Steve Tsang, in his well-written and comprehensive overview of modern Hong Kong history, reviews key events leading to the iconic and unconventional status of this bustling city-state. Emerging from fishing villages of China’s Pearl River Delta, the status of Hong Kong begins with the upheaval of 19th century colonial expansion. As the century progressed, Western powers competed to gain a foothold on the edges of the Chinese hinterland seeking ports for trade of exotic goods from the Middle Kingdom to European and North American markets. The geopolitical context of the Industrial Revolution led the Portuguese to claim Macau, the Germans, French and Americans to carve out niches in Shanghai, and the British to build their trading futures on erecting a singular outpost for their Empire in Hong Kong. There, three-way trade between Hong Kong, British India, and the home islands was fuelled by Indian opium to China, Chinese tea to Britain, and British manufactured goods to both.
Uncovering the curiosities and unique incidents of history often provide us with greater understanding for how flourishing ministry can emerge from a particular cultural moment. For example, and of interest to this cohort, Tsang reveals the historical framework which ultimately led to the Holy Spirit-fuelled action surrounding Jackie Pullinger’s ministry to drug-addicted gang members in the Walled City in Kowloon. With the island of Hong Kong vulnerable to Chinese encroachment, the British needed to preserve their valuable trading port, so attempted to expand their reach to the New Territories on the mainland. Negotiations between the Chinese and British led to a 99-year lease on the territory, which was set to expire in 1997. However, within this tranche of real estate lay a walled Chinese fort. Through negotiations “[The Chinese]… insisted that China retain the fort of Kowloon near its southern tip and that Chinese officials keep their right of free access to the fort.” Tsang states, “It was not a city in any real sense. However, as a result of poor translation, it has since generally become known as ‘the walled city of Kowloon’.”
Thus, an unconventional geopolitical reality emerged: a 6.5 acre walled fort, in name controlled by China, eventually Communist China, within the burgeoning capitalist outpost of Hong Kong. For 99 years, this forgotten corner was ungovernable – beyond the reach of British colonial authorities, it became a dark no-man’s-land where gangs fled to escape justice and addictions ran rampant, lacking even the civil infrastructure of potable water and legal electricity. This hidden, moist environment became the petri dish for Jackie’s surrendered life and the fresh power of the Holy Spirit which cannot resist making Her loving presence known even in the darkest, abandoned dens of iniquity.
In reading Tsang and reflecting on how the mistakes and inequities of history create opportunities for ministry, I was led to my present day Canadian reality. Here, the church is completely marginalized, considered irrelevant, and vibrant expression of faith is frequently quenched by a society that claims tolerance for every expression save traditional Christian belief. All evangelical churches and denominations are experiencing intense pressures and decline in vibrancy with next generations of youth abandoning church attendance and faith en masse. Just like the hidden petri dish of the Kowloon Walled City, in the margins and in obscurity the power of God can unconventionally erupt because God loves us faithfully. Salvation history is replete with examples of God in the darkest hours remaining constant and true to His people and preserving the remnant, creating conditions for the flourishing of abundant life.
Effective ministry in Canada must acknowledge this landscape and faithfully bear fruit within this harsh soil. Faithful Canadians draw on the cultural and historical context unique to Canada. Canadian evangelicals, at 7% of the population, are not a significant force for change, and lack any sense that they can influence their postmodern culture. The church in Canada must operate as a people in exile. Much like ancient Israel scrapping by in Babylon, Canadian Christians must walk faithfully with the Lord from a position of weakness that builds to strength and influence. As Jeremiah counsels: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile.”
Last evening with Stronger Philanthropy as a key partner, I cohosted a gala celebration for the Spark Initiative. Millennial applicants from across the country competed for this award. Its website states: “The Spark Initiative, a ministry of the Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec, is for the Christian risk-takers and dreamers from across Canada who are already out there making a difference in their community. This is an 11 month [sic] Mentoring and Financial Granting program that will give you access to funds (up to $10,000) training resources, gifts in kind from businesses across the country, mentorship by world class leaders, and a peer community of learners.” The result? Nine millennial social innovators were awarded small start-up grants and a year’s worth of mentoring to facilitate a caring attitude towards Canadian communities. These marginalized beneficiaries included refugees, immigrants of other faiths, youth on parole, ex-offenders, teens-at-risk, youth with cancer, and more.
The Canadian church is discovering that we cannot operate as lone rangers but need one another to preserve witness for Christ and continue missional engagement in society. Last evening, we witnessed a miracle of sorts:
- A regional Baptist denomination, the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (CBOQ), offered funding and mentoring for youth from distant British Columbia on the West Coast.
- A small Anabaptist denomination partnered in financial support with a competing denomination.
- Nine millennial social entrepreneurs received recognition and empowerment, none of them CBOQ youth but all vibrant Christians from other denominations.
- A non-denominational camp and a Christian liberal arts university, neither related to the CBOQ, offered retreats for the finalists.
- Volunteer business mentors from corporate Canada such as Kellogg’s and Richardson wealth management offered time and energy.
- Retreat speakers who regularly charge $10,000 a pop for their content gave it away freely.
- Nine generous millennial givers combined their donations of $10,000 each to offer awards of the same amount to the nine social innovators, $90,000 in total.
My suspicion is that this sort of innovation and ministry outreach that crosses such traditional boundaries could never have happened in historical contexts where the church is large, influential and successful. It takes recognizing weakness, admitting to one’s marginal place in society, where convergence can occur for God’s Spirit to breathe life into the world in fresh ways. God shines best in those forgotten places, those hard-to-reach resistant places of the world. As Jackie Pullinger experienced in her given historical moment and as we experience in our present, exilic Canada, Isaiah also promises: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”
 Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong (London: I.B.Tauris, 2007), 39.
 Tsang, 40.
 Jeremiah 29:5-7 (NLT).
 Spark Initiative website, “Home Page”, Accessed on June 7, 2018, http://www.thesparkinitiative.ca/.
 Isaiah 40:4, NIV.