Hong Kong Protests: When the Streets I Knew Turned to Turmoil

Photo By Studio Incendo

Written By Cecilia Leung

A couple Sundays ago, my husband, son, and I found ourselves in the vicinity of a protest march. It was in the neighborhood I had grown up in, and I was amused watching crowds of people dressed in black peacefully wind their way through the streets.

But soon, people up front started making motions of some sort. The motions rippled through the crowd to where we were at. Protestors up ahead were asking for umbrellas and helmets—protection against pepper spray and police batons.

By now, most people in Hong Kong know that there are two types of protests—the organized, peaceful, and uneventful marches pre-approved by the police, and the almost spontaneous gathering of young people who build barricades and face off against the police, convinced that peaceful protests accomplish nothing. But this was a peaceful march. Even if it were to turn into face-off with the police, it wouldn’t be till the evening. How could people ask for umbrellas so soon?

For a moment, I froze—wondering if there was really pepper spray and tear gas up ahead. Then I came to my senses. My young son was with us. We needed to leave in case things escalated.

We picked up our son and quickly worked our way out of the crowd. As we left, we saw waves of police vans going past with sirens screaming. Was this really happening?

The rest of the evening, we sat glued to the television. Protestors lingered even after the march was over, not knowing what to expect, but ready to help their fellow protestors. The riot police pressed forward, and the protestors eventually retreated to the mall complex on their way to the adjacent subway.

The mall that I had spent so many summers wandering through became a battleground. Protestors threw helmets, water bottles, umbrellas, and whatever they could get their hands on, at the police. In turn, the police wielded their batons and pepper spray without restraint.

Over 20 people were sent to the hospital that night, some of them seriously wounded.


How It All Started . . .

I’ve lost count of how many protests Hong Kong has seen this summer.

It is largely believed that this started when a piece of legislation was introduced that would simplify extradition between Hong Kong and China. Many people were worried about its potential implications, and close to a million people took to the streets to protest the bill on June 9.

When it was not withdrawn, many young people decided to surround the Legislative Council Complex on June 12 in order to prevent the second reading of the bill. The police used pepper spray, tear gas, and brute force to dispel the protestors on that day.

Since then, there have been protests every week. The protestors demand that the bill be officially withdrawn, and that an independent commission of inquiry be established to investigate police action throughout the various clashes.

It’s been a long summer.


God Is Still Here

It’s been emotionally wearying watching the news every day. People on both sides are so angry at each other. We hear of families who no longer talk to one another because of difference in opinion. We know of people who have not shown up in church since the beginning of June, worried about their reception because of their role in recent events.

And we read in the news about four men or women who despaired so deeply at the current events and the future of Hong Kong, that they chose to take their own lives.

It’s hard to live in a place when there seems to be so little hope for the future.

But it’s in moments like these that I need to remind myself: God is still in charge.

I think of God’s chosen people and all the difficult political situations they’ve faced in the Bible. Some were slaves in Egypt. Some were exiles in Assyria. The early church was oppressed by Rome. All these were complicated political circumstances, and I imagine the Israelites were probably as pessimistic about their future as I now feel about Hong Kong’s.

But God reminded the Israelites again and again that He was in control. He was not caught by surprise. He was working behind the scenes. Take the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, for example. Generations before, God had already told Abraham, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there” (Genesis 15:13).

And when God spoke to Moses at the end of those 400 years, He said, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7, NKJV).

God was not caught by surprise when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. And God did not forget about them.

Of course, Hong Kong is in a very different situation than ancient Israel. But God is the same. God was not caught by surprise by the protests or pepper spray and tear gas. Unlike me, He did not need to ask, “Is this really happening?”

And God will work through the current situation. I do not know what He is doing. I do not know His plans or what His timing is. But I do know He is here. He is watching us. Just as He did not forget the Israelites, He will not forget His children in Hong Kong.


The Way Forward

In the meantime, I think we each need to pray, and pray, and pray for this city. And we need to pray for wisdom and love and a yearning for justice in these troubling times (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Right now, emotions are high. We are so deeply invested in our own side and in our own views that we struggle to begin to understand how the other side thinks. I need to be reminded, over and over again, that each individual involved in the events this past month, from the top politicians down to the very last protestor—each person is made in the image of God. I might completely disagree with someone’s views or their actions, but I am still called to love them.

As Paul reminds the Ephesians, we are to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

This means standing up and sacrificing for something even if it is not popular. This means speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), even if the other person doesn’t want to hear it. This means texting someone who hasn’t been to church in a while, and asking simply, how can I be praying for you? This means reaching out to distant friends offering to talk. This means a simple hug when words fail and opinions continue to differ.

Hong Kong has been my home for so long. I love the city. I love the people I get to share the city with. But something has changed this summer. . .

But I know that God is in control. God is still here. And because of that, I can trust Him with Hong Kong’s future, and keep loving those around me (1 John 4:19).

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