17 June 2012

Big Changes...

Well folks, I have been back in the States for about a month, and boy has my life been all over the place!

My brother's wedding was beautiful and I am so happy for him and his new bride. Elaine has already felt like a sister for many years (she's been hangin' with the Clarks for over a decade!) so it is wonderful to have her as an "official" family member.

I gave a sermon about my time in Hong Kong on June 3, despite my heart duplicating the rhythm of a jackhammer during both services. I don't know why I was so nervous! Polk and Colin, our priests, were kind and supportive though, as were the many parishoners I spoke with before/after the services. It was a true delight to be up there with my dear friend, and newly ordained, Suz Cate. Her first time as deacon was June 3, so it was a big day for St. Paul's!

This experience overall has caused me to really pause and think about my life and where God is steering it. I have talked to clergy before (including the Bishop) about going through the discernment process in our diocese but the timing was never right. Well, I am now at a point where I can seriously consider ordained ministry and after speaking with Polk I will be hopefully going through the discernment process next spring. This is not a decision I take lightly as it is a big commitment--I have put graduate school on hold for the time being. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged and supported me throughout the past year and for the wonderful response I received last Sunday.

So what will I be doing between now and next Spring?

I will be finishing up my final year of Education for Ministry, the theological education program through the University of the South's School of Theology. I have really missed that in my life and I am glad they were able to make a space for me in the coming year.

I have resumed working at Dillard's (a department store similar to Macy's for those not in the South). Initially I was just going to be there for a few months but since the rapid change in my life this week I will be there for a lot longer. When I told the managers that, they were ecstatic and asked if I would take over the Elizabeth Arden counter. The previous counter manager, Debbie, retired (yesterday was her last day!) and they had really been fretting over who would be taking it over. When I worked at Dillard's before going to Hong Kong I worked at a counter right next to her and I really enjoyed her vivacious personality and down to earth vibe. The Account Exec for this area for Arden is fabulous and he was delighted that I would be able to take it over. We had a big event this week and I was introduced to the customers. Of course everyone is sad to see our dear Debbie go!! I am really excited about this great opportunity and I hope that everything transitions smoothly.

So, now I am looking for a place to live in Murfreesboro. I am still at my parents' house in Estill Springs (a good hour or so from Murfreesboro) and the drive back and forth is a bit exhausting. Praying that I can find something soon!

Grace and Peace,

03 June 2012

June 3, 2012 Homily at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Murfreesboro

This morning I gave a sermon about my mission in Hong Kong, which I thought I would share for those around the world (and in town) who couldn't be there today.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable unto you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

It is so good to be back here at St. Paul’s! For those who don’t know me, my name is Kathleen Clark and for the past year I have been serving as a missionary with The Episcopal Church. I have been a member of St. Paul’s since 2003 when I came to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University, and I graduated in 2006 with a degree in Global Studies. Throughout my time in Murfreesboro, St. Paul’s has been my spiritual home and a place of immense growth for me so I am so glad to be back here with you all today.

Last year as I was preparing for my mission assignment I was sent a few books and a DVD put together by the Mission Personnel office. On this DVD were several stories of missionaries who have served and are currently serving around the world. But what really spoke to me was the introductory piece by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In it he proclaims that, “We are all missionaries, or we are nothing.” This “All or Nothing” kind of statement really made me sit up and take notice. What did he mean, ‘we are all missionaries?’ That’s what I would like to talk about today.

This morning we heard the words of Isaiah in our Old Testament reading. Isaiah was a prophet in the 8th century BC Kingdom of Judah. He prophesied during the reigns of four kings of Judah; Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. But, Isaiah was not only a prophet; he was also a missionary. The Lord comes to Isaiah – and Isaiah answered the Lord by presenting himself. He felt unworthy but was made clean through God’s grace, and was sent out into a broken world. The very word “mission” means the act or instance of sending. As Christians we are all, as Archbishop Tutu says, missionaries. Every day the Lord asks, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And every day, whether it is here in Murfreesboro or around the world, we answer in our hearts: Here am I, send me! What that looks like in our individual lives is something we must prayerfully discern for ourselves. I want to share with you all my discernment and how I answered the call.

Last February I went through a discernment process with the Young Adult Service Corps of The Episcopal Church. In this program, young adults aged 21 to 30 are sent somewhere in the Anglican Communion at the invitation of a particular province or diocese. We met together in Florida to learn more about the program and placements, and myself and six others ultimately were sent out to different parts of the world: Asia, South Africa, South America, Mexico City. I was sent to work with Migrant Workers in the Anglican Province of Hong Kong. I was absolutely humbled by the generosity and support that I received from St. Paul’s, the Diocese of Tennessee, and my family and friends. Thank you for not only the financial support but for your prayers and encouragement along the way.

Hong Kong does not really sound like the typical location for mission work. I know that when I usually heard the words “mission” or “missionary”, images of rustic villages and extreme cultural barriers came to mind. Hong Kong is a thriving city of 7 million people from all over the world, the largest financial hub in Asia, and a culturally diverse population made up of East and West. When I answered the call I did not know much about Hong Kong other than it had been a British colony until 1997, but after some intense Googling and Wikipedia-ing (as well as some old fashioned book reading) I learned, among other things, that it has its own mini-constitution and is a Special Administrative Region of China. That means that in Hong Kong there are more freedoms than the mainland and it is easier for foreigners to get into Hong Kong.

Yet, Hong Kong is part of the broken and hurting world that we live in. Despite the wealth and freedoms enjoyed by much of the population there, there is a group of people who contribute to society that remains on the fringes. They are the migrant workers who come to Hong Kong from other parts of Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines, and these people are who I served during my time in Hong Kong.

So who are these migrant workers?

The majority of the migrant workers are women who come to escape the economic disparity of their home countries for the opportunity to provide for their families back home. But the life a migrant worker in Hong Kong is not easy. I met women who had not seen their children in three or more years because they had not been able to go back home to see them, yet they continued to send what money they could.

