Aliens and Strangers

This year we had our family holiday in central Otago and while we were there we visited the historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Chinese gold miners were encouraged by the Otago Provincial Government to come to the region after a large number of European miners left for the Westcoast goldfields between 1864 -1866 and the government's revenue from taxing gold fell sharply. By 1868 there were some 1200 Chinese miners in Otago re-working claims abandoned by European miners.

Many of the Chinese miners that came to the Arrowtown Settlement came from the Guangzhou province in Southern China where over population, high unemployment and the lingering effects of the Opium Wars had led to widespread poverty. One solution to escape the cycle of poverty was for families to pay for brothers and sons to travel overseas to work on the goldfields and for those sons and brothers to send the money back home. Many also hoped to raise sufficient funds to buy a plot of land to farm so their families could be self sufficient.

Chinese miners often either re-worked the places where the Europeans had previously been or the poorer fields. The Europeans, as a rule, were not fond of small earnings on a goldfield while the Chinese were perfectly satisfied with small earning as long as it was consistent. Ever mindful of their reason for coming the Chinese miners were very thrifty and did not usually live in tents like European miners, but transformed parts of the landscape - like caves or rocky crags - into homes. Sometimes they built grass-sod huts, thatched with rushes and tussock. To clothe themselves, they repaired the torn dungarees and old moleskins that European miners no longer wanted. They ate vegetables that they grew themselves beside their huts. Sometimes they caught eels and other small fish from nearby streams.

Despite the fact the Chinese miners were invited by the Otago Provincial Government to come, the communities they went to did not always accept them. The culture differences led to misunderstandings and even active racism. Chinese miners often lived apart from the Europeans in Chinatowns alongside the mining operations to escape this ill feeling. While some European miners complained to the government about the number of Chinese miners coming into the Country, all government enquires at the time found that they were hardworking frugal and orderly and it was in New Zealand's best interest to have them.

When I read about these Chinese miners and saw how they lived and worked, I was struck by the parallels between how they lived and how Christians should live for the kingdom.

First of all the Chinese miners never forgot they were aliens or foreigners in New Zealand, and that their true home was back in China.They came with the specific goal of raising money so they could raise their status back home.They weren't seduced by the culture. Nor did they waste their money on their own comfort or on things that were not connected to their ultimate goal. Christians likewise are called to be in the world but not of the world. We are reminded by the Scriptures that we too are aliens or pilgrims passing through this land and that heaven is our real home. Because we are strangers in this world we shouldn't be surprised when we face persecution and discrimination like the Chinese miners did when they first came to New Zealand. That comes with being an alien in a foreign land. Because this world is not our home we shouldn't be besotted with worldly things,- flash homes, flash cars or the latest clothes. As the Chinese miners understood, these things only distract us from our real goal.

When we live sacrificially for Jesus, like the Chinese miners worked sacrificially for their families, we store up treasure in heaven. Even seemingly small acts of service do not go unnoticed by God. Jesus said "If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward" (Matthew 10:42).

In the same way the Chinese miners thought the opportunity to earn money to purchase a farm back in China far outweighed any hardship and sacrifice they had to make mining in New Zealand, the treasures that await the child of God, the chief being Christ himself, will far outweigh any trouble, inconvenience, hardship or persecution we may face in this world (Romans 8:18).

If you need to be reminded that this world is not our home and how we are called to live for the kingdom, next time you are in Otago checkout the Arrowtown Chinese settlement.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:37-41)


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