29 December 2011

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year!

Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people on earth!

Apologies for the sparse updates this month. It has certainly been a busy one!

Midnight Mass Servers
Let me be quite honest here: It was hard being away from family and friends this time of year. As excited as I was to celebrate the joy of Christ's coming into the world with my dear friends here, I missed being home. I missed my parents and my brothers and my friends. I missed St. Paul's! I let myself slip into a bit of a funk and found it hard to enter into worship with a happy heart. Midnight Mass is one of my favorite services; it feels so full of love and mysterious wonder. The Cathedral was packed and extra seating was set up in the garden and in one of the indoor halls and people were still standing!

Me and Darcy
I met up with a friend of mine from the Cathedral for dinner before the service. She was so gracious and we had a great dinner together. I enjoyed spending time with her and our conversations.

After the service was over I sprinted home (thank goodness the subways were open late--the service didn't end til 1am!) so I could skype with my family. It really lifted my spirits, although it was hard not to feel a little sad that I wasn't there in person. My nieces and nephew had already opened the presents I sent them (they are still learning "patience"... come to think of it, so am I) and I opened a few I had been saving for when we skyped. The best part, though, was just talking with my brother and his fiancee, my mother and father, my sister in law, and my nieces and nephew. That time was precious! 

practicing for the competition
Christmas Day I pulled myself together and headed down to Chater Road for the UNIFIL Migrant's Christmas Party. There was a caroling competition, dancing, a counseling booth from the Mission, and lots and LOTS of people! My friend Mark met me down there and we headed to The Flying Pan--I was CRAVING a Western style breakfast--eggs, bacon, toast, grits (!!), and some fresh fruit. Oh, and coffee! It was amazing.

After that we headed up to Sham Shui Po to the apartment of a friend of his for a little Christmas party. We played games (Hong Kong Monopoly and Pictionary) and generally had a blast. By the end of the day I had been lifted out of my funk by the kindness and love I experienced through my friends here. It was definitely the most International Christmas I have ever experienced! I celebrated with brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world. It made the immensity and inclusiveness of the Body of Christ all the more real to me.
Chapel at the Mariner's Club

The next day, Boxing Day, aka The Feast of St. Stephen, I went to Rev. Catherine's home at the Mariner's club for a service and lunch with other clergy members and some of their friends. Her husband, Rev. Stephen, celebrated and I served with him. The simplicity of the service after the laud and fanfare of Midnight Mass was humbling and intimate--just shows there are many ways to worship and connect to God and one another. 
A full table and full tummies!

The Christmas lunch was delicious! For dessert we had sherry trifle and the traditional English Christmas pudding. We also played several rounds of charades before ending with a cheese plate. Fellow missionary Joy and I waddled off home around 6pm, with full tummies and full hearts. What a wonderful day!

Enjoying some Christmas Pudding
As we approach Western New Year's (gotta love living in a place where, when discussing plans for New Year's, you have to specify Chinese or Western) I am thrilled to the gills to be heading to Japan to visit fellow YASCers Katie and Nicole. Nicole is serving in northern Japan at the Asian Rural Institute and Katie is in Nagoya at a youth center. I fly into Nagoya around 9pm, and then will be traveling around with them for a full week! We have plans to visit an onsen, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, and I am excited to see them both and spend time with them. 

2012 is going to be another great year! I don't really have any resolutions other than to travel as much as possible and to start my Master's degree in the fall at Belmont. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church will be here in February so I am hoping to see her while she is here. I have tentative plans to visit Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and hope to squeeze in a trip to Beijing as well. My work here continues to be difficult at times, but also full of redemption and reconciliation. The women I serve here are incredible, amazing people and it's hard not to stand in awe of their sacrifice, love, and strength. 

Pray for the Mission. Pray for the Migrant Workers. Pray for me.

Happy New Year!

08 December 2011

What's Up Lately

Things are buzzing along here in Hong Kong. Lately work has been fairly busy; I have a couple of somewhat complicated cases going on that keep me on my toes. Here are some of the highlights of the last week:

SUNDAY: I attended the event of one of the Indonesian organizations. There were speeches on different issues (the participants attended a public speaking workshop by one of the AMCB members), dances (both traditional and modern... I love watching the Indonesian Horse Dance! So interesting), and a fashion show where different smaller groups had created outfits out of recyclable materials. I was one of the judges for the fashion show and it was tough! They were really created--and talented! Some of those definitely could have been from a challenge on Project Runway...

I also attended an event protesting sexual violence against women and victim blaming. Some of you may have heard about these events, called Slutwalks, that came as a response to a Toronto policeman's statement that if women didn't want to get raped they should change what they wear. (i.e., it's her fault she was raped because of how she was dressed.) There have been walks all over the world and my friend Angie organized the one here in Hong Kong. There was a media frenzy and a large group (maybe 200 people?) walked from Causeway Bay to a recreation area in Wan Chai for speeches and presentations.

MONDAY: I was off and spent most of the day at my apartment cleaning and catching up on housework. Funny how that laundry monster seems to grow and grow... I skyped with my lovely mother that evening and it was so good to catch up with her.

TUESDAY: Day at the office working on case files and meeting with clients. I took notes at a meeting in the evening of the 3rd National Consultation of Service Providers to Ethnic Minorities in HK (CSPEM-HK). Service Providers in HK (like the Catholic Centre and some of the shelters and other migrant organizations) came together to talk about ways to improve the situation for migrant workers in Hong Kong. They came up with a "wish list" of things that would make a big difference to MWs. There will be more meetings next year to advance the proposals with the appropriate government agencies and individual initiatives. Afterward I went to my friend Becca's house in Yuen Long since I had to be in Tuen Mun in the morning and she lives close to there. It was also her last night in Hong Kong! She left the next morning to go back to West Virginia for Christmas. I will miss her!! Most of my ex-pat friends are departing for home in the next few weeks.

WEDNESDAY: I met with my client in the morning at the Tuen Mun Police Station. She is out on bail at the moment while an investigation is going on (this is the client whose employer accused her of hitting the child--when really it was a light smack on the hand when the child was kicking and hitting her and trying to spit in her face). They ended up extending her bail until Sunday, so she has to report back then (drat! I can't go). They will either extend her bail again, say that they concluded the investigation and did not find sufficient evidence to charge her with anything, or say that they did find enough evidence to charge her. Really hoping for situation #2... I headed to the mission in the afternoon, and then served with Rev. Catherine at the evening 6pm service at St. John's. She is delightful! And she invited me to her flat on Boxing Day (gotta love the brits!) since we are all so busy on Christmas Day. Really looking forward to that!

TODAY: Went to a demonstration at the Philippine Consulate in honor of International Human Rights Day, which is actually Saturday but they are closed on Saturday. I went by the post office to mail my Christmas Letter (which I will also post here) and gifts for my family back home, and then in the afternoon spent time with clients working on paperwork. It was quite a full day!

TOMORROW: Another full day, with a workshop on epilepsy and first aid and keeping case files updated and the database too. My friend Kyle's birthday is this coming weekend so some friends are getting together in the evening to celebrate. I'm serving on Sunday, and next week is shaping up to be another busy week!

