The first economic recession in Hong Kong in 13 years has proved both an opportunity and a trial for the church. With a 5.5 percent unemployment rate, the former British crown colony has nearly 188,000 of its people without work. The figure is expected to rise in February during Chinese New Year when employers typically reduce staff to avoid giving bonuses.

Churches have set up funds and databases to help Christians find jobs to tide them over. But few Chinese Christians, particularly in the middle class, are eager to seek help from churches. In order to save face in the culture, they prefer to rely first on savings, and, as a last resort, friends. Only a tiny fraction of people ask for assistance from churches or the government.

Historically, Hong Kong churches have just paid lip service to deeply rooted social problems, focusing instead on education, health care, and social service agencies. As a result, many residents do not see Christian churches as a ready resource for the poor or unemployed. In addition, despite Protestant mission work in Hong Kong since the 1840s, only 8 percent of the region's 6.3 million people are Christians. The majority are Buddhists or Taoists.

RETRAINING THE JOBLESS: To help Christians who have lost jobs, the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China has established a $2 million relief fund ($257,900 U.S.). The fund assists affected members within local congregations, affiliated schools, and church headquarters, helping them to apply for government assistance. Initially, the agency provides an interest-free loan for three months. Then it refers the unemployed to openings in its 65 schools and 49 congregations. In addition, an Internet Web site has been set up to advertise positions. Nearly ...

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