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,

19 March 2012

Visits to St. Stephen's Chapel in Stanley and Wong Tai Sin Temple

Hello dear ones!

We had BEAUTIFUL weather this weekend, and even though we're back to chilly and rainy for a while it seems like we got a taste of things to come. I'm hoping the sunshine sticks around during my visit to Cheung Chau in April!

This past Sunday I went out to Stanley to visit St. Stephen's College, which contains a lovely little chapel. The priest there, Father Will, had invited me out to visit so I took advantage of the lovely day and rode the bus out. (It's about an hour's bus ride from my apartment in Jordan.)

There was a guest preacher from Australia, Rt. Rev. Tom Frame, who is in town as part of a lecture series currently going on at one of the universities. (Also, I think, for Dean Andrew's consecration which takes place next Sunday.) His sermon was warm and personal, and I felt right at home in the brightly lit chapel. It's much smaller and a bit less formal than the Cathedral; a lot more like my home parish St. Paul's (although St. P's is a bit bigger!).

After the sermon I chatted with a few parishoners, including Dr. Gareth Jones whom I have met a few times before. I really love chatting with him--not only is he the sub dean and lecturer of Christian doctrine at St. John's College but he is also theological consultant for the Archbishop. And--a lover of American history too. I was very surprised the first time we spoke to find out he has been to many places in the South--including Chattanooga and Murfreesboro! Not often you meet someone from England who is really into Civil War battles and such. Anyway, I enjoyed a nice chat with him before he and Father Will took me and Rt. Rev. Frame back into the chapel for a bit of its history.

St. Stephen's Chapel was built in 1950 after WWII. Stanley is the site of a prison and the college was part of the Stanley Internment Camp. There is a stained glass window above the entrance to the church in memorial to those who were interned there during the Japanese occupation. The window behind the altar depicts St. Stephen holding stones with clear glass. The effect was that St. Stephen looked like he was standing among the trees! It's a beautiful chapel and I hope I can get out there again soon.

Today I went with Dr. John LeMond, a Lutheran minister I met at the interfaith group last week, and a group of Norwegians to the Wong Tai Sin Temple. It is beautiful and an interesting religious center, run by Taoists but there are also Buddhist statues and a pavilion for Confucius as well.

Sunday brought sad news for a dear friend: Juvy, one of the volunteers at Bethune House and the Mission, learned that her sister passed away that morning. She had stage 4 cancer and had been very sick and in much pain over the last year. She was quite upset and is heading home to the Philippines to be with her family. Please pray for Juvy and her family as they go through a very difficult and sad time. Meanwhile, I am looking after Kiko the dog while she is gone, so I'm sure we will have many adventures around my neighborhood...

Looking ahead this week, I have some meetings around the New Case Encoding System that I put together, as well as the upcoming events on April 8 (yes, Easter Sunday!) and the next Give Care event. Thursday I am heading up to the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre for a chat with Dr. Lemond. I am looking forward to it!

I pray you all have a wonderful week and if Lent is bearing down, I implore you to check out Lent Madness, which has been a great learning tool for me lately. I'm enjoying the levity that it is bringing to an otherwise heavy season. (Fasting has been really hard!!)

 Grace and Peace,

11 March 2012

that awkward moment... of grace

You've been there.

You're at a party, or some kind of gathering, mingling with people. You hover near the hors d'oerves hoping someone strikes up conversation with you, or maybe you wander around until you see someone you kind of know.

Eventually you find yourself in conversation with two or three people, maybe introductory or talking about some event that is going on or happened in the past. You all stick to polite conversation until you feel comfortable delving into more personal topics. Things are going well, you find yourself warming up (or maybe it's your second glass of wine) and relaxing into more congenial conversation.

Then it happens. Someone says something and you're caught off-guard. What they have uttered rocks you back on your heels and you are reeling, wondering how you ended up in the same room as someone who could hold such a repugnant opinion or world-view. You're frozen, tongue-tied even, and what's worse is that the other people you're talking to are nodding in affirmation. What is going on?! How do they not see that what this person has said is just... just so... wrong?!

Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven, my friends.