Thanks for tuning in! I hope you are all having a blessed advent and preparing for the joy of Christ's coming into the world.

Grace and Peace,

02 December 2011

December Update

Hello Friends!

December is here and it's finally getting chilly! I had to break out my coat this evening when I went out with a friend. 56 degrees tonight! The little Christmas tree Spencer left is out on my table but that's about all the decor I've got going on. I've already received two Christmas Cards and I was thrilled to the gill! Keep 'em coming :D

I'm almost at five months here in Hong Kong and the travel bug has bitten. December 30th I am traveling to Japan to visit Katie and Nicole (fellow YASCers) for a week and I can't wait! We are tossing plans around for what sounds like a great week of fun and good times together.

I am handling six cases right now, involving accusations of child abuse and illegal terminations of contracts (i.e. fired because she found out she's pregnant, fired while on medical leave). One client's employer was also trying to convince her that they had cancelled the letter of termination that she had sent to immigration so that she would have to stay with them. So grateful for my amazing co-workers at the Mission who give me advice when I'm not sure how to proceed. I am surrounded, daily, by an incredible, dedicated, loving group of people.

Blessings to you all in this Advent season! I wrote an Advent wreath lighting liturgy focused on Mission if you are interested. (it's not too late!) Just email or comment!

Grace and Peace,

23 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Hong Kong!

My father taught me that there are two opportunities you never pass up (passed down from his father, Wesley Biddle Notgrass): 1. The opportunity to go to the bathroom and 2. The opportunity to say 'thank you.'

As a general rule for life I find this has been excellent advice.

Today I attended an ecumenical Thanksgiving Day service at St. John's Cathedral, with participants from Baptist, Methodist, Union, and Community churches. Also in attendance was the American Consul General, the Honorable Stephen M. Young. He read the Thanksgiving statement from President Obama and we all sang "America The Beautiful."

Clergy from all of the churches participated in readings, prayers, and the homily. Gratitude infused the proceedings, and a sense that in being grateful we give to others and to God. "All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee." The offering for the day went to the St. James Settlement Food Bank.

Honorable Stephen Young, Yours Truly, Rev. David
Afterward there were some refreshments served on the north lawn, graciously donated by the Conrad Hotel. We had little pumpkin pies, cranberry pecan pies, sandwiches, juice, coffee, tea, quiche. One of the priests of St. John's, Father David, wanted to get a picture with me and the American Consul to send to a friend of his in America so my friend Alex snapped a lovely photo of the three of us. 

I have much to be thankful for in my life. A loving and supportive family, friends both in the States and in Hong Kong, my home parish St. Paul's, St. John's Cathedral, and the many blessings I receive on a daily basis. I am grateful for the opportunity to live and serve in Hong Kong and to be with the people here. My health, the food that I eat, the clothes that I wear.

When I was a little girl I used to watch Disney's "Pollyanna" film. I didn't read the book it was based on until I was an adult and I was surprised at how moving I found it. Her optimistic attitude stemmed from "The Glad Game", which she learned from her father and consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. There's a chapter where she comes upon a minister despairing in the woods about all of the troubles plaguing his congregation. She tells him that the source of the Glad Game comes from the "rejoicin texts"--verses in the Bible that tell us to rejoice and be glad. The minister ponders on this and realizes that what people need is encouragement. People radiate what is in their minds and in their hearts. If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it; but when you know you will find the good, you will see it. The influence of a helpful, cheerful presence is contagious. So inspired was he by Pollyanna's gladness that he changed the sermon he was going to write and instead gave "a veritable bugle call to the best in every man and woman and child that heard it." Indeed, Pollyanna's influence turns a whole town of curmudgeons into a pleasant place to live. While that is fiction, of course, there is a nugget of truth in there: a thankful heart is a happy heart.

So I hope you will all rejoice and be glad this day and every day. I leave you with this prayer of Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

Grace and Peace,

19 November 2011

Brother, Sister let me serve you

Today at St. John's we celebrated Christ the King. It was beautiful. The newly ordained (and coordinator of the Anglican Refugee and Migrants Network) Reverend Catherine presided and she did a masterful job of censing the altar and chanting the liturgy. (It's not easy!)

The gospel reading was one of my favorites: The Sheep and The Goats. ("For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’) It is always so amazing to me how a passage from scripture speaks to me in different times of my life. Right now with my work at the Mission for Migrant Workers this passage resonated very strongly with me. I have very literally fed hungry people with the sandwiches we have at the Mission, offered water or coffee to women who come to our office. I invited a stranger to come stay at my apartment (I'll never forget you Tanya!). I have visited the sick with Father Dwight, brought clothes to a client who is in prison and went to visit her. Looking into the faces around me I see Christ in them. I hope they see Christ in me.

We sang a song I had not heard before: Brother, Sister let me serve you.

Brother, Sister let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace,
to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are family on the road.
We are here to help each other,
Walk the miles and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you,
in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow,
till we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
we shall find such harmony.
Born of all we've known together,
of Christ's love and agony.

This is probably going to be my favorite song for the rest of forever. :)

thoughts? comments? random? please share!

Grace and Peace,

End of a very busy week!

"The Flying Angel"
Phew! What a busy week this was! The Anglican Alliance Asia Consultation closed on Friday after a hefty week of conversations about the work the Alliance will engage in. It was an amazing process to watch and I look forward to seeing what comes out of the consultations. Rev. Stephen, who runs the Mission to Seafarers here in Hong Kong, arranged for a group of us to go out on the Mission's boat, around to Aberdeen and back. It was a fun trip and a side of Hong Kong I hadn't been to before.

I spent most of the day today at my apartment catching up on household chores--and sleep! Much needed rest and housework accomplished. In the evening I went over to a friend's house for "Friendsgiving".. we shared food and fun, and it was so wonderful spending time with everyone gathered there. I am so thankful for all that God has blessed me with in my life, and all the good friends that I share it with. We had chicken instead of turkey, hummus, angry bird cookies, almost pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, bread, apples, mulled wine, mashed potatoes, and probably some other things I am forgetting. It was a delicious meal!

Looking forward to getting "back to normal" next week. I have missed my clients and being at the mission this week. On Thursday (the real Thanksgiving) St. John's is having a service and a lunch after so I am looking forward to that also. :)

Grace and Peace,

15 November 2011

Here am I Lord / Anglican Alliance

Part of my daily prayer practice includes the Jesuits' daily 'pray as you go' podcast. Today's podcast begins with a beautiful chant: "Here am I Lord, I have come to do your will / Here am I Lord, in your presence I am still." I could sing this all day. Not only is it beautiful but a good centering prayer to begin the day. A reminder that I am here to do God's will, and that in God's presence I can be still and at peace.

This week I am taking (a very small) part in the Anglican Alliance asia region consultation conference. There are representatives from dioceses/provinces/agencies from all over the world, including Africa, Australia, Latin America, United States (go ERD!), the UK, China/Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Burma, the Philippines, Canada, Sri Lanka... I think that's all... anyway, all have come to discuss what the work of the Alliance will look like as a whole and in the Asia region. There have been three previous consultations in other parts of the world and so some of the groundwork has already been laid.

