Recently, I made a family trip to Cambodia. It is not a typical tourist country, where you find lots of amusement parks, resorts, beaches, special landscapes, or big shopping malls. However, it is surely a place where you can do a lot of reflections.
On February 15-16, 2016, US President Obama hosted 10 government leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a summit in California.
For decades, the US has continued to forge closer ties with ASEAN. However, most of ASEAN’s members have extraordinarily poor human rights records. Problems include lack of basic freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, failures on women’s rights, the political use of courts, high-level corruption, lack of protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and human trafficking.
Thailand holds thousands of migrant children in detention each year, causing them physical and emotional harm, Human Rights Watch said in a report released in early September. Child migrants and asylum seekers are unnecessarily held in squalid immigration facilities, suffering in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education, or exercise space.
[ePrayer – Pray for the labour strike in Cambodia]
The Cambodia government recently announced to increase the minimum wage of garment industry to USD 95. However, this amount is way lower than the amount of USD 160 insisted by workers and thus sparked off the current labour strike. There are over 500 garment factories in Cambodia. About 300,000 garment workers go on strike, seriously affecting the local garment industry.
In the past, labour strikes usually ended peacefully in Cambodia. This time however, is in a very huge scale and seems to become more and more intense. Many factories go into a stall. Police is called to quiet the demonstrators using armed force, resulting in bloody conflicts leading to at least 4 dead.
The manufacturers of many multinational garment corporations are involved in this strike. According to the study of “Labour Behind the Label” and the news report of “The Independent” last September, these multinationals offer about a GBP50 monthly salary to their workers in Cambodia. One quarter of their workers however are found to be seriously malnutrition. It is reported that if a worker need to acquire energy of 3,000 Kcal per day as suggested by doctor, he/she will have to spend GBP47 monthly in food, which is almost their whole monthly salary!
Cambodia ended its civil war in 1997 and since then, many industries have embarked into recovery phase. Due to the huge labour force from the young adults, many foreign-invested enterprises came and set up factories in Cambodia. One third of them are from China. In recent years, the production cost in China is escalating quickly due to high salaries and complex labour benefits and welfare legal regulations. Investors in China have determined that it’s no longer cost effective to produce in China. Consequently many of them move to other countries with lower labour cost, such as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar. [The Independent, BBC, HK Daily News, the House News]
Meditate on Scripture:
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. …The workers who were hired first grumble against the landowner. “These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” But the landowner answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”’ Matthew 20:1-16
At that time, a denarius was the daily wage of a laborer, and was enough to buy one-day food supply for a household. In those days, the landowner considered what is the amount that a worker’s family would need to survive and paid him what we say today the ‘Family Wage’. It is indeed a challenge to balance the different benefits and wants from foreign investors, factory owners, government and labourers. However, as Christians, it is worth to reflect on such practical issue, which is under the globalized world today that is largely dominated by capitalism, how one can fairly allocate the profits and resources among different social stratum practising the teaching of Christian faith on justice and mercy.
Pray for the labour strike in Cambodia:
The Cambodian government will soon meet with GMAC to discuss about the minimum wage for the garment industry. Pray for good communications between the two parties and a consensus reached to all satisfaction;
Pray for an effective and secured platform/ channel for workers to express their opinions without facing any threats;
Pray for a fair wage to workers which can meet their daily needs.
[ ‘SHARE’ Nov-Dec 2013 – Life Impacting Life ] FOCUS ~ INTERVIEW
Over 25 years, Mok has influenced many students
Interviewer> Lam Wai Shan
Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Making changes may seem easier said than done, but there are bound to be things that you and I can do.
Mok Hing-luen is the Chairperson of CEDAR Club; he was a former frontline social worker and has 25 years of experience in social work education. Set to retire next year, Mok is waiting for God to make clear the way for him.
