Saturday, February 21, 2015

Juxtapositions: Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Year of the Goat


This year Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Year Eve came on the same day. Chinese New Year celebrations are so important, even the Roman Catholic cardinal in Hong Kong gave his flock an official "dispensation" from Ash Wednesday fasting.

At the Lutheran Theological Seminary (Hong Kong) we had the imposition of ashes in the morning followed by Chinese New Year feasting in the evening.

On the first Day of the Chinese New Year (it's the Year of the Goat) we combined traditions by going on a 14 mile wilderness hike (walking with Jesus), scaling the steep climbs of the Hong Kong hills (almost like mountain goats). LTS students from Myanmar are much better climbers than their international professors from the flatlands of the Midwest (USA) and the Netherlands!

Our hearty friends and colleagues from the Netherlands.

Happy we can still climb mountains together!


Definitely the last hike for this particular pair of shoes!!!

"These hills remind us of home" Seemed to me
they weren't even breathing hard.

We did it! Here's to a great start to the Chinese New Year of the Goat...
and the Holy Season of Lent...
18The high mountains belong to the wild goats...
24How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; 
the earth is full of your creatures...
30When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
- from Psalm 104

Monday, February 16, 2015

Walking/dancing/playing/teaching with Jesus in Myanmar

One of the best things in my life is the chance to see and hear some of the ways in which LTS Mekong alumni are walking/dancing/playing/kicking out demons /healing /praying/ eating/sharing/ teaching with Jesus back in their home cultures, once they've graduated from our seminary programs.
Two of our LTS Myanmar alumni 2014
So in early February I had the chance to go and visit Falam Baptist Pastor, Cer Thlia, one of the graduates of our "Diakonia" program. Diakonia = a biblical Greek word meaning service, is a program which tries to build bridges between the needs, cries, and God-given gifts of all creation -- especially the incredibly beautiful, diverse, god-like creatures known as human beings... and the ministries of Christ's Church. Diakonia is the "gospel in action".
Two cuties - the design on their faces is "thanaka",
 a traditional natural cosmetic made from tree bark.
Tatooed Uncle - I just had to ask if I could photograph him,
so glad he said yes.
Mother and Child - the area was full of garbage
and standing water...  I could only marvel at this mother and baby,
clean and pristine, faces beautifully decorated.
Four Cuties - created in God's image
 It was a fantastic opportunity to see Pastor Cer Thlia and other Myanmar friends in action with Jesus, four different denominational backgrounds (Baptist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Lutheran) in six different children's centers, where children and their families receive tutoring and skill-building and just plain old FUN, in some cases working in areas where there is (otherwise) no schooling at all.

They let me do some of my favorite children's songs as part
of the English enrichment. Where
are your teeth???

I hope I'll see these children again. 

Cer Thlia's friend and co-worker is the "Pied Piper" in this remote and underprivileged
part of Yangon... barely accessible by motorbike in the dry season, I'm not sure how anyone gets around in the rainy season.

Lutheran Church in Myanmar "Hope Center" -- these Lutherans
are a relatively new "denomination"  in Myanmar, but eager
to find ways to put the Gospel into action.

See what kind of love the Father has given us: We are called God's children—and that is what we are!     -- I John 3:1 (International Standard Version)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Church Life over the Border in Mainland China

Last Saturday the Seminary faculty travelled into Mainland China.

It's a 15 minute walk, half hour train ride, then about a ten minute walk through customs, in order to travel from our home in Hong Kong to the great commercial center of Shenzhen.
Full Bible classes, held in an art center.
It was touching to see the eagerness and interest of the students at the Training Centre, their thirst for Christian education and their commitment to coming to classes all day, every Saturday for a whole year.
A toast with tea!

I've grown accustomed to having cherry tomatoes served as part of the fruit plate. They were delicious!
We were also touched by the hospitality shown wherever we went, and the evident pride in surprisingly large church facilities, which seem to be bursting at the seams every Sunday.
LTS Faculty with Mainland Chinese hosts in front of a huge Christian Church in Shenzhen,
which is said to host 9,000 people, spread over four worship services each Sunday.
Again and again we hear that there is a thirst for meaning and moral teaching in China. Outside an old church school which is being refurbished and turned into a museum (it's too small to serve its original purpose) we saw a variety of adorable kids playing. Hopefully the world we (together with our Chinese Church sisters and brothers) are working to help shape will be different, and better, for them.
Construction site.

Check out this little dude's haircut.

Cuties -- the image of the Creator!

These little guys were about to get in trouble for picking the dahlias. 
 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.   -- Deuteronomy 6:5-7

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lutheran Women's Biblical Life Conference in Myanmar



Catching Up on 2014... 

2014 LUTHERAN WOMEN’S BIBLICAL LIFE CONFERENCE IN MYANMAR


Oh Sing to the Lord, Oh sing God a new song!
For God is the Lord, and God has done wonders!

