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Living Together With Migrants

October 3, 2013

One of the great privileges of my ministry in Hong Kong is inviting churches and Christian organizations to be on the radio. As producer of ecumenical religious broadcasting, I am always on the prowl for new speakers and fresh ideas. It occurred to me that one important group that had not been invited to do a studio worship program were those serving migrant workers. So I asked one organization – Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants – to work with me to plan an hour-long program specifically on the situation of migrants in Hong Kong and Asia. The organization immediately said yes.

In our planning meeting, I emphasized that this program would be broadcast on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. It was the worship service of the week for many listeners. So it should sound like a worship service rather than a talk show or informational program. To that end, it would be good to include elements like hymns, prayers, Scripture and sermon. Also the liturgy should be lively to inspire people to open their hearts and minds to God and their neighbor. The last thing we wanted on the air was a heavy, ponderous program that left listeners feeling worse at the end than when they started. After all, the Gospel is supposed to be Good News!

I need not have worried. The broadcast team came up with beautiful liturgy and joyful music reflecting the home countries of many migrant workers in Hong Kong – Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka – as well as more familiar hymns. They also wanted to bring in a traditional instrument called a “rainmaker” to make gentle sounds of nature at transition points. As I looked over the draft script a week in advance, I told them it was fine but it seemed to lack the voices of migrant workers themselves. Could they do something about that?

When the team came in to record, they brought along Eni Lestari, an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong who is an organizer and leader of the union for Indonesian migrant workers. The team decided to do a first-person interview with her in the place of the sermon. Would that be O.K.? I thought it was a brilliant idea. I had heard Eni at other conferences and knew she was a powerful, articulate speaker.

During the interview, I was so moved by her words. She shared her personal story of early struggles in Hong Kong being far away from family and abused by a Chinese employer who underpaid her, gave her no day off for three months and tried to convince her to eat pork, which was against her religion. Finally, she ran away to a shelter run by a Christian organization and sought help from the Labor Department. After successfully winning her case, she was able to find better employers who treated her well. One Chinese couple she worked for was even aware that she was organizing a union for migrant worker rights and gave her their blessing as well as time off to carry it out.

When asked what were her hopes and dreams for migrant workers, she said:

In Hong Kong, I wish that United Domestic Workers can be well-accepted. We can be looked at as a part of the family in Hong Kong society. Living in Hong Kong, we don’t really want to feel isolation. …I wish that we could live in harmony because that is possible. We have a lot of very good people employing domestic workers and they treat everyone with respect. And hopefully more and more people will be doing good for the other people and don’t treat us like foreigners who are working and cleaning the house. I wish the public to embrace us, they no longer treat you like you are a stranger in this land. Because we want to feel that we belong.

Thanks to your support of Global Ministries, the voices of migrant workers like Eni Lestari are being heard in Hong Kong. Through the opportunities the church has to broadcast over public radio, we are opening hearts and minds to the harsh realities of the lives of migrant workers and how the church can make a difference. Please continue to remember us in your prayers as together we build a more compassionate and just community for all God’s people.

In the peace of Christ,

Judy Chan serves 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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