With an influx of Hong Kongers moving to the UK, one church wanted to show a radical welcome to help community flourish…so they organised a Friendship Festival. Here’s that story, told by their Senior Pastor, Jason Clark.
We had over 1,000 people at our first Friendship Festival today.
Today’s friendship festival started as an idea in one of my prayer times. I was praying about how the large numbers of Hong Kongers moving to the UK, and where I live, might be made to feel welcome. These Hong Kongers are escaping Chinese anti-democratic actions, and leaving families behind they will likely never see again.
My friend Krish Kandiah had contacted me earlier this year to alert me to all the Hong Kongers moving to my town. I have been to Hong Kong a few times. Something stirred in my heart and I knew I had to help. We started to organise support under the umbrella of the national organisation Krish had set up to support Hong Kongers – UKHK.
We have in the last few months had members of my church be buddies to fifty families from Hong Kong, being friends and someone they could get local advice and support from. We have also run online support for business and professional networking, and social events.
So I wondered out loud in conversation with God about how we could also tell Hong Konger’s stories locally, so our community might understand why so many are moving here.
The idea of a community-wide party came to mind. A welcome festival. People gathering from all over our borough to have fun, meet each other and provide a welcome to Hong Kongers. To meet and be friends with each other.
A team formed. Jack Broadbent, a member of my church, who by day plans events for Legoland took on the project management. Then none of today would have happened without Richard Choi. He is the most amazing Christian man, from Hong Kong and has lived in Sutton for over ten years. Richard has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours networking and supporting Hong Kongers coming to Sutton. His passion and vision captured my heart and mind.
Wien Fung, from London City Mission (BTW LCM team are awesome, thank you) joined our team. What a legend Wein is. Local Hong Kongers also quickly volunteered to take part. This crazy idea now seemed possible. I took part in several newspaper and radio interviews as Krish profiled our event.
My church trustees agreed to fund the event. We wanted our community to access the event for free and wonder at how and why churches would do something like this. Then Hannah Grace Miles took over day to day as a Pastor in our church, inviting local churches, schools, and community groups to take the part, going to planning meetings with our growing team. Methodist Pastor Kan got involved. She is working with Hong Kongers in Sutton, and she catalysed so many things including the children’s choir who melted hearts today.
And then the festival happened.
Local churches took part. Local community groups attended to connect with Hong Kongers and our wider community. The police came and let kids take selfies with their police helmets. We had free ice creams, a bouncy castle, balloon animals, face painting, bubble tea, a live band, a welcome mural and so much more.
We had a welcome ceremony, with our local mayor, the head of our local government authority, the bishop of Croydon, and by our local churches. Hong Kongers were interviewed about their journey and their welcome to Sutton. Several national news outlets attended to chronicle the event.
So after all that I am so grateful for the church. An idea in prayer became something Christians organised and the church funded. People had fun, and a story has been told for our community. Hong Kongers are a blessing to us. And we bless them.
And I believe heaven was opened over our local community.