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A Love Letter to Hong Kong

A Letter from Judy Chan, serving in Hong Kong

October 2020

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Dear Friends,

There is a joke among expatriates that we came to Hong Kong for four years and ended up staying 50 years. That’s something like my story, though I am not yet qualified to celebrate a Golden Jubilee. Still, when I arrived at Kai Tak Airport in May 1994 on a four-year contract, I had no idea how long I would stay. I only knew I hoped it was for as long as possible. Twenty-six years later, I officially retired from the Hong Kong Christian Council on June 30, 2020. I will conclude mission service with Presbyterian World Mission on December 31, 2020.

Hong Kong has been like a dream for most of my life. I was born and grew up in the Mississippi Delta. My parents were from a village in Guangdong Province. There was a small tight-knit Chinese community where I grew up, but I refused to be a part of it. I wanted to be an all-American girl! Yet, after I left Mississippi, I began a journey to reconcile who I wanted to be with the face that God had given me. That journey took me to Texas, New York, Connecticut, Washington D.C., and finally Hong Kong.

My first time to Hong Kong was for ten months in 1986 under a young adult program for racial/ethnic ministers of the Presbyterian Church. I lived at a local church in Shek Kip Mei and studied at the Chinese University, while volunteering at a vocational school two days a week. It was a whirlwind year during which I met a handsome Hong Kong teacher, Joe, who later became my husband. I returned to the Chinese Community Church in D.C. to continue my ministry, got married the following year and had a few babies. I suppose I thought the Hong Kong dream was finished. Then in 1993, Rev. Dr. Tso Man-king, whom I had worked under before at the Chinese Community Church, asked if I was interested to come back to Hong Kong. I said “Yes” with no hesitation. Dr. Tso arranged for the U.S. churches to send me as a mission co-worker to the Hong Kong Christian Council, where he was now the General Secretary. My first job was to set up a global prayer network with partners around the world who were concerned about the 1997 handover.

After that, I just stayed on…and on…and on. My work shifted when a missionary of the Reformed Church in America left the Council. I took over English editing and publications. Then in 2001, I became the Producer for the Religious Broadcasting on RTHK Radio. Not because I was particularly qualified but because there was no one else to take it up. But I cannot think of a better job for someone who loves creating something beautiful for God through the spoken and sung Word. It was a perfect fit.

As I prepare to finish my mission service, let me share some parting thoughts.

First, I am an all-American girl. Some of that has to do with language, as Chinese continues to be a perpetual challenge. I greatly admire Hong Kong people who speak, study and work in more than one language. I sometimes despaired I was not as smart as my Chinese friends. Then, someone told me, “We can’t do everything but everyone can do something.” So, this girl with a Chinese face and an American brain has tried to do something for Hong Kong to promote faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ. Working together with the ecumenical Christian community, I believe we have made a worthy contribution.

Second, it has been a privilege and blessing to be in Hong Kong. I am keenly aware that as a Chinese-American, that may sound clueless. Whenever I tell someone that I like living in Hong Kong, I know they are thinking, “That’s because you can leave.” It’s true. I am not in their shoes. And I can’t wear their shoes. But I can be grateful for the opportunities I have been given and make the most of them. For one, I have been given a wonderful place to serve at the Hong Kong Christian Council. Our broad mission to church and society exposed me to so many things and people I might never have encountered otherwise. Then, Hong Kong has been an ideal place to raise our four children to be global citizens. Looking back, I am so thankful for the kindness and patience of my Hong Kong colleagues and the steadfast commitment of the U.S. churches that made it possible for me to stay so long.

Third, Hong Kong has shown me what sacrifice looks like up close. I’ve seen it through the witness of the older generations, medical personnel, social activists, grassroots laborers, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, environmentalists, whistleblowers, pastors, priests and nuns, young people, and the ordinary person in the pew. These brave souls taught me what it means to give your life for others with no guarantee of success or of enjoying the fruits of your labor. Just doing what is necessary and right has to be its own reward. Christians take heart in believing that whatever sacrifices we make are remembered by God. And so they are. But so are everyone’s offerings that further justice, peace and reconciliation in the universe. This brings home for me the truth of I John 4:16: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

In closing, let me thank you for allowing me to live and move and have my being in Hong Kong for this marvelous journey of the past 26 years. Anthony Bourdain sums it up well: “The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Amen.

In the peace of Christ,

Judy Chan


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