Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Children of Hong Kong!

A star waits patiently for the drama to unfold

So carefully, this young Hong Kong Joseph guides his Mary to the little town of Bethlehem.

The choirs of angels included "my" first and second graders, who sang of the Creation of the World, and God's new creation, as He sent his son.

Silent Night sounds extra beautiful when it is sung in Cantonese!

 The angels with their not-quite angelic sheep...

And a final glorious tableau of the birth of the Savior Jesus, born to a poor family, filling the whole Earth with wonder and hope.

The Story according to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2

8That night in the fields near Bethlehem some shepherds were guarding their sheep. 9All at once an angel came down to them from the Lord, and the brightness of the Lord's glory flashed around them. The shepherds were frightened. 10But the angel said, "Don't be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy. 11This very day in King David's hometown a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. 12You will know who he is, because you will find him dressed in baby clothes and lying on a bed of hay."
    13Suddenly many other angels came down from heaven and joined in praising God. They said:
    14"Praise God in heaven!
   Peace on earth to everyone
   who pleases God."
    15After the angels had left and gone back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about." 16They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby lying on a bed of hay. 

Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas with Snoopy?

Christmas carols were blaring over the sound system, and this was the scene at the local mall last night as Wayne and I finalized our little bit of Christmas shopping. First we thought it was Santa, but no, it was an exhibition of Snoopy for Christmas, and people eagerly posed their children for pictures with the old dog.

So what is Christmas all about, anyway?

I did a little exercise with my little four and five year olds at the Hoppy Palace English Tutoring Center this week,  asking the kids which Christmas cards were their favorites.  They picked out the sparkling snow scenes (even though... or maybe especially because few of them have ever seen real snow).   Another big winner was the jolly Santa card.

When I showed them the cards with the manger scene, and the one of Mary and Jesus, the general response was, "not Christmas card." 

I wonder how most kids in the world would answer… and I suspect maybe not all that differently.
 "Do you understand what you are[seeing]?" Philip asked.  "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?"  -- Acts 8:30b-31 (paraphrased)

Wayne & I love  getting to be part of telling  the real story of Christmas with the people of Hong Kong and China.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent 3 and a half: Almost Christmas 2009

I didn't do a thing to this photo... it just mysteriously came out this way tonight, after I had snapped it quickly, right after the LTS (Lutheran Theological Seminary) Christmas Program in the seminary chapel tonight.

Can you tell that Wayne enjoys teaching at the seminary?  Life isn't this great all the time... but our lives ARE punctuated with moments like these.

A little preview of Christmas:  Joy to the world!!!

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David."  -- John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, upon the birth of his son, who would prepare the way for the Savior Jesus

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent 3: Speaking in (Cantonese) Tongues

This was the week I took a deep breath and finally did part of the liturgy in Cantonese:
Before Holy Communion:
Tjuu yuu leih moon tuhng jeui!   (The Lord be with you!)
and the Words of Institution:
Ngoh Juu yeso bei my dik la yaht yeh... (in the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed...)
and the Benediction:
Yuhn chunglahng dik Juu Seuhngdai, Sihng Fuu, Sihng Tzee, Sing Lihng... (May God bless you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit...)

My face burned hot as I did it, because I knew I was stumbling and bumbling with these words, even after months of practice.

But I got at least a dozen comments telling me "very good!" on the Cantonese liturgy, and I suddenly got warmer smiles from people of the parish than I've ever gotten before (I've been going there once a month for five months, now).

It was clear to me that my attempt at speaking Cantonese was more important to everybody than my well-crafted sermon -- which had, of course, been given in English.

It goes to show you how important it is for people to hear God's word in their own language, even if (in my case) that language is very poorly spoken.

Another lesson in humility for me.

I guess that's exactly what's behind God humbling Himself & sending his Son into the world as a baby -- the incarnation. There is no more universal language among human beings, than that of a baby, looking with big eyes on a brand new world, and that of a family, celebrating the birth of a child.

Advent blessings to you all!!!

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God... emptied himself  taking on the very nature of a servant, being born in human likeness..."  -- Philippians 2:6-7

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ants, Apples & Advent

I have worked 26 weeks now at the Hoppy Palace Phonics Center here in Hong Kong.  I know this because we just started the letter "A" again, and once again I trudged out to find an ant (a nice large one) for my kids to examine.

Many little children in Hong Kong  have so little time to watch, wait, and wonder.

A recent article in the South China Morning Post reported that some anxious Hong Kong parents are enrolling their three year old children in two kindergarten programs at a time, hoping to give their kids an "edge" in the extremely competitive school systems.  Little ones are spending as much as ten hours a day in school.