These women arrive in Hong Kong full of hope and dream of a future when they can return home to their families. Sadly, these dreams often turn into nightmares of abuse, debt, loneliness, and depression. The employment agencies that they had to go through to get to Hong Kong charge exorbitant illegal fees of more than 70% of their already meager salaries of just under five hundred US dollars per month. They are forced to take out loans and pay interest on these illegal fees, which pulls them into a cycle of debt that is difficult to break out of. They work 16 or more hours a day in homes where they may or may not be able to communicate effectively with their employers. They care for the elderly and the babies, the young children and the home. They encounter cultural and linguistic barriers that make them feel isolated in a city of millions. Abusive employers shout at them for cooking the rice wrong, or beat them for not cleaning properly, or worse—for no apparent reason at all. Worst still are the sexual abusers who take advantage of their dire situations. These women are dependent on their employers for everything: work, food, a roof over their heads and clothes on their back. They are required by law to live in the residence of their employers and many employers take advantage of this situation. The workers are powerless to complain to authorities because they do not want to lose their jobs—doing so would mean more illegal fees, more hassles, and money not being sent home to their families.

So what hope is there for these women? Where can they go for help?

My placement was with an organization that offers assistance and services to migrant workers in distress, the Mission for Migrant Workers. One of my clients, Ramona*, came to the Mission office in October at a breaking point. In tears, she described to me the conditions of her employment and how she just couldn’t take it anymore. She was underpaid for almost three years, was not given her required one rest day per week, and lived in a hostile environment that made her sick with stress and fear. One of the other domestic workers in her building brought her to the Mission for help, and I was the one who spoke with her. She was trembling and crying, sick with worry. She had to get out but she needed help, and she needed to know someone was there to help her. I helped her write a one month’s notice, calculate her claims, and one month later she left her employer’s house. She went to stay at one of the shelters in our shelter network and began to take part in communal life. She shared in chores and cooking, participated in events put on by the Mission and over the next several months as her case progressed through the Labour department I saw a profound change in her. She no longer cowers in fear; now, she laughs and smiles. Her first visit to the office was in October, but her case was still not finished when I left. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family she is able to pursue her claims although it means she has been unable to send money home to her children. Ramona has hope, though; a hope that she found through a community of people who strive to share Christ’s love with all whom they meet.

The community that Ramona was welcomed into is made up of missionaries. I’m not talking about people who were sent from elsewhere; I mean the other migrant workers, the staff and volunteers at the Mission. They were all, like Isaiah, prophets and missionaries of hope. When the people of Israel and Judah were in despair, Isaiah offered them hope. He offers, in the later chapters of his book in the Old Testament, a vision of what can be, of what WILL be when they stop trusting in themselves and proclaim that their salvation is in God alone. This same hope is delivered through Christ on the cross, a vision of selfless love and sacrifice that can only come from God.

We are called to be missionaries of hope. That’s what we hear in the Gospel of John reading today: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We are not called to condemn but to bring hope. How do we do this? What does that look like in our individual lives? Well, if you look in your bulletin, you will see that you are about to take a vow to be a missionary. In our Baptismal Covenant we will, with God’s help, strive to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, to proclaim by word and example the Good News, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. We are, as Christians, called to bring reconciliation and healing. That begins with acts of love, kindness, and forgiveness. That’s the love Ramona encountered.

Archbishop Tutu says we are all missionaries, or we are nothing. We are ALL missionaries--or we are nothing. May we remember this as we live out our Christian lives. May we have the courage to stand with Isaiah and say, “Here am I, Send Me!

*Name changed

22 May 2012

First week home

I have been back in the States for about a week and am finally feeling like I'm over some of this jetlag. I had quite a whirlwind first week back! After taking a couple of days to rest I went up to my alma mater and talked to the Institute for Leadership Excellence about my experiences in Hong Kong and Servant Leadership. They were an inquisitive group and I was happy to field all kinds of questions from them.

This past weekend was the very happy event that I came home early to attend: my brother's wedding! He and his new bride have been together for almost 12 years so she already felt like part of the family. It was a beautiful ceremony and a really fun reception and I am so happy for the two of them.

This weekend was also a chance to see family and friends I hadn't seen yet, including all of my cousins (one of whom lives in Texas!). Everyone asked about Hong Kong and can't wait to see pictures (gotta get started on a photo book..) and wanted to know what is next in my life.

It is a little strange to be back home, I must admit. I never realized how GREEN Tennessee really is! I'm surrounded by vast farmland and cow pastures. Even the cities feel spread out when compared to the crammed sidewalks of Tsim Sha Tsui. Things feel familiar but unfamiliar. There are ever so slight changes in the faces of family and friends, in the towns and cities I lived in.

It has been a little hard to reflect in the last week, what with the wedding and visiting friends and family. I'm trying to get my feet back on the ground here, to get a job and find a new place to live and call home. I have that interstitial feeling that comes during a major life transition, one that has been going on for the past two years. Hopefully, with continued prayers and encouragement (and God's loving help!) I can take what I have learned about myself and mission in Hong Kong into the next phase of my life.

14 May 2012

How to say goodbye?

再見,香港!!! Paalam Hong Kong!! Selamat tinggal Hong Kong! Goodbye, Hong Kong!

The last few days have been a whirlwind of farewells and tears and lots of food. 

Friday afternoon Rev. Catherine and I went to The Peninsula for their famous Afternoon Tea. It was elegant, delicious, and we enjoyed beautiful music while we sipped our tea and nibbled our scones. Sitting there in the very opulent foyer of The Pen, where so many have gathered over the years to share in this very British-yet-also-Asian ritual, I just tried to soak it all in. The music was like a mini-concert unto itself; I actually recognized a few of the tunes! I will admit to getting a little misty-eyed when they played the Tennessee Waltz. Who know I would hear my state song so far from home!

