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