2:19 CEO, David Baldwin, has been ‘looking East’ and thinking about the latest wave of people ‘going West’ to settle in the communities around our local churches.
“35,000 hongkongers apply to live in the UK under visa scheme” headlines a recent newspaper article. Since the British National Overseas (BNO) scheme opened in January, ‘more than six times as many Hongkongers as Europeans have applied to live in the UK.’ Priti Patel is said to be ‘delighted’ at the high uptake. But are we going to be ready?
Since when have God’s people been ready for anything?
- The Hebrews weren’t ready to leave behind Egypt’s cucumbers (Numbers 11:5)
- Israel didn’t seem ready to take on giants in the promised land (Numbers 13:31-33)
- Some returning exiles weren’t ready to squeeze into a shrunken temple (Ezra 3:12)
- Key disciples didn’t expect the promised saviour to suffer and die (Matthew 16:21-22)
- The early believers didn’t seem ready to embrace ‘unclean’ Gentiles (Acts 10)
- Christians never seem ready for inevitable suffering (1 Peter 4:12)
OK, I’m deliberately picking the best examples of the worst unreadiness! But you take my point.
Actually it’s hardly surprising that we’re usually a few steps behind the curve. The Lord is always working out his eternal purposes (Ephesians 1:3-10) and we self-serving mortals are often confused and surprised.
Despite this mismatch, the Lord calls his people to be characterised by readiness of many kinds:
- Be prepared to learn from the wise (Proverbs 8:33-34)
- Be wary because of false prophets (Matthew 7:15)
- Be on your guard so you can stand strong in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:13)
- Be willing and ready to suffer for Christ (Philippians 3:10)
- Be watchful of the devil’s schemes (1 Peter 5:8)
- Be prepared to give an answer about your faith (1 Peter 3:15)
- Be ready for the end times ( 1 Peter 4:7)
- Be alert for the return of the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13)
The Chronicler singles out one group of Israelites for particular praise. People were flocking to David on his rise to the throne and some, from the tribe of Issachar, stood out as those who ‘… understood the times and knew what Israel should do…’ (1 Chronicles 12:32).
So what do UK Christians need to understand about the times and be ready to do in 2021?
The BBC reported this January that: ‘The UK will introduce a new visa … that will give 5.4 million Hong Kong residents – a staggering 70% of the territory’s population – the right to come and live in the UK, and eventually become citizens.’ Others may come as asylum seekers.
Nobody knows exactly how many people from Hong Kong will come, the government estimates 300,000, and many have already made the journey. Some are already Christians, looking for welcoming churches, other won’t be Christians and will need to hear the gospel. Either way, the biblical command to ‘love the stranger’ (Leviticus 19:34) never seemed so apposite.
That’s why Welcome Churches is fronting the ‘Hong Kong Ready’ scheme. We at 2:19 want to flag this great initiative.
The basic idea is that UK churches sign up to indicate their readiness to greet and welcome people from Hong Kong into their communities:
We are equipping churches to be ‘Hong Kong Ready’, by training churches to give a good welcome. The training is being developed by the Welcome Churches team, and other experts in Hong Kong culture who are also giving their time to this project. Through receiving our training, you will learn to work cross-culturally, learn more about the culture and values of people arriving in the UK from Hong Kong and how you can give a good Welcome to those coming to your community. You will be able to access our training online, once your church has signed up to the UKHK Church Network.
Hundreds of churches have already signed up, and why wouldn’t you?!
But I was wondering whether the best welcome would come from existing UK churches or newer Chinese churches? I called my friend Enoch to ask his opinion. Enoch is involved in leading the Sheffield Chinese Christian Church  and has considered the pros and cons of mono-ethnic fellowships at length.
‘Both Chinese churches and existing UK churches are important,’ explained Enoch, ‘Chinese churches like SCCC don’t need the cross-cultural training parts of the scheme, but the maps are really helpful. I can quickly see which churches have signed up to be Hong Kong Ready and where they are across the city. We want to partner well with them.’
For some people, Enoch reflects, a Chinese church may be what they need. Others, however, may be better welcomed by the established churches. ‘Integration into UK society is also really important,’ Enoch observes. ‘British churches can help people both spiritually and practically. Welcoming people from Hong Kong is more than just a thing to do and tick off the list, it’s about providing them with a warm and friendly environment as a base from which they can learn to integrate into broader society.’
Since the scheme opened, 8-9 HK ‘units’ have already made their way to SCCC with 5-6 more in other churches across Sheffield. ‘We can’t do everything ourselves,’ Enoch comments, ‘We need help from other churches.’
Paul made it clear to the Athenians that God has always been in control of the nations, their places and their movements. ‘ … and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.’ (Acts 17:26-27).
So let’s get ready! Has your church signed up? Why not check with your church leaders and join the hundreds of churches looking to ‘love the strangers’ joining us from Hong Kong. One thing is for sure, if you and your church reaches out to bless some of these Hongkongers, they will certainly be a blessing to you in return.
Reflecting on this mutuality, let’s give Enoch the last word; ‘Local churches can really benefit from the work of the Spirit in Chinese Christians too, being enriched by their gifts. Welcoming people from Hong Kong is far from one way traffic!’
(with thanks to Enoch Cheng, Sheffield Chinese Christian Church and Oak Hill College graduate, ‘Old Oak’)
 The Times newspaper, 28th May, 2021.
 Enoch notes that the main ‘units’ to come are families and individuals, such as recent graduates.