When Li Cho Yiu graduated from Hong Kong's Chinese Graduate School of Theology in 1990, there were 18 students in his class.
Today, half of those graduates are working in Chinese churches in San Francisco, Toronto, and Sydney.
Li admits to mixed feelings about seeing his colleagues leave Hong Kong permanently before the 1997 reversion to Chinese rule. "I've seen so many people emigrate that I've just become used to it," he says.
Although he also had an opportunity to emigrate, Li chose to remain in Hong Kong to help carry the church through the uncertainties accompanying the political transition.
"This is my home. I am Hong Kong Chinese, and these are my people," he says. "One day I would like to go to China and serve the people there. So, I'm here to stay."
At age 40, Li is now one of the territory's older church leaders. He sympathizes with the younger pastors who have been forced to move from seminary into senior pastoral positions.
"Many are frustrated, feeling as if they are just not experienced enough for the job," he says. "The church elders often don't really trust them because they are so young, and many in the congregation still question whether they will really stay in Hong Kong or suddenly decide to emigrate."
Li concedes that his own church elders carefully cross-examined him about his future plans before he was hired in the Church of Christ in China assembly where he is now working. "The first question they asked me was, 'Do you want to emigrate?' "
Though he harbors doubts over whether Hong Kong's churches will enjoy genuine religious freedom after the transition, Li believes the territory's new generation of church leaders has the fortitude to walk the road ahead.
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