’ father took him and his mother Mary to leave their home in Israel and stayed in Egypt.
God being incarnated as a refugee is a strong pointer for us who believe in Jesus Christ to be connected to people who are seeking asylum and looking for refuge in order to find a peaceful life.
According to the Law, God has also given his/her people a clear command how to treat the foreigners/strangers/aliens. Obviously asylum seekers and refugees fall into this category.
According to Leviticus 19:33-34, the Israelites were not to oppress the strangers/foreigners/aliens. Not only do we not oppress them, we should treat them as natives/citizens, and love them as ourselves.
Our assistant minister Maggie who is from Scotland, has shared that Hong Kong is not her home. But she feels at home in here. Feeling at home is important for people who are not natives. It is especially true when they first arrive in Hong Kong.
Feel at home…what is that like if people feel at home?
A little poster gives me some key words to share:
A home is where we share, love and grow.
We share this space in HK with foreigners, asylum seekers, refugees, etc… We share our resources with them by giving them basic life necessities – food, accommodation, transportation...
When we share, we need to share with a sense of respect and love. We should never share and give out of a sense of superiority.
An important aspect of making people feel at home is – they feel that they are fully respected and accepted as who they are, regardless of their race, nationality, social status and so on.
We respect foreigners/strangers/aliens and treat them as full human being. The reason is simple and direct. We are all equal and precious in God’s view, as we were created in God’s holy image. God will never judge us according to our race, nationalities and social status.
When God command his/her people to love the strangers as themselves, God ended with “I am the Lord, your God” This is very remarkable for believers and Church to remember.
We need to remember that God is source of everything. All our provision is from God, without whom we are nothing. We need to pay deep respect to God and follow God’s words and deeds.
When God said, “I am the Lord, your God”, God also reminded the Israelites of their community history. They were foreigners and strangers in Egypt before. We people need to remember our history and learn from it. God’s people who have been liberated by God should do the same for others for God’s sake.
The Israelite history has led me to remember a large influx of refugees to Hong Kong from China in the 50s and 60s. My parents and grandmother were one of those. They came to Hong Kong looking for peace and new life because of the changes in political regime by the Communist Party and social unrest. We Chinese should therefore remember that our parents and grandparents are strangers and outsiders of Hong Kong before. At that time, they were allowed to settle. They were given opportunities to work and rebuild their families. We should therefore be generous to share with those who come after us and treat them well.
Genuine sharing with others is a demonstration of love. This love is coming from God and we realize that we are connected, and being empowered by the Holy Spirit in Christ.
Our Church’s response
KUC has been supporting asylum seekers/refugees in different ways for many years. During the 50s and 60s, the church had distributed milk powder and other daily necessities to refugees.
Today, the KUC continues this ministry. The church has demonstrated support to organizations providing direct services and legal advice to asylum seekers and refugees, such as Christian Actions and Hong Kong Refugee Advice Center. Besides, we have joined the Church Network on Refugee, which has been established to effect a better coordinated effort to support asylum seekers and refugee in Hong Kong.
In our mission and outreach ministry, we have promoted a peace making program to arouse concern for asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong.
While as asylum seekers and refugees are temporarily staying in Hong Kong, if more people would understand them and warmly receive them, they would feel more at home. This would help to reduce distress from their already stressful live situation. After three years experience, I find it a worthy ministry. By sharing with people in Hong Kong, especially the youth from the churches, schools and non-government organization such as Red Cross, we are able to sow the seeds of love and peace. It is very impressive to hear their laughter and see their joyful faces when they were mingled so well and received warmly by the local people in HK.
We grow together
A home is where we share, love and grow. In the asylum seekers ministry in which our church has been engaged, I am impressed and grateful to see when we serve, we learn and gain more than we give to others. In struggling together with the asylum seekers, and demonstrating solidarities with them, we are able to experience the deeper meaning of love and faith, as well as the mystery of pains and sufferings.
Jesus was a refugee. Why was God incarnated in the world as a refugee right at the beginning? The importance of Jesus being a refugee was God’s total identification and full understanding of refugees. Jesus had the first hand experience of being persecuted and placed in a foreign land.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us join hands and heart to make asylum seekers/refugees who are strangers/aliens of the society, feel at home. This is our calling as God’s people, as the Church of God!
I am the Lord of your God. --- God is source of life, source of love. In God we are ONE. We should break the ‘us’ and ‘them’. Let Jesus' words resound in our hearts: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35)
Whenever we are in God through Jesus Christ, we are able to create a family of love, with everybody feeling at home.
Dear friends, you are always welcome to join us to offer hospitality and solidarity to strangers and make them feel at home. May God bless us and give us strength to do so. Amen.