by Andy Chow
The many Chinese who have immigrated to the United States and other Western nations from Hong Kong in the past couple of years present a unique challenge to Christians desiring to share the gospel.
The many Chinese who have immigrated to the United States and other Western nations from Hong Kong in the past couple of years present a unique challenge to Christians desiring to share the gospel. These immigrants are often highly skilled in their own professions, but face handicaps in career development because of the language barrier. Having already been exposed to Western culture, they face less culture shock and fewer assimilation challenges than many other immigrants. Being products of a democratic society, they have known personal freedom and in this way too find it easier to blend into our culture than do many other groups. Still they face many changes in culture, daily life, and the educational system.
We will explore some of the challenges faced by these recent Hong Kong Immigrants (HKI), then suggest some ways that we as Christians can reach out and present Christ to them.
THE CHALLENGES THEY FACE
1. Cultural adaptation. Although the HKI have been brought up in a semi-Western culture, and are quite familiar with what Western society can offer, there is still a sense of change and disruption in their daily life.
a. The language. Though English is widely used in Hong Kong, day to day conversation is still carried on in Cantonese. Having to speak English in most public settings poses a threat and discomfort to many HKI. Men shy away from conversation with coworkers. Homemakers are afraid of associating with neighbors. They tend to cluster within their own language group for stability and security. They read Chinese literature and newspapers, watch Chinese movies on cable TV, attend functions organized by Chinese associations. They know they need to integrate into American society, but the relief and relaxation they find in their own circle tempts them to remain in this comfort zone.
b. The struggle for cultural identity. Many HKI have asked questions such as, What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be a citizen? How much of my cultural heritage can I keep? How much diversity is allowed and how much uniformity is required? These are tough questions, and the answers may not be uniformly applied to everyone. Liberty, equality, and democracy are the glue that bonds Americans as one. In this big melting pot, no one is excluded due to country of origin, race, or background. This is the American way. America is a place where history is shared, cultures and ethnicity are tolerated, new ideologies are allowed.
Many HKI feel lost in this big pool. A popular Chinese proverb says, “born in this place, die in this place.” It is a good reflection of the Chinese mind. These HKI still carry the traditional Chinese thinking that their identity belongs to their clan, family, and community. Once it is broken (as in immigration), the cultural attachment becomes a vacuum and an identity crisis occurs. It is not surprising to see HKI grouping together exclusively without being absorbed into American society. No wonder “Chinatowns” still exist in metropolitan cities.
c. A sense of global isolation. Many HKI are displeased with the American media, feeling that it has a narrow and inadequate coverage of world events. There is too much national and local news and not enough significant world news. In Hong Kong, they feel, there was a conscious balance between global and local news coverage. Many of them now feel isolated from world events, unless they have access to cable TV.
d. A sense of local isolation. Many HKI came to the United States with healthy financial support. They usually purchase bigger and newer homes in the suburbs. But with the resultant longer traveling distances, many homemakers feel trapped and isolated. The feeling of “you are on your own” hits home to many HKI, and this often leads to depression.
2. Daily life.
a. Transportation. Hong Kong is geographically a small city where public transportation abounds—buses, mini-buses, taxis, subways, trains, trams, and ferries. For most people there, visiting, shopping, schooling, dining out, and working are all withinwalking distance. Owning an automobile can be more of a hindrance than a help. When the HKI first arrive in America, they are amazed by the vast land and the travel time and distance from one place to another. Many lament that in America, not knowing how to drive and not owning an automobile is like having a body without legs! To many HKI, learning to drive is one of the toughest tasks to conquer: The danger of causing accidents, the fear of traveling 50-plus miles per hour on an open highway, and the stress from stop and go traffic constantly haunt them.
b. Insurance. HKI tend to see America as a country of insurance. Auto, house, medical, dental, mortgage, house title, travel, and even wedding rings need to be insured. They feel forced into buying insurance for protection they may never need. Dealing with agents and lengthy documents, and constant instructions to “sign here” hold the HKI in hostage to this wild beast of insurance.
Health insurance is a special concern. In Hong Kong, medical coverage is quite affordable. Here the monthly premium skyrockets if no group plan is available. Many HKI start their own little trading businesses in their homes and soon discover the high cost of medical and business insurance.
c. Career. One of the most depressing struggles these HKI face is the continuation of their careers. As noted, many of them are skilled professionals, but their particular expertise may not be relevant in this country. Police chief, stock market agent, actor, travel agent, fireman, specialized doctor—though these occupations are found here as well as in Hong Kong, they come with a different set of regulations and requirements. If these HKI want to continue their profession, they have to study it over again in English in order to obtain adequate credentials. This hinders and discourages many HKI. Meanwhile, they still have to support their families. Many of them are forced to make career changes, taking on more labor-intensive jobs such as janitorial or delivery positions, resulting in feelings of betrayal and inadequacy.
d. Housing. Housing is very expensive in Hong Kong. A home costing $50,000 here could easily cost several million dollars in Hong Kong currency. Many HKI who could only afford apartments in Hong Kong are quickly able to buy single family homes when they arrive here. But little do they realize all that home ownership involves. Yard work, constant fixing, cleaning, and maintenance occupy extra time and energy that they did not need to expend while in Hong Kong. Americans may be glad to maintain their homes as a way to exercise and feel ownership, but the HKI, who come from fast-moving cities, find it troublesome and a waste of time. To them, time and energy should be used wisely on activities that are beneficial financially and socially. They would rather spend Saturday afternoon shopping with friends and doing a little gambling, than fixing their homes.
e. Entertainment. Evenings in Hong Kong can be tremendously exhilarating. Moviegoing, dancing, night clubs, saunas and spas, karaoke, shopping, small-scale gambling offer these city folks a wide variety of entertainment after a hard day’s work. Because Hong Kong is so small, everything can be easily reached by walking or by public transportation. Life here in the States is quite different, and all these activities are not so readily available. Seldom is entertainment performed in Chinese. It is much more difficult to get together with friends for an evening, since people here, in general, are more home-oriented. The HKI need to adjust to this quieter lifestyle.
