Well folks, I have been back in the States for about a month, and boy has my life been all over the place!
My brother's wedding was beautiful and I am so happy for him and his new bride. Elaine has already felt like a sister for many years (she's been hangin' with the Clarks for over a decade!) so it is wonderful to have her as an "official" family member.
I gave a sermon about my time in Hong Kong on June 3, despite my heart duplicating the rhythm of a jackhammer during both services. I don't know why I was so nervous! Polk and Colin, our priests, were kind and supportive though, as were the many parishoners I spoke with before/after the services. It was a true delight to be up there with my dear friend, and newly ordained, Suz Cate. Her first time as deacon was June 3, so it was a big day for St. Paul's!
This experience overall has caused me to really pause and think about my life and where God is steering it. I have talked to clergy before (including the Bishop) about going through the discernment process in our diocese but the timing was never right. Well, I am now at a point where I can seriously consider ordained ministry and after speaking with Polk I will be hopefully going through the discernment process next spring. This is not a decision I take lightly as it is a big commitment--I have put graduate school on hold for the time being. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged and supported me throughout the past year and for the wonderful response I received last Sunday.
So what will I be doing between now and next Spring?
I will be finishing up my final year of Education for Ministry, the theological education program through the University of the South's School of Theology. I have really missed that in my life and I am glad they were able to make a space for me in the coming year.
I have resumed working at Dillard's (a department store similar to Macy's for those not in the South). Initially I was just going to be there for a few months but since the rapid change in my life this week I will be there for a lot longer. When I told the managers that, they were ecstatic and asked if I would take over the Elizabeth Arden counter. The previous counter manager, Debbie, retired (yesterday was her last day!) and they had really been fretting over who would be taking it over. When I worked at Dillard's before going to Hong Kong I worked at a counter right next to her and I really enjoyed her vivacious personality and down to earth vibe. The Account Exec for this area for Arden is fabulous and he was delighted that I would be able to take it over. We had a big event this week and I was introduced to the customers. Of course everyone is sad to see our dear Debbie go!! I am really excited about this great opportunity and I hope that everything transitions smoothly.
So, now I am looking for a place to live in Murfreesboro. I am still at my parents' house in Estill Springs (a good hour or so from Murfreesboro) and the drive back and forth is a bit exhausting. Praying that I can find something soon!
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable unto you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It is so good to be back here at St. Paul’s! For those who don’t know me, my name is Kathleen Clark and for the past year I have been serving as a missionary with The Episcopal Church. I have been a member of St. Paul’s since 2003 when I came to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University, and I graduated in 2006 with a degree in Global Studies. Throughout my time in Murfreesboro, St. Paul’s has been my spiritual home and a place of immense growth for me so I am so glad to be back here with you all today.
Last year as I was preparing for my mission assignment I was sent a few books and a DVD put together by the Mission Personnel office. On this DVD were several stories of missionaries who have served and are currently serving around the world. But what really spoke to me was the introductory piece by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In it he proclaims that, “We are all missionaries, or we are nothing.” This “All or Nothing” kind of statement really made me sit up and take notice. What did he mean, ‘we are all missionaries?’ That’s what I would like to talk about today.
This morning we heard the words of Isaiah in our Old Testament reading. Isaiah was a prophet in the 8th century BC Kingdom of Judah. He prophesied during the reigns of four kings of Judah; Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. But, Isaiah was not only a prophet; he was also a missionary. The Lord comes to Isaiah – and Isaiah answered the Lord by presenting himself. He felt unworthy but was made clean through God’s grace, and was sent out into a broken world. The very word “mission” means the act or instance of sending. As Christians we are all, as Archbishop Tutu says, missionaries. Every day the Lord asks, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And every day, whether it is here in Murfreesboro or around the world, we answer in our hearts: Here am I, send me! What that looks like in our individual lives is something we must prayerfully discern for ourselves. I want to share with you all my discernment and how I answered the call.
Last February I went through a discernment process with the Young Adult Service Corps of The Episcopal Church. In this program, young adults aged 21 to 30 are sent somewhere in the Anglican Communion at the invitation of a particular province or diocese. We met together in Florida to learn more about the program and placements, and myself and six others ultimately were sent out to different parts of the world: Asia, South Africa, South America, Mexico City. I was sent to work with Migrant Workers in the Anglican Province of Hong Kong. I was absolutely humbled by the generosity and support that I received from St. Paul’s, the Diocese of Tennessee, and my family and friends. Thank you for not only the financial support but for your prayers and encouragement along the way.
