DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Anthropological Dream

Written by: on June 18, 2015

There we stood. My bride and I of only seven years looking over the beautiful harbor into the picturesque landscape that is the romantic Hong Kong Harbor. We had just lead another large youth team into China where we ministered and delivered Bibles. It was a wonderful trip through four cities and our final stop was now Hong Kong. We would fly home tomorrow, but tonight the night was ours and hand-in-hand we strolled on the harbor that marks the economic favor of Hong Kong. What a city! What a story this little geographical location holds in our world. Full of rich history containing war, treaties, governmental powers, land, and of course love.

To be a little society between the enormous powers of the West and the East is the daily existence of Hong Kong. The transfer from British power back to Chinese control in 1997 promised new fresh starts to Hong Kong, but the large Asian power that is Beijing is committed to keeping Hong Kong political structure in the former and previous colonial era.[1] The People’s Republic of China (PRC) understands that to allow greater democratization in Hong Kong would possibly be infectious to the whole population of China. Having spent many weeks in China being smuggled in and out of Chinese church homes and leadership training rooms, I know first hand the tight grip that the PRC Communist party desires to hold around her people.

Yet Hong Kong was different in so many ways. The way that Hong Kong has been described as “a cultural fault line for centuries”[2] is a true description. If ever there was a locale that was the quintessential transitory land between East and West, Hong Kong is that land. A veritable zone of cultural transitioning.[3] Even in the midst of geopolitical tensions, “Hong Kong found its firm cultural ground and became a translation space where Chinese-ness was interpreted for ‘Westerners’ and Western-ness was translated for Chinese.”[4]

In my current research I am learning about migrants and their assimilation process into the dominant culture. Though migrates prefer to maintain their own traditional culture as they move to new cultural destinations, assimilation into the new culture is inevitable. Assimilation takes place in the natural course of the migrates desire to improve their livelihood by acquiring better education, higher paying jobs, and moving to better neighborhoods for their children to grow up in.[5] However, rather then total assimilation into the dominate culture, there is a third new culture that develops as the two cultures intertwine in the assimilation process.[6] Sociologists Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou, formulated an assimilation model referred to as “segmented” or selective assimilation.[7] In this model a straight forward assimilation into the dominate culture is only one of the possible outcomes for those arriving in into a new host country. These segmented or selective assimilated cultures create “divergent outcomes”[8] making it difficult to determine what the mainstream culture is or is not. I could not help but think of the Hong Kong cultural makeup.

Hong Kong truly was, and is, “a multifaceted, polyphonic culture that resist easy homogenization.”[9] So, where, or what, does the immigrant eventually assimilate into? With the different languages and polymorphic cultures ubiquitously present, Hong Kong is a present day anthropological dream to study. What has and will continue to emerge as the dominate culture of a Hong Kong Individual? Louie does provide some clues that I will be looking for this September that have helped to shape the unique Hong Kong individual.

The very alienation that is confronted by the fast-paced life that makes Hong Kong so unique has been characterized as one of the factors that assist its citizens to be “good survivors in the modern world.”[10] Yet there are clouds of doubt and uncertainty that its citizens must deal with that others do not endure. There is considerable economic, social and political concerns. China mainland’s seemingly unstoppable economic growth heading, to what many predict, as the next leading world superpower threatens the very democratic existence of the tiny territories of Hong Kong. With these looming developments there is concern for possible “erosion of civil rights”[11] and democracy as many have know. Those who have lived long in Hong Kong have enjoyed the taste of what democracy is like. Yet they now belong to a communist nation who has adamantly opposed democracy. Even in this turbulent “in-between” existence Hong Kong has become a major financial center. By the “end of British rule Hong Kong held the world’s seventh largest foreign reserves and the third largest export of clothing. It had the second highest per capita GDP in Asia (after Japan) and had surpasses that of Australia, Britain and Canada.”[12]

So, Hong Kong culture? I will be looking for the following cultural values this September:

  1. Globally savvy
  2. Hesitant to trust government
  3. Politically sharp
  4. Fiercely independent
  5. Financially strong and astute
  6. Openness to strangers
  7. Culturally Intelligent of both East and West while trusting no one.

What do you think of my list and what can you add to the possible culture we will all experience this September in… Hong Kong?


[1] Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), Loc. 563.

[2] Ibid., Loc. 190.

[3] Ibid., Loc. 206.

[4] Ibid., Loc. 192.

[5] Jehu J Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (New York: Orbis Books, 2008), 239.

[6] Stephen B. Bevans, “What Has Contextual Theology to Offer the Church of the Twenty-First Century?,” in Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century:, ed. Katalina Tahaafe-Williams and Stephen B. Bevans, Missional Church, Public Theology, World Christianity 1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2011), 6.

