Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fourth Week of Advent...

Early morning view from the Tao Fung Mountain on which the
 Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong is located.
Not many people get a view like this from their workplace!

We celebrated graduation for two Lao, one Cambodian, two Mainland Chinese students...
and one very proud American student... who happens to be
our pastor's wife at Union Church!
After many many work hours in front of computers, books, and lecture notes,
it was wonderful to get out into God's creation...
and smell the flowers! (yes- many
flowers blooming in Hong Kong
in December)
Sunday Wayne had the privilege of baptising four young people.
the newly baptised were given gifts wrapped in red
 - the color of celebration and the Holy Spirit!
I think it's cool to see Chinese characters written
on Wayne's forehead when he's celebrating communion!
The youngest member of the Tin Yiu Life congregation - ready for
her first Christmas.
"That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means... 
Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going on our new grace-sovereign country." 
[Romans 6:3-5 The Message remix]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Photos from the First Ever (I think) Lutheran Women's Conference in Myanmar

The view from my hotel window.

Close up view from the same window.... I'm not in
Hong Kong any more... nor in Wisconsin!!!

Up the rather steep steps of the apt.
building which serves as church
and church headquarters of
the Lutheran Church of Myanmar.
With the organizer of the conference,
Rev. Dr. Philip Tan from the Lutheran Church of Malaysia.
This is church networking through the Mekong Mission Forum!
Here are two of the women servant-leaders from two different Lutheran
denominations, and a future woman leader! Their names are
Mary, Miriam, and Elizabeth. Pretty apt for a Biblical women's
Just call me the multi-media queen. And yes, the
projector did work, praise the Lord :)
The heart of any women's conference -
women with women...

studying and interpreting Scripture together.
I didn't take the greatest picture, but this is
one woman's hair, adorned with sprigs
of fresh flowers. I love it!

No conference would be complete without food.
I love the fresh ingredients... Burmese food
is among my very favorites. I ate so much at lunch, however,
that I couldn't eat any supper!!

Day is done.... down those same steps
and the dog was in no way bothered by
my stepping over him.

Back to the hustle and bustle of the Yangon streets.

 Coming soon... more photos from Yangon.

Here's something amazing.... I was able to access all the internet sites I usually access.... something not possible only ten months ago on my first trip to Myanmar (this is my 4th trip this year).

 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  
---Psalm 34:8

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Heading to Yangon

Leaving for Yangon -- Lutheran Church Women's event - - A Wise Woman's Way: Walking through Seasons of Life with Mother Mary and Other Women of the Bible -- should be great except rumor is I'll have a male translator :( Nothing against males, but really?)

Also, they say there's a keyboard but no keyboardist.

Also, I'm not sure if my carefully prepared keynote slides will work (It's my first time using keynote instead of Powerpoint. Also, electricity is sometimes an issue, as is the quality of the projector.)

Also I think my luggage is overweight because I told the students to go ahead and bring me stuff to bring home for them because I wasn't carrying much. Well, now I am :)

I ask for your prayers. But what better place to spend the first full week of Advent than in this amazing city, where the people are, indeed, waiting for all kinds of new realities -- political, material, developmental, spiritual.

-- Christa

Birds of the Table, Birds of the Air, Birds of Different Feathers...

This is our street -- come visit us sometime! It's been a busy time in the von Zychlin & Nieminen household... as you can perhaps tell by the lack of blog posts!!!

BIRDS OF THE TABLE - The end of November was filled with Thanksgiving themes... among other things, we introduced our three Cambodian students to the wonders of Thanksgiving turkey with a decidedly international flair at Union Church, where rice, sausages, ham and egg rolls supplemented the traditional turkey, stuffing and as my personal contribution and among my personal Thanksgiving favorites -- pumpkin pie!!! 

BIRDS of THE AIR On the way home from church we walked through the Hong Kong Park Aviary where Cambodian M.Div student Pisa got an up-close look at a fine feathered friend. Since the sermon topic had been "Consider the birds of the air..." it was a good way to continue the Sunday theme!