Hong Kong does not really sound like the typical location for mission work. I know that when I usually heard the words “mission” or “missionary”, images of rustic villages and extreme cultural barriers came to mind. Hong Kong is a thriving city of 7 million people from all over the world, the largest financial hub in Asia, and a culturally diverse population made up of East and West. When I answered the call I did not know much about Hong Kong other than it had been a British colony until 1997, but after some intense Googling and Wikipedia-ing (as well as some old fashioned book reading) I learned, among other things, that it has its own mini-constitution and is a Special Administrative Region of China. That means that in Hong Kong there are more freedoms than the mainland and it is easier for foreigners to get into Hong Kong.
Yet, Hong Kong is part of the broken and hurting world that we live in. Despite the wealth and freedoms enjoyed by much of the population there, there is a group of people who contribute to society that remains on the fringes. They are the migrant workers who come to Hong Kong from other parts of Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines, and these people are who I served during my time in Hong Kong.
So who are these migrant workers?
The majority of the migrant workers are women who come to escape the economic disparity of their home countries for the opportunity to provide for their families back home. But the life a migrant worker in Hong Kong is not easy. I met women who had not seen their children in three or more years because they had not been able to go back home to see them, yet they continued to send what money they could.
These women arrive in Hong Kong full of hope and dream of a future when they can return home to their families. Sadly, these dreams often turn into nightmares of abuse, debt, loneliness, and depression. The employment agencies that they had to go through to get to Hong Kong charge exorbitant illegal fees of more than 70% of their already meager salaries of just under five hundred US dollars per month. They are forced to take out loans and pay interest on these illegal fees, which pulls them into a cycle of debt that is difficult to break out of. They work 16 or more hours a day in homes where they may or may not be able to communicate effectively with their employers. They care for the elderly and the babies, the young children and the home. They encounter cultural and linguistic barriers that make them feel isolated in a city of millions. Abusive employers shout at them for cooking the rice wrong, or beat them for not cleaning properly, or worse—for no apparent reason at all. Worst still are the sexual abusers who take advantage of their dire situations. These women are dependent on their employers for everything: work, food, a roof over their heads and clothes on their back. They are required by law to live in the residence of their employers and many employers take advantage of this situation. The workers are powerless to complain to authorities because they do not want to lose their jobs—doing so would mean more illegal fees, more hassles, and money not being sent home to their families.
So what hope is there for these women? Where can they go for help?
My placement was with an organization that offers assistance and services to migrant workers in distress, the Mission for Migrant Workers. One of my clients, Ramona*, came to the Mission office in October at a breaking point. In tears, she described to me the conditions of her employment and how she just couldn’t take it anymore. She was underpaid for almost three years, was not given her required one rest day per week, and lived in a hostile environment that made her sick with stress and fear. One of the other domestic workers in her building brought her to the Mission for help, and I was the one who spoke with her. She was trembling and crying, sick with worry. She had to get out but she needed help, and she needed to know someone was there to help her. I helped her write a one month’s notice, calculate her claims, and one month later she left her employer’s house. She went to stay at one of the shelters in our shelter network and began to take part in communal life. She shared in chores and cooking, participated in events put on by the Mission and over the next several months as her case progressed through the Labour department I saw a profound change in her. She no longer cowers in fear; now, she laughs and smiles. Her first visit to the office was in October, but her case was still not finished when I left. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family she is able to pursue her claims although it means she has been unable to send money home to her children. Ramona has hope, though; a hope that she found through a community of people who strive to share Christ’s love with all whom they meet.
The community that Ramona was welcomed into is made up of missionaries. I’m not talking about people who were sent from elsewhere; I mean the other migrant workers, the staff and volunteers at the Mission. They were all, like Isaiah, prophets and missionaries of hope. When the people of Israel and Judah were in despair, Isaiah offered them hope. He offers, in the later chapters of his book in the Old Testament, a vision of what can be, of what WILL be when they stop trusting in themselves and proclaim that their salvation is in God alone. This same hope is delivered through Christ on the cross, a vision of selfless love and sacrifice that can only come from God.
We are called to be missionaries of hope. That’s what we hear in the Gospel of John reading today: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We are not called to condemn but to bring hope. How do we do this? What does that look like in our individual lives? Well, if you look in your bulletin, you will see that you are about to take a vow to be a missionary. In our Baptismal Covenant we will, with God’s help, strive to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, to proclaim by word and example the Good News, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. We are, as Christians, called to bring reconciliation and healing. That begins with acts of love, kindness, and forgiveness. That’s the love Ramona encountered.