As a scribe I have been taking notes during presentations, workshops, and discussions about advocacy, peace and reconciliation, and migrants and refugees. It can be a bit challenging since I keep getting drawn into the discussions but I've managed to stay on task so far.

The group is a lively bunch, very enthusiastic about the work that will be done and coming together to do it. The first night we had an amazing banquet in Central with the Archbishop of Hong Kong, The Most Rev. Paul Kwong. He was a gracious host and I managed to snag him for a few minutes to introduce myself, thank him for having me here in Hong Kong, and give him a pin of the crest of the Diocese of Tennessee which I had brought with me when I came here in July. He was very kind. (if we are friends on FB, there is a video that we made at the table.. my battery died but it was really fun, so check it out.. it will take ages and ages to upload here I'm afraid.)

I have really enjoyed spending time with the people who have come to Hong Kong. I am taking some folks up to Mong Kok to the Ladies Market tonight (I had to explain that they do not sell Ladies there, but rather things Ladies enjoy, like clothes and shoes and purses, haa..)

More to come, and pictures as well, later in the week.

Grace and Peace,

07 November 2011

Intimidation and Injustice

One of the things that I do as part of my work here is to accompany clients to conciliation meetings or labour tribunals. I am there ostensibly to offer support, advice if necessary, but sometimes I feel like a big dog. As my friends in Ecumenical Accompaniment programs know, having a third party from the outside there can make a difference. Not always to the way things turn out but definitely for the person who is being accompanied.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 )

I have certainly encountered a few roaring lions here. Mostly agencies and employers who want to avoid paying in full their obligation to a helper. 

Case In Point: I have a client who was terminated because the employer said she beat the child. The child in question was, as the helper described, a real brat. He would kick her, spit in her face, and otherwise be unruly. He's five years old. After enduring a month of this abuse from the child, she smacked his hand. Not hard, more of a tap, and then covered his mouth with her hand (because he was trying to spit on her again). She didn't bruise the child or leave a mark on him. Most parents would see this as appropriate discipline for an unruly, violent child. 

My client waited 7 days after termination to receive her payments (the prescribed time in the labour ordinance). According to the contract the employer must pay her the salary she is owed, travel allowance, annual leave time accrued, the plane ticket home and bus fare from the airport to her house in the Philippines. And, if she does not serve a one month notice period, wages in lieu of notice. She did not hear from her employer so she filed a case with the labour tribunal. 

This client also had to take out an (illegal) loan to pay for (illegal) agency fees in the Philippines, so she reported to the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) in the Philippine consulate. They scheduled a meeting with her and her agency here in Hong Kong. With the money she has paid so far and the balance of the loan, the total is ~P152,000. (that's US$3530)

After she filed her case with the labour tribunal, she received a phone call from the police saying that her employer had filed a case with them and that she would need to come in and give a statement. This scared her. Anytime the police or the authorities get involved most helpers are frightened into signing whatever just so that there is "no trouble."  It ends up causing them more trouble in the end. She came to the Mission and asked what to do.

My suspicion is that the agency told the employer that in order for her to not have to pay the wages in lieu of notice (an extra $3580 in addition to the $3740 she already has to pay) she should file a case with the police to intimidate or scare my client into signing an agreement for the $3740. Most of the time that works. Because in the labour tribunal they will ask if a case was filed (nevermind that it was filed much later than when she was terminated).. We have so many clients that signed agreements, not realizing that they can't file a claim later for something that they were cheated out of. 

We advised her not to say anything and not to sign anything. Too often their words are used against them in court, they meant something else but it could be construed another way, like as an admittance of guilt. It is better not to say anything and let the employer prove it. 

I accompanied her today to the consulate for her conciliation meeting with the agency. She was nervous, but more nervous about having to go to the police station tomorrow. We took deep, calming breaths. I sat next to her while we waited and the agency representative sat nearby. When they were called into the meeting room I gave her an encouraging smile. 

It took about 45 minutes. He tried to intimidate her into signing for less than what she is owed from her employer ("did you get a call from the police? I got your number from the police.") but I advised her not to sign it and pursue her claims in the labour tribunal. She was strong. She stood her ground. When it came to the amount of the agency fees and the lending he said he would 'have to think about it' and 'consult the agency in the Philippines.' Right. Okay. So they have another meeting next week. 

The injustice of all this is infuriating. Because of her labour tribunal case (and now pending police case) she cannot sign a new contract. She cannot work while this case is going on. She has to stay in a shelter and hope that one of the potential employers she interviews with won't mind waiting until the case is concluded. My presence there may or may not make a huge difference in how things turn out, but it makes a difference for her. Having someone there who is fighting with her, for her, makes a huge difference to her. 

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Never forget, dear ones, the importance of showing up; the importance of being there, present, with someone.

Grace and Peace,

02 November 2011

November is here!

I am closing in on four months here in Hong Kong. The weather is slowly changing from HOT to Hot. As friends back home report record snows in October I sit back and enjoy the 80 degree sunny weather. I will take it!

November looks to be a busy month. I am still working to get my client out of custody (she already served her time, she is waiting on repatriation but has a case to file), there is a Give Care to the Care Givers event on November 13, an Anglican Alliance conference the week of November 13, English Classes with the Indonesians on Sundays, and Thanksgiving on November 24.

Edwina (Director of Bethune House) is helping me to get Teresa out of the Immigration Centre. We are trying to work with her Welfare Officer to convince them to release her into our custody so that she can file her claims at the Labour Tribunal. Her employer is refusing to pay her the wages she is due or to give her her personal belongings. (If she threw out the belongings then she should pay her for their estimated value.) Regardless of the verdict that was handed down her employer still must fulfill her obligations. Teresa has already lost so much because of this case. I will hopefully go to see her either this afternoon or tomorrow.

Earlier this year my predecessor Spencer helped to submit a project to Love Ideas HK, a public philanthropic campaign intiated by the Li Ka Shing Foundation to engage Hong Kong citizens in a united effort to improve the community. Our project, Give Care to Our Care Givers, was funded at the HK$200,000 level and will fund a series of Sundays (every other month) that provide services to Helpers in Hong Kong. Seminars, health booths, fun activities, computers to skype with family members back home--these are just a few of the ways we will give back to the people who take care of others.

The other day I bumped into Father Des(mond) at the Cathedral and he said, "Oh, Kathleen, how are your secretarial skills?" "Fantastic!" I replied. "Why do you ask?" He proceeded to tell me about the Anglican Alliance and how they will be having a conference here in Hong Kong the week of November 13. Members of aid organizations from all over the Anglican Communion (including the Episcopal Relief and Development from the States!) gather to work for a world free of poverty and injustice, to be a voice for the voiceless, to reconcile those in conflict, and to safeguard the earth. I am so thrilled to be a part of it!! I will work with a secretary from Lambeth Palace (!!!) and a man from Kenya, have dinner with the Archbishop of Hong Kong, and otherwise enjoy being a part of something really amazing. More on this as it happens!

