Well-known American pastor Francis Chan surprised many when he announced his plan to move to Asia to serve in ministry, leaving his comfortable position as a mega-church pastor to follow God’s call. In less than a year, he and his family planted three house churches in Hong Kong.
Then the Chans were informed that their visas had been revoked, forcing them to leave with only a few weeks’ warning. Chan announced the move in a January 5, 2021 video, saying, “Last week, after Hong Kong officials rejected our visas, we had to leave the country. We are now back in the U.S. and appealing the decision. Hopefully, we can get back into Hong Kong because, man, we want to be there.”
Chan is unsure whether the government will ever let his family return to Hong Kong. The revoked visas come at a time when Beijing is increasing pressure on Hong Kong following the national security law enacted June 30, 2020, that enables the government to crack down on perceived opponents.
On January 6, 2021, Hong Kong police officers arrested over 50 people connected to the pro-democracy movement. The mass arrests—mostly of pro-democracy politicians—marked a sad day for the hundreds of thousands of freedom-loving people who flooded the streets in support of democracy not long ago.
The immense scope of the national security law has left many Hong Kong Christians worried about how this may affect their churches or religious expression. Ever since the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, the city’s freedom had been protected by the “one country, two systems” policy. Now, Beijing is abandoning any pretense of Hong Kong’s autonomy. As the city starts to look more like mainland China, believers fear they will face the same restrictions found on the mainland.
Christianity is legal in China, but it is governed under the Three–Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the State Administration of Religious Affairs. The “three selves” in the Three–Self Patriotic Movement are self-governed, self-funded, and self-propagated. These requirements specifically cut off churches from outside aid or influence. The government closely monitors registered churches, and unauthorized churches risk being harassed or shut down.
The Chinese government has long warned Christian churches against “foreign influence.” Revoking Francis Chan’s visa is significant, and it may signal a similar effort to reduce “foreign influence” in Hong Kong.
For decades, Hong Kong served as a hub for Christian ministry in Asia, including mainland China. Any crackdown on churches in Hong Kong would have far-reaching consequences.
Some Hong Kongers are preparing for the possibility of increased religious restrictions. When Chan and his family knew they had to leave, they left the young churches to the congregants they had discipled. Chan asked if they were ready for the challenge, to which they nervously answered, “No.” But Chan encouraged the house church members, reminding them that church members in New Testament times had no Bibles or resources, but God used them to start a powerful church.
Across the world, churches that operate in a context of persecution are forced to function differently. But time and again, God has proven that no earthly force can impede the gospel. The growth of Christianity in China and Iran testifies to that.
Believers in Hong Kong may endure more challenges in the days ahead, but their hope need not waver. Before leaving, Chan told the members of his house church something that may apply to churches throughout the city: “I have faith in you. I have peace in my heart because I know that the Holy Spirit will be working. Although I believe God is having me go back to the U.S., I think this a great season for you to be pushed and stretched.”