I spent 8 months last year in Hong Kong living with the St Stephen’s Society, a Christian charity known mainly for providing rehabilitation homes for drug addicts, prostitutes and the poor.
It was an incredibly special time where I learnt a huge amount about how Jesus can change the lives of those in need and also found Him changing my life considerably as well.
My life there consisted of three things: mornings were spent in one of the adult men’s houses; in the afternoons I would normally be helping those on the streets of Hong Kong, and at night time I was in a dorm of teenagers who were serving their prison sentences staying with the Society instead of in a cell.
Many of the guys arrived addicted to heroin, cocaine or ketamine, and we would pray with them asking Jesus to make their withdrawal painless as they went through it cold turkey without medicine. A remarkable number of them had a painless withdrawal and once they were physically well again, they tended to live with us until their probation order ended or until it was right for them to return home. Most of guys came from violent backgrounds lacking in good parenting so we tried to live as a family, sharing life together, allowing them to find emotional healing and to pursue their faith in Jesus more.
Life was challenging, but again and again I saw God transforming situations from brokenness to restoration and peace. Men who had been taking heroin for decades would be set free from addiction by Jesus. I saw the lame prayed for and then being able to walk. Hardened gang members were forgiving their parents who had abused them. The lonely elderly living in a government estate had a friend to talk to. The sick were made well. The way God worked in peoples’ lives was beautiful and miraculous.
And as time went on I realised that it seemed to fit well with these words from Isaiah 61 where God explains that he is going to send his Son Jesus:
“to bring good news to the poor. . . .
to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.”
“he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.”
I love how, slightly later in this passage, God explains that, even though we often feel as if our lives are a mess, he wants us to live free from any shame, knowing that we are a display of his splendour. Seeing this in action in the lives of so many people deeply moved me and led me to want to have a life centred around serving those in need.
I found myself becoming so free from anxiety
However, the thing that surprised even more was that this gift of freedom was for me as well! I arrived expecting to spend my time there serving and helping others, but soon found that I was also changing and being helped. It began to dawn on me that those words from Isaiah were completely relevant to my life as well. During my time there I found myself becoming so free from anxiety. The depth of love I felt from knowing Jesus overcame the different stresses I had felt in life. The simplicity of Jesus’ good news was one of the main things I learnt in Hong Kong; that Jesus is a saviour who takes us when we are broken and feel worthless, and makes us whole and well again.
Some people might think that whilst these experiences are great, they only happen in other countries and on gap years and so aren’t relevant to Oxford life, but I would disagree. Even over the last year in Oxford I have seen Jesus giving people freedom from addiction and anxiety, healing one man from over a decade of arthritis, dysfunctional relationships being made well, and my personal friendship with Jesus has only deepened. This has convinced me that the God I knew in Hong Kong is exactly the same as the God I know in England and Oxford, a God who always wants to bring restoration.
Guest blog by Harry Barber - Oxford University, St. Hilda's, Engineering Sciences (2015-2018)
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