Updated: Apr 20, 2021
When I newly moved to Hong Kong, I joined Christian Action, a Christian NGO. I worked for 12 years at Christian Action, and throughout those 12 years, I met many wonderful Christians. One of them is Reverend Hans Lutz, who works tirelessly to promote social justice and very active in civil society arena. Here is his story.
Tell us about your involvement with civil society in Hong Kong, please?
I came to Hong Kong on April 1st, 1968. I was sent by Basel Mission, Switzerland (now known as Mission 21) to find a new way for churches to reach out to people in an industrial society. I was assigned to work at the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee (CIC). The CIC was an auxiliary organisation of the Hong Kong Christian Council, whose objective is to offer a Christian response to industrial society. The CIC was advancing labour rights, union organization and industrial safety.
Later on, we at the CIC were approached by the Christian Conference of Asia, which told us about the need to empower people by organizing them. We then got together with some other religious leaders and decided to establish the Society for Community Organisation (SoCo).
When SoCo was founded in 1971, it was established as a training organisation. However, it later developed and became an organisation that provides assistance to the grassroots community in Hong Kong, upholding their rights and promoting social justice in Hong Kong.
The Amnesty International, Hong Kong Section was founded because we saw how people, including pastors, struggled and were arrested and tortured for supporting democracy in South Korea. So, we circulated a petition for their release through Amnesty International.
One member of Amnesty International, who visited Hong Kong at the time, suggested finding out how many individual Amnesty members were in Hong Kong. We found that there were six of us. Therefore, we got together and formed a group. In the early days I became the convenor of the work. When 1997 was approaching, we decided to get recognition from Amnesty International as a section, which was granted. That is how the Amnesty International, Hong Kong Section was born.
As for the shelter for foreign domestic workers which is run by Christian Action, its origins go back to the time I was the coordinator of Mission 21 work in Asia 1992 to 1997. One day we had a conference in Hong Kong, which was attended by five partners from Indonesia. Following this meeting, we took the Indonesian participants on Sunday afternoon to Victoria Park. Some of them met members of their congregations there. When they came back, they said we had to do something for the migrant workers’ community. Later, we appointed a researcher to find out what they needed and discovered that they needed a refuge. Therefore, we worked with Christian Action and the Church of Christ in China to establish a shelter for migrant workers.
For the six years before I retired, I was the secretary of Justice and Social Concern of the Hong Kong Christian Council. During that period, English-speaking churches approached us and told us that they had been approached by refugees/asylum seekers for assistance. Mrs. Cheung-Ang Siew Mei, the director of Christian Action, decided that she would take on the task of helping refugees and asylum seekers and created the Chungking Mansion Service Centre. The churches decided to establish the Hong Kong Refugees Ministry to support the refugees/asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
That’s how I became involved in various organisations.
Some pastors just attend to the religious needs of their congregations. What makes you active in the social justice area?
First of all, I truly believe that we need to protect human dignity, empower people to stand up for themselves and improve society. I always say that my mission is two-fold. One is to make people more conscious; if, over the course of this, they encounter Christian faith and become Christians, I am happy. But I’m also happy if they become socially active.
What is your proudest moment as part of civil society in Hong Kong?
My proudest moment was when I was part of the CIC. My knowledge of labour law was very limited. Therefore, I took a course in labour law at HKU and passed the knowledge to my colleagues. Because of this, CIC became an organisation that people could call and ask for advice. The social workers caught on, and many organisations acquired labour education as well. I remember that at one point, there were 18 NGOs that promoted labour education. We met regularly and exchanged ideas.
We also did policy work to improve the Employment Ordinance. The original area of protection was very limited. We campaigned for a rest day for shop workers and for paid maternity leave, as we found out that many pregnant women worked long hours before they took their maternity leave to earn more money to cover the difference. Our research also showed that we were left behind in labour protection compared to other countries in Asia. We put in these two demands to the government and we got them. This was my proudest moment.
You are consistently working for the betterment of Hong Kongers, even beyond your retirement. I’ve found that many people live their religious lives only on certain days or at certain times. Do you think people should follow in your footsteps?
I am a full-time religious professional, so it is easier for me. I understand that it is difficult for people who run a company that needs to make a profit, for instance. However, I think that people should always be fair and ethical in whatever they are doing. For this reason, I think that workers, through the union, should be empowered so that they can assert their rights, to make sure they are treated fairly.
What do you wish for Hong Kong?
I wish for civil society in Hong Kong to continue to flourish. I also hope that the ecumenical church will do more to address social concerns in the community and empower people. My wish is that the congregation can be more involved in strengthening the churches’ voices.