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‘Sing hallelujah to the Lord’

Christians are a highly visible presence in Hong Kong protests

‘Sing hallelujah to the Lord’

Protesters march through the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. (Vincent Yu/AP)

Tides of protesters dressed in black flooded the streets of Hong Kong for the second consecutive Sunday to protest the controversial extradition bill that could see residents sent to mainland China to stand trial.

According to organizers’ estimates, nearly two million people attended the march, making it the biggest protest in the city’s history with more than a quarter of the population participating. The police estimate a much lower turnout of 338,000.

Although Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Saturday that she would indefinitely suspend the bill, protesters nearly doubled in number from the previous Sunday’s protest. Many were infuriated after police used excessive force on young protesters on Wednesday.

On Sunday evening, Lam apologized for government inadequacies that led to “many citizens feeling disappointed and upset.” Still, protesters were unsatisfied, calling for Lam’s resignation, the withdrawal of the extradition bill, and accountability for police violence. They called for Hong Kong police to rescind the description of the June 12 protest as a “riot.” If prosecuted for rioting, convicted protesters could face up to 10 years in prison.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Carrie Lam (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

“Repeal, repeal!” “Carrie Lam step down!” “Students are not rioters!” demonstrators shouted, some holding up enlarged photos of a bloodied protester from Wednesday’s protest. Participants laid white flowers on a memorial site of a protester who had died the day before. The 35-year-old man plummeted to his death in an apparent suicide after hanging anti-extradition banners from an Admiralty mall.

Hundreds remained around the Legislative Council complex after the peaceful march. Led by a Catholic organization, protesters sang “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” and held a brief prayer meeting calling for justice in Hong Kong. Nearby, demonstrators watched the screening of a short film depicting a Hong Kong butcher framed by Chinese officials for document forgery under the extradition law. In it, recorded interviews with lawyers explained the dangers Hong Kong would face if the extradition law were in place.

Christian groups have had a highly visible presence in the extradition bill protests, and “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” became the protest’s unofficial anthem. The simple one-line song has been heard nearly non-stop the past few days—at times sung by enormous crowds. It’s been written on cardboard signs, T-shirts, and umbrellas.

Rev. Chi Wai Wu, general secretary of Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, said that a prayer meeting outside the government complex on the night of June 11 ended with the singing of the hymn. As he and other Christians spent the night and the next day on the streets with the protesters, they began to sing the song repeatedly in hopes to bring peace and hope to an increasingly tense situation.

Wu, 63, was on the frontlines on the afternoon of June 12 when police threw tear gas, shot rubber bullets, and fired pepper spray on protesters. Enveloped in a cloud of tear gas, he couldn’t see where he was going but rushed with crowds to get out of the area. In a press conference the next day with a group of more than 20 pastors, Wu recalled that even after pouring water on his eyes, he struggled to breathe, his throat was parched, and his body trembled.

The pastors condemned the police for using force and beating unarmed demonstrators. “I feel so sad,” Wu said at the press conference with tears in his eyes. “Will the younger generation want to be known as Hong Kong people? Will they love Hong Kong? We will lose the entire generation of young people.”

On Sunday afternoon during the massive protest, Christians gathered for a prayer meeting held at Chater Garden in Hong Kong’s Central District and read from Proverbs 21:1-3, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

Vincent Yu/AP

Protesters sing after the June 16 march. (Vincent Yu/AP)

They sang hymns—including “Sing Hallelujah”—and listened to a message on Acts. They prayed for God to soften Lam’s heart and withdraw the bill; for the young people hurt from the protests; for judgment on the wicked; and for God to continue to use Christians to help heal the city.

Wu said the church’s involvement in the protests has changed some of the young people’s opinions about Christians. Before, many saw Christians as detached from the world, unconcerned about the issues facing Hong Kong society. But now Wu believes they have much greater respect for Christians, and some protesters say they want to go back to church.

Sing hallelujah to the Lord, indeed.