And sing we did! And wonders we have seen! Gathered by the Word, thirty-five women from all four of the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Myanmar took part in the Lutheran Women’s Biblical Life Conference  mid -November 2014. Hosted on the grounds of the historic Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Yangon, the event was co-sponsored by the Mekong Mission Forum (MMF).

Dr. Margaret Hunt from the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) challenged us to consider how God speaks to us today through women in the Bible. These were not easy stories:

Tamar, Lot’s daughters, the widowed Ruth, the five Zelophehad sisters. For each Biblical passage we asked: Who? What? Where? When? And then the big questions: Why is this story in the Bible? What does God want us to learn from this story?


Engaging with multi-media slides, works of art, song, small group discussion, and even a “Bible Bingo” game, participants  explored these fascinating, but in some cases little known stories of Holy Scripture. In addition, participants were invited to note how various women of the Bible offer clear examples of the Lutheran understanding of the priesthood of all believers, call and vocation, servant leadership, as well as the way in which God’s people are saints and sinners.


The women each crafted hand-sewn decorations for their “servant stoles” as a symbol of this priesthood we all share as sisters in Christ.







 I have to laugh at the way I look in this last photo (front & center!)  - like an exhausted old missionary lady!!! And I was exhausted, dealing with Yangon heat, traffic, logistics, language translation, financial reimbursements. I've since found out I was already suffering from a hyper-thyroid which affected my energy levels.  But it was a highlight of 2014, to be able to sit at the feet of my Myanmar and Australian (co-presenter) sisters and listen to their insights and encouragement to speak the TRUTH about what's happening in their communities, and plan for ACTIONS of GRACE, in Jesus' name. Wow!

 "The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; 
you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them."   
-- GOD, quoted in Numbers 27:7


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pray for Hong Kong


  

The Lutheran Theological Seminary suspended its classes on Monday and Tuesday due to demonstrations and protests for true democracy in Hong Kong. A prayer service was held on Monday and the candle lit chapel remained open for prayer on both days. 

Oct 1- 2 (Wednesday - Thursday) are public holidays in Hong Kong. During this time we, along with our students at LTS, are learning about the Church and its engagement with democracy, as prayers are lifted up for students, society, government, police.

Last night one of our colleagues organized a night hike/prayer walk for Hong Kong.
Arrival to Hong Kong Island by Star Ferry on Monday night.
Various professors have been accompanying small groups of seminary students to witness the actual protest situation.

Wayne took this photo Wed night, Oct 1, impressed to see even
children and young families engaged with this peaceful protest
Tomorrow (Friday) our seminary President and Dean have arranged for continued prayer and discussion of Hong Kong churches' engagement with the protests, including presentation of a paper "Civil Disobedience - An Impact on the Hong Kong Churches, " written by LTS professor, Dr. Pilgrim Lo. It provides a little history of the pro-democracy negotiations and then discusses the value and possible application of Luther's views to the situation (we are a Lutheran seminary!). 

On the one hand, Wayne and I find ourselves wondering  if the world has ever in its history seen such a peaceful way of protesting. We've followed the reports and also seen first hand how food and water is being distributed, contingency plans are in place to help any first aid or emergency vehicles to get through the crowds - protest signs and speeches seem remarkably polite and positive. I found myself behind this guy on Monday night -- fanning not only himself but reaching out to fan other demonstrators and bystanders, including me!
A moment later he fanned me - a welcome second of relief
in the Hong Kong heat.

water bottles ready for distribution in heat indexes reaching over 100 F.
On the other hand,  many of our Chinese friends and colleagues here are worried. What may happen if the students decide to stay after Thursday, when a "normal" work day should resume?  What will happen if the leaders of the students and Occupy Central and the current Hong Kong administrative leaders do not go to the negotiation table? The terrible shadow of Tiananmen Square 25 years ago hangs heavy over Hong Kong.

Wherever you are ithe world, we invite you to say a prayer for beautiful Hong Kong and all of God's beloved people here - students, Occupy Central demonstrators, government, police, and especially the leaders and emerging leaders in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
May God have mercy to allow this peaceful witness to continue - some how - into a peaceful resolution.

As Wayne is a Reinhold Niebuhr fan, he suggests one of his favorite Niebuhr prayers:

"O God, in whom there is no darkness at all, we thank you that though we walk in darkness, you have give us enough light in which to walk.  As the sun dispels each morning the shadows of the night, so your mercies,which surround us, pierce the shadows of sin ever again, and help us to see the meaning of life.  Give us grace to triumph over the confusion of impulse, in which we are so easily ensnared, and to walk in the way of wisdom disclosed by your wisdom.  Grant us clearness of vision especially when good is intertwined with evil, and duty conflicts with desire, so that we do your will this day and always.  Amen" 



Sunday, September 14, 2014

September Weather, Monkeys and Church Angels

Please note the heat index. Yes, that's right. 108F !!!
It's been hot. This is the second time this week I've see the heat index at 108F.
Rumour is a typhoon is on its way. At least that may cool things down??!