Some of my students after class
My English classes are coming together. I have had the first class with both groups and am working on a syllabus for the rest of our time together. I'm afraid the holidays will interrupt a bit but we can make up for it. They were actually begging for homework! I wish I could see them more frequently but because there are so many and they are only free on Sundays that limits the time we have. I will just do my best and let God handle the rest. (That sounded like a bumper sticker...) I am hoping to have a Thanksgiving with them on November 20th and invite some of my friends to come so they can practice their English and learn a little about American culture. I have been scouring the internet looking for materials to use.

I also signed up to serve at the Thanksgiving service that the Cathedral has and will attend the supper that follows. Excited about that. In the past I have gone to my home church's Thanksgiving service and meal and it was always really special. (For one reason or another my family would end up celebrating earlier or later so I was usually free on Thanksgiving.) If I can manage it I will also attempt to skype with my family when they are celebrating, but due to the shift to 14 hours time difference when daylight savings time ends in the States this may be difficult.

Some other exciting news: I have an interview with Belmont (at 5am!) on November 9th. I am applying to their graduate school of education for a Master's in Teaching with a focus in English as a Second Language. I believe I am a great fit for their program and especially considering my experiences here I would add a lot. Please pray for me as I try to fulfill God's will for me in my life and to use the talents that I have.

On a sad note, it looks like I will not be able to visit with my brother while he is in the mainland over Christmas and New Year's. His schedule is such that he will not have any free time available. Sad to miss him when he is so close (and it has been so long since I have seen any family!) but so it goes. I am now making plans to visit some other YASCers in Japan over New Year's (flights to Nagoya are cheeaap). I am also still trying to find a way to visit the Philippines and Indonesia, and anywhere else I can wrangle a trip. Being in Southeast Asia is amazing and I would really love to see as much as I can.

Lastly, I was mightily surprised to receive a message from a friend from high school that I have not seen since we graduated in 2003. He is in Hong Kong for a few days on his way to Taiwan where he will teach English and wanted to see if we could hang out. We had dinner last night at a Japanese place and caught up a bit on the last 8 years. It was so good to see someone from back home (even if I hadn't seen him in years!) and perhaps I can hop over to Taiwan sometime to visit before I leave for the States.

Dear ones, thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. Your support and encouragement mean so much and I am so grateful. I invite you to share any thoughts, comments, questions, or anything else you may have, either here or in an email. I love to hear from you!

Grace and Peace,

27 October 2011

Reflection: Romans 8:26-28

"But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:24b-28)

Every day I hear the Babel-like cacophony of languages burbling up from the massive crowds that merge and converge all over Hong Kong. Simply walking down the street I hear Finnish, French, German, Hindu, Cantonese, Tagalog, and many other language I can't quite identify. I love it. This morning on the subway a man and a woman got on and I heard them speaking in French. They stood next to me and the man reached out to hold the handrail I was also holding on to. I smiled shyly and said "Bonjour." (digging deep into the 4+ years of French I had in high school/college...) He said something to the effect of, "Oh, you speak French?" to which I responded "Un peu!" (a little). When they got off in Admiralty we said "au revoir." (side note: I was actually listening to my Pimsleur Tagalog lesson for the day so it was strange speaking French, thinking in English, and listening to Tagalog.) 

I love it when simple interactions like that creep into my day. Connections waiting to be made in all sorts of places and with all sorts of people. As I was walking home on Tuesday a girl stopped me to talk about Save the Children and through our conversation I found out her brother is in Nashville studying Law at Vanderbilt. (and playing music.) Small world!!

Yet there are times when language fails. 

Not only because I may not know enough of someone else's language to communicate effectively (or they may not know enough English to understand me), but sometimes even if we do speak a common language words can be hard to find. What do you say to someone who has been ripped off by their employment agency for thousands of pesos? How do you comfort someone whose employer treats them like an animal or manipulates them into thinking they are worthless? What about when you are sitting in a courtroom, she is in the dock (the partitioned area where the accused sits), and the judge pronounces a guilty verdict? You cannot physically comfort her nor can you say anything to her. For someone who longs to 'gather her brood under her wings' (a la Luke 13:34) it is very difficult for me when I am unable to express solidarity, or empathy, or comfort to those suffering injustice.

Yet I have hope. In the same way that I hope for what I cannot see (justice, someone's well-being) the Holy Spirit is there to guide my heart. I don't know what to pray for, what to hope for, but I trust that the Holy Spirit does. My own desire to have the right words to say, to know the right thing to do for someone gets in the way. But God has this great way of taking bad situations and using them for good--I look to the story of Joseph, whose brothers threw him in a well and sold him into slavery. When his brothers realized who he was, years later when they had come to Egypt to escape famine, they fell before him and proclaimed themselves his servants. "But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:19-20)

Simply being there is enough. Bearing witness, holding a hand (if you can), sitting in silence. Listening. Job, that sufferer who bore so much, even had friends that came and sat with him. “When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:11, 13) 

When we let go of the desire to be the source of someone's comfort, to say or do the 'right' thing, we make room for the Holy Spirit to move through us. The Holy Spirit can connect us with words (like when I practice my Tagalog and the whole office laughs and cheers "Angaling!") and through silence (like when I sit with someone who has just been terminated unjustly). 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Grace and Peace,

24 October 2011

Busy Bee!

I have had a busy few days!

Saturday I went up to Tuen Mun to the Immigration Centre because I got a letter from my client (the one who was convicted for poisoning) saying that is where she is and asking about her claims. I brought her some clothes and a few other things, and we figured out a way to ask if she could be released into our custody before she is deported. She still has claims to file against her employer (wages she is due for the last month she worked, travel allowance, her personal belongings) so while her labour case is going on we are hoping she can be released into our custody. We would take responsibility for her until her case is concluded and she can go back home.

After that I went to the house of a couple of my friends, Mark and Kyle, to bake cookies. They live in Yuen Long which is not far from Tuen Mun. I have been itching to bake and since I have no oven they let me borrow theirs. I baked pumpkin bread (according to a recipe my mom gave me) and then we had beer bread and broccoli and cheese soup for dinner. Beer bread is a favorite of mine to make because it's so easy and so yummy! Our friend Becca came over and had dinner with us and then we went swimming in the apartment complex's pool. It was great to spend time with friends but after that long day I was ready to be home!

Sunday afternoon I headed to Victoria Park to teach English to Indonesian migrant workers. This has been in the works for a while but Sunday was the first opportunity I had to make it happen. Apparently 40 people signed up! So we broke the classes up into groups of 13 or so to make it easier. I only taught one class that day but in the coming Sundays I will be teaching two groups. (So, groups A and B will be on one Sunday one class after the other, and groups C and D the next Sunday.) They were all so eager to learn and I was a little nervous because I have never done it before. I have always loved English and when I was younger thought about becoming an English teacher but instead I majored in Global Studies. Now I am really considering becoming an ESL teacher (of either adults or children) and have applied to a few graduate programs back home.

I wasn't sure what their level of English was so I used a lesson I had found online to try and determine how much they already know. We had fun talking about the future, the past, the present, and changing positive sentences to negative ones. I am really looking forward to next Sunday and will be planning out the rest of the lessons for the next few months. I think on the Sunday before Thanksgiving I will have a potluck with them and talk about Thanksgiving in the United States, and possibly have some of my English speaking friends come so they can practice their English.