In the Christian Church year, A is for Advent, and ancient tradition counsels us to watch and wait for the dawn of the new Creation: the birth, and one day the return, of Jesus the Christ.

So this week, before turning to the book work, the circling of letters and the phonics blending exercises, I spend some time with my little students, just watching the ant, as he eats his apple.  (A is for ant and A is for apple). I have cut fresh apple slices for my students, too, and we munch together, in our closet-sized classroom with its sterile, plastic furnishings.  This is not a Christian school where I am free to share the Bible stories, and I don't think many of my students know much about the real Christmas.  But now they have had a tiny taste of Advent, a time to slow down and  marvel at the intricacies of one of God's littlest creatures.

"Go to the ant... consider its ways and be wise!"  -- Proverbs 6:6

Friday, November 27, 2009

Advent 1 - Excerpts from a chapel service

It's the turning of another year.

Two weeks ago the temperatures dipped into the 50's and we were surprised to see all of Hong Kong suddenly wrapped in fur coats, big boots and turtle neck sweaters.

At the phonics center where I teach, my two and three year old students proudly show me their new little gloves warming their fingers... cute cute cute!

With the change in temperatures I find myself struck by stray bits of homesickness.

Last week as I looked out of a bus window I thought I saw some birds flying in a V formation -- are there geese in Hong Kong? I don't even know for sure.  But it made me miss the vast flocks of them back home in Wisconsin.

Suddenly with the colder temperatures I'm also thinking of my father, and how he would greet every December 1 by bringing fresh cut evergreen branches into the living room, filling the house with the scent of spruce for Advent.

Just when in most of the world (yes, even here in Hong Kong) the daylight hours are getting shorter, the weather colder and the last bits of garden vegetable are withering on the vine,

the ancient church has given us the gift of a liturgical calendar, in which the year actually begins now, with this first Sunday in Advent, looking forward to the birth of the Messiah, as well as to that day when He will come again.

"In those days and at that time I will make a righteous branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land." --   Jeremiah 33:15

In last week's South China Morning Post, I read that in the Henan Province of China (where it gets much colder than here in Hong Kong) , students will have a second winter of freezing classrooms because their school can't pay for heat.

Whereas at my "Hoppy Palace" phonics center, my students have dogs who get new winter coats every year (for those nights when it gets into the low 50's).

Advent:  There is reason to look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus, as if for the first time.  There are reasons to look round for ways in which we can help make the world a more fair place.  There is reason to look for the day when Christ will come again and really set all things right.

Oudoor Thanksgiving in Hong Kong

We had Thanksgiving twice this year, both times outdoors.  First at our church last Sunday with a hundred or so people.  Wayne was assigned to make the mashed potatoes, so we got up early to peel many potatoes, mashed 'em, packed 'em into two aluminum pans and carried them through three different subway lines, many many steps, a taxi ride, and across a busy street.  We were late for church, but not for the meal :)

Then on Thursday we celebrated with about 25 people out on the lawn, after work, since of course there was no holiday for us!  It was in the 70's, and very, very pleasant with Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, German, and American guests.

"Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord had done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced."  -- Psalm 126

Monday, November 23, 2009

Body Slapping Dance

My friend Yoko invited our family to a Japanese/ Soka Gakkai Buddhist cultural event here in Hong Kong and it was fabulous!

Little did I know that my quiet, shy, tiny, very decorous friend had been the lead drummer in her high school band, and man did she belt it out during the "Body Slapping Dance" part of the afternoon festivities.

The whole afternoon was an incredible mixture of traditional Japanese, folk Japanese, and modern Japanese culture, all in a Chinese/Cantonese setting.

Wayne & Eric came along... Eric very reluctantly as he was afraid there was going to be audience participation required.  Can't say I blame him for being nervous about that idea!  The flyers for the event were written mostly in Chinese so  we had little idea of what was going to happen.

It was great, though, and even Eric seemed to enjoy the afternoon's events. (I say seemed to because for a 16 year old the fact that he didn't ask to leave during the program, but waited to the end before quickly slipping off for home means a great deal).

As for me, all I can say is that it was wonderful, and I am in awe of what a big world this is and how much I still have to learn.

Praise the LORD, all you nations;        extol him, all you peoples.      For great is his love toward us,        and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

       Praise the LORD.   -- Psalm 117

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rehab and cups of steaming hot water

A Finnish woman had a call, more than 30 years ago, to come to Hong Kong to help establish a rehab center for drug addicts in Hong Kong.  That Finnish woman is now our neighbor here in Hong Kong, and that call has long since turned into dozens of centers, run by dedicated Chinese staff, to provide medical care, Christian counseling, and ongoing education and support to hundreds of mostly young males who have gotten caught up into a drug culture. 

