'My welcome was very warm – and I want others to experience this'
Sharon Shek has been appointed to lead the Baptists Together response to the growing numbers of people from Hong Kong seeking refuge in the UK
Sharon is a British national (overseas) who served as a minister in a large Baptist church in Hong Kong before arriving in England in February.
As the Baptists Together Hong Kong Response Co-ordinator, she is responsible for:
liaising with church leaders seeking to leave Hong Kong, connecting them with local Baptist congregations;
encouraging Baptist churches to be places of welcome for migrants from Hong Kong;
enabling training and networking, and helping Baptists discern God’s missional activity in the midst of the migration.
The role came about after the UK Government introduced a new visa at the end of January that gives 70 per cent of the territory's population the right to come and live here. The visa was introduced to the former colony because the Government believes China is undermining Hong Kong's rights and freedoms.
It is estimated that about 300,000 people will take up the visa offer over the next five years. This has been described as the biggest planned migration since Windrush.
While many are leaving Hong Kong as economic migrants, some need to flee for their own safety. Indeed, some Baptists have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy protests, and early targets of the new security laws.
The Baptists Together Mission Forum discussed how we might be able to facilitate and co-ordinate our response as a Baptist family, and released the funding for this new role.
Sharon is working two days per week in this new role, and is sited in the Faith and Society Team. A Hong Kong Working Group – comprising a group of UK Baptists – has been set up to support her.
She was formally commissioned into the role during a service at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday (18 July). (Sharon is pictured with Ellen Price, left, regional minister Mike Fegredo, right, and church elder Laura Bishop).
Sharon said she would like to make Baptist churches aware of what’s happening in Hong Kong. 'The situation is very serious there. In the last two years we have had so many broken relationships because of differences of opinion.
'Many people are worried about the future – the judicial system, education, their freedoms – and many families have decided to move to countries such as Taiwan, Canada and the UK.
'So we are very pleased the visa was offered to come here. It’s special - but there are many difficulties in starting a new life here. We want to work with people and get them used to living here.'
Sharon wants to encourage Baptist churches to give others the welcome she herself experienced earlier this year. Knowing she was moving to Derby as she had a friend with accommodation there, Sharon contacted Baptists Together prior to leaving, and was put in touch with the Revd Ellen Price, minister of Trinity Baptist Church. Ellen and the congregation have helped her settle: Sharon notes how encouraging it was to receive flowers from a member of the church, practical help and information, as well as invitations to join online gatherings and face-to face meet ups.
Sharon, whose hobbies include cycling and dragon boat racing, says, 'Our lives are very different, so your experience is very helpful. Hong Kong is a very small place, and it makes the UK seems really big. Derbyshire is double the size of Hong Kong. We have to get used to the size.
'Language is a big barrier for Hong Kongers. We learnt English at kindergarten, but have not really used it since. We are shy.
'So if you belong to this country and you welcome us it’s a very good feeling. Helping us with practical information, explaining the many new aspects of living in a foreign country, is very important. My welcome was very warm – and I want others to experience this.'
A further need for many Hong Kong nationals is accommodation. With stories of some living long-term in Airbnbs, many cannot obtain rentals without work. There are opportunities here for churches and their congregations to see how they could help with housing and in other practical and pastoral ways.
There is a sense too that God is at work in the midst of these challenges – and there is a hope that as well as offering practical support to those arriving, creative opportunities will arise for ministers and others from Hong Kong to contribute to the mission and ministry of Baptist churches in the UK.
Ultimately by working together Sharon hopes British Baptists can give people from Hong Kong "hope, companionship and the possibility of turning a new page.”
The webpage ukhk.org/church is part of a co-ordinated response to the estimated 130,000 people expected to migrate to the UK from Hong Kong this year.
It enables churches to sign up to be a 'Hong Kong Ready Church'. The church section is part of the wider initiative ukhk.org created to help the new arrivals from Hong Kong settle in the UK. Baptist church member Krish Kandiah is founder and director of UKHK.