After a very energizing afternoon I headed back to Central for a candlelight vigil in solidarity with migrant workers seeking the right of abode in Hong Kong. There were many groups present--both migrant groups and groups of local people--who support the right of migrants to have the right of abode.

This morning I went to Tai Chi with my friend Becca. While the class starts at 8 am in Central (and if I end up on the wrong bus I have to hike uphill for about 10 minutes) I find it is a great way to start the day. I always feel so good after class. Our classmates are really sweet and even though most of the time we don't understand each other we have a good time. On Mondays I don't have to be at the Mission until 1pm so we usually have breakfast at The Flying Pan. This morning I thought to try having beans on toast, a typical English breakfast fare. It was pretty good! David (director of mission personnel) would be proud.

So where is God present in all this? I feel him in my relationships with all of these amazing people here. My co-workers, fellow missionaries, friends, the women I am here to serve and random people met on the street. I am so grateful to be here, for all of the generous and kind friends back home who made this possible for me. I meet Christ daily and hope I serve him well. To everyone home and everyone here, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this.

I invite your thoughts, comments, questions, or anything else. (really guys, my comments section is abysmal. I know you're reading, blogger counts the pageviews. :P )

Grace and Peace,

17 October 2011

Busy Weekend! + The Week Ahead

I had quite a weekend!

I was off on Saturday, which I spent with various friends new and old. Ended up seeing a movie that started kinda late so I didn't get home til almost midnight!

Sunday I went to church at the Cathedral and then to the Mission. There was a forum in the afternoon on the Right of Abode with one of the lawyers who worked on the case. Well, is working--it is still going on. There were three cases and the lead case is the one that was just ruled on. The government has appealed to a higher court but I think the ruling will stand. HK doesn't want to look bad on human rights nor should it run to Beijing for a ruling on it--that would throw out the rule of law that HK prides itself on using.

After that there was a press conference down by HSBC (a big bank) with several organizations and one legislator (long-hair leung -- really interesting guy, you should read about him) about discrimination of foreign domestic workers. On the other side of the open air area, Occupy Hong Kong has set up tents (and sofas and tables and laptops) and the news media was having a field day. I walked by there today and they are still set up. I was wondering if they would have to leave because HSBC is private property but I was told the open air area underneath is considered public.

Around 6pm I left the Mission with Juvy to see if we could get Kiko the Dog to stay at my apartment until a better situation can be found. We got him up there and begged him to be quiet. He is usually a very quiet, sweet dog. He barked a few times and we did our best to shush him. After Juvy left he was so sad--he just sat by the door waiting for her to come back. Poor Kiko! I called my parents via skype to wish my mother a Happy Birthday and my dad wanted to say hello. I didn't have earphones in and I forgot that he barks at the sound of a man's voice... so I had to calm him down and get my mom back on the line.

This morning I went to my Tai Chi class in Central. I am getting pretty good at it although mostly I just follow the teacher (so I don't always know what is going on or why you move this way...) but there are a couple English speakers who help translate important things. (Like the fact that we still have class even if it is raining... doh)

The week ahead involves case files, writing letters to the Immigration Dept and Labour Dept, assisting an Indonesian with the retrieval of her passport and other documents, possibly baking pumpkin bread at my friend's house, maybe trying out that BBQ place (American Southern BBQ! In Hong Kong!)... Next week will be busy with preparing for the Michaelmas Fair and the Sedan Chair Race on October 30. Some other projects are in the work as well. It's almost November!! I have been here three months already--crazy!

Froyo with the Finns!

Thanks for tuning in. Please feel free to leave any comments, questions, thoughts, or anything else.

Grace and Peace,

16 October 2011

Verdict is in

Friday I went to the Tsuen Wan Magistrate Court to hear the verdict on the client who had been accused of poisoning. (you can read about the trial here and here)

I went to visit her in the Tai Lam prison a few times. The last time I saw her (last Wednesday) she was so distraught. Her eyes were bloodshot and baggy, and she told me she couldn't sleep because she was so worried. I tried to bring her a few items (there is a very restrictive list of items you are allowed to bring people who are in prison on remand) but a few of them were not EXACT (or, in the case of the toothpaste, "too fancy") so were not allowed. We were only allowed to talk for 15 minutes.

The Magister spent a considerable amount of time explaining the reasons for her verdict before she actually gave it. I brought a friend of mine and another Filipina with me to the court to support the client and we waved to her when she was brought into the dock. She was already crying.

Throughout the "reasons for verdict" speech she cried. When the Magister finally got around to announcing the verdict, she sobbed.

She was acquitted on four of the charges but convicted on one and sentenced to four and a half months in prison. However, since she has already been in prison for five months she will be released on 'time served.' I have not been able to find out when and where she will be released. I am sure Immigration and the Philippine Consulate are involved though.

A conviction means she will be repatriated back to the Philippines and not allowed back into Hong Kong. It means she will have to find another way to provide for her family. I'm just glad she is getting out of prison and will be going home to see her kids now.

I just received a letter from her, dated October 13 (the day before her trial). She thanks me for coming to visit her and trying to help her and ends with a verse from Revelation: "Do not be afraid of what will happen to you. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you and there will be ten days of trials. Remain faithful even to death and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev 2:10) And she drew a beautiful picture of a rose.

I am still working on trying to help her with her claims but time is short. Please keep her in your prayers, and the ministry of the Mission. I am so grateful to be a part of this.

10 October 2011

Five Marks of Mission

"Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is the good news of God's love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world." --David Bosch

For the Anglican Communion, God's mission is holistic, concerned for all human beings and the totality of a human person: body, mind, and spirit. It is concerned for the totality of God's creation. This holistic understanding of mission is expressed in the Five Marks of Mission:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These 'marks' are by no means comprehensive but rather serve as a guide to help churches (and people!) within the Communion to live out the missio dei of reconciliation in a variety of ways.

So how does my work at the Mission and Bethune House go along with the Five Marks?

The primary work is in responding to human need by loving service and seeking to transform unjust structures of society. 

When someone comes to us with a need, whatever it may be, we strive to do our best to meet it with loving service. We counsel on a variety of issues, personal and work-related, and sometimes people come simply for fellowship. The Bethune House provides shelter, food, and counseling services to women in distress. The women there share their pains and triumphs, woes and joys. It is a community of loving service to one another. Sometimes a woman will come to us after she has been terminated, and we offer her a shoulder and an ear--and a sandwich too, if she is hungry. The ministry of presence, of just being with someone through her distress, is a vital part of responding to human needs. I may not always know the right words to say (in the right language) but my presence can still offer comfort. 

Political and social situations in their home countries cause college educated women and men to leave their families so that they can provide food, clothing, and educational opportunities for their children and dependents. The agencies that they go through to find work charge them fees and interest, portions of their wages, and some end up losing family farms or other property just so they can pay their fees. Host countries often have very exclusive immigration policies and strict or unregulated working conditions for migrant workers. These unjust structures are what we seek to transform when we unite for a rally at the consulate or attend court hearings with migrants. We sign petitions in solidarity with workers from other countries to help their situations improve. We must be relentless, tireless, always striving for equality. Domestic work is work and those workers should enjoy similar benefits as others--set working hours, minimum wage, a period of at least 24 hours rest.  The United Nations International Labour Organization recently adopted a historic set of international standards aimed at improving the working conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers worldwide. The Mission helps to disseminate information about these new standards so that workers can lobby for their countries to ratify them. Educating workers about their rights and standing with them to fight for better working conditions are just a few examples of how the Mission strives to improve the conditions of domestic workers and the unjust systems that exploit them.

