For Asian Heritage Month, Calin Chun-hong Lau looks at his Chinese heritage and Canadian cultural context through the eyes of faith.

Ministry personnel Calin Chun-hong Lau, a man of Chinese descent, stands before a church door in a suit and green stole.
Credit: Courtesy of Calin Chun-hong Lau.
Published On: May 19, 2022

Hong Kong, a colony and dependent territory of the British Empire from 1841 to 1997 was my home city. Like most people living there, I enjoyed the created prosperity. This was especially so after the Governor of Hong Kong established the “Independent Commission Against Corruption,” which set the tone for all civil servants to do their duties in due diligence. I’d never heard “No money, no water” from the firefighters; or asking for “tea money” or “lucky money” from the police officers for extra protection. To me, those were only episodes that appeared in the movies or shows on stage. Job security was never an issue, as opportunities for work were available everywhere. I knew that if I got appropriate training, I would be able to deliver the best possible results and be well compensated.

Did I have bad experiences too? Of course, I did. But I backed them all up as memories. I never need to have a reflection on them seriously. Even though I saw how more-abled students bullied other less-abled students, heterosexual people alienated those having different sexual orientations, people with lighter skin colour discriminated against those with darker skin colour, and more, I did nothing.

The excuse for my inaction was that I could never find the right time to burn the bridges, to disturb the balanced lifestyle I enjoyed. That’s the way I dealt with my personal and religious life. Should I call myself conservative, unprogressive, or procrastinating? I don’t know. I didn’t even care that Hong Kong people didn’t have a nationality of their own, which was a violation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even though the People’s Republic of China didn’t consider me Chinese, the British Government didn’t consider me a British citizen. I felt it was fine as long as I could use the ‘borrowed’ British passport and travel freely almost everywhere. Were these bad experiences? If they were, they were in my blind spot and became an essential component of my heritage.

Calin Chun-hong Lau poses in front of the port at Hong Kong, dressed casually, in what appears to be a visit to the city he grew up in.
Credit: Courtesy of Calin Chun-hong Lau.

1996 was an important year for my family, as we settled in Canada for good then. I had to decide how to face challenges in this new cultural environment. Naturally, I maintained close contact with my relatives and friends in Canada of Chinese descent. However, I started to have flashbacks of my past experiences, the unfair events, and the injustice I witnessed, and slowly discerned them from new perspectives. “Don’t be a pastor in a church.” That was the first recommendation from my pastor after I finished my M.Div. in Hong Kong. I didn’t know why my pastor said that, but I followed his advice and became a teacher in a school run by my religious denomination and helped found and run a mission on the school premises.

I enjoyed the extra freedom during that time that I wouldn’t have in a church setting. I was pleased with it and took it for granted. When I first arrived in Canada, I wanted to explore whether serving a church would be an option for me. I approached some Chinese-descent churches through my friends and relatives, but finding a good match seemed impossible, so I gave it up. I kept attending churches of Chinese descent though, and committed myself to different roles, including preaching, teaching Sunday school, leading Bible study groups, secretary, and chairperson of the church board for almost 20 years, despite my busy work schedules.

Calin Chun-hong Lau tries on a Canadian Mountie Hat in a souvenir shop.
Credit: Courtesy of Calin Chun-hong Lau.

The longer I involved myself like that, the more I felt that my pastor’s recommendation was correct. It seems that he knew me more than I knew myself. He knew that the Christian faith that evolved in my theology study would have a crash with my Chinese heritage one day. This discrepancy had become more evident in Canada due to the cultural differences. When I involved myself in a community of faith of Chinese descent, I enjoyed particular convenience due to the language and customs. However, my career in Canada kept reminding me of the observed and untackled unfairness and injustice. And my heritage was blocking me from dealing with them.

In 2013, I decided to take a further step in my spiritual journey and sought to enter the ministry in The United Church of Canada. When it came to the stage for doing my internship, I was instructed to do it in a non-Chinese context. Of course, it created some inconvenience, but it paved my way towards serving in Anglo-European dominant churches.

I feel grateful that God has given me two pairs of glasses to view these arrangements when I look back. One pair stems from my Chinese heritage and another from an Anglo-Euro context. Now I can recognize the blind spots I couldn’t see before from both sides. The pair from my Chinese heritage helped me see the pitfalls when freedom and individualism are overemphasized and when democracy and love are misunderstood. In contrast, the non-Chinese pair helped me see the danger of maintaining the status quo for its own sake and censorship against any criticism, from within or without.

Serving Anglo-European congregations as ministry personnel of Chinese-descent is an enjoyable experience. I would extend an invitation to anyone to make a similar move. I might not be able to see and remove all the planks in my own eye, but it had undoubtedly jumpstarted some processes to identify those that hide in blind spots.

— Calin Chun-hong Lau is currently the ministry personnel of Keswick-Ravenshoe United Church in Georgina, Ontario.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.

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