Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Up onto Jesus' shoulders in Vietnam

Our last day of 2013 started on the beach in Vung Tau, Vietnam, where we are taking a grace-filled (dare I admit desperately needed?)  family vacation.

Vung Tau is home to the largest statue of Jesus in the world, at 32 meters it is six meters higher than the one in Rio (Brazil).

We had try to climb up the statue  two days ago, walking up the small mountain only to discover the stairway within the statue is closed for two hours in the middle of the day, exactly when we had arrived, of course.

So today was the day. Again we went by the smaller Biblical statues lower on the mountain... depicting some of the happiest prophets I've ever seen. I'm sure I've never seen a Moses with a big grin on his face before, although it mirrors something I once saw in Jerusalem, at the Wailing Wall, where grey-bearded orthodox Jews had gathered to dance their joy in commemoration of Shavuot, the giving of the Ten Commandments.

There's also one of the jolliest depictions of the preaching of the Beatitudes I've ever seen. And why not? Jesus was talking about deep happiness, blessedness, joy. Maybe a bird or two and lambs and a batch of kids did frolic, to hear about God's topsy-turvy hand-out of blessings to the poor, the sad, and those reaching out to taste a better world.

And then we came to the foot of Jesus: Note the scale of things... those are people peering out over the top of his shoulders!
It was a bit of a squeeze to walk up the last 133 steps. We were glad we were the only Western-sized tourists that day - we definitely would have been in trouble otherwise.

And at the top we were rewarded by a view of Jesus with Asian eyes, and the sense of seeing things from the perspective of resting on His shoulders. Hmmm. Not a bad way to look back upon the year that was, 2013, and ahead to the year starting up in a few hours, 2014.

Jesus according to Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Happy New Year everybody!!!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Peace on Earth -- reporting from Vietnam

“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions...
Peace calls for daily commitment." 
 -- Pope Francis, Christmas Day 2013

As an American visiting Vietnam as a tourist, Pope Francis' words ring in my ears as our family tours first  the Cu Chi Tunnels (said to be over 200 km long) by which the Vietnamese evaded American military, and where now children - beautifully incongruously - scamper over tanks.

Life went on, underground, with systems for cooking, sewing, medical care, and the devising
of weapons to kill the "American enemy"... some of whom were neighbors to Wayne and I, growing up as American kids in the 1960's

At an entrance to the tunnel system, portions of which
have been enlarged so Western-sized tourists can enter.
 We then went to the War Remnants Museum, which grimly reminded us of the millions killed in the war and the on-going aftereffects of land mines and chemicals used on Vietnamese soil, causing human mutilation and birth defects.

Wayne and I are of an age where we well remember neighbors and church families sending off young men to fight what some at the time thought was a noble war for freedom, what others believed was a horrible mistake, what all knew was a war fought, like every war, at the terrible cost of God-beloved human lives.

 May the One we name the "Prince of Peace" make Christians the first and the foremost to embrace that "daily commitment" for peace in the New Year 2014.

So then let us pursue the things which make for peace 
and the building up of one another.
Romans 14:19

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013 from Hong Kong!

We celebrated the last of the Advent Sundays in a tent sheltering us from the rain. 
The church provides a welcome respite from the Hong Kong crowds... and you thought Christmas
shopping crowds were bad in your hometown??  (These are not, of course, Christmas
shoppers but just the normal Sunday afternoon crowds at the metro station!)

But we've also been surrounded by voices of peace & joy from all over the world this Christmas, as we've celebrated Christ's birth with professors and students...

 from Hong Kong,
from Cambodia

 from Germany

from Myanmar

and Wayne and I have our house full of men... our "boys" have beat the Midwestern and East coast storms and have landed safely in Hong Kong.

Merry Christmas from Hong Kong!  With love and joy in our Savior's birth,

Christa & Wayne

"The angel said, 'Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. 
This is what you’re to look for: 
a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.'
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises..."

