A Baptist pastor in Hong Kong says he never would have imagined his most important sermon with his largest audience ever would come from a defendant's dock in a courtroom.
Rev. Chu Yiu-ming and eight others involved in pro-democracy protests called the Umbrella Movement were convicted on April 9 of public nuisance in relation to protests in 2014. The protests called for free elections.
On April 24 the 75-year-old pastor was sentenced to 16 months in prison for conspiracy to commit public nuisance. However, his sentence has been suspended for two years. Other leaders were sentenced to prison.
The Hong Kong Free Press printed an English version of the pastor's statement read in court on April 9 before his sentencing.
"I am a Christian minister committed to the service of God," the 75-year-old pastor told the judge.
"I have resolved to live a life of friendship with the weak and the poor, praying that God’s justice be manifested on earth as it is in heaven, and that the gospel of love and peace be proclaimed among the people. But today, old and grey, I find myself in the Defendant’s dock, making a final plea as a convict. It looks so absurd, if not outright shameful for a person holding holy office."
"Ours is an age of absurdity. Living in a society on the brink of authoritarianism and of arbitrary rule, let me be a brave bell toller, ringing, waking up sleepy souls."
The 75-year-old pastor told preached a gospel message to those gathered, and millions of others following the story in the press.
He recounted his childhood saying, "I was destitute when young. There was no one to depend on." He told of being orphaned, and sick alone in a hospital with nobody to visit him. When a woman offered him a job as a janitor at a school he was introduced to Jesus.
"Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.' The light at the end of suffering brightens up my life."
The pastor then told how his relationship with Jesus moved him from a poverty-stricken orphan to a man who has spent a lifetime helping others. He says that Christians have a duty to work on behalf of the poor and oppressed.
To those who are naked or hungry, the Christian minister has no business responding with greetings of Peace, Peace. I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs. What good are such greetings? So ask the Bible. (James 2:16)
Take a further step. The church should be a community which grows hope. Take a further step. A community which embraces suffering and pain. Take a further step. This is the true meaning of being church.
My resolve: to walk with people. Take a further step. Improve the quality of life. Build the Eastern Corridor, the Eastern Hospital. Public Housing for Squatters. Improve Workers’ Livelihood.
Hope. Nurture hope in the midst of people’s struggles.
The church, however, tends to be conservative. It worries about church ministers getting involved in social movements.
Rev. Chu said that he will continue to be "a bell toller" calling out against injustice and working for others.
"And yet, at this very moment, my heart tells me that with this defendant’s dock, I have found the most honourable pulpit of my ministerial career."
He closed his sermon in the courtroom by quoting Matthew 5:10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." He then said, "Oh Lord, who is merciful and just – to you I entrust my life, may your will be done!"