As to the last three-- to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth... I pray that my actions speak louder than any words that may tumble from my lips, and that God's reconciling love be evident in all I say and do. I am a missionary, and I participate in reconciliation; in the bringing about of the Kingdom of Heaven, here and now. And that is Good News. As for the one about creation.. well, I live in a big city and I try to do my part. I take public transportation or walk when I can, and I try to take time to enjoy the green spaces throughout Hong Kong. A few weeks ago the Mission participated in a joint protest against a proposed naval base on Jeju Island in South Korea. Currently designated as the Island of Peace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the naval base would endanger its natural beauty and the local people do not want it there. But, because of its strategic location, it is "ideal" for navy forces. We went to the Korean Consulate with a signed petition and someone read a statement. It was all very peaceful.

I invite your responses/thoughts/comments/questions/ideas/ramblings/rants. As always!

Grace and Peace,

Back on Track

Finally felt well enough to jump back into life today! What a day it was, too.

Friday I was supposed to begin taking Tai Chi lessons at the park with my friend Rebecca but since I was sick I missed the first class. It is a Monday-Wednesday-Friday so this morning I got up at 7 to make it there by 8. I ended up on the wrong bus though; it went the right direction but did not stop where I thought it would stop and so I ended up huffing and puffing from Pok Fu Lam several streets over (and up a really, really steep hill) to the park. We weren't sure where to go but when we saw a lady checking papers over at one end of the big soccer field (no grass, it's got a surface like a tennis court) we went over. She was actually taking attendance so we pointed out our names to her.

Our classmates were mostly older Chinese and one British guy, and his wife helped translate the class for us. There was another lady who also spoke English so she helped as well. We mostly stood kind of in the middle and tried to follow what was going on, and after a 'warm up' exercise the teacher separated the beginners off to one side. Everyone was really nice and very welcoming to these two young Western girls trying to do Tai Chi. It's quite beautiful and graceful, a lot of the movements remind me of when I took ballet, so it feels good to move like that again.

Since I have Monday mornings off, we went to Wan Chai to The Flying Pan (we have been to the one in Central, which is good, but the one in Wan Chai is bigger and has more 'atmosphere') for breakfast. I had Eggs Norwegian, grits, and fruit.. yum! We browsed around a few stores after, and ended up in Ikea. I have never been to an Ikea before so I was interested (plus I needed a few things for my apt.)... wow, what a place! I came away with a new mattress pad, a lamp, and a mirror for the bathroom.

I went to the Mission around 1 and set to work on my case files. I called a few clients for an update and helped an Indonesian client with her claims. By 7pm I was ready to for home!

Thanks for all of the prayers and well-wishes, I am glad to be back in the swing of things this week. Til next time!

Grace and Peace,

07 October 2011


Well, like I said in my last post, things can pop up and derail my plans. Looks like Tonsillitis has taken over for now. I started feeling kinda bad on Wednesday, but it was a public holiday so I had the day off. I had lunch with a friend and then tried to sleep it off in the afternoon.. my throat was sore and I had started to have a runny nose. Woke up on Thursday with a sore throat and felt a little feverish so I decided not to go into work in case it is contagious. Hoped it would go away by today but no luck. I went to the doctor this morning and he says I have tonsillitis. He prescribed me some medication and said to rest and drink lots of fluids, so here I am. Hopefully I will recover by Sunday! Until then, I'm drinking lots of tea and soup!

01 October 2011

The Week Ahead

Here's what's up in the week ahead! (Unless things pop up, which they generally do!)

MONDAY: In the morning my friend Becca and I are going to King George V park to scope out the location of our Tai Chi class that begins Friday morning. In the afternoon we are going to the Mission; she is interested in volunteering so she's coming with me when I go in for the afternoon.

TUESDAY: Morning at the Mission, most likely working on my case files and keeping them up to date. At 1pm I am going to visit my client at the Tai Lam Women's Centre and bring her a few things. She is on remand until October 14 when the magistrate hands down her ruling. There are only certain items that can be handed over to her so I had to track down a list of 'approved items'.

WEDNESDAY: A national holiday so I have the day off. Hooray!

THURSDAY: Accompanying a client in the afternoon to her MECAB hearing. She's so nervous! Prayers for her.

FRIDAY: Possibly visiting the Archbishop, but that has not been set in stone yet.

SATURDAY: My day off, which I think will be spent baking at a friend's house since I don't have an oven. I miss having an oven!!

posts to come: a post about my client who is accused of 'poisoning' and a post on how the work I'm doing here at the Mission fits with the Five Marks of Mission adopted by the Anglican Communion. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to leave comments, questions, thoughts, or anything else.

Grace and Peace,

30 September 2011

Right of Abode for FDW's

Back in August I wrote about the Right of Abode issue going to court here in Hong Kong. Today a ruling was handed down by the High Court. Hopefully this is a sign of progress towards the reconciliation to which we are called. Below is the press release from MFMW. 

High Court’s ruling on right of abode for FDWs is a positive step for better treatment of migrants

As an NGO advocating for migrant workers in Hong Kong, the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) welcomes the positive decision of the High Court on the petition for a judicial review of the Immigration Department’s denial of right of abode for foreign domestic workers who have worked in Hong Kong for seven or more years.

This decision is a positive step towards the promotion of better treatment for foreign domestic workers who have been integral to Hong Kong’s development. We hope that this decision will jumpstart the reevaluation of other policies and practices in Hong Kong that marginalize the FDWs.

The Hong Kong government should not also use the High Court’s decision to create policies – such as putting a cap on the number of contracts for FDWs – that will negate the positive step towards the full recognition of FDWs as part of the people of Hong Kong.

We call for the Hong Kong public to take this decision as beneficial to the whole society. We hope that the negative sentiments against migrants due mainly to the doomsday scenarios painted if FDWs are granted the right of abode will not be resurrected and fanned.

We appreciate also the support of many local organizations and individuals who have served as the voices of reason amidst the hysteria that some narrow-minded politicians hoped to create.

The advocacy for equality and genuine multiculturalism is still long. The High Court's ruling has paved the way for Hong Kong to move one step further towards a society that genuinely respects and upholds the rights of everyone.

29 September 2011

expect the unexpected

Yesterday morning when I woke up around 7 (ok, so maybe it was more like 7:30) I noticed it was very quiet and very windy. I did not think anything was amiss though and got ready for the day as usual.

When I got online to check my email/facebook, however, I noticed several had posted 'Typhoon Holiday! Signal No. 8!' and discovered that the Hong Kong Observatory had raised the typhoon signal number 8 and that means the entire city shuts down for the day. I called Ate Sol to find out what was going on and she told me to go back to bed, lol. So, unexpected day off yesterday and boy did I need it.

