Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bursts of Joy - Christmas in Hong Kong Part II

Christmas Day - 4 adult baptisms and an 81- year old man making his affirmation of faith;
beautiful church choir, adorned with voices of the youngest among this growing congregation...

The Christ Child is a gift for all ages!

Sunday -after-Christmas, a full house at Wayne's church, where the very talented minister, Daphne, had prepared eleven people for baptism, including one baby, four people in wheel chairs, and several young people who gave very moving testimonies of coming to faith.  One of them even shared her experience of having a father who committed suicide when she was a child of ten, the grief and turmoil this caused, and the comfort and hope she received from the cell group at this church.

Who knew a Lutheran Church could have so many adult baptisms, such a depth of outreach, and cell groups in Asia!!!??!

The Christ Child is a gift for all nations, all peoples, all backgrounds, all abilities.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning; 
Jesus, to thee be-- glory giv'n!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; 
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, 
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord! -- O Come All Ye Faithful vs.4

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bursts of Joy - Christmas in Hong Kong Part I

 Bursts of joy:

I. This is the second Christmas that I got to tell the REAL Christmas story to Hong Kong first & second graders. They listened wide eyed as if they'd never heard it before. For some of them it WAS the first time hearing it. 

II.  At the prison, we watched the film version of The Nativity Story with the prisoners, and they seemed fascinated as well.  Even though it got mixed reviews from the critics, I like this 2006 version of the story & I highly recommend it to families everywhere.   It was terrific joining in with the prisoners to belt out "Joy to the World" from the ugly yellow cement walls of our meeting room. We aren't allowed to give gifts or bring in any special snacks, so the Christmas story was really "stripped" down to the bare essentials.  And it still works!  It's Good News!
III.  And our personal good news is that the boys are on their way!  As I write, the older two are en route over the ocean somewhere, ready to join the third "wise guy" brother for our family Christmas celebration.  Last year their flight was delayed because of snow in Chicago and Wayne and I missed Christmas Eve services for what may have been the first time in our lives.  This year we are looking forward to worship at Union Church  at 8 p.m. (what a civilized time for a Christmas Eve Candlelight service :) and on the following 2 days of Christmas Wayne and I are participating in Lutheran Church services... and between us we will be doing 16 baptisms!  (Baptisms on Christmas are a tradition here in Hong Kong, as they were in Africa... who knew?)

Come back for more reports soon on Christmas 2010 in Hong Kong!

Very Merry & Rowdy third-graders at the Ma On Shan Lutheran School with their St. Nicholas and angel tree gifts in hand.

Angels announce with shouts of mirth /  him who brings new life to earth.

Set every peak and valley humming /  with the word, the Lord is coming,

People look east and sing today/  Love, the Lord, is on the way.

                   -- ("People Look East" French Advent Carol, verse 4)


Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4 - Peace!

I woke up this morning -- no water!
I went for a quick run -- still no water when I got back!
I have to go to work this afternoon, so I guess our bottles of drinking water will have to be used up for an alternative purpose.
 Informal poll... if you had to make do without running water or without electricity, which would you choose?  Me? This morning?   No electricity would be fine if I had running water.  Well, if I had WARM running water :)

 Mary & Joseph had neither of course;  neither on that dusty road to Bethlehem, nor in that stable where they had to spend the night. Maybe the star of Bethlehem shone brightly enough for light, but there's no mention of who did the washing up in preparation for the birth, not to mention after the baby was born!

Some of Wayne's seminary students here in Hong Kong will be going back to their home countries, and serving in places where electricity & running water are not available, or sporadic. 

It kind of makes us think, this last week of Advent, as I wait for the water to flow again!

Here are a couple of end-of-the-semester photos of "Dr. Wayne" with the students from his "Post-Modern Therapies" and "Pastoral Care in dealing with addictions & abuse" courses.

One more quick note... I'm considering making an Advent donation to a water project such as the one mentioned on this Advent Conspiracy site, which someone told me about recently.  What do you think?

Advent Peace!

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  Jesus, as quoted in John 4:10

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 3 in Hong Kong - Joy!

 I don't think the road to Bethlehem is quite this hilly, but I did think of the pregnant Mary and (presumably) worried Joseph walking their weary way to the manger this week.

Wayne & I started among the monkeys of Monkey Hill, climbed up the 1,284 steps to Needle Point (yup, we counted them!), paused often enough to breathe deeply (well, to breath at all actually, and to quiet our pounding hearts) and admire the view.  Unfortunately we took a few too many stops so that our last 20 minutes were literally in the dark.  Good thing the path was paved with white rocks and had a railing for the more treacherous parts.