Mok is one of the founders of CEDAR Club. After seeing pamphlets of CEDAR’s exposure trips in 2002, he joined the next two trips to Cambodia and Bangladesh where he got to know more about world poverty. These two trips also gave him the idea of setting up ‘CEDAR Club’, and since its establishment ten years ago Mok has been meeting regularly with a group of like-minded members.
Whether at work or otherwise, Mok maintains and practises his beliefs, pursues justice and human rights. Whenever there is an imbalance between the ideal and reality, Mok would go hiking to regain that balance.
Hardship – preceding brilliance
Mok has loved hiking since he was young; he gave it up for a while to spend more time on work and family but returned to this hobby in 2001. Now he goes hiking at least once or twice a week, and up to four or five times a week during the summer holidays. Mok takes all necessary precautions although he had a brush with death once, ‘About seven years ago it was raining as I went up Kau Nga Ling; when I reached 400m it became blustery and foggy with heavy rain, greatly reducing visibility. The trail itself wasn’t difficult but the weather made that experience unforgettable.’
Hiking gloves are needed for climbing To Kwun Cliff
In January this year he went for To Kwun Cliff, ‘There is no hiking trail and one can only climb the cliffs. I spent over an hour and still could not climb up, so you can imagine the difficulty. I began to wonder if I should continue but two friends behind me said, “Of course, as you are here now it does not make sense to stop!”’ Eventually Mok prevailed and reached the peak; the breathtaking view was exactly what fascinated him about hiking.
Hiking – rediscovering values
In the realm of nature man is tiny and it is that Mok has more reflections on life’s meaning and values, ‘The beautiful views make me think what it is that we seek in life? We live not only to chase after material things, rather we should cherish and esteem the value and significance of being a human.’ And yet the reality is very different. After being involved with social work half his life, Mok understands this very well.
The view from the mountain is dazzling
‘Social work is people-oriented and has high regard for human dignity, values and basic rights, and also for social justice. However, social work is often market-driven and affected by bureaucracy, and as a result human needs are neglected.’ It is difficult to persist in one’s beliefs when social justice and human rights are abused, but hiking helps Mok rediscover their importance, making up for the discrepancy between reality and the ideal.
In fact, Mok has been mobilising the younger generation to uphold core values, and some results can be seen. People often ask him how he keeps this passion, and his answer is, ‘let life impact life’. Says he ‘I hope to be a role model and impact others. Whatever we do, we need to hold on to our beliefs, otherwise they turn lifeless and die out eventually.’
Retirement – turning a new page
As the second-half of life was about to begin, a ‘warning’ two years ago made Mok stop and reconsider his future. ‘Two years ago I kept falling ill, and that was a sign for me to stop for a moment, take better care of my health, and consider changing jobs.’ He has after all taught in the university for 25 years. After some serious consideration, Mok decided to resign. ‘I am no longer young and also tertiary education is getting more restricted and routine, I do need to change and grow differently. One door must be closed before another can be opened.’
So, what lies behind the other door? Mok says with a smile that recently many people have asked about his retirement plan. ‘There isn’t a concrete plan yet although there are a few basic criteria: Firstly, it won’t be a paid job because not many paid jobs allow for personal freedom. Secondly, it will have direct contact with people such as students or marginalised groups. Thirdly, it will involve participating in reforming local social movements, mobilising students to actively care for our society and bring about changes.’ So it seems that, just as Mok says, his post-retirement life will be even busier than before!
‘Gong sheng’ – experiencing living together
Apart from hiking and education, Mok is also involved in taking his students to Taiwan for ‘gong sheng’ (‘living together’ or communal life) experience. ‘“Gong sheng” has been going on there for over twenty years, where groups of local Christians live together in a self-sufficient and environmentally friendly life; they devise their own education and have created quite a few inspiring songs.’ Those songs and the experience have moved Mok.
Some ‘gong sheng’ Christians from Taiwan sharing in Hong Kong
In the past six years Mok and his students having visited the ‘gong sheng’ community have shared with people in Hong Kong. ‘It is difficult to carry out the Taiwanese model in Hong Kong, so we have adopted a fellowship-style gathering where about a dozen of people meet once a fortnight, mainly to share and bond together, making this a starting point to practise the essence of “gong sheng”.’
