As the clock ticks closer to China's July 1 repossession of Hong Kong, one spotlight in the West is on how nervous the island's Christian minority is about maintaining its freedoms. The concerns are real and the international community must help Hong Kong be vigilant about any abuses. But many, if not most, Hong Kong Christians are also suffused with hope and a deep sense of mission that God calls them to build a unique bridge between West and East.
In the past decade, Hong Kong saw a pastoral exodus and some concerned groups, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, are breaking into "cell groups," perhaps as insurance for survival should the climate for Christians sour. But before anyone succumbs to catacomb mentality, it would help immensely if Westerners shed the outmoded rhetoric of the Cold War with its emphasis on "underground" churches and "us" vs. "them." Without being Pollyannas, we need to look hard at Chinese Christianity on the mainland today before wringing our hands over prospects in Hong Kong.
Since 1994, the number of organized Protestant churches in China recognized by the government has grown from about 9,500 to more than 12,000. These churches must be run by Chinese, not foreign groups. Though legally Chinese churches must register with the government, this requirement has not kept them from growing. Anyone who has witnessed throngs crowding around an overflowing Chinese church to accept Communion through the open windows cannot forget the sight or downplay its meaning, even if Christians are only 1 percent of the 1.2 billion people in China.