I have always found that low and slow is the best way to explore a new city. Eschewing the well-trodden paths to the shopping centers or tourist attractions I prefer to discover a place by bicycle. So, while others are negotiating their way around purchases to take home to loved ones or visiting popular tourist locations I am using Google Translate to negotiate renting a bike, getting directions, and ordering food in a place unaccustomed to English speaking tourists. I find in these adventures are opportunities to experience people and places in the midst of everyday life, going about their business, not pandering to my needs as a guest in their city. These initial experiences frame the remainder of my time regardless of what other pursuits I take up in the ensuing days.
I have travelled to several parts of Asia but never to China or Hong Kong. I anticipated hordes of people, immobile traffic, high rise offices and residences, and limited green space. What I found both met my expectations but also surprised me. Yes, there were lots of people, apparently the most densely populated city in the world, and long shadows cast by tall buildings, but traffic flowed surprisingly smoothly and there was ample green or recreational space if you knew where to look.
Catching up with my roommate, Jay, and other members of the cohort was a blessing. The past year has been personally challenging and I doubted that I would even be in Hong Kong. Were it not for these amazing people I am certain I would have given up. I was reminded that this group of people, scattered all across the globe are there for me even when I feel isolated.
The Cape Town advance dealt with issues about which I am particularly passionate – justice and racial reconciliation. The theme for Hong Kong was ‘Finance, Democracy, and Mission’, things I felt less certain would resonate with me. However, right from the beginning there were presentations that challenged my preconceptions, demonstrated new ways to be in ministry, and helped me reframe and reevaluate some of my own biases and personal challenges.
Rev. Stephen Miller opened my eyes to a ministry that I had never considered when he shared about the Mission to Seafarers. A crucial mission to men and women who spend the bulk of their time at sea and away from family and friends at home. Most people frame ministry in terms of relationship and discipleship yet, here was a ministry that was geared toward meeting the needs of people in the brief time they are in port. There is no opportunity for meaningful long-term connection, but the mission provides a respite from the routines of sea life while some of their physical, social, and spiritual needs.
Alex Fung opened my mind to business as a means of ministry. Alex uses his medical manufacturing business as a means to positively influence laborers, giving them the opportunity to work in a caring environment while also encouraging their spiritual growth, all occurring in areas closed to missionaries. He was a man full of grace and humility and helped me reevaluate my notions of what constitutes mission and ministry.
It was also interesting to hear about and experience some of the tension between Hong Kong and the mainland. The nervousness about the end of the 50 year commitment to ‘1 Country – 2 Governments’ and the evident disdain many of the native Hong Kong residents feel toward those coming from the mainland. They have had two very different experiences in relating to government as demonstrated in Jung Changs book ‘Wild Swans’.Yet, they still know how to throw a party, celebrating China day in Hong Kong which retains a very different memory of Mao and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, still embodied a sense of pride if possibly mixed with uncertainty.
Hearing from church historian Philip Wickeri about the history of the Christian church in China provided another context from which to understand some of our earlier readings. It informed the theological foundations as initially explained in ‘Grassroots Asian Theology’and reminded of the sometimes tense relationship between Christian missionaries and the people of China that was demonstrated in ‘Boxers and Saints’.There is a complexity to Eastern theologies and practices that is often dismissed by those in the West.
Upon returning from Cape Town I was inspired to develop a course at my University addressing issues of race and reconciliation. At this stage I have no plans to utilize experiences in Hong Kong in such a tangible way. However, I have spent the past 10 months unsuccessfully applying for new jobs. I know that I cannot remain in my current situation and since I am recently ordained I assumed that the positions I should be seeking would be in some form of full-time ministry. However, my personal circumstances have left me feeling incapable of working in that context presently. For too long my identity has been tied to helping and serving others out of a ministry context. (An unhealthy 2 on the Enneagram.) But, my time in Hong Kong with the LGP helped me reframe contexts for work and ministry. People like Alex Fung, David Wong and those working at Linklaters provided a glimmer of hope that I need not always be in full-time ministry and yet can still find ways to serve others. This may be a much healthier place for me at this point in time and relieves some of the pressure I had been feeling.
It remains to be seen what else may come of the experiences of this Hong Kong advance. I continue to be surprised at how these things often influence in unexpected ways, even long afterward. It has already provided me with fresh perspectives on what constitutes ministry, reminded me how God continues to use the people in my cohort to care for me and given me some hope in searching for a new job. Plus, I discovered that I was born in the year of the snake. Nana said that people born in a snake year are known for their wisdom, wit and humor. Maybe I’ll work on developing those as well.
Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. William Collins, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016.
Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.
Yang, Gene Luen., and Lark Pien. Boxers & Saints: Boxed Set. First Second, 2013.