By Lin Zehui
On the first Sunday after the winter vacation, I attended a worship gathering of a Nepali christian community. It was an unforgettable and inspiring experience for me. It was the first time that I had been surrounded by people from another country. I grew up in China and I have no religious belief myself.
Before my arrival, all that I knew specifically about this community was their nationality and that they were Christians. I only read some articles about the situation and problems of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, so I planned to learn about their identity problems, the cultural stereotypes and discrimination they may suffer in their career(adults) and education (children). However, the moment I entered the church in person, a mixture of passion for Christian and Nepali culture attracted my attention immediately. The worship is held every Sunday in a small hall. It is a bit crowded for so many people, but everything is put in order. It feels more like a family reunion rather than worship.
Before most people came that day, a band was practicing a Nepali worship song. I could feel their strong love of Jesus from the beautiful music they played carefully. At around 11:15 am, the worship began. At first, all the people prayed to God by themselves. Then they sang two worship songs together loudly and passionately. I also joined the music even though I could not speak Nepali. Next, they donated money to the church and read the Bible together. After the worship, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and chatted freely like a big family. It was a whole new experience for me and has remained special to me in many ways; my first time being among non-Chinese and it was my first time being in a church.
I talked with different people during lunch time. A father of a 100-day-old baby told me the experience of his family. “One day, my wife pushed the baby cart along the street, and because it was too narrow, our cart slightly scratched a woman’s car. She got so angry and scolded us with dirty words. But why? Nothing serious!” “I worked in the construction industry before, but now I just stay at home caring for the baby. I have been loosing many job opportunities simply because I can’t speak Cantonese.” He was still very angry when talking about the discrimination which many ethnic minorities may suffer in Hong Kong. “Do you have identity problems?” I asked. “I came here just 1.5 years ago so I haven’t experience anything extreme yet, but my daughter may have after she grows up because she was born here, we have to prepare her for it”. “Will you try to integrate into local society?” He shook his head, “I don’t have any local friends and I only interact with Christian Nepalis.”
“Why don’t you interact with non-Christian Nepalis?” I further asked. “We (Christian Nepalis) only celebrate our Christian festivals instead of Nepali traditional festivals. It is hard to [get along well] with non-Christian Nepalese people.” He answered. I was surprised at his isolation from other non-Christian Nepali communities and later I learned from another Nepali friend that Christian Nepalis are unpopular and isolated even in Nepal because the majority Hindus think Christians throw away their traditional cultures upon converting.
Moreover, I talked with a young lady who has been in HK for 15 years. “My life in HK is OK. People can’t tell I am an ethnic minority just from my appearance. I haven’t suffered much discrimination, maybe sometimes.” She told me. “Then what about identity problems?” I asked the same question again. “In the past, I wondered who I was. But now I am quite confident to declare I am Nepali and I live in Hong Kong. For me, Jesus is definitely my real identity. And I started to believe in Christianity when I was still young in Nepal till now.”
“Jesus is my identity.” I received this answer many times for any identity question I asked among Christian Nepalese people I met. As a Chinese without any religious belief, I am really shocked by the great power that religion can exert. They explained to me that they gain a sense of belonging in a Christian community, real peace inside their hearts and courage to face all the difficulties in real life all by their belief in Jesus. I supposed ethnicity and language were important cultural factors which could tie these people together, but religious belief seems to have a stronger power for the Nepalese I met.
Being unwelcome in Hong Kong as well as in Nepal, they can relieve themselves by believing that Jesus loves and helps every human being equally. Furthermore, Some Christian Nepalese converted to Christianity after they came to Hong Kong. It is likely that being an ethnic minority increases one’s tendency to have a religious belief.
This experience makes me think about religion’s effect on individuals and the whole society. As a person without religious belief, do I have something similar (in mind) which can replace religion by exerting a similar mental effect? This is a question I hope to explore.