3. Children’s education.
HKI parents quickly realize the difference between the Hong Kong and American educational systems. Education in Hong Kong concentrates on academic achievement. Knowledge and competition are the main foci. There are many regulations. Students are required to wear uniforms and share the same style of haircut. Academic competition is encouraged.
Here in America, the system is very different: Students are encouraged to express themselveswith unlimited freedom. The student’s rights and selfhood are honored, while the Hong Kong system involves tighter control. Hong Kong students are amazed by how American students can just walk out of the class in front of the teacher without appropriate excuses. To the HKI, such acts are disgraceful to the whole learning community.
They even see this strange new sort of individualism coming into their homes, as their children request privacy from their parents, making the parents feel like the family structure is breaking into little pieces.
Another struggle is the demand of parents to be involved in their children’s schooling. Such involvement is not nearly so common in Hong Kong. HKI parents struggle to find the time for all this extra responsibility.
HKI parents may find it a challenge to tutor their children, since the work is in a language they themselves have yet to master. As a result, many immigrant children struggle to advance in their schooling, and their report cards are not so pleasing to the parents. Because of that, the parents exert more pressure and expectations on the children, making the situation extremely difficult to reconcile.
Having children in school often forces HKI parents into the cultural adaptation that they fear. When their children bring home friends from other ethnic backgrounds, the parents quickly realize that the problem is now at their front door, and they must deal with it head on.
THE CHALLENGE WE FACE
In general, although the HKI are facing many tough changes, challenges, and problems, they do enjoy living in America because of the freedom, the political security, and the many opportunities. The living comfort, the spacious environment, the friendliness of people, and the many good services continue to attract more immigration from Hong Kong. How do we, the Christian community, serve these HKI and build bridges to effectively bring the gospel to them?
1. Provide quality services. Many HKI are not in urgent need financially, but they do need basic services which the Christian community can provide—services such as English classes, culture familiarization, visitation, and counseling. New arrivals will not see spiritual needs as a top priority, so helping them get settled and acquainted with the culture is the most attractive assistance we can offer. We must strive to develop good friendships through meeting their physical and social needs. Once trust is established, their hearts will be more receptive to spiritual discussions.
2. Expand church ministries. Churches must provide support and solid training for those interested in ministering to the HKI. We should not just sit inside our church walls and hope that they will come to us. We must actively reach out to them (Matt. 28:19-20), bringing them the love of Christ, sympathizing with them in their struggles and difficulties, and introducing our great sympathizer, Jesus Christ.
3. Build on their interest in world events. The interest of many HKI in world events can be greatly used by Christians to share the good news. Discussions of current events can provide a conversational bridge as we relate those events to God’s Word, especially in terms of prophecies concerning God’s kingdom.
4. Build a communications network. Most HKI live in suburban areas, rather than in “Chinatown.” This means that ministry to them must often involve a network of Christians committed to communicating among themselves and also facilitating communication, encouragement, and support among various groups of newly arrived HKI (see Heb. 10:24-25).
5. Be aware of their spiritual needs. Although spiritual needs may not be foremost in their minds, all immigrants tend to experience spiritual loneliness shortly after their arrival. Christians should be aware of their immigrant friends and sensitive to this window of opportunity in building gospel bridges to them. The Holy Spirit within us will lead us boldly into this awareness, but we need to prepare ourselves as well.
6. Help them find stability in their changingenvironment. Many HKI would like to settle down as soon as possible. They want to quickly stabilize their changing status. The message of Christ is one of unchangeable stability. In him everything is secured. No matter how changeable the world is, Christ’s love for his people will never change. He is faithful and true for all eternity (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). This message, when clearly presented, can surely offer comfort to the HKI.
7. Help them find eternal security and identity. Many HKI come to the United States for security. They say, “In Hong Kong, we have identity but no security; in the United States, we have found security but have lost identity.” Of course they have chosen to sacrifice some of their identity in order to be politically secure. But Christ offers both identity and security. When we find salvation, we become sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), and that identity surpasses all others on earth. We also find security in Christ, because he promises that we will be with him throughout eternity (Psa. 27:1; Heb. 6:18).
The HKI are one of the most dynamic groups to have emmigrated to the United States in recent years. They are complex in their thinking, zealous in their desire to succeed, skilled in their professions, mature and stable in their lives. It is not easy to bring them the gospel in the old-fashioned ways. We must come before God to ask for wisdom and guidance. This is not a battle of flesh alone, but of principalities and powers from the dark world (Eph. 6:12). Let us hold each other accountable, take up the armor of God (Eph. 6:13-18), and continue to fight the battle with faith, hope, and love from Almighty God.
EMQ, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 308-313. Copyright © 1998 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.