I just returned from my first visit to Hong Kong where I was invited to speak at the annual Justice Conference Asia on the following topics: Persecution, Religious Freedom, Migration and Border Control. I was also invited by the Ray Bakke Institute (who graciously covered all my expenses) to hold speaking engagements in several churches on topics directly related to the situation in the Holy Land, the work of Holy Land Trust, and my own personal journey in faith, nonviolence, and peacemaking.
I have to admit that my acceptance to this invitation was motivated almost purely by curiosity. In all my travels around the world I have never been in “that part of the world”, and Hong Kong—who would say no to that? Who would refuse an opportunity to see one of the most amazing cities in the world known for its record-breaking skyscrapers? A city where beauty, modernity, tradition, hospitality, nature, culture and the future come into one; I simply had to say yes and go.
I couldn’t have been disappointed by Hong Kong –the people were amazing in their kindness and care, the skyscrapers were monuments in the daytime and at night turned into magical structures with dancing lights and even sound. I marveled at the efficiency and effectiveness oozing from a city so densely populated yet moving in amazing synergy and flow. There, modernity is at its peak and yet tradition is embedded in every person, even in the way business cards are handed and received. And finally, the food (from Dim Sum, to roasted duck and goose, to jellyfish and other things I ate and will not say) was delicious and decadent.
It is beautiful when expectations are met, but it is a life-altering gift when experiences exceed these expectations.
In Hong Kong, in both the Justice Conference Asia and many meetings I had, privately and publicly, I met amazing people full of courage, love and compassion. The stories of people working in situations of grave injustice, putting their lives at risk almost daily to address issues such as human trafficking, child slavery, and abuse of immigrants were beyond inspiring. Most rewarding of all was witnessing other people’s deep commitment to prayer and to God leading their daily thoughts and deeds. This was deeply nourishing.
The situation in the Holy Land is not a high priority for many people in that part of the world and that makes sense, but they listened to me with deep curiosity and desire to understand. When it comes to the Christian community there, many in Hong Kong fully support the modern state of Israel since for them it constitutes the fulfillment of a prophecy. It does not implicate that they are anti-Palestinian as is the case with many churches in the West. There is just mere to no knowledge and awareness of the history and the injustice, violence, and human rights violations that takes place in this land; many churches in Hong Kong simply and truly do not know of the Palestinians, the presence of Palestinian Christians, and the reality of the Israeli military occupation.
Unlike many in the West our friends in Hong Kong did not dismiss me or feel that now they have to take my side when I shared the reality of what was happening in the occupied territories. At the same time, I did not get funny looks when I encouraged people to love and engage in peacemaking for both the Palestinians and Israelis. I did not get strange looks when I said that choosing either side in this conflict hurts all of us and that the church is beyond taking sides but should invite all to the table. Uncharacteristically and yet refreshingly, I did not even get applauded, for what I was saying as being beyond sensible to them or utopian. What I came to realize was that their reception and mindset was different than speaking to a Western audience, defined by a culture that was more opened and more inclusive than the either-or culture we live in today.
I noticed that with all the technological and modern advancements achieved, one thing about Hong Kong is that it is not necessarily “westernized” (individualized) in people’s behaviors, culture, and way of looking at things. I know this is a general statement and I am not one to generalize, but I do see many countries and societies, including the Palestinian society, where one comes to identify advancement as the process of westernization and more as the moving into individualism as a sign of progress.
I do not say this to criticize western mindset as much as to create an awakening to the Asian mindset that embraces the fact that everything is not necessarily black or white, right or wrong, mine or yours, mechanical, linear, etc. Things are more interconnected with the realization and everything is present in all, more than the black and white there are actually a spectrum of colors and shades that compose us and in realizing that we become humble in front of God and humanity.
The disaster is not only in how we shifted our mindset into seeing things only in the western / individualistic prism of the either-or way of thinking, but have also adapted our religious beliefs into such mindset as well. When we look through our belief systems at others, when we look at conflict or engage in conflict we now think in the either this or that, them or us; my theology or their theology, we forget and ignore that each of us is actually the black and white and all colors and shades in between, we are not that different, especially in the eyes of the Creator, for we are all sinners and need His grace and love and we need them every day, not just once.
Maybe we need to reach a place where we realize that we do not need more theological debates and arguments, that we do not need more argument as to whose faith, denomination or theology is better. Maybe we need to revisit the roots of where we came from and begin to “un-westernize” our faith by balancing it out more with the culture and mindset in which it actually was born from. The greatest revelation I had in Hong Kong was that Jesus, the culture he grew up in and lived, the message that he shared, the humbleness and humility, which he practiced, was actually very Asian and that I am also an Asian from the Far West of the continent.