Today, on a surprisingly chilly day in Hong Kong
(the low was 52 F. but it felt colder from the northern winds blowing down from the remnants of a recent monsoon in China), Wayne and I and a small group of youth ministry students were taken on a car ride, a ferry trip, and finally a scenic walk to reach the secluded spot where some pretty intense ministry is taking place, lives are being challenged, comforted, and changed.

Ethel, one of the early founders of this drug-rehab ministry, somewhat reluctantly posed for this photo.  "No, I don't like to talk about myself or start talking about our successes or anything like that," she says dismissively.  "It's a lot of hard work, and sometimes God uses us to change lives.  But as soon as you start bragging about success rates or anything like that, trouble comes around the next corner."

40"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me...
 42"And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, that one shall not lose his reward."-- Jesus quoted in Matthew 10:40-42

Well, we were offered much more than that -- We were offered steaming hot water upon our arrival, which was wonderful after the cold ferry ride, and after participating in a heart-felt Christian worship service, and a brief tour of the simple facilities, we were served  a delicious lunch of chicken & rice, with home-grown vegetables. 

We just love finding out about the many varieties of  hospitality in Christ's name that go on here in Hong Kong.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Giving what we've got...

I preached and presided at Holy Communion at the MaOnShan Truth Church last Sunday... all in English except for the opening "The Lord be with you" part, which I did in Cantonese.  Well, something approximating Cantonese at any rate.

The church services are held in the Lutheran School building multi-purpose room, so it's fairly stark, but the altar is always beautifully adorned with  flowers which the altar group takes turns arranging.  It's quite a big deal, and people  even take classes so they can make the arrangements as beautifully as possible.

My preaching text was the poor widow who gave her two last coins to the temple treasury, which was the best way she knew how to give it to God.

I draw courage from that example of that woman, who gave her all.  I think this is what whoever arranged the flowers on Sunday did, she gave it her all.  And you can see it's beautiful. I think that's what the 13-member Women's Choir who sang on Sunday did, they gave it their all, and their song was stirring.  And that's what I am trying to do with my teaching and preaching here in Hong Kong.

I am rich in so many ways... my family and the ability to earn a salary, and the home we live in here... and I am poor in so many other ways -  poor in the language and cultural skills, poor in my time management skills, poor at trying to figure out how to manage a classroom and inspire my students.  Do you see this photo of the little girl looking quizzically at Wayne?  I feel like that's how my students of all ages are always looking at me. (Like, "Who ARE you and WHAT are you doing here, anyway??") (OK  I'll be honest, sometimes my own family members look at me that way too :)

But that Biblical widow can inspire us to give God what little bits we've got... all two coins worth... and trust that in God's alchemy, it will become more than we can even imagine.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."  Mark 12:43-44

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Taking the bus. Or not.

I may not have told you all about my public bus phobia.  I think it's related to the fact that I am utterly off the charts multiply-handicapped when it comes to telling directions, so I am always in a bit of a panic wondering if the bus is really going to go to where I need to go.  And will the bus stop to let me off where I need to stop? 

Also, my Cantonese is still, quite honestly, pitiful.
And my comprehension of written Chinese is somewhere around a Chinese one year old child's.

Add to this the fact that the Hong Kong mini-buses have been in the news recently because of too many fatal accidents (driver speeding). 

To top it all off, I had to get to Eric's school for an evening meeting, so now my regular (not normal, but regular) fears were compounded by my night blindness.  Did I tell you I have a bit of night-blindness?

The first part of the trip to Eric's school is by metro train, and those are great.  The signs are in English, there are these lovely color-coded route diagrams which I can study at my leisure. So after ten months of living in Hong Kong I can negotiate the three exchanges and 14 stops of the first part of the trip. Piece of cake.

But the metro line stops well short of the school.  Then I am faced with the dilemma.  Mini-bus or taxi?  Mini bus is only 8 Hong Kong dollars (about an American buck), taxi is $48 Hong Kong dollars (not bad, but still. We have two boys in college and a third who who hope will be heading there soon). I should be saving my dollars.

Since I am running a little late, however (what's new?) I opt for a taxi, telling myself I will take the mini-bus home. 