In the evening I went with some of my friends to the Shandaar India night at St. John's, a fund-raising event for the ministries of the church. The food was so good but I was still full from Tea so I could only eat a little! Can I have an extra stomach please?? So much good food here... At 8 o'clock we gathered in the Cathedral to hear a musical performance by the group tharangini. They sang songs of their own composition and a few famous ones as well. There was a group of girls, early teens I'm guessing, who performed dances to some of the songs. They were so graceful and made it look so fun (and easy!) but I know they practiced hard for the performance. Towards the end they sang Yan Sang, a famous Chinese song about life's sorrows and joys. They encouraged audience participation, and my friend Eddie started to sing along. We were sitting in the front row, and the performers noticed and motioned for him to come up onstage. He went up and sang with them! It was a great moment and everyone left the show with a big smile and a light heart. 

Saturday I packed up my bags. Yes, it took a while, but I managed to get what I could stuffed into my suitcases (ok so they're mailing some thick sweaters that wouldn't fit). Rev. Catherine offered to let me stay at their place this weekend and take me to the Airport Express on Monday when I fly out. I am constantly floored by the kindness and generosity of the people around me. So after giving Kiko a great big huge and scratch behind the ears, I took one last look at my home for the last ten months and got my bags down to the sidewalk. I wrangled a taxi and then unloaded my things at the Mariner's Club. 

I met up with some friends, Kyle and Crissy, and we went to Sheung Wan for my despedida at the Bethune House Extension. Oh what a party it was!! I had to fight off the tears and I don't think I've really processed the fact that I AM LEAVING yet. I said goodbye to the wonderful ladies at BH, my fellow volunteers, and Ate Cynthia and Mama Edwina. We ate, we sang karaoke (I performed the song I learned in Tagalog, "Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal"), and generally had a good time. I love singing, I love karaoke, but I tried not to hog the mic :P I  even got fellow Southerner Joy to join me on a round of Boot Scootin' Boogie! 

Later on I met up with my friend Alex and we took a ferry to Peng Chau island. He had been by this French place there before and wanted to try it out. Well, turns out all they had was bread, cheese, and some meats... so we got a bottle of wine and enjoyed the evening out of the city. When I got back to Rev. Catherine's I was pretty tired but I managed to get myself up for the 9AM service this morning.

I've spent the day among friends at the Cathedral, had lunch at an anniversary celebration for one of the groups that volunteers at the Give Care event. I rode the tram through the city one more time, sad that it would be my last. In the afternoon the MOVERS volunteer group had a little get together for me, complete with a farewell song and snacks. I will miss all of them!!!

At the 6pm service, Rev. Catherine and Father David said prayers for me and sent me off with kind words and a full heart. They gave me a beautiful cross and a card signed by friends at the Cathedral. After the service I went out to a lovely meal with Catherine and Stephen at a restaurant that had a beautiful view of the harbour. We arrived around 8pm so we had a great view of the light show. It was a clear night, too, so it was even more spectacular.

I spent the night at Rev. Catherine's and my friend Alex came over to keep me company as I tried to finish packing and stay up as long as possible. I slept for a couple of hours before waking at 6AM, and Stephen took me, Alex, and a Roman Catholic bishop who was staying at the Mariner's Club to the Airport Express.

Ate Cynthia met up with us at the station and we rode my last train ride through the city. I don't think it hit me until I was hugging them goodbye that I'm actually going home. I bid a tearful farewell and got myself through immigration and security without any problems (thank goodness!).

 A day later (although it doesn't seem that long) I am safely home and trying to get acclimated. I will update more over the next few days as I process my experience. Thank you, once again, for coming with me on this journey and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have!

Grace & Peace

07 May 2012

8 Days!

Me & Kiko
It is so hard to believe that in 8 days I will be boarding a plane and heading back to the U.S.! I am beginning to say goodbye to Hong Kong, to all of the amazing people I have met and the places I have come to love. Yes, even Kiko the Dog, my roommate for the past 8 months, has grown on me.

My first going away party was Friday April 28th; some friends and I had dinner and then went to karaoke in Causeway Bay. It was supposed to be a tram party but because it was raining heavily we chose to forego the tram part and just do the karaoke. It was so much fun! I enjoyed spending a few hours singing with my friends. One of my dear, dear friends here, Rebecca, left on Sunday to travel around Southeast Asia so it was the last time I saw her. We hugged and hugged!! I will miss her so much; she really made Hong Kong feel more home-y.

Saturday the 29th I went to Repulse Bay with another friend of mine, Crissy. I had never been and I hadn't been able to get to the beach at all before now due to weather conditions. It threatened rain the whole time, with big heavy clouds rolling by, but the rain held off. We built a sand alligator and swam, and I laid out for a little bit. It was nice to spend the day relaxing on the beach! We also had dinner with some of her Chinese friends out in Tsuen Wan. It was a full day!
Tai Wai

Tuesday May 1 was a holiday and I went to a friend's house out in Tai Wai, a village in the New Territories with a 500 year old shrine in it. They have an apartment with a rooftop and they set up a screen and projector to watch a movie. It was fun having a pizza and movie night with them and some of their other friends, mostly film/photography people that Sammie knows from her school. We ended up watching WALL-E, which I hadn't seen before, and it was so cute!

Movie on the roof!
Sunday I went back to St. Stephen's in Stanley to serve with Father Will, who is just a delightful and wonderful person. I enjoyed serving at the little church and fellowship after. I met up with my friend Crissy again and her sister, and we went to the beach in Stanley for a few hours. I wish I had brought sunscreen though--I got a really bad sun burn! I sure hope it heals up soon--definitely don't want to be on a long flight with a sunburn.
Mangoes & Grapes

The Quarterly Report for the Mission is coming along; I'm waiting to receive more of the encoded databases from my colleagues so I can extract the data. Hopefully I can get it done before I leave on May 14! I'm trying to finish up my work and also spend time with friends, not to mention packing up some things so I am not totally rushed. I will probably ship some things home too. So much to think about!! Thank you all so much for your support over the last year; I could not have done this without you or without God working in my life.
Grace and Peace,

25 April 2012

New friends, good times, and another Give Care event

Phew! Quelle weekend!