[7] Min Zhou, “Segmented Assimilation: Issues, Controversies, and Recent Research on the New Second Generation,” in The Handbook of International Migration: The American Experience, ed. Charles Hirschman, Philip Kasinitz, and Josh DeWind, 1st edition (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999), 196–211.

[8] Ibid., 210.

[9] Kam Louie, ed., Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), Loc. 198.

[10] Ibid., Loc. 207–208.

[11] Ibid., Loc. 366.

[12] Ibid., Loc. 374.

About the Author


Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

8 responses to “An Anthropological Dream”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Mitch, your post has me now truly excited about visiting Hong Kong! The way you describe it in your post brings back memories of similar “last night of mission trips” when I walked along the Danube in one of may favorite cities in the world: Budapest, Hungary. There is something magical and captivating about cities along rivers and harbors! I think I could actually like Hong Kong the way you describe it. I will be curious to see what you observe as changes in the last few years (when was the last time you were there?). I think your list at the end of the post is excellent from the little I’ve learned about the city and about looking at maps (this area is so new to me…I am in the Ashley camp as novice to East Asia). But, what struck me as brilliant is your insight into the difficulty of assimilating into such a mixed culture – something I’ve never considered, but here it seems people have a true dilemma – which cultural are you seeking to join into when there are so many competing for attention? It adds to the fascination and true complexity of this place! I am developing a real interest in part of the world. Thanks for broadening my understanding and widening my lens for viewing Hong Kong!

    • Great John! Thanks! Michelle and I were last in HK 1998 and 1999. We were there for about 4 days the last time. Simply a marvelous city. Language was more difficult then London or Cape Town, but I am excited to see this jewel of a city once again. And with Michelle! We are excited!

      So, right as to the assimilation. With what I read HK is truly a diverse city that may not require any assimilation of its foreigners. Perhaps we shall see a large amalgamations of many cultures that make up what HK is presently. I look forward to our time there this September. Bless ya John.

  2. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Mitch, you’ve been to Hong Kong? How have I missed this in our chats? And why didn’t YOU give us the crash course in Hong Kong? Hey, maybe we can make one of our “first Monday of the month” chats about this before we go?? 🙂

    You’ve completely blown my mind. I loved how you described Hong Kong in its juxtaposition between East and West, formal and informal, not Chinese yet not British. If I had to guess without having laid eyes on it myself, I would say you’ve captured it perfectly.

    I loved the list. I will take note of your list and be hyper-attentive while I listen and observe those we encounter during the Advance. Oh, I can’t wait! Really hoping you and Michelle can join us in Thailand! Peace, friend…and Happy Father’s Day!

  3. Mitch,

    Thanks for your good post, my friend. You ask, “What has and will continue to emerge as the dominate culture of a Hong Kong Individual?” This is a great question. One that we who will be in Hong Kong in a mere three months should attempt to answer. Hong Kong is in such a remarkable place right now. I know of no other city that is in the same tension of history and culture, politics and economics. And we have the privilege of being there!

    With China becoming the world’s number one super power, Hong Kong becomes very important. I wonder what the PRC will learn from the people and history of Hong Kong? I also wonder what will happen with the student movements that are happening at this very moment? Will they be squashed or will they be tolerated? And what will be the cultural temperature of Hong Kong this September? Will there be more protests? More conflict? Yes, it will probably be a pretty exciting time to be there. Maybe we will all see and be a part of history in the making. I look forward to hearing about your research. Should be most interesting!

  4. mm Deve Persad says:

    Hey Mitch, thanks so much for sharing about your previous experience in Hong Kong. I wonder how it will differ from present day situations as these cultures have continued their collision course? Like Bill mentioned above, I am intrigued by the question you pose: “What has and will continue to emerge as the dominate culture of a Hong Kong Individual?” Do the political and cultural structures repress the emergence of new possibilities? What is happening at the grassroots level that will shape the tomorrow of Hong Kong? Those are where my interests lie as we prepare to spend some time there and some time together.

    Thanks for being a joyful beacon of hope for Jesus, in all you do. Your experiences and your passion has enhanced our collective learning experience over these last two years.

    See you soon!

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Mitch, Thanks for sharing your experience in HK. Like you, I too find it interesting that “Even in this turbulent “in-between” existence Hong Kong has become a major financial center. I look forward to experiencing the impact of its economic development on common people. See you soon!

  6. Mitch…
    Your list (and your post) is awesome. In your list you given voice toward eyes that see. I can see how your recognition that Hong Kong is a translation place (affirming through your experiences the text) is expressed in your list. I think what I am wondering and will be looking for will be the margins. Who is there, why are they there, what is the Christian (or other religions) expression and how are those on the margins viewed?

    It has been and is such a privilege to be on this DMin journey with you. Every grace as we continue!

    • Thank you Carol. I too am looking forward to seeing how the Christian life in Hong Kong is going. How is the church being the representation of Jesus Christ to those who have been left behind in the wake of globalization so evident in a city such as Hong Kong. See ya soon.

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