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

 "...in 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.