I was delighted to spend the day with visitors from Los Angeles on Saturday: Bishop Suffragan Diane Bruce, Rev. Ada Wong-Nagata, Associate for Asian Ministries; and Rev. Joshua Ng, Chair of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry. Their work in intercultural ministries in the Diocese of Los Angeles brings them in contact with many Asian communities, so this pan-Asian tour was a chance to get to know the places from which their brothers and sisters come. The main event was the World Anglican Chinese Clergy Conference in the Philippines, and after the conference they are traveling around China and South Korea.
Their first stop was Hong Kong and we spent the day Saturday going around town.

After a quick ride on the Star Ferry we walked to the famous Luk Yu Tea House for a dim sum lunch. Rev. Ada, a native of Hong Kong, told us that her father used to do business there when she was a little girl. We let her make our dim sum choices and settled in for an amazing meal!

Our tummies and taste buds satisfied, we then did one of my favorite things in Hong Kong: tram ride through the city! A steal at just HK$2.30, you can ride it from one side of HK Island to the other and see some sights. While we rode I talked about the work done here with migrant workers and the struggles they endure here in Hong Kong. We got off in Victoria Park so they could see the Indonesian migrants' hang out spot, and although it was a Saturday there were still many workers out having their day off.

We parted ways in Tsim Sha Tsui and I headed up to Yuen Long to a village party with my friend Amanda. I had never been to one before, this was a belated Tin Hau Festival. There was a giant pot of meat and rice, drinks, entertainment, and karaoke. It was really fun to be with people out in the country (sort of) and to celebrate a festival with them. They got me and Amanda up on stage to sing "My Heart Will Go On"... and then later I did "Crocodile Rock" (they had a surprising selection of English songs)... The crowd went wild! A little old man gave us each a bouquet of (plastic) flowers and we were instructed not to throw them

Sunday was another busy day with the 9am service in the morning and the Give Care to our Caregivers event in the afternoon. I accompanied Bishop Diane, Rev. Ada and Rev. Joshua to the service and then to the Cathedral bookstore. I helped set up for the Give Care event and some of my friends showed up to volunteer. I once again worked at the make-over booth doing make-up with a couple other ladies. It was so much fun!! The best part were the reactions of women who had never worn make up before... it is one of the most heart-warming things to watch a smile spring up as they see their beauty brought out and accentuated. I know to some the idea of wearing make up seems trivial or unnecessary, but it can really change your mood when you see your face transformed in a way you have never seen before. To see these beautiful women blooming with confidence and radiating their inner beauty is one of the most heart-warming experiences of my life.

I was pretty exhausted afterward and went home to crash at my apartment. I had to be up early the next day to accompany Bishop Diane, Rev. Ada, and Rev. Joshua to Macau. We met at the China Ferry Terminal at 8:30 and after an hour long boat ride arrived and went through Immigration. We were met by Fr. Kenneth Lau, our guide for the day, who drove us over to see St. Paul's Church and the Choi Kou school run by the Anglican Church. The congregation at the church is mostly young adults, I was surprised (and delighted) to find out. Touring the school was really interesting to me since I would like to come back to Asia and teach after I finish graduate school. We learned about the education system in Macau and what the society is like. Because Macau is a gambling hub (Las Vegas of the East) most of the kids start work after they finish high school. There isn't a lot of pressure (like in Hong Kong) to go on to university because they can do well there without a degree.

We had lunch with some of the clergy in Macau and then went to the ruins of the St. Paul's facade. We didn't have much time to spend there unfortunately, but we did go to Morrison Chapel and the Old Protestant Cemetery. The story behind the chapel and the cemetery is really fascinating and I find myself drawn to the tombstones and mausoleums on the grounds. One in particular has caught my eye, Mary Clark, wife of W. Sutherland, who has a large monument near the entrance. I'm so intrigued by her epitaphs, "beloved and respected by all who knew her", and "in her tongue was the law of kindness". These are things I hope people will say about me when I am gone. The second is from Proverbs 31:26, "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness." It's in the section on "A Virtuous Wife"... I knew it struck me in the heart somewhere!

We left the chapel and headed out to the island of Taipa where we learned about a community centre run by the Anglican church. It is a place where people can gather, away from the casinos, and engage with one another. They have all kinds of after school and summer programs, classes, a karaoke room, music room, games, books. There are rooms where people can go for counseling too. They even have a rooftop garden! It is an amazing place with wonderful work happening.

We finished the day with tea and egg tarts, chatting about mission and ministry and all of the things we'd seen. It has been so wonderful to spend time with such amazing people. Bishop Diane is an incredible lady, so down to earth and "with" the people. She is blogging about her trip so I encourage you to visit her blog: http://obispadjb.blogspot.com and read about her travels and ministry in the Diocese of LA! I wish more bishops and clergy would engage in the online world with blogs and facebook. It just makes them more accessible to the people they serve--especially young people.

Another hour long ferry ride back to Kowloon we bid farewell. They are off to the Mainland for a few days, then Seoul and Taiwan, then back to LA. I wish them safe travels and look forward to seeing them again this summer at General Convention!

I'm back to work today, with Rev. Catherine who has just returned from a long trip to the Philippines. Glad to have her back! I'll be at the Mission the rest of the week, finishing up encoding in the database and hopefully starting on the Quarterly Report.

Just under 20 days until my return!!! Thank you for the prayers and encouragement :)

Grace and Peace,

18 April 2012

Less than a month

Looking at my calendar I noticed I have just under a month left in Hong Kong. What! Where did all that time go?!

I have started to transition from I Live Here to I'm Moving Home mode... I've gone through some of my things, deciding what to pack and what to give away. I came to Hong Kong with little luggage and while I have accumulated some things here, not everything has to go back with me! There are still some things I want to see and do, and my friends and co-workers are planning going-away parties. It will be so sad to say goodbye to them, sa muling pakikita!  but I am thrilled that I will get to see my family and friends from home soon. This has been a great journey and I am so thankful that you are reading along with me. God has blessed me so much throughout the past year. 

