Hong Kong is known as a port city and a historic drug haven, and more recently, as being given back to China by the British, with a fifty-year process of re-integration. Steve Tsang’s, A Modern History of Hong Kong helpfully informed us of the setting for our upcoming trip to this city in transition. But even the most accurate history only does so much to acquaint one with a new place. It cannot depict dynamics or smell, or really any of the senses well: they merely describe what is or was. In my recent experience of the country (with my two-month-old daughter and my mother in tow), I will attempt paint a picture through the impact of the places and people I encountered.
People on the Go
If I could describe Hong Kong in one word I would use the term “move.” The infinitive form of the word implies constant coming and going, relating to the past, the present and the future. The people of Hong Kong are on the move. From morning to night, the city is in motion. Whether by foot, subway, or ship, Hong Kongers are busy traveling as part of their work, education, or recreation. One of the most striking scenes for me was seeing the amount of elderly in public spaces, often doing calisthenics. Sometimes funny, sometimes serene, I learned that women and men are forced to retire by ages fifty-five and sixty respectively. With our stroller we often rode the lift with the ‘preferred riders’ including the elderly.
Movement is also employed through the development of Hong Kong’s economy. Just a few days before we arrived, there was a typhoon. We were informed that it would not be a damper on our visit as Typhoon’s are bad for the tourism industry so they would have much of it cleaned up before we landed. Beyond this, I was enthralled with the skyline of the city. Towering, expansive, diverse, spectacular, all-encompassing…barely begin to reveal the wonder of the buildings that line the shore for miles upon miles. Our trip to Linklaters further revealed why and how Hong Kong has become an economic giant in the world. The economic boom, while good for Hong Kong, also proved prohibitive for most of the city with regard to housing. As we could see from almost anywhere in the city, many of the high-rise buildings were housing for families, allotting two hundred square feet per flat.
Movement of the Spirit
The most impactful experience with those who call Hong Kong home was through the movement of the Spirit among them. Listening to Reverend Stephen from the Mission to Seafarers, Annalise of the Lutheran Community Services, the leadership of St. Stephen’s Society, the pastor of Saddleback Hong Kong or the multi-ethnic Vine Church, the administrators and students at Hong Kong Baptist University, and those doing business as ministry was life altering for us in their presence. In particular was Nana, our guide and a missionary among her people, radiating joy and love for Jesus in her community. Though there is a strength of Buddhism in the country, with glittering temples and money literally floating in their water features, it holds little depth to the testimony of life change and the heart of worship among the Christ followers we met.
One of our most formative experiences was with our HK Christian hosts at St. Stephens Society, the ministry began by Jackie Pullinger to those being saved out of gangs and addiction. Reading her book, Chasing the Dragon, before our trip seemed like a tale too good to be true. The idea that people would pray in tongues and those addicted to opium would rarely have side-effects and would transition into new life seemed overly simplistic. But being in worship, watching others receive healing from those who had been healed, and hearing the current stories of their ministry made me feel like a new Christian again, inspired by the hope of Christ for the world.
In particular we learned from one of the leaders at St. Stephens about the “new man” as we toured one of the men’s homes. Whenever they receive a new person into the community who is coming out of a destructive lifestyle, they call him a “new man” referring to their newness in Christ. During their time as the new man the other housemates rotate shifts of prayer for the person so they are always within an arms-length of another person who is quietly praying for them in tongues and available for them if they need anything. Seldom do those who are being prayed for experience typical withdrawal symptoms while acclimating to their new life in Christian community. Hearing this was so moving. The simplicity and direct attention to caring for a new disciple of Jesus who has come through hardship was logical and Spirit led.
Considering what has stayed with me and how I am practicing what I have learned the phrase “active meditation” from Cal Newport’s Deep Work. The concept is about moving while thinking deeply on some topic or problem. This reminds me of the violin player during worship at our visit to St. Stephens. The violinist moved about, focusing on playing while bringing beauty through harmony with the song. I sensed that the violin was like the Spirit. My own life, full of the rhythms of family, work, service, a doctoral program, etc. leave little space for stillness. I am encouraged by my experiences with the Spirit through the movement of the people and culture of Hong Kong. Their active meditation is a model for me in this season: to be present and following the Spirit as I live my calling in my current reality.