See, the thing is---we don't get to pick who is or who is not a part of the Kingdom. Everyone (and everything) is part of it, whether they acknowledge it and participate in bringing it about or not. "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." It's here, folks. And as anything involving people usually is, it's kinda messy.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place where everyone agrees and holds the exact same viewpoints as you. It's not full of rainbows and kittens and fluffy white clouds. It's a place where God's will is done. It's a place where our own egos and arrogance are abandoned. It's not about who is right and who is wrong--it's about loving each other--sharing in God's love--despite our disagreements. When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom would come, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." (Luke 17:20b-21) Yes, it's there in the midst of that awkward moment you find yourself in at the party where someone says something you disagree with in every iota of your being.

Getting back to that moment, what is the (Christian) response? Inside you are roiling. You burn to set your glass down and get in his or her face and TELL them how what they said was wrong and possibly offensive. That little voice in your head is telling you to set them straight and perhaps to use language that shows your distaste for the comment.

But that's not going to bring the Kingdom into the moment. In fact, that's probably going to take you a few steps out into the perimeter. Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

This, my dear friends, is what I affectionately call an 'opportunity for grace.'

In the words of Our Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do. Grace is something that is given to us by God even when--especially when--we aren't exactly deserving of it. It is loving-kindness (chesed) and mercy. We are called as Christians to extend this Grace to others. Yes, even when--especially when--we have been slighted, offended, disgusted. That's why it's grace.

Several times in the New Testament the authors talk about how we are to live as Christians. How should we treat each other in this brave new world? What are we to do with this brand spankin' new gift of grace that was given to us? I am particularly thinking of Romans 14, which you should go read through right now.

Here are a few more:
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10) <-- personal favorite!

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13)

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

So the next time you're at a party, or hanging out with family members, or in some other situation, and you find yourself recoiling at something someone says---smile, and whether they realize it or not, offer them grace. If possible, maybe you can speak to them--kindly--about what they said later and invite them into a loving discussion. But if you're going to do that do it with an open heart and don't make it about being right or wrong. Make it about healing and reconciliation--which is what the Kingdom is all about.

Grace and Peace,

PS--here is a pretty good article that also talks about extending grace.

10 March 2012

Cheung Chau Retreat

Thursday afternoon I went with fellow missionary Joy to Cheung Chau, an island south of HK Island (still part of HK) for a couple of days of rest and relaxation.

L to R: Joy, Me, Sandra, Dave,
Christina, Penny, Linda
After a 30 minute ferry ride we walked to Bethany Ministries, a retreat centre for missionaries serving in Southeast Asia. We walked through part of the town and then down along the beach, then finally up a paved path (and I do mean uphill) until we reached Bethany. We were greeted by Sandra, one of the ladies who runs the place, and she showed us our rooms. We spent an hour or so getting settled before heading to the lodge for a family style dinner with the other guest there at the moment and the rest of the staff. The food was delicious and I had several helpings!

No Cars!
The next day I got up bright and early for breakfast then wandered off down one of the hiking paths. Hiking paths are paved in HK so they are easy to walk and are clearly defined. However, as I walked towards the coast I noticed off to the side a rock with Chinese writing on it and an arrow pointing down an un-paved path. Curiosity got the best of me and I made my way down, wishing fervently that I had done some research on what kind of snakes may or may not be lurking in the undergrowth.

My curiosity was rewarded, however. I came upon a rock formation that I scrambled up and had a view of the bay. Gorgeous. I sat there for a long time, enjoying the solitude, meditating, and praying. It was just what I needed.
Continuing down the path I came to a marker with writing on it (again, couldn't read) and followed the arrows until I came to a cave of sorts. Really it was just some rocks set upon each other with an area underneath that you could retreat into. There was writing all over the walls but I couldn't read any of it so I just took photos. (A friend and further research reveals that this is Lover's Cave, and the rock I had been sitting on for so long used to have a statue of the Monkey King on it.)

I went back to Bethany for a while and caught up on Internet Stuff. In the afternoon I headed back out to walk down the Mini Great Wall, snapping photos and praying for my camera battery to last. I got some great photos! It was beautiful and I enjoyed the fresh air and just being out in nature. I will never take for granted long walks in the woods again!!