We are getting ready for the next Give Care event to take place on Sunday--my last one, although there will be several more this year. I am sad to miss the one happening on May 20 in Victoria Park with our Indonesian friends. 
Staff Training with Dan
The main project I am doing right now is to get my co-workers confident and updated with Microsoft Office 2010---our database depends on it! Right now we are a little behind on encoding the first quarter but hoping to catch up so I can compile the data before I leave. We had a couple of staff training session with our new friend Dan from Crossroads. He graciously offered up some time on his day off to volunteer to help us get comfortable with Microsoft Word 2010. Bonus: he speaks Tagalog! Thank you so much Dan!!

Thanks Dan!
I have also been helping Rev. Catherine send out letters to all the dioceses in the Anglican Communion about the Refugee & Migrant Network. She is in the Philippines right now, returning this weekend, so I look forward to working more with her in my last three weeks!

Not sure if I will be able to make my Cheung Chau trip happen... I was hoping to go for a day and spend the night before returning the next day, get some beach time in, but the weather has been sooo stormy lately! Hopefully the next YASCer can take more advantage of that beautiful place and enjoy some time away from the city. 

Stay tuned for a GCC update next week, and possibly the trip to Cheung Chau, and my friends and I are having a Bye By HK Tram Party on Friday! One of my friends here is leaving for a trip around Southeast Asia on April 30 so she won't be here when I leave, that's why we decided to have it so early. 

Grace and Peace,

14 April 2012

Experiencing Poverty at Crossroads Foundation

Davis Polk Law Firm (and friends)
The Crossroads Foundation is a Hong Kong based non-profit organization that brings together needs and resources. Their core belief is that, "in a broken world that sees too much suffering, we should do all we can to link those who are in need with those who can provide help."

Not only does Crossroads connect those in need with those who want to give, they also seek to help those who are giving to understand those in need. I can listen to all the lectures and forums in the world about poverty, watch videos and view photos, even go to a place where it is all around me, but I will not truly know what it is because I have not lived it.

Poverty is at the root of the work at the Mission. Why do the women who are here as domestic helpers come in the first place? What drives them to leave behind family and friends and everything they've ever known to come to a place that views them as second class citizens? Poverty. Economic disparity in their home countries. They cannot provide for their families and so they have to go where they can. They sign contracts and sell family land and even if they KNOW they are being cheated, they have to endure it so that they can provide for their families.

Simulated Refugee Camp
I have seen extreme poverty before. I went to Haiti with a group from my church and a church from Alabama for a week in 2010, and in that week I saw things that broke my heart to pieces. I saw slums and tent cities and sanitation issues and all of the things that go along with extreme poverty. I saw it. I experienced it a little bit. But I did not live it.

Today I went with a group of 25 people from a law firm here in Hong Kong (my friend Alex works there) to the Crossroads Foundation's site out in Tuen Mun. Crossroads holds simulations of the situations they hope to alleviate, called Global X-perience. They invite people to come and experience life in slum conditions, how the 3 billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars a day live.

Briefing for the simulation
Our group was divided into families of four or five and told that in order for us to survive and provide for our family, we must create and sell paper bags. In some of the markets around the world you will see market vendors putting their wares in these paper bags for people to take their purchases home in. These bags are made by people who sell them to provide for their families. We were given a pot of a flour-and-water mixture (our glue) and some newspapers. We had three sets of ten minutes to make paper bags (each ten minute interval representing one week). Once we had made ten paper bags, someone had to go to one of the "shops" (manned by Crossroads volunteers) to try and sell them. We had to make and sell enough paper bags to pay for food ($100) and rent ($180)--the most basic needs. We also had the option of sending one member of the family to school, but that was $500. How much is the going rate for a set of 10 paper bags? Depends on the benevolence of the shopkeepers...

My family did pretty good the first round. We almost had enough for both--I had to give up my watch to make up the difference. Didn't matter though--my family survived! However, we were so focused on making the paper bags that we did not hear the announcement that the local charity organization was holding a health  class. There was a measles outbreak and two members of the family had to sit out for two minutes of the next round... The rest of us were furiously ripping paper and slapping glue to the pages, trying to make up for the lack of hands. We paid closer attention to the announcements this time and one of our group members went to a skills training session. She was given money to buy a sewing machine but we had to use it to pay rent...

We managed to pay rent and food for the second round, but we had not been buying "toilet time." In many parts of the world there are pay only toilets. $30 to use it for the week, but many opted not to in order to be able to pay for food and rent. As a result, four people in our group had to stand for a minute because they had diarrhea, leaving me to rip, fold, and glue by myself. By the third round we were running out of paper, so we had to scramble and get money to get more resources to make the bags. Luckily a loan shark came around, and for just two hugs from each of the women we got $100 each. We were able to send someone to school and just barely pay for rent and food.

We did some debriefing after the experience.. here are some of the thoughts I had:

1. We were so focused on making the bags (bags = survival) that we did not notice anything else going on around us. We did not think about the environment, we did not think about the other families around us, we did not think about the aid organizations set up in the next room. Our singular focus was to make and sell bags, and if we could spare someone we sent them to a skills training and to school. But doing so meant we had less hands to make bags, so we took a hit and had to make up the difference with "hugs"... I'm sure you can guess what the "hugs" were representative of.

2. When one of the other families couldn't pay their rent and had to move out into the "under the bridge" community, I was glad because it meant less competition for us for selling bags. Harsh... Where was my compassion? Where was my empathy?