Next time, we'll get an earlier start.

(I wonder if that's what Mary and Joseph said, too?)

"The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come..."  -- the prophet Isaiah 35:1-4

Saturday, December 4, 2010

/a/ is for Apple, /k/ is for Cake!

Thursday was Apple Cake Day at the Lutheran Primary School, apples chopped & cake lovingly baked from scratch by yours truly, for primary school kids learning English, and hopefully something about Advent and the Christian understanding of preparing for the birth of Jesus.

Unlike many American kids, these students don't go for super sweet, so I made an easy apple bundt cake recipe I found on the web, substituted whole wheat for some of the flour to make it even healthier, baked it for the THREE hours my oven takes to get anything done... and lugged it over on the metro, then walked through the warren of public housing buildings to get to the school.

I forgot to bring forks so the teacher handed out toothpicks for the kids to eat with (since apparently eating anything with your fingers is verboten in Hong Kong culture). ok.  But toothpicks?  I thought there was maybe some special Chinese technique for eating with toothpicks but the kids struggled with it as much as I did, and I wondered whether some may have thought this is an American way to eat cake, one toothpick crumb at a time. 

I did make a big show of washing my hands before handling the cake to cut it, carefully demonstrating and enunciating, "Now, I am washing my hands", only to be greeted by squeals and hoots as I began drying my hands on the towel placed above the classroom sink.  Turns out that towel is for wiping floors and... whatever else needs wiping in a classroom.  But not hands.

The kind teacher then gave me toilet paper to dry my hands with.  Toilet paper??

There is still lots to be learned about this world of Hong Kong.

 "People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east, and sing today --
Love, the Guest is on the way."  -- Advent hymn (text: Eleanor Farjeon 1881-1965)

These are the towels NOT to be used for drying hands.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just when we start forgetting we live in the tropics...

Wayne & Swedish colleague Dieter meet up with a python!!!!!

The red stuff is not blood... it's a red rope used to capture this beauty alive.
Actually it was Christopher, one of Wayne's students who met up with this amazing creature.  "I've seen bigger back home [in Myanmar]," he says nonchalantly.  The students dutifully called the Hong Kong police who turned the snake over to the wildlife management people... who did exactly what with it???

"Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a "Python spirit", by which she predicted the future..."   Acts of the Apostles 16:19

Acts 16:19 is the only mention of pythons in the Bible, to which my NIV Archaeological Study Bible says: "The python was a mythical snake worshiped at Delphi and associated with the Delphic oracle.  The term python had come to be used of the persons through whom the python spirit supposedly spoke.  Since such persons spoke involuntarily, the term ventriloquist was used to describe them To what extent this young woman actually predicted the future is unknown."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent and Founder's Day Celebrations at LTS-Hong Kong

"I delight greatly in the LORD, "

 2010 Founder's Day celebrations at the Lutheran Seminary where Wayne teaches pastoral care and counseling.  He and other international Lutheran missionaries join Chinese faculty in teaching, mentoring, and spiritual formation of Christian church leaders for  Hong Kong, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, as well as beautiful Mainland China itself!

As we enter the season of Advent, it's fantastic to see all these different students joining together here in Hong Kong, to celebrate God in a kaleidoscope of color, language, and song.

 "I delight greatly in the LORD

   my soul rejoices in my God.

"...before all nations"
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation 

   and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,

as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 

For as the soil makes the sprout come up
   and a garden causes seeds to grow, 

so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness 

   and praise spring up before all nations.  -- Isaiah 61:10-11

"my soul rejoices in my God."

"I delight greatly"

"as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest"

"and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness"

"as a bride adorns herself with her jewels"

"so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations."

"For He has clothed me with garments of salvation"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hong Kong Hot Pot, Dim Sum, and Thanksgiving Pie

Happy Thanksgiving!  As my loyal readers already know, we've celebrated two more or less traditional Thanksgiving Dinners (more sushi, less green bean casserole :) ... but today I am thankful for...

Wayne's seminary colleague & wife who invited us for a traditional Hong Kong "hot pot" - what Hong Kong folks like to eat for family gatherings... cut up shrimp, fish, beef, mushrooms, greens, tofu which are boiled in a common pot of boiling water (hence the name - hotpot!) somewhat like fondue, minus the cheese and fattening stuff so you end up with a really healthy, delicious, sociable meal.

