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.