3. I was completely unaware of the services offered by the aid organizations unless they came to our "house" (blue and white tarp on the floor) and talked to us while we worked. The leader of our event told a story about a woman he met in India. She was telling him about the cycle of poverty she and her family are stuck in--she was born and opened up her eyes and saw that she was poor. She grew up poor. When she got older she married a poor man. They had children, and when those children were born they opened their eyes and saw that they are poor. She watched her children grow up poor, marry poor, and their children born into poverty. She could see on into the generations and all she could see was poverty. It is like there is a glass ceiling above their heads that they cannot break through. She sees the people born above the ceiling and wonders why---their children are born and open up their eyes and they are not poor. Are they any better people? Are they more hard working? No. They are just born into it. How can they break through the glass ceiling? My thought is that the only way to break through is if the people above are also breaking down the glass ceiling and reaching down to lift them up. It is great to give money or have a charity organization offering service, but unless they are going out into the slums and directly to the people they aren't going to have much of an impact; empower the people rather than give a handout.

4. We had to make decisions about whether or not someone was going to stop working to go to school or the skills training. We made decisions about whether or not to buy toilet time or risk health issues to have food and shelter. We groveled to the shopkeepers to give us money for our families, we surrendered our dignity so that our families could survive.

5. Our experience lasted, in total, about an hour. At the end of that hour, we stopped, cleaned up the wads of paper and glue, and sat down in the cool air conditioned room. The people who live like this 24/7 do not get to stop. Nobody tells them "Okay time is up!"... I experienced this for an hour--they experience it for a lifetime.

After the experiential part, we had a lunch of rice, daal, and a vegetable called sukuma wiki.. literally it means "push the week". In Kenya, the workers are paid on Saturday, so around Wednesday or so of the following week the money is running out and you still have to eat. Sukuma wiki is usually a leafy green like kale or collards, something filling that will help you stretch your budget until payday comes again. The food was delicious (made even more so by eating it with our fingers--traditional utensils in Southeast Asia), and we had drinks from plastic baggies.

We took a short break to browse around the fair trade shop (the only one in Hong Kong) and the little cafe on site. None of the staff there are paid--it is run entirely by volunteers. An amazing organization! Also on site since it was a Saturday was the Hong Kong Farmer's Market and several of our group bought vegetables to take home.

Volunteer Sign-Up
The afternoon portion broke us up into groups to do service projects. Initially I wanted to help making health kits, but by the time I got to the sign up lady the slots were full. I was then going to work in the office doing paperwork, but then a woman had brought her 12 year old son and they wanted to stay together, so I went with the computer group. In retrospect, I think maybe Someone was looking out for me...

Our on site volunteer was named Dan and he led us to a small warehouse on the property where all of the donated electronics are stored, sorted, refurbished, and sent out. We helped go through a pile of desktop towers, determining if they were usable and if not, extracting the parts that were. It was interesting to go through the inside of a computer (not something I have done in a long time) and eventually the four of us got into a rhythm and the work was knocked out in no time. Dan came back and said we were done, and we ended up chatting with him for a bit.

Turns out, he is originally from the Philippines, from Mindanao. He told us how he had ended up at Crossroads ostensibly for just a year but it turned into almost three and a half. On Friday I had given a seminar on Microsoft Excel to my beloved co-workers at the Mission (so that we can use the new database I created) but I felt my inadequate Tagalog skills were a barrier in really helping them achieve confidence in using Microsoft Office. Monday I am supposed to give a similar workshop on Word, but I have been feeling a bit apprehensive about it. I asked Dan if he ever did any training on it, he said no but that he could. I was FILLED with joy and gratitude! We exchanged information and I'll be getting in touch with him tomorrow to get things set up.

Me & Alex
It was an incredible, humbling day. I am so grateful for the life I have lived and I pray that the world can become more reconciled through work like what is being done at the Crossroads Foundation. I am reminded of the Parable of the Rich and the Kingdom of God (found here, here, and here). Sell everything, give to the poor, and follow me, Jesus advises. This is what is required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But like we've talked about before, the Kingdom of Heaven is among us. To enter into it, we must engage in the reconciling and healing work of God. Poverty has been around for a long time--Jesus was talking about it in 33AD and we're still talking about it today. Have we heeded Jesus' advice to heal the suffering of our brothers and sisters? What have we given? Are we really following Jesus if we see poverty around us and do not act?

Grace and Peace,

08 April 2012

Happy Easter from Hong Kong! Happy Anniversary MFMW!

Cynthia, Fr. Dwight, Me
Alleluya! Si Kristo'y Muling-nabuhay!
Tunay ngang Siya'y Muling-nabuhay! Alleluya!

Maligayang Pasko ng Pagkabuhay! Happy Easter! What an amazing day of celebration here in Hong Kong. Not only did we celebrate the triumph of life over death, but we also celebrated the 31 years of ministry of the Mission for Migrant Workers.

An Easter mass was celebrated in the morning with Father Dwight and migrant workers on Chater Road. I assisted and tried to follow along the Tagalog service. I can read it okay but could only guess at what was being said. One of the great things about the tradition that I practice is that no matter what the language of the service, the format is the same. So I recognized the readings and the prayers, and the renewal of Baptismal vows as well. I felt kinship with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we read together in Tagalog, confirming our faith and obligations with Opo, sa tulong ng Diyos. Yes, with the help of God.

They love playing games like Bring Me!
Bagama't tayo'y marami, tayo'y iisang katawan sapagkat nakikibahagi tayo sa iisang Tinapay. Although we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one Bread.

After the service there was a variety show with performances from several different groups and individuals. Singing, dancing, staging skits, games and prizes ensued. It was a lively gathering with more and more people filling up the seats as the morning went on. By the time 1:30 rolled around, it was pretty packed!

Aaron, Buhay, Me
I was asked to help MC the afternoon portion of the show with two others, Aaron and Buhay. I've never done that before but it was so much fun!! It helps knowing that everyone just wants to laugh and have a good time. It was a day for celebrating with each other, celebrating life and our struggles together. The focus of the afternoon was the 31st Anniversary of MFMW, and we had many well-wishers who sent messages of support or stopped by to give their greetings. I had a great time with my fellow MC's and attempting to speak Tagalog to the crowd.