I'm also thankful for the church where I serve as "sacramental minister" once a month.  Last Sunday they invited me out for a traditional "dim sum" which is another very social way of eating... the food comes in these bamboo baskets and you order lots and lots of different things (so it's not worth it going with just one or two people, this is definitely a group event) and you kind of eat in random order... we had pigeon wings (yes, and heads) and shrimp dumplings and veggies and Chinese cake and lovely rice noodle things, and soup and beef dumplings and just when I thought we were surely finished, along came more bamboo baskets to fill up our bowls with heaps of fried rice to top things off.

So the grand finale was today, Thanksgiving Day itself, where I got to go to work (did I mention Thanksgiving is NOT a day off here?) and teach my adult students about American Thanksgiving.  It was pretty touching to have them share what they were thankful for.  None of them had heard the story of the original American Thanksgiving as a meal where Europeans and Native Americans sat down together.  I love living in a place where we get to, slowly, really find out about people who are so different from us... and in so many ways the same.  Most of them were thankful for friends and family.

They also completely devoured my home made pumpkin pie.  Made me happy!  :)

Blessed Thanksgiving to y'all!  (Since we are 14 hours ahead of folks in the Midwest, we're calling our boys in the morning... I'm thankful for modern technology and free Skype phone calls).

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
   his faithfulness continues through all generations."
   -- Psalm 100:4-5

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Too Much Stuffing but Just Enough Thanksgiving

Successfully cooked a full Thanksgiving Dinner on my tiny little stove and 1/3 size of normal oven. Invitees included Germans, Chinese, Thai, and Burmese friends/neighbors/students.




 Missed my sister though.  Of course my sons and my mom, too, but it's my sister and I who always laughed our way through Thanksgiving preparations -  a glass of wine in hand -- I was always the stuffing and pie expert, she's the "presentation" queen.  So this year my "presentation" left a wee bit to be desired, but oh well.

I was proud of my roasted carrots (in lieu of sweet potatoes) which had specks of the only thing I was able to harvest successfully from my Hong Kong "garden"  - dill weed! The easy recipe is here.

Only down side to this event -- I so stuffed myself with that fabulous (if I do say so myself) stuffing that I was up walking in the night.  Note to self: it's a bad sign when your 17 year old son stops eating before you do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thanksgivings on the lawn and in prison

It was a weekend filled with Thanksgivings.

Friday night was our Thanksgiving on the lawn with 30+ people: American, Canadian, Norwegian, Swedish, Chinese, Norwegian, Finnish, German and at the last minute we were thrilled with the arrival of my Japanese friend Yoko, her son who is a classmate of our son's,  and her husband who had just gotten off the plane from a business trip in Germany.  Yoko added some incredibly beautiful  home-made sushi to the Thanksgiving banquet, providing some Asian flair to our dinner! 
Thanks again Amber Bergeson for this photo. Check out her lively account of making mashed potatoes for 35 at

My hasty photo of the left over sushi does not do justice to Yoko's exquisite creations, served on shiso (perilla) leaves, and beautifully arranged on a colorful plate.          

On Saturday, it was my first time ever presiding over Holy Communion in prison, where we remembered that one of the earliest words used for the Lord's Supper is "eucharist" or Thanksgiving.  If I understood them correctly, it turns out that most of the prisoners had not had the opportunity to have Communion in many months, maybe even years.  I was worried whether the prison authorities were going to allow me to bring in pita bread for communion, since I had been told that they only allow "the official church white bread", which I was afraid might mean only communion wafers.  However, I stuck everything into plastic ziplock bags, like you do at the airport, and it made it through all the scanners.  The guys (many of whom, oddly enough, are from South America) were totally happy to have something that reminded them of the good tortilla bread from home.  In prison, they have a diet of rice, rice, rice.  So even though they each only got a tiny bit, I'm so glad they got some "real bread" to go along with the "real presence"!

No photos allowed at the prison, so here you have the ordinary materials which Christians believe bring new life and utter freedom to those who eat & drink in faith - even those locked behind prison walls.   

In prison we have been studying the Gospel of John and we're now up to the 6th chapter.  This is part of this month's study:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever." -- Jesus

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Anticipation of Thanksgiving...

One of our students was kind enough to provide us with this photo from one of our recent fiestas.  After nearly two years in Hong Kong, and loads of experiences seeing the sights, dining out,  and meeting all kinds of people, one of our favorite things in life is still just sharing a meal... often yes, served in pots and pans rather than making more dishes for our chief dishwasher (Youngest Son).

In November we are anticipating a LOT of special meals.