Tuesday's court hearing for the helper accused of poisoning/neglect did not go well. (more on this case in another post, forthcoming.) Her defense lawyer is not doing a very good job of defending her (he is court appointed). I managed to speak to her for a few moments before the afternoon session, so I told her who I was and that we had received her letter. I was sorry we hadn't gotten back to her in time to get her better defense.

The next day (Wednesday) I went up to Tai Lam to the Tai Lam Women's Centre (prison) where she is being held. She had applied for bail but couldn't afford it so she has been on remand for the last few months awaiting trial. That was an interesting journey... I took a bus from Central which didn't take long, but had to walk a ways from the bus stop to get there (through what seemed to be a junk yard, abandoned theme park, and natural park area... strangest juxtaposition I've seen). I wasn't allowed to take anything with me in to see her (even though she was behind a glass wall) so I couldn't take notes... I just tried to remember what she said she needed. I was only allowed to see her for 15 minutes. The way home turned into a longer journey than it probably should have been, due to my getting off at the wrong stop a couple of times and taking a public light bus all the way back to Jordan.

Today is supposed to be the conclusion of her trial. I hope things go well, but the outlook is grim.

I invite your thoughts, comments, prayers, questions, or anything else you might have on your mind.

Grace and Peace,

26 September 2011

This Week

Today Joy and I went to the hospital to visit someone who had been referred to us. One of her friends had found her wandering ("she was like a robot" they said) in the lobby of their apartment building and brought her to a shelter. The other women at the shelter were concerned because she is listless, does not want to talk (except to say "please don't hurt me"), and when someone got a knife to cut a piece of fruit she was very frightened. They called the Mission and Sol told them to take her to the hospital. She is under observation now, and when we arrived they had taken her up to perform a CT scan.

We tried contacting her family in the Philippines to find out if she has any medical history of such a thing happening, and so far the person we talked to said no. We called a few of her friends also, and they said she was fine the last time they saw her. She had complained of long working hours and her employer nagged at her but that was it. We are thinking something had to have happened to her and are doing what we can to find out. The hospital is contacting the agency and the employer but we told the nurse not to let them in to see her in case they were the reason why she is so frightened. When I went in to see her and introduce myself she was picking at some food--she did not respond when her friend spoke to her and only ate a few bites of her meal. I tried to comfort her a little; I wasn't sure how much English she knew so I just tried to smile at her and let her know I was sympathetic with my eyes.

Tomorrow I am going to Tsuen Wan Magistrate Court. A woman who had been arrested and accused of poisoning and child neglect had written to the Mission from prison asking for help. She is having a hearing tomorrow so Cynthia is sending me up there to try and talk to her and let her know we got her letter.

Also this week I am going with an Indonesian client to her MECAB hearing and to the final judgement of another Filipina client's case. The ministry of presence is so important, y'all.

Thursday the Court of First Instance Judge will deliver his judgement on the right of abode case that I posted about in August. This will be a big day for domestic helpers in Hong Kong and I pray that justice and reconciliation prevail.

So, a busy week ahead. My internet at the apartment has been out for a few days but is back on now. Thanks to all back home for the prayers and support.

I invite your thoughts, comments, questions, or anything else that's on your mind. always!

Grace & Peace,

24 September 2011

22 September 2011

Article from ENS

A recent article on the Episcopal News Service website highlights a new focus for the national church--mission!

COO asks church to engage in 'structural reform' conversations to shift focus toward mission

The Episcopal Church's chief operating officer has asked the House of Bishops to engage the laity and clergy in their dioceses in conversation in support of a potential structural reform that he said could shift the church's focus toward mission.

The Rt. Rev Stacy Sauls on Sept. 20 offered the bishops a "model" resolution for each diocese to submit to the 77th General Convention in 2012 for consideration.
"We find ourselves at an adaptive moment in the time of the church, if we choose to take it," said Sauls at the start of a presentation titled "Becoming a Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society: An Adaptive Moment."

Sauls gave his presentation during the Sept. 20 morning session of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops Sept. 15-20 meeting being held at the Hilton Colón Hotel in downtown Quito.
The model resolution would call for a special commission to be charged with "presenting a plan to the church for reforming its structures, governance, administration, and staff to facilitate this church's faithful engagement in Christ's mission…."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson would appoint members to the special commission. The resolution would also call for a special meeting of General Convention before the 78th General Convention in 2015.
The resolution, Sauls said, could be distributed at upcoming diocesan conventions or in committees to start the conversation. 

"This is a way of engaging the laity and clergy on the ground, not a bishop-centric thing," Sauls told ENS after his presentation. "We are asking the laity and clergy to have this conversation."

Sauls' presentation, he explained, stemmed from conversations and discussions going back to the 2004 formation of the Budgetary Funding Task Force. It began with the question: "Why reform?" From there Sauls used eight separate slides to list the church's 75 commissions, committees, agencies and boards -- those he could readily identify, he said -- and another five slides to list the 46 Episcopal Church Center departments and offices, all of which have multiple reporting structures.
And then, he said, there is General Convention, which has 46 legislative committees of the two houses, which meet together in another 23 cognate committees; nine provinces; and 110 dioceses.
He then offered a pie-chart break down of budget resources by percentage:
  • Mission – 53.2 percent
  • Administration – 26.3 percent
  • Other governance – 13 percent
  • General Convention – 7.6 percent
Sauls' next slide showed how the income earned by dioceses has declined in recent years. The Episcopal Church asks dioceses to contribute a percentage of their income to the denomination's budget, and thus revenue it receives from the dioceses has also declined.
That decline is coupled with a decision made at the last meeting of General Convention (2009) to reduce the percentage of the so-called "asking." It was 21 percent in 2010, dropped to 20 percent this year and will decline another percentage point in 2012. In addition, the convention increased from $100,000 to $120,000 the amount that dioceses could exempt from their income before calculating their commitment to the denomination. 

As it stands in the current budget process, governance is funded first, Sauls said, and then asked, "What would happen if we reversed that priority, starting with mission?"

In order to get a good rating from the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit organization should spend no more than 35 percent of its budget on overhead, while the Episcopal Church, he said, spends 47 percent of its budget on such expenses. Ideally he added, the percentage spent on overhead should be closer to 15 to 20 percent.

Based on that, he continued, what if, in creating a hypothetical annual budget of $27 million, $19 million of that budget went toward mission and the remaining $8 million toward overhead? (The current budgetis closer to $35 million, he said.)

Such a budget, he continued, could be funded by the church's investment and rental income and by a one-percent contribution of congregational income, based on full participation.
"One percent could fund mission and ministry at the church-wide level and leave more [money] for local mission and ministry," Sauls said.

From there he offered four principles: engaging conversations aimed at reducing overhead; redistributing oversight responsibilities based on strengths; creating a linear rather than a top-down approach to engagement; and emphasizing local participation.

Depending on how you look at it, he said, the fact that General Convention takes 7.6 percent of the church's resources is a major or a minor cost. Sauls went on to explain the estimated "total cost."
General Convention costs the church $8.3 million plus another $353,000 to church center departments and $3.5 million to dioceses to send its deputation and bishops -- a total of $12.2 million every three years, not including the costs to individuals, he said.

