LGP Stories

Personal Stories from DLGP

Dawnel’s Hong Kong Visual Ethnography

Written by: on September 8, 2016


Whenever I travel someplace new and different, I anticipate what that place might be like. Experience has taught me that my impressions and assumptions about people and places are clouded when viewed through my American lens.   The Asian culture is one that I have only known from a distance. It is unfamiliar. Through visual ethnography, I can better observe and understand a culture different than my own, and can also more accurately reflect my experience to others. Before traveling to Hong Kong this year, my impression of the city and culture was based on American media. So, it was necessary for me to put aside my assumptions and to experience Hong Kong. I went to Hong Kong seeking, but not sure of the answers I was looking for.

Over the past year, my studies have touched on those things that impact global societies. We are living in a world today that is very much the result of a market system. In fact, some would even consider people a market commodity. It can be overwhelming to think about solutions to the inequalities that we see every day. The world continues to become more globally dependent on each other for goods, services, and economic stability. We are all susceptible to unrest and volatility.  Today’s modern lifestyle is moving at a pace in which people often find it difficult to have and maintain healthy social structures.  To me, Hong Kong presents a glimpse of what cities in America could look in the future, given growth and the migration of people back into the cities as they seek work opportunities. Hong Kong is a busy, growing city of over 7.2 million people.[1] It is one of the most densely populated places in the world. During my trip, there were times when I found my senses were overwhelmed and the pace tiring.

My reading this year of Collateral Damage[2], by Bauman, has raised my awareness of social inequality and the implications, or cost to humanity. Hence, I wondered about the conditions of those living in Hong Kong and social support systems to accommodate the volume of need. Bauman uses the term “collateral casualty” as he explains that marginalized people, or those living in poverty, are more susceptible to suffer from disasters or major issues. In the midst of this environment, I wondered how ministry leaders in Hong Kong respond to the volume of needs that they encounter. In America, the church seems to be loosing influence and failing to make a measured mark on social concerns.  The Council on Foreign Relations reports that China has seen a significant increase in Christianity, and if the current trend continues they will have the largest population of Christians by 2030.[3] Given this, I listened intently to the various Hong Kong leaders in hopes that I might gain insight into what is driving their effectiveness.

Scripture teaches to, “do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV). I’m a goal-oriented person, who constantly seeks to solve problems. Thus, I approach every situation looking for answers. I tend to move from one project to the next, and work to solve one problem at a time. Accomplishments and milestones drive me forward. In Hong Kong, the needs seem to never end. Problems aren’t so easily solved. Vast amounts of wealth are evident, but many working class people struggle in poverty. 40% of the population lives in subsidized housing.[4] There is much, much need. I was taken in by the capacity of each leader and organization to handle the mass volume of needs. Through this observation, the Lord spoke loudly to me.

In his book, The Leadership Mystique, Manfred Kets De Vries states, “effective business leadership is never limited to the acts of one “heroic” individual; rather, it operates in a context of employees and of the business, industry, and larger social environment.”[5] In Hong Kong, Dr. Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, spoke to us about the role of a pastor. He reminded me that it is through the small, seemingly mundane actions that we can often make the greatest ministry impact. We heard from David Wong, the former CEO of the Bank of China. The Lord has worked through his leadership. Today, he works with professionals to find actionable ways to give back and to serve in their communities and in the world. Both professionals work in vastly different contexts. Yet, both revealed that ministry happens in the moment of our obedience. While achieving goals are important, our leadership effectiveness is gained through constant response to the Holy Spirit. It is the Lord who guides our steps and maps out our path, and the Holy Spirit who increases our capacity and effectiveness. Hence, two themes that emerged for me are that Christian leaders must have divine capacity and continuous discernment in order to be effective.

Hong Kong is a major port, bringing thousands of seafarers from around the world. Listening to Rev’d Canon Stephen Miller, we learned that many of the workers on the ships work in poor conditions as laws aren’t sufficient in their home countries to ensure they have basic employment protections. The ministry works to meet the pressing needs of seafarers and their families, such as providing a safe place for rest and sleep after long journeys and helping them to connect with loved ones through phone or internet services. Jackie Pullinger, of St. Stephen’s Society, shared her journey and how the Holy Spirit had guided her to work in the streets of Hong Kong, helping people to overcome addictions. The ministry has grown and the Lord has been faithful to provide sustenance and resources. Through her obedience to Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit, many people have been healed from addictions. Both Seafarers and St Stephen’s Society have a defined mission.   They both serve the Lord and serve others, but they have a specific scope of work and a well-defined tasks. Their work efforts are focused. They don’t take a scattershot approach. To meet the needs of many, they stay focused on their specific role within the greater body of Christ.

Since returning from Hong Kong, I’ve reflected on the three themes: divine capacity, continuous discernment, and mission focus. Recently, I’ve felt my personal capacity stretched to the limit. The energy and wisdom shared by the many leaders that we met was impressive. I caught myself wondering how they manage to do so much considering volume of work all around them. In the noise of Hong Kong, the Lord spoke loudly to me. As I seek discernment from the Holy Spirit, He will give me my leadership cadence in the right place and moment.  When our resources are low, He restores and grows our capacity.

[1] 2015. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/docs/population.pdf.

[2] Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-04-18). Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age. Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[3] “Hunger Stats.” Feeding Hong Kong Hunger Stats Comments. 2015. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://feedinghk.org/hunger-stats/.

[4] “Hunger Stats.” Feeding Hong Kong Hunger Stats Comments. 2015. Accessed November 22, 2015. http://feedinghk.org/hunger-stats/.

[5] Manfred F R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2006).


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

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