Archbishop Tutu says we are all missionaries, or we are nothing. We are ALL missionaries--or we are nothing. May we remember this as we live out our Christian lives. May we have the courage to stand with Isaiah and say, “Here am I, Send Me!
I have been back in the States for about a week and am finally feeling like I'm over some of this jetlag. I had quite a whirlwind first week back! After taking a couple of days to rest I went up to my alma mater and talked to the Institute for Leadership Excellence about my experiences in Hong Kong and Servant Leadership. They were an inquisitive group and I was happy to field all kinds of questions from them.
This past weekend was the very happy event that I came home early to attend: my brother's wedding! He and his new bride have been together for almost 12 years so she already felt like part of the family. It was a beautiful ceremony and a really fun reception and I am so happy for the two of them.
This weekend was also a chance to see family and friends I hadn't seen yet, including all of my cousins (one of whom lives in Texas!). Everyone asked about Hong Kong and can't wait to see pictures (gotta get started on a photo book..) and wanted to know what is next in my life.
It is a little strange to be back home, I must admit. I never realized how GREEN Tennessee really is! I'm surrounded by vast farmland and cow pastures. Even the cities feel spread out when compared to the crammed sidewalks of Tsim Sha Tsui. Things feel familiar but unfamiliar. There are ever so slight changes in the faces of family and friends, in the towns and cities I lived in.
It has been a little hard to reflect in the last week, what with the wedding and visiting friends and family. I'm trying to get my feet back on the ground here, to get a job and find a new place to live and call home. I have that interstitial feeling that comes during a major life transition, one that has been going on for the past two years. Hopefully, with continued prayers and encouragement (and God's loving help!) I can take what I have learned about myself and mission in Hong Kong into the next phase of my life.
再見，香港!!! Paalam Hong Kong!! Selamat tinggal Hong Kong! Goodbye, Hong Kong!
The last few days have been a whirlwind of farewells and tears and lots of food.
Friday afternoon Rev. Catherine and I went to The Peninsula for their famous Afternoon Tea. It was elegant, delicious, and we enjoyed beautiful music while we sipped our tea and nibbled our scones. Sitting there in the very opulent foyer of The Pen, where so many have gathered over the years to share in this very British-yet-also-Asian ritual, I just tried to soak it all in. The music was like a mini-concert unto itself; I actually recognized a few of the tunes! I will admit to getting a little misty-eyed when they played the Tennessee Waltz. Who know I would hear my state song so far from home!
In the evening I went with some of my friends to the Shandaar India night at St. John's, a fund-raising event for the ministries of the church. The food was so good but I was still full from Tea so I could only eat a little! Can I have an extra stomach please?? So much good food here... At 8 o'clock we gathered in the Cathedral to hear a musical performance by the group tharangini. They sang songs of their own composition and a few famous ones as well. There was a group of girls, early teens I'm guessing, who performed dances to some of the songs. They were so graceful and made it look so fun (and easy!) but I know they practiced hard for the performance. Towards the end they sang Yan Sang, a famous Chinese song about life's sorrows and joys. They encouraged audience participation, and my friend Eddie started to sing along. We were sitting in the front row, and the performers noticed and motioned for him to come up onstage. He went up and sang with them! It was a great moment and everyone left the show with a big smile and a light heart.
Saturday I packed up my bags. Yes, it took a while, but I managed to get what I could stuffed into my suitcases (ok so they're mailing some thick sweaters that wouldn't fit). Rev. Catherine offered to let me stay at their place this weekend and take me to the Airport Express on Monday when I fly out. I am constantly floored by the kindness and generosity of the people around me. So after giving Kiko a great big huge and scratch behind the ears, I took one last look at my home for the last ten months and got my bags down to the sidewalk. I wrangled a taxi and then unloaded my things at the Mariner's Club.
I met up with some friends, Kyle and Crissy, and we went to Sheung Wan for my despedida at the Bethune House Extension. Oh what a party it was!! I had to fight off the tears and I don't think I've really processed the fact that I AM LEAVING yet. I said goodbye to the wonderful ladies at BH, my fellow volunteers, and Ate Cynthia and Mama Edwina. We ate, we sang karaoke (I performed the song I learned in Tagalog, "Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal"), and generally had a good time. I love singing, I love karaoke, but I tried not to hog the mic :P I even got fellow Southerner Joy to join me on a round of Boot Scootin' Boogie!
Later on I met up with my friend Alex and we took a ferry to Peng Chau island. He had been by this French place there before and wanted to try it out. Well, turns out all they had was bread, cheese, and some meats... so we got a bottle of wine and enjoyed the evening out of the city. When I got back to Rev. Catherine's I was pretty tired but I managed to get myself up for the 9AM service this morning.
