In the Lands of AsiaMay 4, 2010
This month marks my 16th year in Hong Kong. One would think after so much time, I would be an 'expert' on Asia. But it's not true. Certainly I know a lot more than I did when I arrived in 1994, but I am constantly discovering something new that I probably should have learned a long time ago.
This past spring I was fortunate to take a course on Asian Theologies at a local seminary. The teacher was Dr. K.C. Abraham, a Visiting Professor at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Dr. Abraham is a native of India and a leading Third World theologian. As one of my colleagues said, "He's famous!" Indeed he is, and it was a privilege to study with him and 25 other Hong Kong classmates.
I learned many things in the course, but what stands out is a statement that Dr. Abraham made early on. If you want to do Asian Theology, you must take two things seriously: (1) the multi-faith experience of Asia and (2) the grim reality of poverty.
Now, I can't say I've never been aware of these before, but somehow it connected with me in a deeper way than ever before. Yes, we cannot talk about mission, ecumenism, etc without acknowledging that most Asians live and move and have their being among other world religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. Christians are usually a minority and in many places, they face difficult and dangerous circumstances. How can they live in peace and unity with their neighbors? At the same time, we can't speak about the Bible, church etc. without dealing with the fact that much of the world's poor live in Asia. What word of hope do we speak? What action for justice do we take?
I found myself challenged in many ways by Professor Abraham's course. If I do take these concerns seriously, how does that impact my understanding of Jesus Christ, the meaning of salvation, the purpose of mission? In earlier days, I was more resistant to changing my theology because I believed it would compromise my hard-earned core beliefs. Now I find myself more willing to see what God has offered – not a compromise, but an opportunity to open myself to wisdom that is not of my own making.
Through my connection with the World Association for Christian Communication (www.waccglobal.org), I have had the chance to visit other countries in Asia: India, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar. I only stayed about a week each time, but I was able to get a glimpse of the beauty and pain in each place. It is humbling to see how the Christian Church continues to witness and serve under such complex and often oppressive conditions. We take a lot for granted in Hong Kong.
Recently I was preaching at Kowloon Union Church, my home church in Hong Kong. I used the text of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 11) along with Jesus' giving a new commandment (John 13:31-35). I felt I had delivered a fairly decent sermon on inclusiveness and sacrificial love. Afterwards, one member approached me in the fellowship hall. He said, "Judy, thank you for your sermon. It was very good." I inwardly beamed for he is a Bishop from Pakistan. Then he went on to say, "But I always have this problem with the command to love. How do you love those who have caused you so much suffering?" I kept silent. He continued by telling of the reality of his land, a place where incidents of violence, bombings, bloodshed happen every day. "How do you love someone when they've slaughtered members of the church and gunned down the young priest that I ordained in that very sanctuary?" I had no answer. I could only reply, "Bishop Samuel, when God has revealed the answer to you, please share it with us. We all need to know."
In the lands of Asia, fear and terror reign;
People long for true peace in the light of your face.
O God, let your mission fill your children's vision,
to heal the suffering and help the struggling.
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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