Did I mention that I have started yet another new part-time job?   Two nights a week I now go and teach English to adults.  So far so good!  My first lessons included helping people to enunciate clearly the difference between "beach" and, um a similar sounding but very different-in-meaning word.   Ditto with the word "fork" AND the ever present tendency (in religious circles) to interchange "blessed" with "breast".

Tomorrow night I get to do my first "Fun with Christa" night.  Yup, it's really entitled exactly that, so I'm a little nervous.  If anyone has some games using English that's not too adolescent... pass 'em on. (I googled "English games adults" and you might be able to imagine what kind of stuff came up on the screen.  Not very helpful. 

Friday night we are having an outdoor Thanksgiving event on the lawn with about 35 people.  (Thanksgiving Day itself will not be a holiday here in Hong Kong, of course, so we are celebrating early).  I haven't snagged the cans of pumpkin yet, though others have assured me they are to be found in Hong Kong, if you look hard enough and are willing to pay the big bucks!

On Saturday I will be celebrating Holy Communion at the prison.  It is the first time our ministry team is attempting this, and it will be a stretch in every way - practical (I just got word today that we can only bring in "church type white bread" - do you think I can get by with pita bread?) linguistic (half the group speaks Spanish!), theological (these are NOT all Lutherans and have a wide variety of understandings of the Lord's Supper), pastoral (some may not be baptized, or not be ready to receive communion for a variety of reasons) and liturgical (How to best conduct the service in the  cluttered, classroom-closet kind of space we have, filled with long benches...)

So we are anticipating a variety of meals in the coming few weeks.  Stay tuned for the updates.

Guide me ever, great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren* land. 
I am weak, but you are mighty; hold me with your pow'rful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore, 
feed me now and evermore.            -- traditional hymn

*(although Hong Kong is NOT so barren... see below)
On the way home from church on Sunday we chanced upon this lovely bit of creation.

note to self- I will invest in a better camera, I will! And learn how to use it.

We heard there was a party!

Mmm, wonder what's flying by for dinner today?

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saint's Night 2010

The All Saint's service started in the dark at the fishpond up on the mountain. From there we walked with candles lit, under the arched entrance gate of the Tao Fung Shan cemetery, up, then down the uneven stone steps, until we assembled around an outdoor altar, scratchy cypress trees at our backs.

We read out the names of those who had died, Chinese names, and American, Norwegian, Japanese and Danish, while looking at the flickering faces of the wondering children and somber adults. 

We ate bread, dipped in wine, we squinted up at the few stars which managed to pierce the Hong Kong gloom, and we remembered the question the two men in gleaming clothes asked the terrified women at Jesus' graveside.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"  [Luke 24:5]

This All Saint's Day, 2010, we are the living.  We dare to believe that those who have entered the mystery of eternity are, through Christ, awake, alive, and love us even better than they were able, on earth, to do.  They are the saints!  And we, we are in the process of becoming.
O blessed communion, fellowship divine! 
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!  -- [Hymn: For All the Saints, 4th stanza]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Count it all joy!

A huge thanks to visual preacher Amber Bergeson for this shot of Wayne & me and our neighbor, a visiting pastor/scholar from Germany, Dr. Wolfhart Schlichting.  We had all gone to church together  and we always walk past this fountain on our way home from Union Church on Sunday mornings. So this time, with our friend Wolfhart (whom Wayne likes to call "Braveheart" because he keeps on taking vast new challenges in his life, such as coming to Hong Kong to teach at the age of 70),  we clambered into the spray!

Yesterday Youngest Son (who has a week off from school) and I took the cable car to visit the Big Buddha, on Lantau Island. 

It's a challenge to do a day trip with a 17 year old, even a relatively nice 17 year old. He absolutely forbade me from posting any of the pictures I took of him... but if you look very very carefully you can see him in the red shirt, walking way ahead of me as if he doesn't know me, at the bottom of the walkway to the Big Buddha.

At today's chapel service at LTS, the international students led us in worship and one of them told us that, "one sentence of praise is worth an hour of prayer."  I'm not sure how authoritative that statement is.... but I like it!  How often we dwell on the negative and what all we need help with, side-stepping the beauties and joys God strews on our path.

May we never become what St. Teresa of Avila referred to when she said, "Lord preserve us from sour, vinegary Christians!"

May we not be the kind of religious communities that paste this kind of sign over all our hearts and minds

but instead, cultivate a sense of joy & praise in the midst of all things.

(I've been waiting for a while to use THIS particular photo of my beloved husband!)

"Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds... "
      -- St. James, brother of Jesus

"Be joyful always" -- St. Paul, messenger of Jesus