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,