Reducing the frequency of General Convention to every four years would save 25 percent and every five years would save 40 percent, Sauls continued, adding that the length and size of the meeting, how business is presented and ongoing work also could be restructured to reduce costs.
If given an extra $1 million dollars, the Church Center could deploy 40 additional appointed missionaries, or 85 Young Adult Service Corps volunteers, Sauls said. And if the church center and the diocese split the cost of a YASC volunteer 50/50, they could deploy 170 volunteers.
"We are entering a period of leveraging our resources through partnership, but won't have resources to leverage unless we do things differently," he said.
Sauls ended his presentation by offering a "faith statement" about the people of the Episcopal Church:
"The people of the Episcopal Church want to engage God's mission," he said. "The people of the church want to participate in decisions about engaging God's mission. The people of the church want to fund God's mission."

Sauls then asked the bishops to talk at their tables about their own definition of what mission means and practical suggestions for reform. He also asked them to consider whether they would be willing to submit the resolution to their dioceses for support.

Sauls is scheduled to address the church center staff on Sept. 22, where he will begin a conversation with them on how they can begin to take some risks and shape their future rather than have it shaped for them, he said.

Sauls became the church's chief operating officer Sept. 1, succeeding Linda Watt, who retired in June.

21 September 2011

Reflection: Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4:1-6

 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

A life worthy of the calling. 

As a missionary (or "volunteer for mission" or "mission partner" if you prefer) I have often reflected on what my calling is, and what living a 'worthy life might mean. Here in Paul's letter to the Ephesians he gives a few pointers on how to live a worthy life: it involves patience, gentleness, humility, love, and peace. Later, he encourages them to "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (v. 32)

Christians are a reconciling people; we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and through God's love we are reconciled to each other. The "one hope" to which we are called is, for me, a hope of reconciliation. In order to bring about such reconciliation we must be patient, humble, loving, peaceful, and compassionate. In short, live a life worthy of the calling--a life like Christ's.

In my work here in Hong Kong I see people treating others as "less than"; I witness brutality and systems that support the exploitation of hard working people. I experience outrage and frustration when confronted head on with incivility, cruelty, and downright hatefulness. I have a hard time with patience, with gentleness, with peace. Yet, to meet these people and systems with more anger, with more hate, only furthers the distance to the reconciliation that I am called to participate in. So what is the reaction to those who do not recognize others as human beings, to systems that perpetuate exploitation?

Patience. Humility. Love. Peace. Compassion.

This is not to say that we should not assert basic human rights, or protest when systems threaten to take away even more from the people they are supposed to protect. When we act from a space of compassion we act through God's grace. When we act from a space of anger, fear, and hatred, we turn our backs on God's grace.

There is one body and one Spirit... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Over all. Through all. In all.

I invite your comments, thoughts, reflections, questions, randomness. ;)

Grace and Peace,

19 September 2011

Update Time!

I know it's been a bit since I updated. So much going on here!

Tanya & Me
Last week I answered the phone in the Mission and the girl on the other end was looking for my boss, Cynthia. Everyone was in a meeting so I asked if I could take a message and have her call back. The girl seemed a bit distressed by her voice, and she said she was looking for an inexpensive place to stay for a few days while she does research here. Her name was Tanya, a Canadian-American, and she was working on a photojournalism project for school on migrant worker employment agencies. Canada is actually a big recipient of domestic helpers--many hope to go there because of their immigration policies and better working conditions. However, most are required to work for one year in Hong Kong, so Hong Kong is like a "stepping stone" for those wishing to go to Canada.

Joy, an intern from the Methodist church (who will also be here for a year!), has been staying at a guest house while her apartment arrangements are being made, so I gave her the name and number of that place. She asked how much it was per night, and when I said, "Oh it's around US$50 a night" she asked if anyone knew of another place. Since there was nobody else around to ask, and she is only here for a few days, I said, "Well, I know you don't know me but you are welcome to come stay at my apartment!".. recalling the early days of Christianity, when Jesus and the disciples went from town to town staying with families, or the early Christians going around proclaiming the good news and staying with fellow believers, I feel like hospitality is part of my mission as a Christian. Hebrews 13:2 says 'Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.'

We skyped that night to arrange details. Her flight arrived in the late morning and after some serious phone tag we met up and I brought her up to the Mission. Unfortunately, I had to give her the keys and instructions on how to get there and dash off, because I was accompanying a client to MECAB that afternoon. I made it juuuust in time.

After the hearing (in which my client settled for half of what she was claiming because the employer wouldn't budge... she kept insisting that the client had 'stolen money', even though the employer gave her the money and said 'buy what you need'), I met up with my friend Allison to go to a Cat Cafe in Causeway Bay. It's a little cafe that has about 8 or 9 cats living there, and you can play with them and pet them and so forth. A real therapy for me, as I am missing my sweet Jasper Kitty.

Me, Allison, and "our" kitten!
They have the cutest cat-themed desserts!

When I got back to my apartment Tanya was there and we spent the rest of the evening chatting about anything and everything. We made plans to go to an agency the next day for some undercover detective work.

The next day we went to an agency pretending to be employers looking for a domestic helper to come to Canada. I mostly just sat there (recording...) but jumped in from time to time. They said some very illegal things and Tanya was glad to have gotten the information. She said she hadn't gotten that much info in the weeks she spent in Manila! In the evening we went to Causeway Bay to find a battery for her camera and then had a fabulous Japanese dinner. We took the ferry coming home and she was happily snapping photos of the harbor lights.(you can view some of her work here: http://bindrah.tumblr.com)

Saturday I had the day off and spent the afternoon with my friend Amanda up in the New Territories. Five minutes from the mainland! Things are a bit more spread out up there, a little less urban than Central or Kowloon. It was nice to walk around some of the markets and see a part of Hong Kong I had not been to before.

Tanya left on Sunday in the afternoon. Because Sundays are busy days at the Mission, I was not able to say goodbye. I left her a note though, saying how wonderful it had been having her there and that I wished her the best in her endeavors. When I got home she had left me a very sweet note--and some sweets! We had bonded over some shared candy while she was there (we both have quite a sweet tooth, apparently) so it was nice to have some waiting for me when I got home.


Back to normal again on Monday here at the Mission. I'm helping clients, mostly with claims against agencies, and accompanying them to the Philippine Consulate or to Tribunal hearings.

I have added something new to my morning prayer practice. I discovered a podcast done by the Jesuits called Pray As You Go. There's music, scripture reading, and time for reflection, and I find that it is just what I need in the morning to keep my day focused and centered on God's will and His reconciling love for all. I try to spend 20 minutes before work in the Cathedral to prepare for the day.

Lastly, some sad news. Father Dwight called me last night to tell me that Marcella*, whom I blogged about last month, passed away Sept. 19th around noon. She had made it back to the Philippines so she was with her family when she passed. I received an e-mail from a member of her family with details about the funeral--they had found my address among her things. I offer up prayers for healing and grace for her family as they make her arrangements, and I hope you all will do the same.

Please feel free to comment with questions, thoughts, or anything else on your mind. I invite all responses here and thank you for reading!


Grace and Peace,

*name changed