Luke chapter 2

Sunday, November 17, 2013

God's amazing world in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar

A little bit about our Mekong Mission Forum teaching trip to Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar:

Of all the Mekong countries, Myanmar (or Burma) has the highest number of Christians. Much of this is due to the perseverance of a husband and wife American Baptist mission couple, Ann and Adoniram Judson, who established a Christian Mission in Myanmar 200 years ago! The Myanmar Baptist Convention is expecting over 20,000 visitors for the celebrations in Yangon next month. Of course, those old-time  American missionaries just got the ball rolling. Since then there have been generations of faithful indigenous ministers, pastors, Christian parents and grandparents, and yes, Myanma/Burmese/ Kachin missionaries who have attempted to live lives of service, witness and love in extremely difficult conditions, in response to the Gospel.

Wayne and I had the great adventure of visiting the Kachin Theological College, in Kachin State, Myanmar. 

Myitkyina airport
We had the opportunity to teach alongside a fantastically diverse group including Kachin Baptists, Independents, Anglicans, one Presbyterian (Dr. Lal Tin Hre from the ATEM - Association of Theological Education in Myanmar who was the chief organizer of everything), two Lutherans (us!) and even one Roman Catholic priest! We Americans talk about ecumenism, but these folks are living it. When times are hard, when you are a minority ethnic group AND belong to a minority religion, when you realize the Gospel calls us to be counter-cultural, then you unite for continuing education events. Beautiful!

Along with a trip to the site of the Myitsone Dam Project (halted last year due to the outcry among environmentalists and the Kachin people who fear for their lives if the dam should break) and taking a boat ride in the cold and fast moving river
we also had the opportunity to visit the beautiful "Prayer Mountain, overlooking the exotic Kachin State landscape. Many people come up to pray for this land and its people who have been embroiled in war for years with the Burmese military (whose fighter jets we saw flying overhead, in what seemed a menacing show of power over the Kachin people).
Prayer Mountain

We were able to briefly visit an IDP camp (Internally Displaced Persons) filled with children. The children at the camp just shouted with joy as (together with the Kachin Baptist Church members) we shared the Gospel with them through a simple children's song. I imagine the sound of the angels are no sweeter to God! 

We also heard about a nearby camp where there are three toilets for 500 people, (a young Swedish guy working for UNICEF told us this... and thankfully it appears that together with the local people UNICEF is working to help this nearly unbelievable situation). Don't take your toilets for granted, people!

We then heard from one of the  Kachin ladies about her mission trip of encouragement and medical help in yet another camp, nearer to the Chinese border,  where people have to learn how to function without arms and legs, which have been amputated because of landmine casualties and lack of medical facilities. 

As we begin to head into the Advent/Christmas season, (decorations are up all over Hong Kong when we arrived back last night) I am newly aware, again, of the real Gospel of Advent/Christmas -- that into this hurting and dangerous world, God sent his son, fully human, a vulnerable baby, born to a poor family, in a land occupied by the Romans, where babies could be slaughtered upon the whims of a ruler.
What love is this that God gives to us, and which we are called to share in practical ways? 
Theologian, lecturer, at KTC (Kachin Theological College) wife, mother, daughter of God: Saw Nam.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Doing theology under the young mango tree

leaving Bangkok
I always feel how amazing life is when I take this flight -- Hong Kong to Bangkok to Yangon.

The lights leaving Bangkok are much brighter than the lights upon arrival in Yangon, but the Yangon airport is looking much, much spiffier than when I first started flying there just two years ago.

Most of today was spent greeting Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) Hong Kong alumni now teaching at Karen Baptist Theological Seminary:

Theology under the young mango tree

Theology in the clothing  shop
Karen culture textiles

Karen culture handwoven clothes
Heading out for lunch

The daughter of Dr. Christopher... who waited three long years for her Daddy
to return from his Hong Kong studies.

It's an incredible gift to be here again and to see the thriving LTS alumni. Tomorrow we fly to Kachin State... a place we've never been to before.  We are flying on either Asian Wings Airways (the name on the envelope with our tickets)... or Air KBZ (the crossed out name on the ticket)  or Air Bagan... the name handwritten on the confirmation printout.

Wayne will be teaching a seminar on healthy families and I'll be his healthy assistant :) Actually, I'm going to be doing a unit on church-based sex education, based on the Master's degree thesis from another Myanmar LTS alumnus. Please please say a prayer for us! May we listen, and learn, and perhaps be of some use in our teaching.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, 
as good stewards of God's varied grace:" 

[1 Peter 4:10] 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Indonesian & Cantonese Angels in Church

It was an extra bright morning with 6 Indonesian graduate students arriving at my door at 8:30 a.m. to leave for Truth Lutheran Church, Ma On Shan.

