A Dream I Had to Give Up . . . Hong Kong

Written By Cecilia Leung

You know that oft-quoted verse, Jeremiah 29:11? I hate it. If you bring it up to me right now, I’m liable to break down in tears or leave the room, slamming the door behind me.

Here’s the context. I’ve long had an irrational fear of ending up living on the outskirts of a small town in America. It might seem silly, but this is something I’ve really struggled with, and thought I eventually made peace with. For the first few years of marriage, my husband and I, and eventually our son, lived very happily in that dreamy, suburban neighborhood I had feared so much.

But two years ago, we were given the chance to move to the Asian metropolis I had spent some of my formative years in, Hong Kong, and we leaped at the chance.

From the day we landed, it felt like this was where we were meant to be. My husband, my son, and I, all thrived in different ways on this side of the world. Without need for much discussion, we both agreed that this is where we wanted to raise our son. This is where we were going to live for the next 20 years, and maybe for the rest of our lives.

We dreamed about the future. We relished the little daily memories we were making—picking out greens at the wet market while our child admired the frogs for sale; ordering roast pigeon for dinner at the noisy outdoor restaurants; watching the old men play chess in the park, chattering happily in the local language on the playground . . .

Then, because of a series of complex reasons, we made the decision to move back to America.

While we were convinced that a move will be best for our family in the long term, in many ways, it was the last thing we wanted to do. We both cried as we made the decision. America is great and all, but it is just not what we imagined for our lives.

I look around the home we thought we would raise our son in, and realize that it is not to be. Looking at frogs in the market, eating at outdoor restaurants . . . these things will no longer be a part of our daily lives. This will not be my son’s childhood.

And that hurts.

Letting go of dreams really, really hurts.

As I was crying myself to sleep the night after we made our decision to move, it occurred to me that I had been reading Jeremiah on and off throughout the summer, and would be reading chapter 29 the next day.

That threw me into a fresh round of tears.

I knew that in chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. He tells them they are to remain in Babylon for 70 years. In the past, every time I heard that “70 years” promise (Jeremiah 29:10), I had always thought to myself, “Hey, that’s not so bad. They know when they’ll get to return to Israel.”

But this time it struck me. 70 years. That’s long enough for a generation to die. The parents who took their children from their ancestral homes in Israel to the foreign soil of Babylon—they would grow old and die, never seeing the familiar trees and bushes and boundary stones of their home again.

Is that how long we would be away from the place we had wanted to call home? Of course, we could (hopefully) come back for visits. But it wouldn’t be the same.

Through Jeremiah, God told the Israelites to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

Build houses. Settle down. Plant gardens. Marry off your children. This is your new home, Israelites. You’re here to stay. Dig in. Invest. Live life.

It felt like God was talking directly to me.

You know, I’ve always been interested in growing things. I have a peanut plant growing in a pot in my tiny kitchen at the moment. But gardens are a near-impossibility in my beloved metropolis. “Plant gardens,” God says. Move back to America.

If I were less emotionally distraught, I would have admitted earlier that planting a garden would be lovely. I could grow peanuts, carrots, leeks, sunflowers . . .

But I did not want to move back. Don’t You dare tell me to plant gardens!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

But they are not my plans! In that moment, I did not want God’s stinking plans to “prosper” me. I did not want His hope and His future. I wanted my hope, my future—a future that involved raising my family here!

I cried myself to sleep.

I cried myself to sleep the next night as well, and the night after that.

But God is patient. He let me throw my little tantrums, and I didn’t get struck by lightning or anything.

Letting go of dreams hurts. But it’s something all of us have to deal with at some level or another. So many people throughout history have had to make harder decisions than we are making. At least I don’t know that we will be in America for the next 70 years. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to come back after 10 or 20 years or something. One could hope.

We’re making plans for the move now, obedient to where we think God is calling us to.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

These are most definitely not my plans. I would prefer things to go my own way. But I guess God knows best. He’s probably working things out right now, planning minute details that we won’t even notice until we look back with 20/20 hindsight years from now. He knows better than me what I need, what my husband needs, what my child needs.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

I’m trusting You on this one, God. I don’t like Your plans right now, but I trust You. You’ll work things out, one way or another. I’m sure in the long run, I’ll look back and be thankful for everything that’s happened. But it might take me a while to get to that point. Be patient with me.

You know what’s best, God. I trust You.


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).