I've spent the day among friends at the Cathedral, had lunch at an anniversary celebration for one of the groups that volunteers at the Give Care event. I rode the tram through the city one more time, sad that it would be my last. In the afternoon the MOVERS volunteer group had a little get together for me, complete with a farewell song and snacks. I will miss all of them!!!
At the 6pm service, Rev. Catherine and Father David said prayers for me and sent me off with kind words and a full heart. They gave me a beautiful cross and a card signed by friends at the Cathedral. After the service I went out to a lovely meal with Catherine and Stephen at a restaurant that had a beautiful view of the harbour. We arrived around 8pm so we had a great view of the light show. It was a clear night, too, so it was even more spectacular.
I spent the night at Rev. Catherine's and my friend Alex came over to keep me company as I tried to finish packing and stay up as long as possible. I slept for a couple of hours before waking at 6AM, and Stephen took me, Alex, and a Roman Catholic bishop who was staying at the Mariner's Club to the Airport Express.
Ate Cynthia met up with us at the station and we rode my last train ride through the city. I don't think it hit me until I was hugging them goodbye that I'm actually going home. I bid a tearful farewell and got myself through immigration and security without any problems (thank goodness!).
A day later (although it doesn't seem that long) I am safely home and trying to get acclimated. I will update more over the next few days as I process my experience. Thank you, once again, for coming with me on this journey and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have!
It is so hard to believe that in 8 days I will be boarding a plane and heading back to the U.S.! I am beginning to say goodbye to Hong Kong, to all of the amazing people I have met and the places I have come to love. Yes, even Kiko the Dog, my roommate for the past 8 months, has grown on me.
My first going away party was Friday April 28th; some friends and I had dinner and then went to karaoke in Causeway Bay. It was supposed to be a tram party but because it was raining heavily we chose to forego the tram part and just do the karaoke. It was so much fun! I enjoyed spending a few hours singing with my friends. One of my dear, dear friends here, Rebecca, left on Sunday to travel around Southeast Asia so it was the last time I saw her. We hugged and hugged!! I will miss her so much; she really made Hong Kong feel more home-y.
Saturday the 29th I went to Repulse Bay with another friend of mine, Crissy. I had never been and I hadn't been able to get to the beach at all before now due to weather conditions. It threatened rain the whole time, with big heavy clouds rolling by, but the rain held off. We built a sand alligator and swam, and I laid out for a little bit. It was nice to spend the day relaxing on the beach! We also had dinner with some of her Chinese friends out in Tsuen Wan. It was a full day!
Tuesday May 1 was a holiday and I went to a friend's house out in Tai Wai, a village in the New Territories with a 500 year old shrine in it. They have an apartment with a rooftop and they set up a screen and projector to watch a movie. It was fun having a pizza and movie night with them and some of their other friends, mostly film/photography people that Sammie knows from her school. We ended up watching WALL-E, which I hadn't seen before, and it was so cute!
Movie on the roof!
Sunday I went back to St. Stephen's in Stanley to serve with Father Will, who is just a delightful and wonderful person. I enjoyed serving at the little church and fellowship after. I met up with my friend Crissy again and her sister, and we went to the beach in Stanley for a few hours. I wish I had brought sunscreen though--I got a really bad sun burn! I sure hope it heals up soon--definitely don't want to be on a long flight with a sunburn.
Mangoes & Grapes
The Quarterly Report for the Mission is coming along; I'm waiting to receive more of the encoded databases from my colleagues so I can extract the data. Hopefully I can get it done before I leave on May 14! I'm trying to finish up my work and also spend time with friends, not to mention packing up some things so I am not totally rushed. I will probably ship some things home too. So much to think about!! Thank you all so much for your support over the last year; I could not have done this without you or without God working in my life.
I was delighted to spend the day with visitors from Los Angeles on Saturday: Bishop Suffragan Diane Bruce, Rev. Ada Wong-Nagata, Associate for Asian Ministries; and Rev. Joshua Ng, Chair of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. Their work in intercultural ministries in the Diocese of Los Angeles brings them in contact with many Asian communities, so this pan-Asian tour was a chance to get to know the places from which their brothers and sisters come. The main event was the World Anglican Chinese Clergy Conference in the Philippines, and after the conference they are traveling around China and South Korea. Their first stop was Hong Kong and we spent the day Saturday going around town.
After a quick ride on the Star Ferry we walked to the famous Luk Yu Tea House for a dim sum lunch. Rev. Ada, a native of Hong Kong, told us that her father used to do business there when she was a little girl. We let her make our dim sum choices and settled in for an amazing meal!