After the meeting, I go out into the dark city night, my heart pounding only a bit as I head straight for that bus stop.  Suddenly a taxi with a lit "for hire" sign appears among the oncoming traffic, and I nearly get run over as I hail the driver and scramble across the street to, gratefully, climb in.

Only as we are on our way do I begin to notice the taxi driver is mumbling to himself, seems to be weaving slightly on the sharp mountainous road of this edge of Hong Kong island, and is definitely driving too fast for conditions.  I try to remember, where is the safest place in a car to sit, is it just behind the driver or on the opposite seat in the back?

Next time I really will take that $8 minibus.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Meeting Elijah

I finally got to meet Elijah last week. We went out to McDonald's for breakfast.
My husband and I "inherited" Elijah from the previous residents of our apartment, who had formed a relationship with this special man, who kept calling us wanting to know, "Where is John Peterson?" "Are you John Peterson?" "When is John Peterson coming back?",  all spoken in a lovely sing-songy English with strong Cantonese accent.

For several months Elijah thought that we were John Peterson's domestic helper(s) and was grievously disappointed when it began to dawn on him that John Peterson had returned to his home country and was not coming back.  However, John Peterson's loss has become our gain, because now Elijah calls us every other night or so to ask how we are and whether we need a prayer.  How can a practicing Christian say no to that?  Elijah then helpfully offers us the option of picking the length of the prayer: "Number 1 to 4, which do you choose? Number 1 is shorter, Number 4 is longer".  Normally I choose a Number 2 Prayer, unless I am really pressed for time, then I take a Number 1... and Elijah is never judgemental about the number I choose.  However, I've also noticed that the prayers are suspiciously similar in length.  On the other hand, to be totally truthful, I've never chosen a Number 4.

If I understand him right (the sing-songy Cantonese accent sometimes gets in the way), Elijah usually prays for "ability and humility" for me, which is a pretty good combination.  Can't have too much of either of those.

Last Saturday it was finally time to meet Elijah in person.  Wayne and I took the MTR, then a bus, then threaded our way through the maze of yet another huge Hong Kong shopping mall, asked for directions twice, and when we finally found Elijah's high rise (where he lives with his elderly Mom and his sister, in a miniscule low-rent apartment), there he was, waiting for us, absolutely beaming.

"You are so beautiful," he told me, and then again to my husband, "She is so beautiful."

I like this man, Elijah.  Surely he is an angel of the Lord to us.

 (Scriptural disclaimer -- I admit this verse is taken totally out of context.  but I couldn't resist)

Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."   -- I Kings 17:24

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunburned in October

Another Holiday in Hong Kong!  Today is Cheung Yeung (it has various spellings), the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calendar, and is a day for hiking, tending the graves of the ancestors, and family picnics.  We participated only in the hiking and picnicking part, around the High Island Reservoir of the Sai Kung area of Hong Kong.

We head off to Sai Kung on the MTR... Youngest son is not overly excited about the prospect of a 5 hour hike.

Friends Amy & Joseph point out the small dot where we're headed first -- a hut at the top of the mountain. 

Spectacular views from the hut.

Heading down to the beach.

Not terribly crowded for one of the biggest picnicking holidays of the year.  Maybe the two hour walk to get here has something to do with that.

The ever-important bathroom facilities.

Flowers and eucalyptus trees along the way. Butterflies would not sit still long enough to have their portrait taken!

Separation barrier dividing reservoir from the ocean.

We won't show you the "after the walk" pictures... suffice it to say that with our weary legs and late October sunburns... we decided the 10 minute additional walk would be too much, and we took a taxi home from the MTR station! 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does multi-media include guns?

This has been an odd week, involving lots of media. 

Kids' recording
Last Friday I was suddenly hauled off to record short poetry bits for the Lutheran School kids to listen to my voice to help them prepare for a big English language recital event coming up here in Hong Kong.  I only remember one poem which had to do with a snowman melting into a puddle.  I wonder what these tropical weather kids will make of that.

Classical Radio
On Monday I recorded five two and a half minute  spiritual "reflections" for a classical radio station
(RTHK 4 FM Hong Kong  11:57pm -12:00 midnight)
They will be aired  next week.  When I was asked to do it I thought, aw, piece of cake.  Not so.  Brevity is harder than it looks.

I also asked, who stays up until past midnight to listen to classical music and a three minute meditation?  The answer in Hong Kong is, tens of thousands of people.  Oh.