The monkeys have been active. This big guy was hanging around our house yesterday. I'm grateful for the bars on our windows. 


The STUDENTS! It's been wonderful to return to new and "old" students at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong.
Three of our new students from Myanmar.

One of our "old" students from Indonesia,
Rospita is turning into an amazing scholar and is on schedule to finish her doctorate this spring.
And today (Sunday September 14th) Wayne and I each returned to our respective local Lutheran churches where we each serve as "sacramental minister."

We had each been feeling a little low -- overwhelmed by the heat, the monkeys in our yard and in our heads (!), the mounds and mounds of work awaiting us (Wayne is co-teaching an intensive course for a group of mostly Mainland Chinese students this coming week... and has not yet been assured there will be a translator! Did I mention our Mandarin skills consist of "ni-hao!" ??? Pray for him and the students!)

But today, each of us at our respective churches, we were strongly reminded of one of Bill Hybel's great sayings, "The local church is the hope of the world." By all means Wayne and I believe in a global church. We love the inter-connections of the Body of Christ. Amazing! Beautiful! Exotic! Awesome! Absolutely Necessary! But the local church -- in every place -- is where hand touches hand, live voices sing, Bread of Life given, encouragement received, forgiveness of neighbor is put into practice.

And today, we had the return of the Men's Choir at Ma On Shan Truth Lutheran Church:
Love these guys! I'll try and add the video later. Note the harmonica player in the corner.
And to top it off - still warm boiled red eggs in honor of the first moon (first month of life) of a grandchild to a congregational member: The egg symbolizes new life, the color red symbolizes good fortune and joy.
good fortune, joy, and delicious, too!
Today, it was good to be back in Hong Kong. Except for the weather. 

10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  -- Jesus, speaking in the Gospel of John 15:10-12 (NIV)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Launching out from Lake Toba, Indonesia

After a several month hiatus, Marathonangel returns with this guest post from Dr. Wayne L. Nieminen (a.k.a. my husband) returning to Hong Kong from an LTS faculty trip to Indonesia:

+++++++

Have you toiled all night near the shore in vain?
Push away from the shore, launch out:
Where the flood is deep cast your nets again.
Push away from the shore, launch out;
There a blessing waits your soul to take,
Haste away from the barren strand;
Toil no more where the surges break;
“Launch out’ is your Lord’s command. 

After June 2014 graduation celebrations, members of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) faculty journeyed to Northern Sumatra, Indonesia for our annual retreat.   We visited church leaders and LTS alumni who now serve a marvelous array of institutions within the Gereja Kristen Protestant Indonesia Church (GKPI – 355,000 members ) and Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP – with over 4.1 million members).  We were moved by these church ministries to the blind, orphans, Moslems and schools for teaching and preaching, training pastors and deaconesses.   A vibrant holistic ministry of Word, Sacrament, Service, Education and Song was evident to all.  




 One early evening we found ourselves on a passenger ferry crossing Lake Toba on our way to Samosir Island.   Lake Toba is the result of the eruption of a “super volcano” which took place about 75,000 years.  It is said to have been the greatest volcanic eruption within the last 25 million years of the earth’s history.  Samosir island formed from the cone of the volcano and is surrounded by a lake that is nearly 100 kilometers long, 30 kilometers wide and 500 meters deep.  This extraordinary geological event is said to have been responsible for changing the climate of the earth. 


 The sun was about to set when we boarded the ferry.  We faced a warm but growing headwind.  Our HKBP guides sung hymns as the captain navigated the choppy waters and the Southern Cross constellation seemed to travel with us above our heads.  I later read that the “crux” constellation was “circumpolar” – always above the horizon in the southern hemisphere.  Sailors used it as navigational aid – a guidepost.

I remembered an old hymn, “Launch Out.” written by Rev. James Bruce Mackay (author of some 60 hymns) who lived from 1861-1940.   It is one of the many nautical hymns composed in the missionary era.  Those hymn writers knew about capricious seas, rogue waves, incoming swells, gusts of winds, typhoons, as well as the sea’s calmness - The sea was a metaphor for the unpredictability and arbitrariness of life.

Nevertheless, MacKay believed that the Savior continually called his disciples to “push away from the shore, launch out.”  We, the LTS Hong Kong faculty, were witnesses to the Indonesian churches “launching out” through its many ministries.  The kingdom of God is emerging across the globe with men and women dreaming big dreams - reimagining the world.  And we, as teachers, felt privileged and grateful to have a (small) role in God’s movement in these churches and in this country.

  
The refrain for MacKay’s hymn is:  “Launch out, launch out; Push away from the shore, launch out;  God’s grace flows free, like a might sea, And the Master calls, “Launch out!”  May we as the Lutheran Theological Seminary – faculty, students and staff  together -  continue to “launch out” !!!