Mini Great Wall
In the evening after supper we had a time of worship with the staff and other guests. We sang songs and prayed together and shared experiences. Overall it was a nice time, if a bit different from the liturgy and formality I'm used to as an Episcopalian. But, as they say, different strokes for different folks. "Where two or three are gathered, I am there." (Matt 18:20)

I was a bit sad to be leaving this wonderful little paradise on Saturday, but we had to get back for a volunteers party at St. John's. There are so many interns and volunteers with the Mission right now, and we come on different days and may not know each other, so we all had a get together to introduce each other. A few of my friends were there, Kyle and Sammie and Alexandra, and we went for coffee/frozen yogurt afterward and hung out for a while.

It was so lovely on Cheung Chau that I decided to go back during Holy Week. Our time there was a little chilly and rainy, so I'm hoping for better weather in April.

Grace and Peace,

08 March 2012

There is a Balm in Gilead

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work's in vain
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

These lines from the hymn There is a Balm in Gilead come to mind as I reflect on my experiences this week at the Labor Tribunal here in Hong Kong. 

It can be so disheartening, so disappointing sometimes. We hope and pray for justice and have to fight so hard for it. The more we fight, the more we still have to fight. After you climb one mountain there are many more ahead. But their perseverance, their commitment to their families, their courage in fighting it at all, their gratitude to those who reach out to help and support them--all of these things revive my soul. The Spirit moves through us and lives are changed. 

What can I offer to them, these precious children of God, that could ever possibly hope to heal the wounds they experience from injustice? I cannot truly offer anything--I can only hope to get myself out of the way so that the spirit can revive...

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

 If you can't preach like Peter, 
if you can't pray like Paul, 
go home and tell your neighbor
He died to save us all.

The chorus speaks to me of a balm that not only heals those who have been wounded but also those who, through their own sins, have wounded others. The last verse is a reminder that Jesus came for all. For the employer, for the client, for the presiding officer, for me, and for you. I may not have the gifts of evangelism or ardent prayerfulness, but I can tell the love of Jesus--the love of God for all people--through how I interact with others, through my relationships with others. I must not forget this important truth.

06 March 2012

Update on fasting, tribunals, and projects

Lent is underway and so is my fasting! I have to admit that while folks were visiting (David and the PB and Lynette from ENS) I accommodated their hospitality and did not hold to my fasting, but now they are gone and things have settled back into the normal routine. I notice now the abundance around me and the ease in which food can be obtained... we have free food here at the Mission, and there are a number of ways to get food anywhere I go. It's easy. But for many people in the world, it is not easy. So when my stomach starts growling in the afternoon I think about how easy it would be for me to grab a sandwich or go somewhere and buy food, but how there are so many in the world who do not have those options.

This week I am attending a couple of preliminary hearings for cases at the Labour Tribunal. Today I went with a client of the mission, a Sri Lankan man whose claims amounted to around HK$68000 (~US$8700). His employer is a British big-wig at some kind of finance company, and had employed the client for about 7 years... The presiding officer heard the evidence from both sides then tried to get them to come to some kind of settlement agreement. (That's what usually happens... they don't like going to trial..) I was heartened a bit when the officer told the employer that if he decided to go to trial then his chances were less than half.. so they ended up settling for HK$40000 (~US$5200). Not a bad agreement, I think both sides just wanted to be done with it, as they had not parted ways on good terms.