Parent videos and clip art
On Wednesday I received word that they would be filming my class for parent-teacher conferences taking place on the Mainland for those students who cross the border each day for school.  Naturally I wanted to make a good impression so I spiffied up a power point phonics review, complete with lots of painstakingly chosen pictures.  Honestly, I put in at least a couple of hours just for this one short class.  But today, none of the pictures would appear on the (older) system being used at the school.  However, a technician who barely speaks English, just quickly added a bunch of clip art pictures.  It took him probably all of 8 minutes, and I have to say it was at least as good as the carefully chosen pictures I had searched out all over the internet.

SongWe are doing "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock" with the second graders this week.  For good measure, I taught it to the teachers when I led the teachers' devotions today, too.  I'm always mindful that I need to be respectful of the fact that half the teachers are not Christian.  I don't want to force-feed them anything, but I want to reflect the honesty & joy of the Biblical faith.  I think everyone  liked the song though, because it has a catchy refrain:
The rains came down and the floods came UP; the rains came down and the floods came UP; the rains came down and the floods came UP and the house on the sand went SPLAT!

As I walked out the door at about 4:30 this afternoon, I came out of the school and was shocked to see three police officers in brown uniforms, one of whom had his gun drawn, pointing at the door of the apartment complex directly across from the school.  I had happened to take a picture just a minute before hand, and if you look closely, you can see one of the officers in the left bottom of the photo (although I hadn't noticed them at the time).  There were children in the school and in the schoolyard, and no effort had been made to cordon off the area.  It was weird.

"Everyone then who hears these words of mind and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it didnot fall, bcause it had been founded on rock." -- Jesus, quoted in Matthew 7

Friday, October 16, 2009

Climbing up and falling off

OK so maybe it wasn't the best idea for me to step on a rickety stool to teach kids the meaning of "up" and "on".  But I think they now fully understand the words "fall off," as I provided them with a memorable example.  The second graders screamed for joy.  (I'm fine, except for my ego, thanks for your concern).

They loved it when I sprayed them with water to teach them the meaning of "rain", and by extension,  "rainbow".

I meant to teach them the word "rug" and had spent way too long the night before trying to find the right little clip art illustration.... only to have one of my helpers walk around and have everyone write "rag" next to the picture of the rug.  I didn't have the heart (or the time) to correct them all.

The 6th graders looked at me stonily when I tried to get them to belt out the words to the BIBLE song during the morning assembly. But later in the afternoon, three of the 6th grade girls visited me in the English room and tried to ask me all kinds of things in their fledgling English, giggling & egging each other on.  I'm sure they were actually supposed to be somewhere else, but it was good to have them come.

Relationships are developing.  Maybe the children are learning some English phonics.  Maybe the whole school will be able to sing a few fun Bible songs by the end of the year.  Maybe some students will become curious enough to visit the church which meets at their school.  Maybe "in, with and under" the English language skills, Bible stories, songs, and mini-dramas (planned and unplanned!) they will hear a Word of Life with deep meaning for themselves and their families.

Today's Bible verse (duly recited in both Chinese & English during the morning assembly) was this one:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 

I really believe that!  Even falling off of chairs can be used to good purpose when you are working as one of God's agents.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Another Fabulous Friday

Too cute for words, so I'll start posting pictures... after carefully scrubbing my students' name tags.

It was another Fabulous Friday at the Lutheran School, and I am dead tired again... they wear me out, these little ones!

First graders did "f" for fish, making lovely folds to make fins for their fish.
We also had a grand old time telling the difference between "foot" and "feet".

Second graders began learning "The B-I-B-L-E" song. Remember that one? Here, I can teach you:
"The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me, I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!"
I downloaded the sort of jazzy version from Wee Worship Favorite Bible Songs and the kids spontaneously got up and started dancing around the room.

It was either the Holy Spirit or just my total lack of ability to control a classroom :)

I will sleep well again tonight.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mid-Autumn Festival

  Praise him, all his angels;
       praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

     Praise him, sun and moon;
       praise him, all you shining stars.

     Praise him, you highest heavens
       and you waters above the skies.
--  Psalm 148:2-4
Mid-Autumn Festival last Saturday -- this is  looking straight up at the moon from our front gate.  "Enjoying the moon" is a big part of Mid-Autumn festivities, as is eating moon-cakes, which are dense, chewy, and delicious bean-curd or lotus-seed filled pastries with salted duck egg, sugar, butter and flour.  Incredibly bad for you, I believe, particularly when eaten in large portions, as I am wont to do...

Children and young-at-heart enjoy the colored lights and lanterns of the Mid-Autumn Festivities.  Unfortunately Wayne & I went for another of our famous long hikes so I was too tired to go out and admire the lit lanterns at night.  Here's a fun photo from the Shatin Park on the morning after.