At church the crowd seemed to be sparser than usual... it's a holiday weekend (Chung Yeung... another fine opportunity for grave sweeping... and picnicking... and - since this is Hong Kong, after all -- shopping)
but this did not hold the students back from singing their hearts out, nor did it hinder Pastor Rospita Siahaan -- (the beautiful small person on the right, standing next to her Cantonese translator) -- from preaching a BIG message on thankfulness. She later told me it was the first sermon she had ever preached in English. 

After church I got to go along with a few of the Chinese members who were taking communion to one of the elderly members of the church:

My own 89 year old Mom is in the hospital this week back in the USA (kidney stones, sorry to say it runs in our family, and she had a gigantic one!!) and since I am 18 hours of flight time away, it was just great to hear this 93 year old Chinese Christian promise to keep her in his prayers.

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. -- Traditional Christian Hymn

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back to school at LTS Hong Kong

Chapel flowers during Mid Autumn Harvest Moon Week.

Wayne and I are back in the saddle at LTS Hong Kong, and my jet-lag is totally, finally over (only two weeks later :) So we're back in Hong Kong where --

--we have daily chapel:

(This one led by a recent group of Hong Kong students who did an intercultural exploration/ mission trip to Cambodia and Thailand)

--where I, Christa, at the advanced age of.... oh never mind, let's just say at my advanced age, I have just been accepted into the Doctorate of Ministry program at LTS (part time student, my goal is to graduate before I turn sixty :)
and am taking a course in Diakonia:

snapshot of my class - two Mainland Chinese students (for whom Mandarin translation
is provided) two from Hong Kong, one American (me!), one from Myanmar, one from
Nepal, one from Cambodia. Talk about diversity! 
and one very cool teacher, with years of theological/practical diaconal experience in Hong Kong and Norway
(one of the best teachers I've had, and I've had some good ones)
and, lest we forget that we are in Hong Kong,
 there's THIS, discovered and filmed on our way home from seminary last week:

(My Hong Kong friends assure me that the snakes will soon be in winter hibernation. This Red-necked Keelback snake seems to have a mouse in its belly, if you look closely.)

Happy Mid-Autumn Harvest Moon Festival Everybody!

It's great to be back!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

...Praise him, sun and moon;
Praise the Lord from the earth,

wild animals and ... creeping things... 
Let them praise the name of the Lord,

    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jet lagging in Hong Kong

I'm back in Hong Kong! Where the rain, it raineth everyday.

Here's the view from my office at the seminary, in the New Territories of Hong Kong. (Yes, those are more rains, on the way)

One benefit of jet lag is it's the only time I get up early enough to run as the sun is coming up (It's been a week now and I'm still waking up between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m.)

Yes, this is along the canal,  the view on my running path just this morning. I'm lucky enough to live near one of the only places in Hong Kong where you can run a 5 mile route without hills!

One of the best things about being back in Hong Kong? Ma On Shan Truth Lutheran Church, where I'm the "sacramental pastor." Here is a snippet of the men's group singing yesterday:

Ah, blessings upon blessings. It's good to be back in Hong Kong!
Stay tuned for more about the amazing students at LTS in upcoming posts.

Friday, August 30, 2013

19 out of 19 visas approved!

Flower arrangement courtesy of my friend Carol
who helped me clean, cook, and then
gathered this glorious bouquet
for the table in our
Wisconsin home.
Just received word this morning: the nineteenth international student visa has been approved! Joy!

Meanwhile, the international students have been arriving at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong... they just experienced the annual Student-Faculty retreat, and for sure some of them are deeply homesick and wondering what they've gotten themselves into.

My husband-the-professor reports having a "welcome back to Hong Kong" stomach virus which thankfully didn't attack until after he'd nearly completed the retreat...

 and I'm packing to rejoin him in Hong Kong... where I'll at last get to MEET those 19 students whose names we've been keying in over and over again, whose lives will be changed by studies and the relationships they'll be building at LTS.

