'Prayer must be our loudest response'. Churches respond to pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong

Citizens listen to a speech by a prodemocracy protester in the Kowloon district of Hong KongAP/Press Association Images

Prayer vigils are being held for those involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations currently gripping Hong Kong.

Churches throughout the city are urging their congregations to uphold Hong Kong in prayer as the protests are now well into their third day.

Tens of thousands of people have flooded the streets in protest against the Chinese government's insistence on screening political candidates to ensure their allegiance to the CCP.

It was hoped that open elections would be held in 2017, but a motion ruling against this was passed in August.

Many locals believe that this contradicts Beijing's promise to one day allow Hong Kong "universal suffrage".

The protest movement has been largely peaceful, though there have been some small clashes with police who responded on Sunday with tear gas, pepper spray and riot gear in an attempt to dispel the demonstrators.

Since then, however, those on the ground say that riot police have withdrawn and the protest has continued without violence.

Among the leaders of the movement, under the banner 'Occupy Central with Love and Peace', are a number of Christians, including former Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Baptist minister Rev Chu Yiu-ming.

Churches in the region are now also responding to the movement in prayer.

The Vine, an international church located in Wan Chai district just a few blocks from the protests, has opened itself up for 48 hours as a place of prayer and intercession, as well as refuge, rest and support for those involved.

A statement from senior pastor Andrew Gardener released yesterday said: "The last twenty four hours in Hong Kong has seen some scenes that we thought we would never see in our city. No doubt you have all been following what has been unfolding on our streets. We have seen some unprecedented social action with calls for more to come.

"It is times like these when we believe the church has an essential role to play in society," he continued.

Gardener, who has lived in Hong Kong for 28 years, says it's the first time he's seen protests in the city of this scale.

He told Christian Today that his congregation has divided opinions on the movement, but they believe justice is at the heart of it and want to offer aid to all those involved, whether they're policemen or protestors.

"As a church we felt that our response should be to have a response. We feel passionate about justice, it sits at the heart of God and we feel God has been stirring it in our hearts over the years, so our building is open as a place of refuge for anybody that needs it...we want to make sure we're open for anybody in need," he said.

From 6pm Hong Kong time until midnight on Thursday evening, the church building – staffed by volunteers from the congregation – will therefore be open with first aid supplies, food and water.

"We feel like God has called us to have both a spiritual and practical response, though you can't really separate the two," Gardener said.

"So spiritually we're digging into prayer and worship over the next 24 hours which will be crucial, and on the practical side we're saying if you need rest, refuge, first aid, if you're hungry or thirsty come to us.

"We feel very strongly that we have to be doing something, and it begins with prayer. Prayer may not be our only response, but it should be the loudest."

Also speaking to Christian Today from Hong Kong, professor of politics at City University, Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, said this morning that many Christians are personally involved in rallying for real democracy in the city.

"Christians by nature are anticommunist, as the Communist party are atheist and the tolerance for Christians under the Communist regime is extremely limited. Also, Christians believe in the next world, and so are more willing to sacrifice, and to fight injustice," he explained.

Tens of thousands of people are rallying for free elections in Hong KongTwitter

Himself a Catholic and self-proclaimed "veteran" of the pro-democracy movement, Cheng was arrested on Sunday for taking part in the protests, and was subsequently released.

"The Catholic Church under Cardinal Zen has been seen as standing firm against the Communist party, but there is division within the Christian churches – some Christian leaders are more willing to cooperate with the Chinese authorities than others," he said.

"It's very difficult to expect that the Chinese authorities will change their mind, but we just want to tell the world that we shall continue to fight, and we won't lose as long as we are able to maintain our principles and our dignity. We want to ensure that the spirit of Hong Kong will be maintained."

Cheng added that there is a fear that "if we don't speak up now, we may not be able to do so in a few years," and this sentiment was echoed by a Hong Kong national who has Christian family and friends involved in the protests.

Choosing to remain anonymous, she said the people of Hong Kong want to "voice their opinion, because they know they have to use their freedom as long as they still have it."

"Even among Christians, there is division," she added.

"Some people think Christians have to fully support the whole movement, while some people think the Church shouldn't be involved in politics, and fear it could promote more violence or uncertainty."

She called for prayer for the city, and a peaceful solution to the protest, while also insisting that the motivations behind the movement must be properly addressed.

"We have to understand why the people of Hong Kong have had to go on to the streets and protest – this is unthinkable. Hong Kong people are notorious for being materialistic [and] indifferent to politics...so it's really striking that they are willing to sacrifice like this," she said.

"We have to understand what has driven them to the streets."