During the celebration we paused to honor the former chairperson and now Bishop of West Kowloon, Rt. Rev. Andrew Chan. His support for migrants ministries at St. John's made a huge different for the Mission, and we know he will continue his ministry to those on the margins in his new role. We presented him with a painting from our office, done by a migrant worker, of a migrant worker. It has been in the office for years and we thought it an appropriate token of our gratitude and something to remember us and his time with us.

Around 5pm a band came on to perform and that ended my MC duties. I was pretty exhausted after such a long day but it was so wonderful. I left feeling tired but with a big smile on my face.

Me with one of the Indonesian performers

I hope everyone back home had a wonderful Easter! I have a little over 30 days before I'm back in the States, and while I have enjoyed my time here in Hong Kong I am looking forward to being back home with my family and friends. I gotta start checking off all the things on my Hong Kong to-do list that I've been putting off!

Grace and Peace,

07 April 2012

On being a Missionary

I am getting on towards the end of my service here in HK and I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on how my idea of "Missionary" has changed over the past months.

Initially, when I thought about what it might mean to be a missionary I had the same idea that most people have. Someplace rural, working with my hands, and sharing my life and heart with others. After learning more about the Five Marks of Mission and the placements in the YASC program, it changed to encompass so much more.

Even when I arrived in Hong Kong I had all kinds of ideas about what I would be doing and my role at the Cathedral. My mindset had expanded to include all of my life in mission--one does not have to go to faraway places to be a missionary. Indeed, as Desmond Tutu insists, we are all missionaries. When you wake up in the morning you are a missionary, sent out to engage in the reconciling work of God's love. When you are sitting in traffic, you are a missionary. When you are sending emails, you are a missionary. Etc...

In many ways my life is very similar to how it was back home. I am blessed to serve in a very urban, developed place with plenty of food, water, internet, and anything else I can think of, readily at hand. I think about my fellow missionary Karen in South Africa and how different our placements are--yet, we are on the same Mission. I go out with my friends in my off time and holidays, hang out and go to the movies. But are those any less of an opportunity to be a missionary? I find myself offering love and friendship, a listening ear and a smile of encouragement just as I would to friends back home.

Now, I think being a missionary is more about attitude and actions than it is about placement or occupation. I basically work an office job, with other responsibilities, but in my heart I am a missionary. I am sent out to bring God's reconciling love to anyone I meet, whether it's in the office at the Mission or somewhere else.

I hope that over the past few months' journey with me you have also considered the ways in which you engage in mission in your own life. I pray that we all can recognize those opportunities for grace in our lives, those times when God's love can shine through us and out into the world.

Grace and Peace,

05 April 2012


Walang sinuman ang nabubuhay
Para sa sarili lamang
Walang sinuman ang namamatay
Para sa sarili lamang

(Translation: No one lives for himself only, no one dies for himself only)

Palm Sunday I participated in a Passion Play put on by several of the Filipino congregations in Hong Kong. It was not only the Passion of Christ, but also the Passion of the Filipino Migrant Workers.

Father Dwight asked if I would lead the opening prayer (in Tagalog!), and after practicing all afternoon I managed to read it without tripping up too much. I could follow along with the scripture readings, but after the reading someone from the Filipino community would come forward and speak about the hardships facing migrant workers.

Having the Passion of Our Lord juxtaposed with the stories of Migrant Workers really hit me. Like Christ, the migrant workers serve others for the sake of others. Their work largely goes unnoticed, and their thankless jobs only seem to bring more hardships.

I was particularly struck by the betrayal. Christ was betrayed by one of his own disciples, a friend, a countryman. Someone he trusted and shared his life with. Migrant workers are betrayed by their own countrymen--by agencies that take advantage of them, corrupt governments, and people they thought they could trust. The impact such betrayals have on their lives and their families is heartbreaking and you wonder how such a level of betrayal could exist in the world.

As we walked from one station to another, we sang a song, Pananagutan. Roughly translated, it means "accountability" or "responsibility".


Tayong lahat ay may pananagutan sa isa't-isa
Tayong lahat ay tinipon ng Diyos
Na kapiling N'ya

(We all have responsibilities to each other
we are all God's saved,
asking to come together)

Sa ating pagmamahalan
At paglilingkod kanino man
Tayo ay nagdadala ng balita ng kaligtasan

(Through our love and service
To everyone, we are
Bringing news of salvation)

As we enter into the Triduum and reflect on the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, let us remember those among us who are persecuted. As we celebrate the Risen Lord on Easter morning, let us not forget what the Good News means for us, for our brothers and sisters.

The Faces of Statistics

Recently the Mission and Bethune House held a forum highlighting the statistics of cases handled last year. (featuring the booklet put together by yours truly.)

Working on that project I saw a lot of numbers. Normally I flee from numbers like the Israelites from Egypt (with hopefully a bit less grumbling) but because this was such an important part of the work that the Mission does I did my best to examine the data and see what it showed. I calculated percentages and made pie charts and graphs and highlighted numbers of this or that type of case.

But what is so important, and this is something Rev. Catherine always reiterates when we are talking about statistics like this, is that each of those numbers represents and individual.

We hear so many devastating stories. Women who face seemingly insurmountable odds as they try to provide for themselves and their families, as they try to survive in a world where everything seems stacked against them. They persevere. They smile. They laugh. They show gratitude. Fellow missionary Joy recently posted about an experience with some of her clients; very moving, and something that is all too common.

Of the 2,382 migrant workers served in 2011, MFMW observed the following:
--78% of our clients were Filipino, 21% Indonesian, with another small percentage of other Southeast Asians
--86% are sending money back to their home countries to support family
--Average age was 35
--40% have at least a college education

The Mission handled a variety of cases regarding mostly Agency and Labour issues, along with smaller percentages of police or debt related cases.

Working Conditions remain hard for migrant workers, with an average of 16-17 working hours in a day (they are required to live in their employer's home, so they are basically on call 24 hours a day)... They have no space of their own, often sleeping in closets or laundry rooms or wherever they can find space.

