Looking back to 1997: A return and a reconciliation

At midnight on June 30-July 1, 1997 and after 156 years of British rule, the crown colony of Hong Kong was returned to China. The formal ceremony was full of pomp and pageantry, with dignitaries from all over the world in attendance to witness the hand-over ceremony.

Meanwhile, in complete contrast to what was happening on the political stage, a thousand Christians, both Chinese and expatriates, gathered in St. Andrew’s Church, Kowloon, to participate in a foot-washing ceremony of reconciliation.

The OMF US edition of what was then East Asia’s Millions carried a brief report on the astonishing event that saw the pastors of six evangelical churches in South Kowloon invite their congregations to an English/Chinese service of reconciliation…

‘Rev. John Aldis, senior pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church – the largest English-speaking congregation in Hong Kong – wept as he read a statement of repentance to Chinese pastor Jonathan Chan. Speaking as a representative of Britain to the Hong Kong Chinese people, Aldis asked for forgiven
ess for “our injustice, our pride and our isolation.”’

‘He confessed, “The foundations of this colony were unjust, seized by war and violence… and we gave back your land and your people without asking you. As a race we have a sense of racial superiority which has been patronising and hurtful to you. We often lived in ghettos of exclusiveness and hid ourselves from your culture. We have not listened to you.” Aldis wept as he said, ‘“Forgive us as a nation and a Church. Release us from this bondage of guilt.”’

Mr. Jonathan Chan, in his capacity as the Chairman of the South Kowloon Pastors’ Prayer Fellowship, made all Hong Kong Chinese in the church stand and say, “We forgive you.” Chan confessed the sin of racial pride on the Chinese side, and Rev. Aldis asked the English-speaking members to return the forgiveness. Then he first washed the feet of the Rev. Sam Lai, senior pastor of the Shepherd Community Church, and Lai in turn washed his feet “as a symbol of thanksgiving for what your nation has done for the past 150 years to bring blessing to Hong Kong, especially full freedom of religion.”’  [East Asia’s Millions, Sept/Oct/Nov 1997, p. 13]

The article went on to point out that ‘the issues of repenting of past sins and atrocities became a political issue in the run-up to the handover, with Chinese officials pressuring British diplomats and ministers to apologise unequivocally for the Opium Wars.’  However, Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary at the time said, ‘If I had to apologise for the actions of colonial Britain over a hundred years ago I would have no time to do anything else.’

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Forgive us as a nation and a Church. Release us from this bondage of guilt

The Church’s commitment to biblical peace-making raises important questions about the relationship between reconciliation, justice, and forgiveness, especially where the Church is seeking to build peace in a context of division and historical injustice. In a section entitled ‘Building the Peace of Christ in our Divided and Broken World’ The Cape Town Commitment says this:

‘Reconciliation to God and to one another is also the foundation and motivation for seeking the justice that God requires, without which, God says, there can be no peace. True and lasting reconciliation requires acknowledgement of past and present sin, repentance before God, confession to the injured one, and the seeking and receiving of forgiveness. It also includes commitment by the Church to seeking justice or reparation, where appropriate, for those who have been harmed by violence and oppression.’ [The Cape Town Commitment, p. 40].

My reason for including this anniversary piece in our current issue of Billions is to suggest that in many parts of the world prophetic acts of peacemaking, reconciliation and self-giving humble service may prove to be the critical factor in opening up channels for gospel witness.

In highly charged atmospheres of politics, community relations and inter-faith tensions, followers of Jesus are called to take courageous steps in living out the gospel, so that their actions may send ripples across the wider landscape, resulting in spiritual breakthrough.

Peacemaking may need to start within the Christian community itself: between individuals, churches, mission teams, mission agencies, expats and local believers. These may be the necessary first tasks in any pursuit of The Task Unfinished.  ‘Mission,’ as the Latin American theologian Rene Padilla has said, ‘begins with churches that embody the gospel of reconciliation.’ [Rene Padilla, ‘Mission at the Turn of the Century / Millennium,’ Evangel 19:1 (2001): 11]

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