As I have said before, the main type of ministry I engage in is a ministry of presence. In the court room I can't speak. I can't jump up and say anything in defense of the client, or assist him in expressing succinctly what I know he is trying to say. I can't do anything--except bear witness to the proceedings and give the client confidence that no matter what happens, he knows he is not alone. While this particular case was not mine, his case officer is out of the country and Cynthia was not available to go to the hearing today so I volunteered to go, I had seen him around the Mission and exchanged a few words. He was always polite, kind, and there is a genuine goodness that just seems to radiate from him. Not once did he raise his voice during the proceedings and he maintained a calm demeanor throughout. During a break we talked a bit and he told me that what was frustrating was how he is treated because he is a domestic helper. He asserted the common humanity between he and his employer, how we are all human beings and that is our common denominator. We all want to provide for ourselves and our families, and nobody wants to be in such a contentious situation. After the case was settled we walked to the MTR station and we spoke a little about our faiths. He is Buddhist, I am Christian. We both share the belief that we should strive for a life of balance and compassion towards others. We offer help to others, and in turn when we need help, others offer help to us. We are all here to love and support each other through the trials of life. We parted ways then and I had to blink back tears in the station as he thanked me profusely for all of the help, for being there and supporting him, and for being here to serve others.

Tomorrow I am going with one of my clients to her preliminary hearing. She came to the Mission in October and has been dealing with issues surrounding her case since then. I don't know how it will go tomorrow, if it will go to trial or a settlement will be arranged. I only know that I will be there, supporting her in seeking justice and praying for both parties involved.

I continue working on the Data and Statistics project, compiling data and putting it in a compelling format. Tomorrow afternoon, Joy and I will head to Cheung Chau Island for a little retreat. She just recently returned from a trip to Thailand with some of the other missionaries in her program. Looks like they all had a great time, and from her tan they got a lot of sun! It's getting warmer, bit by bit, but still quite a bit rainy so I don't know if we'll get any beach time on Cheung Chau. I'm hoping to go for a hike along one of the trails while I'm there at least. (Hopefully not as cold and wet as the last time I went for a hike...)

Grace and Peace

01 March 2012

Happy March! and an important announcement...

Hello friends and happy March!

This month has certainly come in like a lion: it has been rainy for most of the week and I have been busy with visitors, projects, and cases. My main focus right now are the statistics booklet and the new database system. I will hopefully finish up the booklet today or at the very latest, early next week. It is an important tool for the Mission to show not only how it serves migrants but also in highlighting the issues that they face. It will show areas that need to be addressed by governments and ways people can step up and serve.

The case I went to yesterday with a client looked like it might go into a trial. She was claiming for her terminal payment--she worked for her employers for four years and they decided not to renew her contract. They claimed it was because she had disrespected the grandmother. If she was so disrespectful, why did they renew her contract after she finished the first? My suspicion is that they did not want to sign another contract with her so that they would not have to pay a long service payment--this happens a lot. So they create some reason why they did not renew the contract.

Anyway, the employer had not shown up for the Labour Relations Division conciliation so she filed at the Labour Tribunal. She had a strong case. But when we sat in the court, the presiding officer asked them to try again to conciliate and come to an agreement so they would not have to go to trial. The employer, employer's mother, the client, and me all went down to an office with a conciliation officer to try again. The employer offered to pay her $1800. Her claims were around $9000. I had to pinch my lips together not to laugh--what a low ball negotiation! So the client said she would be willing to take half, around $4500. The employer did not agree, so we went back up to the court room.

The presiding officer was not happy with the result. She basically bullied both my client and the employer into a settlement of one month's wages, $3580. I was a bit angry with her for not proceeding with the trial, but my client had agreed to it, and if she can live with that settlement then so can I. I just wish she had been able to get what she was entitled to, and it's sad when justice is abandoned for convenience.

So, I have an important announcement regarding my return date. During David's visit he and I talked at length about my work here, what I'm doing, General Convention, and my brother's wedding at the end of May. I will be attending General Convention this summer, July 5-12, speaking about the YASC program and promoting it. My brother is getting married at the end of May and I had already been cleared to return home to participate in it. Since I would be returning home early anyway for GC, we just decided that I would go home for good on May 14th. In effect I am leaving my post about two months early.. but this saves me time and jet-lag, not to mention the costly flights around the world.

In my last two and a half months here I will be focusing on my projects with the Mission and the ARMN and putting together an informative booklet for the next YASCer. An on-site guide would be quite helpful, especially in a busy place like Hong Kong. I am so grateful for all of the support I have received during my time, both here and back home. Please keep me in your prayers during my last few months here as I continue my projects and supporting the Mission.

Grace and Peace,