Many years ago, the Chinese church that I attended in London saw a sudden surge in asylum-seekers from Fujian province of China. Despite the joy of singing praises to the Lord in unison and the clapping of hands, the gulf between this “particular group” of worshippers and the rest of the congregation was too conspicuous to be overlooked.
What marked these new arrivals out from others in the church were their lack of basic English skills, low level of education, and working class background.
I remember one of the worshippers posing a question in a bible study group: “Is it acceptable for one to manipulate the Christian faith for gaining refugee status?”
Suddenly, silence ensued.
Quite clearly, the person who raised the issue was concerned whether or not Jesus would allow his name to be used “in vain.”
Evidence gathered by the British Home Office at the time showed that the number of asylum-seekers who claimed to be persecuted by the Chinese authorities on account of their Christian belief had been steadily on the rise, but we were also aware that many cases were rejected by the British authorities for lacking a “well-founded” fear of persecution.
As a part-time caseworker for a legal firm, I used to accompany them to the Home Office for a refugee status determination interview. Indeed, some of them even had a hard time naming the four Gospels, not to mention recalling the twelve disciples one by one. I would certainly forgive the interviewing officer for casting serious doubt on their credibility.
Recently, I met an Iranian man who claimed to be a Christian and fled the country purportedly to avoid persecution by the Islamic government there. An in-depth chat with him however made me wonder if he too “used” Jesus for his own purpose, as his knowledge of the Bible and conversion experience seemed full of contradictions and discrepancies.
But again, who am I to judge if these people are not “bona fide” Christians but “bogus” asylum-seekers?
Every human being is entitled to pursue a happy life, but not everyone of us is in a position to do so. As far as professionals in various fields are concerned, they are often spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking greener pastures.
The same, of course, cannot be said of those who are on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Michael Chong, head of the MCA Public Service and Complaints Department, has over the years handled no less than a few dozen cases in which young Malaysians were caught by foreign authorities for working illegally. The better-off Malaysians may see these people as a “shame” to the nation, but many of them were merely eking out a living in a foreign land, albeit “illegally”.
As soon as an agreement was inked between Beijing and London in 1984 for the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, the territory began to witness a dramatic rise in the migration of “religious professionals” to western countries. Naturally, some of them ended up in London, and found themselves worshipping the same God alongside the less fortunate brothers and sisters from Fujian.
How sad, that the issue of “genuineness” should have been raised at all in spite of the fact that both groups of people had chosen to leave their places of habitual residence for a (hopefully) more secure future. If our faith in the Lord was ever so great enough to move mountains, perhaps we would all have opted to stay put to see through the hard times in our respective “homelands”.
And who are we to judge if some of these “lesser” Christians would not turn out to be more “bona fide” than you and I in the future? After all, we are all saved by sheer grace alone.
“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)