The Core of the Gospel Involves Caring for Orphans and Refugees: Andrew Gardener
Understanding the heart of God for the vulnerable and the poor, with Andrew Gardener, The Vine, Hong Kong.
What areas of justice would you say are closest to your heart?
There are a few of them.
The first would be adoption, foster care, and child development. We see a lot of child injustice in Asia. Because of poverty, there are many broken families and so many children in need of adoption.
Refugees and asylum seekers are also obviously very important to me, because that’s such a central thing for us as a church. It’s an area that I probably understand the most, in terms of the issues that are facing that community not just in Hong Kong but around the world. This is because we’ve connected as a church to global refugee organizations. It’s very dear and close to my heart.
One more area I will mention is anti-human trafficking. The church supports an NGO that focuses on this space. Trafficking is a major problem, particularly in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
It might seem like less of an issue in Hong Kong, but we have discovered it is still an issue. Particularly when it comes to forced migration. We’re really trying to raise awareness with the government and Hong Kong citizens themselves.
There’s no legislation in Hong Kong that can prosecute traffickers at this time. So we’re working with lawyers and other NGOs to try to actually push legislation through that would enable us to bring some of these people to justice.
There’re a lot of justice issues I could talk about, but these are particularly important to The Vine as a church.
You and your wife have an adopted daughter. Could you tell us the story of how this happened, and what you believe the church’s role is in this key area of justice?
Adoption is so important to us. It was something that was a part of my wife and my life before we even met. In fact, we met at an orphanage.
My father worked for 17 years in a child development organization that had an orphanage. When I graduated from university, I moved back home and started to live with my family at this particular facility. My wife was a full-time volunteer at the home. So we literally met in an orphanage.
When we started to date, and as we talked about building a family together, we talked about adoption. We said adoption should be a part of our approach to building a family. We did want to have our own biological children as well, but thought that after having one or two biological children we would adopt one or two more. Before we were even married this was our plan.
After we got married, we discovered that it would be impossible for us to have children biologically. But because we’d had that original conversation about adoption, this disappointment was softened tremendously. There was still grieving, but we always knew adoption would be part of our story.
We ended up adopting our daughter, Mia, when she was 16 months, and she’s now 10 years old. We adopted her in Hong Kong, and she is half-Nepalese and half-Indonesian. She is a beautiful little girl. That’s our personal adoption journey.
Alongside that grew this passion for adoption in general. Widows and orphans are mentioned so much in Scripture but we don’t actually think about them in the way that we should.
I’m pretty radical, when it comes to thinking about the church’s role in adoption and orphans. I honestly believe that if we understood our role in adoption and foster care, we’d be able to empty all of the childcare facilities in the world. The church is the place where we should be opening our doors and opening our families to children.
In fact, I challenge Christian families to consider adoption as part of their family planning. Even before you have your own biological children, I tell couples they should think about whether they should adopt or not.
Does the Bible itself have much to say about adoption for you? How did you come to consider that the whole church should be involved in adoption, in one way or another?
Here’s the theological foundation. The first time that God represents himself as a father to Israel is in the Exodus narrative (Exodus 4:22). He tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Let my firstborn son Israel go.” God represents Himself as a father figure to a bunch of children who are under captivity. They were not in the family that they should have been in. God steps in and says, “Let my people go.”
There’s something quite powerful in the fact that God presents Himself as a Father to a lost group of children, in the most central story of the Old Testament. That’s God’s heart for adoption.
The Exodus narrative is what inspired so much of our justice thinking about God. He is a God who sees the vulnerable and the poor. The ones that are enslaved. He has compassion on them, and comes down and speaks out against injustice. He settled His people in a new land. A new place where they could truly flourish as a community.
“What is God’s heart behind the bigger story of injustice in the world?”
God sees the injustice of children without families. He wants to come down in his compassion. He wants to move the hearts of Christian families to open their homes. Then these children can escape the oppressive environment of not having a family. They can be brought into a new family where they are cared for and can flourish.
It doesn’t mean that adoption is for everybody. It doesn’t mean that everybody should be adoptive parents or open their homes to foster care. I totally appreciate every family is unique and different. But it does mean that we should be thinking about it, and that our hearts should be open to it. God may call us not to adopt. He may call us to other things. But I think our hearts should be open to asking the question, “Should we open our homes? Should we define our family broader than just our biological one?”
Moving beyond the Exodus narrative, so many Scriptures talk about adoption. It’s one of the primary metaphors in the New Testament that Paul uses to speak about our salvation, and how Gentiles and Jews are a part of the same family.
Another area of justice that you mentioned as being close to your heart was refugees. You shared about your church’s initial call to serve refugees earlier. Where do most of Hong Kong’s refugees come from? What makes this ministry such a pressing need?
I use that term “refugees” because it’s more commonly understood in a global context. But we have very few actual refugees in Hong Kong. What we actually have are asylum seekers.
Hong Kong doesn’t recognize refugees. In other words, it will never allow an asylum seeker in Hong Kong to become a full-fledged refugee.
A refugee is someone who’s been given a legal status to go and move to another country and start a new life. An asylum seeker is one who’s waiting for that legal status. One who’s applied for the status of becoming a refugee, and has not received it yet. So the majority of the ministry we do in The Vine is to asylum seekers.
Usually what happens is that the asylum seekers apply for refugee status in a country that accepts refugees. So while they’re applying, they’re stuck in the middle. They’re stuck in the system. They can’t leave Hong Kong until they are granted legal status by another country.
We have asylum seekers that we’re working with who have been in the system for more than 10 years and have yet to be given a status. While waiting, they’re not allowed to work in Hong Kong, so it’s a very difficult situation. They’re from all over the world, from places like Africa, Southeast Asia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal.
There is also a UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) presence here in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and therefore considers itself free from the obligations to protect refugees in the city. So church’s, NGO’s and other elements of civil society must play a large role in their fair and just treatment and advocate on their behalf.
Still the reality is, Hong Kong is not a very easy place for a refugee to be. No one wants to be stuck in limbo, as they often are. People don’t come here to stay, but because they want to relocate to another country that will accept refugees and give them legal status. Hong Kong becomes this sort of processing center, but it’s a hard environment for them to be in.
The government does offer some support and provide some financial benefit – food and grocery allowance – but it’s very small. It’s not really enough for a family to live on.
This is where the NGO community in Hong Kong and the church community in Hong Kong have to step up, and really help to keep this population of people above water. This is what we’ve been doing in The Vine for many years now.
Andrew Gardener is the Senior Pastor of The Vine Church in Hong Kong and in 2013 became the co-founder of The Justice Conference Asia. He was originally born in the UK, moving to Hong Kong when he was 12, where he later met and married his wife Christine. They have a beautiful adopted daughter, Mia.
Read last week’s article to hear how The Vine first became intricately connected to justice ministry, and come back next week to hear Andrew share more of the life of faith and risk that he has lived.