Mission – passing the torch
Mok admits that meeting once a fortnight is not truly ‘living together’ sufficiently to bond. Similarly, the occasional sharing held by CEDAR Club hardly helped members grow a sense of belonging. ‘A few years ago we collaborated with Mong Kok Kai Fong Association Ltd. Chan Hing Social Service Centre to visit low income families and through this kind of sustainable participation a sense of belonging was built. However, because of constraints on time and resources, it is difficult to run these programmes sustainably.’
CEDAR Club had visited quite a few low income families
Despite the limitations, we can find our place and mission in life if we are sensitive to God’s leading. Mok has found his mission and is actively practising and promoting it. He encourages his students, ‘Do not overestimate yourselves but do not think of yourselves as useless either.’ He receives and he relays, ‘Man is like a drop in the ocean – our predecessors were here, we received the baton from them, and when we leave, other people will take over.’ Thus is mission passed to the next generation and changes will follow.
Have you found your place and mission in life? We invite you to be a member of CEDAR Club, and through monthly meetings learn about poverty, reflect on life and faith, and care for the poor in practical ways.
Interviewer> Wu Ying Lun, Education and Promotion Officer (mainly in youth education)
‘True education is to learn how to think, not what to think.’ 
For four years CEDAR has been mobilising young believers to participate in experiential events to care about the poor and respond to integral mission. Here, five participants tell us how the activities change their understanding of poverty and their faith.
I want to be a social worker
Form 6 students Ming and Grace both have chosen social work to study at university and hope to minister to the elderly or delinquents one day. Ming and Grace had visited elderly homes, joined local ‘service learning projects’, and gone on a school trip to Cambodia, all of which prepared them for future social work.
Eighteen months ago CEDAR and C.C.C. Heep Woh College jointly organised a service learning project where higher-secondary students get to know HK’s ethnic minorities cultures through home-visits, workshops and services. Ming and Grace now understand more what the South Asian communities face, especially the difficulties the children have in schooling and job-hunting.
Grace says, ‘We study Chinese from an early age and still find the examinations difficult; how much more would ethnic minority groups struggle? Since giving homework tutorials I realistically see their difficulties. Education is supposed to move people upward, but the unfavourable education system makes that virtually impossible.’
Ming says, ‘We hear news about troublesome South Asian youths, but now I realise that the examination system is too harsh for them and will eliminate them. I took no notice of this people group before but now I listen to news concerning them, such as Indonesian domestic helper being forced by employer to eat pork or not allowed to pray; these are conflicts from cultural differences.’
Another kind of cultural difference showed Grace a different ideal and learning goal, ‘A Pakistani girl told me she wanted to become the President to improve her countrymen’s lives with knowledge. Hong Kong people study for themselves only and always complain when studying gets tough.’
Ming (far right) now believes making money is not most important
The gospel needs to be contextualised
Amy joined CEDAR’s exposure trip to Indian slums, and through CEDAR Club she met marginalised groups such as Chinese new immigrant women and teenage drug addicts; she also visited a homeless person two years after he was allocated housing.
‘It was a partitioned room with blood stains of smashed woodlice on the walls. Every time I went I wanted to leave immediately.’ Amy had been bitten by woodlice and even found traces of them at her home.
Once, some church friends were also visiting with small gifts in a recycled bag that had bible verses printed on it. ‘I saw a strong contrast between the gospel they were trying to convey and the homeless person’s situation. The gospel needs to be contextualised, but the middle-class churches’ message is disconnected with needs at grass-root level.’
Gospel contextualisation does not only point out that evangelism does not stop at giving money to the poor but is also mindful of how unfair social structure abuses the poor. Theological worker Fung Wai Man puts it, ‘If we do not realise that people are abused by evil, we do not have the capacity to be compassionate. An evangelistic ministry that lacks the concept of “sinned against” is merely a promotional event without compassion.’ 
