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Hong Kong’s new China ties called God’s unfolding plan

HONG KONG (BP)–Nowadays there are almost as many opinions about the future of the church in Hong Kong as there are Hong Kong Christians.
Speculation aside, many Christian observers say one thing is certain: When the British island of technology and commerce becomes a Special Administrative Region of communist China at the stroke of midnight July 1, God is singling his intent to do something big in the Far East — possibly akin to the shakeup in Eastern Europe just a few years ago.
“These are exciting times worldwide,” said Larry Ingram, administrator for Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board workers in Hong Kong. “This event is only one of many things that have been happening in the latter half of the 20th century that no one could have imagined.
“More and more doors are being opened to the gospel.”
One issue in the changeover is the degree to which it will offer the church in Hong Kong freer access to Chinese people — or, to reverse the tables — to what degree it leaves the influential colony at the mercy of communist Chinese social policies that have buffeted the church in China for decades. Only the future will tell.
“The Mainland Religious Affairs people (Chinese communists) have always insisted that they and the churches in China will not try to influence or interfere with the churches in Hong Kong,” Ingram said. “At the same time, though, they remind us that the churches in Hong Kong should not try to influence or interfere with the mainland churches.”
Under 1984 agreements between Britain and China, the Chinese government must allow the people of Hong Kong to maintain their rights and freedom under current Hong Kong law until the year 2047.
This “one country, two systems” approach decided on by the two world powers clears the way for continued democracy and capitalism in Hong Kong. It promises to provide Hong Kong — in theory, at least — a high degree of autonomy, plus freedom from Chinese social policy.
Foreign Mission Board missionary Don Gardner first arrived in Hong Kong in 1975 and as a seminary professor, pastor and church planter, he sees great promise in the new configuration. “A good and exciting change in church life is that we are expected to reach out to the new immigrants from northern China,” he said. “These numbers increase as we legally have 150 immigrants from China arriving daily.”
The time of change will bring missionaries new and exciting information about China’s churches, Gardner also noted. “I usually welcome change, even though it sometimes threatens me,” he said. “I will be excited to see and learn more about the indigenous church of China. The conceptualization process they experience and develop challenges my theology daily. We’ll see if Hong Kong will develop a new kind of church.”
Hong Kong churches will cooperate with Chinese churches, which include numbers of ordained deacons and pastors, Gardner said. “Churches (in Hong Kong) might have to be stretched out of their comfort zones and traditions. ‘Black and white’ theology that accompanies traditional thinking will be challenged.”
Hong Kong was colonized in the 1800s by the British as a sparsely populated, strategic navy port. Through the years, China and Britain have sparred for the island and surrounding territories. In 1898, the two agreed for Britain to rule it for 99 years, then cede it to China.
Since that agreement, the population has exploded from a few hundred thousand to more than 6 million. This burgeoning metropolis — a key outpost of capitalism and democracy in Asia — has become a testament to materialism. Less than 4 percent of the population is Christian.
“God has blessed Hong Kong in an amazing way,” said Faye Pearson, the Foreign Mission Board’s area director for East Asia. The coming shakeup reflects just another part of God’s unchanging plan — and promises to challenge Hong Kong Christians to expand their vision, she said.
“The Hong Kong church will become more evangelistic because scores of people will come there to work. Hong Kong believers will need to become more involved in lifestyle- and ministry-based evangelism, which will result in starting and strengthening churches,” she said.