It’s been a month (October 27th!) since I arrived in Hong Kong with everything I own in 3 suitcases and a backpack. I came as a missionary to serve with migrant workers, sojourning in Hong Kong for 2 years. A seemingly simple sentence with many meanings and stories packed into them – missionary, migrant workers, sojourner. I am a missionary because I am responding to God’s love for me, resulting in my call to love others, whether through charity or justice work, whether in New York City or in Hong Kong. I am a sojourner because this is temporary and voluntary; I can leave whenever I want and will leave in 2018 when my service ends. The community I serve with are not sojourners; they are migrants, leaving home to find work and better financial opportunities for their families. There are similarities in our stories – leaving our communities, arriving in a foreign place, settling into routines; but, there are differences in our journeys – reasons for leaving, how we arrive, the way we are viewed.
If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, you’d notice the sea of Filipinos on the streets, under walkways, and in public areas on Sundays. It’s quite a sight and sets Hong Kong apart from other cities. Sunday is migrant workers’ day off (for the most part). Foreign domestic workers are cheap to hire (HK$4,210/month = ~US$543) and in constant supply. Why? Poverty. Most Filipinos have college degrees, but with no employment prospects back home, there is no choice except to find work abroad. This vulnerability leads so many to leave their spouses, children, and parents for an uncertain future in a foreign country where they are seen as disposable workers, less than human.
There are 2 types of Hong Kongers – locals and expats. Due to the affordability of migrant workers, almost anyone can hire a worker; however, depending on who the employer is, migrant workers’ stories differ and fall between two extremes. The lucky ones have private rooms, are paid their salaries, have paid holidays and annual leave, and treated like members of the family; the not-so lucky ones are forced to sleep under furnitures, are underpaid, forced to work on holidays and denied annual leave, and treated as slaves.
My friends were excited to learn of my placement site. “You’re moving to Hong Kong! I am so jealous!” “You’re going to be fluent in Cantonese when you come back!” I’m not sorry to say that it won’t be better when I return. I speak Cantonese in the area where I live, but English and Tagalog are spoken at work. A constant tension for myself is my social identity here. As a person of Chinese descent, I am seen as a local, part of the majority, contrary to my social location back home in the United States. I am expected to speak Cantonese fluently and read Chinese, but I choose not to. Instead, I choose to learn Tagalog; I choose to be in solidarity with migrant workers.
I am excited to be on this journey, but I am also scared. Mostly, I am afraid of how I will connect my community at home with my work in Hong Kong. Will people even care? Is it even worth it to write about the work I’m doing? They’re going to wonder why I’m not preaching about Jesus dying for our sins and reconciling us with God, and I’m going to have to explain what a missionary is!
Then, I remind myself that Jesus didn’t care what others thought; He told it as it was. He went on just doing His thing, crossing all types of boundaries – talking to prostitutes and tax collectors, chilling with lepers, and advocating for the oppressed. THEN, He died on the cross, rose again, told His apostles to make disciples of all nations, and ascended into heaven. I’m 200% certain of my current status as a missionary in Hong Kong, and I trusted God’s plans for me last year, so why am I doubting it now?
God, grant me courage to write, to share, and to connect.