A prophetic vision to see the nature of sin is also necessary to make that mercy complete. ‘I used to feel that drug addicts only had themselves to blame for all their miseries, but home-visits help me see the social construction factor; now I have more compassion for them and have changed my perceptions, for example, only a minority cheat on social welfare, and the new immigrants are not even eligible for benefits.’ 
Amy takes action against the system’s unfairness. She wrote to the government supporting minimum wage legislation to combat labour exploitation; she joined a civic welfare group to learn about the administration’s population policy’s unfairness and discrimination against new women immigrants. Amy also wrote to her church leaders calling for a greater concern for faith-related issues such as poverty and environmental protection. ‘God gives each person different issues of concern – I don’t know how to care for people individually and I am not passionate about evangelism, but I can love and serve people, particularly the poor, through advocacy.’
Amy disagrees that this ‘upward’ advocacy is ineffective although visible results take time. ‘I wrote to the church a few years ago and now I notice changes happening. This year the church set up a three-year plan to gradually reach out to our community.’
Amy urges churches to construct theology in a ‘poor people’ environment
Leaders need to reflect deeply on the contents of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Church ‘community care group’ leaders William and Choh see many obstacles in mobilising the church to care for society.
Eighteen months ago their reading group wanted to know more about the needs of the after reading Evangelism Revisited . Lacking the relevant network and experience, William and Choh contacted CEDAR. After visiting grass-root families, midnight markets and single mothers, William and Choh became organisers to mobilise church members to care for the community.
Paul focuses on how social policy affects grass-root families, holds art exhibitions on grass-root life
Group members are now more aware of the grass-root children’s needs; Choh recalls, ‘An ADHD child of a welfare-supported family has many study needs. What would his future be like if neither the government nor the church lends help?’ Collaborating with the frontline organisation that arranged the visit, their church premises are now used to hold tutorials and organise workshops for grass-root women.
Choh thinks the collaboration is a good start in raising members’ awareness, but mobilising the pastoral leaders is proving more difficult. ‘Our group is like a secret organisation: although pastors know about our work, they are not interested in joining us; we cannot openly promote our work, invitations go out only through our network.’ Lack of pastoral affirmation and support makes it very difficult to mobilise the whole church as many Christians affirm.
Whether or not a church supports her members depends on her stance on the gospel. Choh points out, ‘Actually, there has always been community work such as homework tuition, but the church expects people being brought into church; therefore services not including (hard sell) evangelism are unlikely to receive support.’
William says, ‘My personal calling is to integrate Christianity and public issues; stories of the poor challenge me to think how the gospel can respond to their predicaments.’ William and Choh hope that when a small group of church members persist in doing small things, just like the ‘five loaves and two fish’ miracle and the recent ‘equal sharing movement’ initiated locally, the gospel will be made relevant to the poor.
Each person’s calling
Interviewees above may play a different role in community care, but as they encounter the poor, they find their own calling, whether it be advocacy, education promotion or frontline ministry. People seeking and fulfilling their calling learn to replace people-labelling with appreciation of a foreign culture and discovery of their own strengths and aspirations. While results may not be immediate, at least their own hearts, thoughts and worldviews have undergone change.
Recommended reading: Breakazine!, Evangelism Revisited and The Poor- My Neighbour? [Chinese books]
Contact CEDAR to organise local visits and learn about pre-visit preparation
 Jiddu Krishnamurti  Fung Wai Man Raymond, Evangelism Revisited，Chinese book published by FES (HK) Ltd., July 2010, see p.18  According to the survey report issued by Oxfam Hong Kong on 26 March 2009, new immigrants represented only 5.8% of the total welfare applications during that period, and only 0.3% of the 960 cases of welfare abuse.  Fung Wai Man Raymond, Evangelism Revisited，Chinese book published by FES (HK) Ltd., July 2010.