Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The Hong Kong advance, and the reading leading to it marked the beginning of my hours of axe-sharpening, otherwise known as the DMin process.
I was a late-admit to the program, and therefore had obligations that caused me to be late to the advance. In fact, I was completing some small, final pieces of paperwork for my admissions counselor when I left for Hong Kong. It wasn’t until I was on the plane, leaving from Dallas/Fort Worth that I was able to pause and reflect on what I was doing. I knew the other members of my cohort had already been meeting for a few days, and I was going to be late to the experience.
I was admittedly nervous about how I would be accepted, how I would catch up on information and most importantly…how I would literally find my way to them once landing in Hong Kong. There were lots of reasons to get off the plane before it ever took off. What was I thinking? Why was I choosing to begin a doctoral program when I couldn’t even be on time to my first advance?
Thankfully, I made it just fine in my Red Taxi, and these were the faces that greeted me. Everyone was smiling, and I immediately felt like I belonged. My cohort was quick to bring me up to speed and my advisor was ready and willing to help. I am grateful for their hospitality in receiving me so late.
I knew little to nothing about Hong Kong culture prior to our reading and travels. Everything was new to me. During the first presentation I heard from Stephen Miller on the ministry to the Seafarers, I knew the experience was going to open my mind to things I had not thought of before. His presentation brought humanity to an issue I had really only considered in terms of economics. Now, when I see shipping containers, I am moved to pray for the seafarers, their families and those who are ministering to them.
The presentations that followed over the next few days had a similar effect. Learning from practitioners who are seeking to carry out the mission of God in their contexts of corporate business, local church ministry, university, social work, and small business, brought awareness to the human experience behind what seems to be fear of the unknown at the end of the “50-year agreement.” I appreciated the plea for more leaders for the Hong Kong church and the pain of the young adults who are trying to provide for their families since their parents are now in mandated retirement while balancing the high expectations for academic performance.
The most powerful moment of the advance, for me, was during the worship time at Shing Mun Springs picture (I snapped this picture just before they asked us not to). The reading of Chasing the Dragons came alive as I experienced Jackie Pullinger’s deep value of the priesthood of all believers.  I was moved by the worship and gift expression among a people who have experienced radical redemption in their lives. I was challenged to look for ways to “facilitate the gifts of others” as they practiced. We had been among the concrete jungle of Hong Kong for days, and I was surprised by my response to the calm of the retreat center. Since coming back home, I have been intentional about pausing before jumping into meetings and planning and asking my teams to pray and unpack what they sense God asking of us. It’s embarrassing to admit I wasn’t allowing enough time for this before, but I am grateful for the reminder from Jackie’s ministry, and the gentle correction from the Spirit.
The Hong Kong advance has served as a sharpening stone in these first hours of preparation. I learned many things about Hong Kong, its history, culture, and concern for the future. However, my biggest takeaway from the experience was more personal than academic. I came into the advance in a rush but being there forced me to pause and challenged me to allow time in my life and leading to learn from and reflect on what I am experiencing. Jason Clark’s admonition to approach learning from a posture of wonder was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m not sure when I stopped making room for reflection, but the model of this advance exposed the reality of my current utilitarian approach to life. Though it was painful to uncover, I am grateful for the perspective. I am intent on engaging the process.
 Pullinger, Jackie, and Andrew Quicke, (Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, (Minneapolis, MN: Chosen, 2014).