Still, it's hard to say good-bye... again... to our three sons -- one of whom just moved to New York City... one suitcase and one job offer in hand...

A last breakfast of Al Johnson's Swedish Pancakes
and it's always hard to say good-bye to my 89 year old mother... plans for a big celebration are underway for her 90th birthday party next summer.... something to look forward to!

Changes are in the air... maybe a good time to remember that none of us belongs wholly to any particular place - not Door County, Wisconsin, nor Hong Kong, China, nor New York City, nor Yangon, Myanmar, nor a village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (two of the places the new international students are from)... 

Maybe a good chance to think about these words (paraphrased) from St. Paul nearly 2,000 years ago:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. 

Romans 12:1-2

The Message (MSG)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pray and fax. Fax and pray.

The great news is we have 18 of our 19 new international student visa applications APPROVED!!! Yee ha! Only one Laos student to go and I do hope our final pleas for her will have been heard by the end of the coming week. "Fax and pray" has been my and my co-workers motto for the summer months... a play on the (Catholic Christian) Dominican's motto of Ora et labora (work and pray... the two go hand in hand)

Please indulge me a moment as I explain a little bit about the kind of work this has taken:  about five months worth of mind-numbing paper and computer screens work. Dozens of faxes. Hundreds of pages of paper files. Folders within folders of scanned documents. Dates, student transcripts in eight different languages, extraordinarily complicated names including:


[ BONUS: Can you identify the above names by nationality? Hint: Nationalities at LTS include        Cambodian, Indonesia, Chinese, Myanmar, Norwegian, German, American, Laos, Australian. Answer on  the bottom]

One of our professors, watching me carry a stack of folders to the scanner inadvertently sent me into a near mild seizure when he told me how glad he is there are people in the world who just thrive on this sort of detail work, implying (I thought) that I was one of these people.

I'm not. 

I did very occasionally remember the following quote from the seventeenth century Carmelite kitchen worker, Brother Lawrence:

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” 
― Brother LawrenceThe Practice of the Presence of God

I certainly didn't send all these faxes with love, although the colleagues working with me may have. But, I did and do remember that there are real students, real lives being impacted by these visas, giving precious permission for (in most cases underprivileged) pastors and Christian teachers from Southeast Asia to experience (and enrich!!!) the inter-cultural Christian community life and solid theological education to be had at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong.

Here's my anecdote about Z. D., one such student, from Myanmar:

-- he came to a Mekong Mission Forum meeting last year in Yangon (the largest city and former capital of Myanmar) and it took him FIVE days to arrive from the northern part of Myanmar: bikes, motorbikes, mini-bus, overnight bus. "Oh, but that wasn't so bad," he said, "it used to take us almost two weeks. But then we got those bikes."

That's commitment, eh?
Z.D. is the guy in the middle, and he should be landing in Hong Kong this week to work on a doctorate in New Testament.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..."
-- St. Paul writing to the Colossians 3:23

ANSWER to Bonus Quiz:

Simorangkir   (from Indonesia)
Lervaag   (from Norway)
Nghilh   (from Myanmar)
Xaychou   (from Laos)
Touch   (from Cambodia)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Colours of the Spirit during Home Assignment in USA Churches

Home Assignment has been going well in the good old USA! We've been thrilled with the birth of our grand niece (first grand child of my late sister, Karin, first great-grand child of my mom)
Great Uncle Wayne with cutie pie,  Ella Luise
We've thoroughly enjoyed visiting over a dozen sponsoring churches in the USA... the Church is alive and well, our sharing about God's work in Hong Kong and the Mekong was celebrated with food:
Ah, the pie social. SO yummy!
We were treated to an old fashioned quilt making demonstration (LWR Mission quilts made by loving hands in church halls all over America, sent to wherever they are needed most in the world, as a "tangible symbol of God's love" within the global community)

And we challenged children (and adults) with a game of "Spot the differences/similarities" between your church and some of the churches we work with in Hong Kong and in the Mekong. For example, what are the similarities and differences between these three photos?

Wherever we are in "God's Big Backyard"
we are in awe of God's Spirit which brings new life in countlessly colorful ways...

but specifically, and dependably, and gracefully,

through Word and Sacrament.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.