BIRDS OF DIFFERENT FEATHERS... [An old English saying, "Birds of a feather flock together" becomes subverted through cross-cultural Christians who embrace a whole variety of feathering types!!!]

Because Cambodia doesn't have a good system for theological education, we are hoping that LTS, as one of the preeminent seminaries in all of Asia,  can do even more in the area of "Forming cross-cultural servant-leaders, with a heart for local church ministries. (Okay, okay,  the "tagline" is a work in progress! Let me know if you have a better/shorter one in mind!)

To that end, our seminary teachers try to expose students to a variety of books, thoughts, ways of Biblical interpretation, and to a variety of practical experiences in ministry. For example, in his Crisis Counseling Class, "Dr. Wayne" recently took a whole group of students over to visit the "The Samaritans Befrienders Hong Kong" to learn about local suicide prevention right here in Hong Kong. For several of the international and local Chinese students, this was a very new and innovative idea for ministry. Besides the ministry itself, one student told me how eye opening it was to find out that those who serve as "befrienders" are volunteers, and most even pay for the privilege of undergoing the thorough screening and training necessary for those who would like to serve.

To further discuss Cambodian and Mekong-area ministries and the need for sound theological and practical education, we had... what else! Another of Wayne's Famous Pizza Dinners, with Cambodian, American, British, Hong Kong and Danish connections.  It does seem that pizza is truly and profoundly an "intercultural" food :)    (As is wine, which has the advantage of also being Biblical :)
Birds of different feathers...
feast together!

Cambodian inter-cultural servant-leaders
under construction in Hong Kong :)
So that takes you through November. Meanwhile I've also been preparing for a big meeting of the Mekong Mission Forum/Network Implementation Committee here in Hong Kong - a big name for a rather small group with a humongous task -- networking church ministries of the Mekong, with an emphasis on theological studies and Lutheran/ecumenical partnerships.   I was getting rather stressed out by the preparations (just ask Dr. Wayne, he'd be happy to tell you exactly how stressed out I was!) so it does me good to remember the sermon from the last Sunday in November...

"Don't worry!...Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" --  Jesus, quoted by Matthew 6:25f

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Affirmation of Baptism Behind Razor Wire

The Stanley Prison volunteers - a pretty eclectic group, almost as eclectic as the prisoners themselves (who we're not allowed to photograph)

I've been back in Hong Kong over a week and I'm still jet-lagging...or maybe it's the bouts of sadness about my sister, Karin. It hits me in all kinds of places and all kinds of ways. People have been kind. Several have reminded me it takes time. Lots of it.

Well, it was a packed week, my first full week back.  The highlight was last Saturday, when we had four "Affirmation of Baptisms" in Stanley Prison. That was pretty amazing, these guys were really serious about this re-commitment to following the way of Jesus. The guys are from Africa, South America, and Asia, so in my little homily I related it to how they were baptized long ago in a place far away and how God is present in different times and different places and different kinds of churches, but He's also here in these prison walls... well I guess you had to have been there to hear how good it all was :) but I did want to share this quote which we used:

"For too long, we've called unbelievers to 'invite Jesus into your life.' Jesus doesn't want to be in your life. Your life's a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life." - Russell D. Moore

We followed the Baptism affirmation with a powerful laying on of hands. I keep being blown away by how these guys can pray, these prisoners. And sing! Being stuck behind prison razor wire seems to bring out the latent larks and warblers among the guys. I hope you don't think I'm being facetious, because I'm truly in awe. In fact I've told Wayne several times I think I've never experienced such pure, focused, authentic worship as I do in that cement closet we have to use for our chapel. All of this was then followed by Holy Communion, with large chunks of home-made bread and big cups of grape juice for each one. Truly a foretaste of that "feast to come"... which I do hope to share one day with a big circle including these prisoners, and that sister of mine who has left this world for good. I think she would enjoy the company of these guys, she would, and our crazy Christian baptismal hope is that she still will.

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, 
we too may live a new life.
If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his." --Romans 6:4-5

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A birth, a death, and the change of seasons

All Saints Day Blessings!

