A Pleasant Surprise

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading a NY Times article written by someone I know.  In the article, prof. Gordon Matthews of Chinese University of Hong Kong writes about his experiences leading a class with asylum seekers in Hong Kong.


I have attended that class on frequent ocasions since last year.  It is always a learning experience, as the class discussions are filled with vivid exchanges and fun anecdotes.  Prof. Matthews leads the class with enthusiasm and wit, and is always careful to include everyone in the conversation.

In the NY Times article, Prof. Gordon talks about the struggles faced by the asylum seekers in Hong Kong; the uncertainty they face, the financial struggles they encounter upon their arrival, and the lack of adequate infrastructures available to support them.

Mourning the Death of Self

In my opinion, one of the greatest disadvantages faced by asylum seekers is the sense of isolation that these men experience.  From our conversations in class, and sometimes outside of class, I have come to realize how educated, dignified, and respectable these men are; teachers, politicians, leaders, officials, heirs to family businesses, fathers, sons…people, who had a life somewhere else, and whose circumstances changed drastically to the point of forcing them to leave a comfortable existence back home and face a future in a land where they are not recognized for what they really are.  This creates a sense of isolation, aggravating the sense of loss.  These men are not only separated from family, country and folk, these men are mourning the loss of the person they used to be.

Coming to America 

In the late 80s, Eddie Murphy portrayed a prince who left his home in Africa to find himself in America.  Murphy’s character finds himself working for an overbearing employer in a minimum wage job.  One of my favorite characters in the movie, is the one portrayed by Arsenio Hall -who plays the prince’s companion- and has to endure all the hardships of menial labor alongside the prince.

At one point in time, Hall’s character can no longer endure the deprivations of his new position, and outfits the modest apartment he shared with the prince with all the luxury amenities imaginable. Not even the staff of the prince’s palace could endure the indignities of the new status in a new country!

The movie is a comedy, however it portrays the paradoxical experience faced by many asylum seekers who travel into a new context and leave behind a more dignified identity.  In embracing the possibility of a more stable future, they forfeit their comfortable past and the predictability of the present.

The quest for home, freedom and a better future is part of the universality of human experience, however it is not always sacrificial, as it is the case with asylum seekers. As a Christian, I learn much from these men’s experiences.  

The Bible says,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(I)”>
Who, being in very nature God,     did not consider equality with God <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(K)”>something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature of a servant,
<sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(M)”>
    being made in human likeness. <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(N)”> And being found in appearance as a man,    he humbled himself    by becoming obedient to death <sup class="crossreference" style="font-size: 0.65em; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(O)”>—

        even death on a cross!

The passage in Philippians 2 explains how Jesus himself left heaven to become a servant, he did all of this for the future of mankind…a better future, for those who believe.  

There is so much to learn from the experiences of asylum seekers, who exemplify humility and determination.  I pray for them, and I pray for Hong Kong too…in hopes for a better future.