It’s 8.35am on the sidewalk outside one of downtown Hong Kong’s big office towers. People stream past in both directions, joined by yet more pouring out of an MTR exit. It’s an electric-cattle-prod job getting the 20 feet from the road-side newsstand to the building’s lobby. As I’m halfway through the torrent of commuters gushing out from below ground level, a tall, lean, rugged-looking, 50-something, white male in a dark red flannel shirt (first impression: Indiana Jones) comes rising up the escalator to my left. He is holding a small leaflet aloft in his left hand, and before he even crosses the threshold of Central Station onto the street he starts to shout: “Rejoice! Rejoice!”
I thought they only did that in movies and comedy sketches.
He makes his way purposefully to the side of the steps where free-newspaper distributors and exceptionally absorbed viewers of hand-held devices can stand still, untouched by the surrounding human stampede. And he immediately launches into Amazing Grace, singing loudly and lustily, if not exactly tunefully. His native English is standard and clear and oddly un-regional; maybe the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues is helping him to Go and Teach the Nations – convey the Word to a mixed but majority Cantonese audience who lack an ear for accents, and who are anyway hurriedly shuffling and jostling their way to their workplaces.
After elbowing my way through the onslaught of secretaries and accountants into the office block entrance, I glance back at the preacher. He is declaiming, as if possessed; hollering, shaking and gesticulating, staring into the heavens and then to the crowd flowing before and past him. Hundreds scurry by. Some vacantly stare ahead in numb anticipation of another day in the cubicle, some gawk at texts and others’ selfies on their phones, and some float along to the accompaniment of music from their iPods. Not a single one so much as perceives the valiant evangelist, who punches the air regardless, and demands that they listen and be saved.
“You will be my witnesses,” it says in Acts, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” It didn’t say: expect the entire swarm of eager, productive office-fodder surging along Queens Road Central to completely ignore you like you don’t even exist. I wonder how far he had come.
In case the proselytizer neglected to mention it, the weekend is declared open. How sweet the sound!