Each of those numbers represents individual women, with their own stories to tell.

26 March 2012

Consecration & Installation of Rt. Rev. Andrew Chan

This weekend was a bit of a break from Lent as we paused to celebrate the new ministry of former dean and now Bishop Andrew Chan.

Installed in 2005 as the Cathedral's first Asian Dean, his hard work over the last seven years has born much fruit. Always a friend to the Mission for Migrant Workers he served on our board of directors and supported our ministry. As Dean his duties included overseeing the general responsibilities and fellowship of St. John's Cathedral and her daughter churches as well as other organizations at St. John's (HIV Centre, Counseling Centre, Cathedral Bookstore, etc.).  His dedication to service and to the Gospel have been admirable and inspirational.

Waiting Bishops
Sunday afternoon he was consecrated at St. John's Cathedral, with Bishops and Archbishops from all over the world in attendance--including a Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. Over 100 clergy also attended, along with government officials and members of St. John's. I was acolyte during the service, an honor that I did not initially realize. The consecration service was an incredible experience to be part of; it really brought home how big and inclusive the Body of Christ truly is. The Intercessions were done by various members of the different groups in St. John's, most notably a little Chinese girl (5 years old maybe?) reading prayers in English perfectly. Be still my heart! It was glorious.
Fr. Robert leads
RC Bishop and Orthodox Bishop

Last night he was Enthroned at All Saint's Cathedral in Mong Kok. This Cathedral is much smaller than St. John's, so overflow guests were seated in the school area to view the service on a screen. Since I arrived just before the service I had to wait for the procession to go in first before I was taken (along with a few others) to the school. I dutifully followed the service--mostly in Cantonese, but there was an English translation in the program--but when it came time for the homily I got up to see if I could find a copy of its translation. I had seen ushers handing them to the clergy as they waited so I inquired to see if there were any extras. There was a bit of lost-in-translation ("Yeng Mun-ah!" and me pointing to "homily" in the program) and then finally they said there might be some on the other side. One of the ushers ushed me over, and a lady gave me a copy of the sermon. They also tried to give me earphones for simultaneous translation of what was being said but I told them no need. I could follow along okay, I just really wanted a copy of the sermon because after listening to him preach at the Cathedral I knew it was probably going to be amazing. (it was!) Then, to my surprise, they told me to go up and sit in the choir loft. I tentatively tip-toed up the stairs and a kind lady gave me her seat right behind the blue-robed choir members.

In his new role as Bishop of the Diocese of Western Kowloon, Rt. Rev. Chan will tend a larger flock and take on a larger servant-leader role. In his sermon he spoke about servant leadership (a topic near-and-dear to my heart):

 "In order to provide leadership which can transform lives, we must be willing to prepare the girdle, towel, and wash basin. It has never been simple to prepare the tools of service, but this is a revolution of the heavenly kingdom, the aim of which is to establish heavenly values in the world."

"Leadership, when viewed from a spiritual perspective, means letting the old self die in the process by dismantling the ego, thereby creating the space for uploading the spiritual strength to serve others."

"Christians need to draw strength from God to lead and influence the world. Furthermore we should nurture virtues such as patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, and trustworthiness. These qualities are not inherent at birth and are not merely feelings; they are life choices. The Christian service and leadership that Christians render to the world does not entirely depend on a level of ability; it begins with respect, the sense of responsibility and concern for others, but is built upon love, sacrifice, and self-giving, just as Jesus Christ has sacrificed his life to redeem his people."

The sermon was amazing, but what really grabbed my heart and squeezed was the singing and the prayers.

So, confession: I can't read Chinese.... luckily there was English in the program, so I just said the English parts. I tried to listen really hard to hear how they were saying "Lord hear our prayer" but there were so many people there and the lady next to me was wearing a face mask. But sitting there, speaking English in a crowd of Chinese, it just struck me how even though our words were different, they were the same. We all may be different on the outside--our looks, our lifestyle choices, our callings--but inside we are all one in Christ. "Though we are many, we are one Body, because we all share in one Bread." (we say this before communion.) Our words may sound different but their meanings were the same--prayers for Andrew, for the community, for the Church, for people who are in need. We praised God for all of our blessings and recited the Lord's Prayer. We sang hymns, "I Cannot Tell" and "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken".. the music was the same, the meaning of the words was the same, and it didn't matter if you sang in English or Cantonese. I wish I had a recording of it, it was so glorious, but it might be one of those "you kinda had to be there" things.

After the service there was a photo taking frenzy and I slipped out the door just in time to see Rev. Catherine heading for the exit. I caught up with her and she invited me to come out with her and Rev. Stephen and a few others.

Fr. Stephen, Fr. Des, Fr. Winston,
Rev. Catherine, Me, John Wood,
Fr. Robert. Fr. Will had already gone
We went to an Italian place in iSquare, near where I live, in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a good evening (I tried not to eat much but I am a sucker for pizza...) and I enjoyed the conversation with some of the clergy at St. John's and a visiting friend from Swanage. Father Will invited me back out to Stanley and when he mentioned they have a lack of servers I said I'd be happy to serve with him a few Sundays. I only have a few left here in HK but I so enjoyed Stanley (and Father Will!) that I don't mind the trek out there a few more times. (Not to mention the nearby beach...)

Coming Up in my life: Data Booklet is ALMOST finished, there will be a forum about it on Friday, Sunday is Palm Sunday and I am reading the opening prayers for the Filipino Passion play (in Tagalog! Will try to get a vid), Sunday is also the AIDS Festival put on by the St. John's HIV Centre, Monday I head to Cheung Chau for a few days, next Friday a friend from college who now lives in Taiwan will be in town for the weekend, next Sunday is Easter and the MFMW 31st Anniversary celebration. Phew!

Thank you all for your prayers and support, and I hope you have a blessed last-week-of-Lent as we inch forward into Holy Week.

Grace & Peace,