Our tummies and taste buds satisfied, we then did one of my favorite things in Hong Kong: tram ride through the city! A steal at just HK$2.30, you can ride it from one side of HK Island to the other and see some sights. While we rode I talked about the work done here with migrant workers and the struggles they endure here in Hong Kong. We got off in Victoria Park so they could see the Indonesian migrants' hang out spot, and although it was a Saturday there were still many workers out having their day off.
We parted ways in Tsim Sha Tsui and I headed up to Yuen Long to a village party with my friend Amanda. I had never been to one before, this was a belated Tin Hau Festival. There was a giant pot of meat and rice, drinks, entertainment, and karaoke. It was really fun to be with people out in the country (sort of) and to celebrate a festival with them. They got me and Amanda up on stage to sing "My Heart Will Go On"... and then later I did "Crocodile Rock" (they had a surprising selection of English songs)... The crowd went wild! A little old man gave us each a bouquet of (plastic) flowers and we were instructed not to throw them
Sunday was another busy day with the 9am service in the morning and the Give Care to our Caregivers event in the afternoon. I accompanied Bishop Diane, Rev. Ada and Rev. Joshua to the service and then to the Cathedral bookstore. I helped set up for the Give Care event and some of my friends showed up to volunteer. I once again worked at the make-over booth doing make-up with a couple other ladies. It was so much fun!! The best part were the reactions of women who had never worn make up before... it is one of the most heart-warming things to watch a smile spring up as they see their beauty brought out and accentuated. I know to some the idea of wearing make up seems trivial or unnecessary, but it can really change your mood when you see your face transformed in a way you have never seen before. To see these beautiful women blooming with confidence and radiating their inner beauty is one of the most heart-warming experiences of my life.
I was pretty exhausted afterward and went home to crash at my apartment. I had to be up early the next day to accompany Bishop Diane, Rev. Ada, and Rev. Joshua to Macau. We met at the China Ferry Terminal at 8:30 and after an hour long boat ride arrived and went through Immigration. We were met by Fr. Kenneth Lau, our guide for the day, who drove us over to see St. Paul's Church and the Choi Kou school run by the Anglican Church. The congregation at the church is mostly young adults, I was surprised (and delighted) to find out. Touring the school was really interesting to me since I would like to come back to Asia and teach after I finish graduate school. We learned about the education system in Macau and what the society is like. Because Macau is a gambling hub (Las Vegas of the East) most of the kids start work after they finish high school. There isn't a lot of pressure (like in Hong Kong) to go on to university because they can do well there without a degree.
We had lunch with some of the clergy in Macau and then went to the ruins of the St. Paul's facade. We didn't have much time to spend there unfortunately, but we did go to Morrison Chapel and the Old Protestant Cemetery. The story behind the chapel and the cemetery is really fascinating and I find myself drawn to the tombstones and mausoleums on the grounds. One in particular has caught my eye, Mary Clark, wife of W. Sutherland, who has a large monument near the entrance. I'm so intrigued by her epitaphs, "beloved and respected by all who knew her", and "in her tongue was the law of kindness". These are things I hope people will say about me when I am gone. The second is from Proverbs 31:26, "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness." It's in the section on "A Virtuous Wife"... I knew it struck me in the heart somewhere!
We left the chapel and headed out to the island of Taipa where we learned about a community centre run by the Anglican church. It is a place where people can gather, away from the casinos, and engage with one another. They have all kinds of after school and summer programs, classes, a karaoke room, music room, games, books. There are rooms where people can go for counseling too. They even have a rooftop garden! It is an amazing place with wonderful work happening.
We finished the day with tea and egg tarts, chatting about mission and ministry and all of the things we'd seen. It has been so wonderful to spend time with such amazing people. Bishop Diane is an incredible lady, so down to earth and "with" the people. She is blogging about her trip so I encourage you to visit her blog: http://obispadjb.blogspot.com and read about her travels and ministry in the Diocese of LA! I wish more bishops and clergy would engage in the online world with blogs and facebook. It just makes them more accessible to the people they serve--especially young people.
Another hour long ferry ride back to Kowloon we bid farewell. They are off to the Mainland for a few days, then Seoul and Taiwan, then back to LA. I wish them safe travels and look forward to seeing them again this summer at General Convention!
I'm back to work today, with Rev. Catherine who has just returned from a long trip to the Philippines. Glad to have her back! I'll be at the Mission the rest of the week, finishing up encoding in the database and hopefully starting on the Quarterly Report.
Just under 20 days until my return!!! Thank you for the prayers and encouragement :)