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

1 comment:

  1. This was very touching Kathleen. It brought me to tears. I have taken my life and freedom for granted and through reading your experience I have a new found appreciation for... everything. Thank you for sharing. You're a beautiful, wonderful person inside and out. I'm so glad you could be a shining light for those in darkness. That's what you've always been to me. XOXO