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Bringing Home Closer to You

September 28, 2012

I recall a comment from an Australian friend who came to work in Hong Kong about 15 years ago. She said her biggest surprise was that the city was so “Chinese”. That might seem to be an odd statement. But remember, Hong Kong was a British colony at the time. Nonetheless, Hong Kong has always been a very “Chinese” city – with around 96% of the population being ethnic Chinese.

A few months ago, I had the chance to consider the other 4% of Hong Kong’s residents.  I was invited to speak at a conference on radio broadcasting and migrant rights. This was a challenge. Though I produce ecumenical radio programs for the public broadcaster RTHK, I had not put the two topics together in such a direct way before. However, Hong Kong has over 300,000 migrant workers, mostly women from Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand on contract as domestic helpers for Chinese families. Surely I had something to say.

The theme that ran throughout my talk was the image of ‘home’.  I got the idea from a radio program for overseas Filipinos with the slogan “bringing HOME closer to you.” While most migrants are eager to hear the language, music, news and entertainment from their native land, they also long for a hospitable ‘home’ in the places where they move to live and work. Hong Kong is famous for welcoming people from all over the world, but the city does not necessarily treat everyone equally.

I decided to make that point by letting the conference listen to one of our English programs where the topic happened to be on migrants. The speaker was a local Chinese pastor.  In her five-minute broadcast, she said:

Foreign domestic workers are the minorities who are marginalized. They enjoy the least rights and respect in our community. Although they have been contributing so much to families and the community at large, they are not well recognized and accepted as part of us. They are still regarded as outsiders though they are an integral part of our society.

…the foreign domestic workers should never be taken as scapegoats of the government’s ineffective policies and social discontent. The negative sentiment generated and accusation against the domestic workers is unfair. Hatred towards foreigners is equally dangerous to the society at large.

God created man and women in God’s own image. Therefore everyone is a child of God and entitled to basic human rights. All should be treated equally and with dignity. Foreign domestic workers are no exception.

After my talk, the keynote speaker leaned over and asked me if he could have a copy of what he just heard. I was surprised. He wanted to use it on his call-in radio program in Manila and get audience response. My guess was that his audience rarely heard such supportive messages coming from Hong Kong. I gave him the CD.

Indeed, support for migrant workers and their rights is a continuing fight in Hong Kong. I thank God for all those who tirelessly work on their behalf, including in the Christian community. I was touched when I heard a report about a shelter for Indonesian domestic workers run by a Christian organization in Hong Kong.

Most of the clients are Muslims and expressed that they had positive experiences while staying in the shelter. Some said they felt like “a member in the family” for the first time in their life. For others, it was the first time to have such positive experience with Christians, as they had negative experiences with Christians back in their home countries or had been working for Christian employers overseas (including Hong Kong) who ill-treated them. I thought how ironic that these migrant women who had been fired or abused or owed wages had to come to a shelter to find any real sense of ‘home’ in a foreign land.

We live in a multi-cultural world, but many do not see diversity as a gift and an opportunity. Perhaps we could learn something from a Korean pastor living in Australia who said, “Multiculturalism is not just about culture, but a way of defining what it means to be human.” Whoever we are, wherever we are, may we celebrate the rich diversity of the people of God and the spiritual blessings that come from creating a better home for everyone.

In the peace of Christ,

Judy Chan

Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council.  She is responsible for communications for the Council.  She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.

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