In my last post I wrote of a birth - little "Christie" was born to one of our Burmese students. I'm pleased to report she is doing well!

 Today I write this post from Rockford, Illinois, in the USA, where my beloved  姐姐 "jeje",  my older sister died at her home, surrounded by her family, after a three year struggle with advanced breast cancer.

Here is an excerpt from her funeral homily, given by moi, her little sister:

 "God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart." -- Ecclesiastes 3:11

There is a season for everything, the Old Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us.
My sister, Karin Elisabeth on Zychlin Gaines, a beautiful, complex, unruly name for a beautiful complex, unruly woman...

Karin loved her seasons. She was born in earliest spring, just about the time when the first little snowdrop blossom peeked out from under the snow
and she died just when the change of seasons, the cold snap came.
I don't think that's an accident, I think that's within the divine design of her Creator.

But at the same time, beyond the seasons of this life, Karin also had a thirst for eternity.

She did not want to die.
And we hated to see her suffer and die.
As the word on the street has it - Cancer sucks.  It does.

And into this painful reality, the Christian Church speaks a powerful word:

Jesus - the most Human One - came to take away the sting of death.

Jesus - the Suffering One - was with Karin her dreadful struggle for breath.
Jesus- the One who got up from the dead again, can and will awaken his little sister, God's daughter, Karin Elisabeth.

It is a mystery, says St. Paul in I Corinthians 15

 " a flash, in the twinkling of an eye... we will be changed."

Karin's eternal self will be as different from her worn out body, as a flower seed or grain of wheat or an acorn is different from a sunflower, a wheat stalk, or an oak tree in its full autumnal glory.

This is almost unbelievable, but all it takes is the tiniest seed of faith to make hope bloom.

Blessings to all on this All Saint's Day, 2012. And thanks to my big sister, Karin, for all the life gifts you have given to your family and friends, and in particular to me, your Mui Mui (妹妹) - your favorite (and only) little sister.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Treasures on a Sunday Afternoon in Hong Kong, and news of a birth!

Wayne forgot something up the hill in his seminary office, so we took a 15 minute hike to retrieve it.  And along the way we saw these treasures:

Wayne's colleague at the seminary, professor of worship and  spirituality

All three of our Cambodian students walking
down to retrieve a cheap supper in town...
no meals served in the cafeteria on
Sunday nights!

All is quiet at the seminary pond.
I take photos while Wayne is inside
making copies or doing whatever,
exactly, he needed to do.

lotus blooming

Bugs skating

Bird of Paradise, fragile, torn, exquisite.

The great news this week - a fourth child born to one of our students from Myanmar (Burma). If it were a boy, he would have been named Wayne. But we're all in luck, it was a fourth daughter! So she'll be named after me! [for linguistic reasons... she will probably be called "Christy" rather than "Christa" since the "a" is a masculine ending in the Burmese and/or Chin language]

However, no sooner did I hear the good news, than I heard the update that she had developed a fever and had to remain in the hospital.  I'm uncertain how good the medical facilities are in the rather remote area of northern Burma where this family lives.  Please pray for infant daughter, mother, and the worried father who will not be able to see his baby for several months at the earliest.

I will post pictures of my namesake as soon as I get them :)

Yet you brought me out of the womb;

    you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God

-- Psalm 22:10

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumn Moon Festival

It's Autumn Moon Festival in Hong Kong
and throughout China!
Chinese students taught the international students
the fine art of making mooncakes

Each mooncake must contain a moon of course!

Many hands at work.

Definitely needs more rice flour!

This takes special technique, boys!
The finished product - perfection!
The more traditional mooncakes...
with salted egg in the center
Just before the official holiday began,
we celebrated a Autumn Moon Festival Eucharist
at LTS, complete with Chinese lanterns:
Jesus says, "Let your light shine"!
And this year, we are celebrating with
new friends, Australian missionaries
serving in Thailand, who have
one of the cutest 4 year olds
in the world.
"I can see the moon better from up here!"
Here's wishing all of you a blessed, fun, moonlight-filled Autumn Festival!

When I look at your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    the children of the earth, that you care for them?
-- Psalm 8