21 February 2008

Out with a BANG!

We ended our trip through Asia with a bang -- in more ways than one. The first "bang" was witnessing just some of the incredible Kingdom work going on in & around Hong Kong (HK) by both nationals & foreigners. The past 4 1/2 months we've been in Asian countries where the percentage of Christians averages 2%, but in HK we were told the average was over 12%. In a way, this seemed a bit underestimated because most everyone we met were on fire and serving the HK community in amazing, innovative ways... Then again, HK is very populated, and like most big cities around the world, there are many lost & unreached people milling about... Suffice it to say, 10 days wasn't enough to connect with all the people we desired to connect with. We really hope to come back some day for another visit before heading to the mainland.

Another "bang" was the culture shock of being back in a modern area of the world. What challenged me was that HK is quite different, especially economically, from the first 7 months of our trip. I found myself working through some trust & worry issues that I thought I'd made significant progress on during this trip. Yet God spoke to me in many ways, both through people & scripture during our time in HK. I'm learning to trust Him in all areas of my life... but I'm sure this will be a life-long process.

The last & loudest "bang" were the incredible fireworks over central Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year, which we just happened to be there for.
I'd like to say that we had planned all along to be in HK at this time of year (i.e. looking ahead to determine the best time to spend our first visit and to experience the Chinese culture in such a westernized city), but I have to admit we didn't even realize the timing of it until well into our trip! The Chinese New Year is not like the New Year we're used to -- where the celebration is limited to one big night, some fireworks, a kiss to bring in the New Year, and/or a day off where some watch football and some celebrate with a couple family traditions like big plates of black-eyed-peas & collard greens (can you tell my heritage?). The Chinese New Year is a week-long family celebration where everyone travels to their home towns to connect with their extended family, give gifts (mostly little red envelopes filled with small amounts of money, which are passed on & received with 2 hands & a bow of the head), set off lots of fireworks to ward off the evil spirits, and eat lots of food. However in central HK, the official holiday is limited to only 3 days of celebrations, including a firework show over the city on only one night for all to enjoy and to ward off spirits together (instead of setting them off individually all over the city). The result of such a collaboration was the most amazing firework display -- 4 times bigger than I've EVER seen. (The picture really doesn't do it justice... our videos came out better.) I guess to ward off everyone's evil spirits at once... With all these "bangs" put together, it was quite a fun way to end our time in Asia.

Needless to say, our 10 days in HK were pretty full. We spent our first day with a friend from the International Sports Coalition (ISC) sports ministry conference in Pattaya, Thailand. He led us all over the north end of town visiting ministries, missionaries & organizations. One of which (Breakthrough) had already been suggested to me by several people, but since our friend does volunteer work for them, we were able to meet with a couple of the organization's leaders for almost 2 hours. They are doing some great, innovative & experiential work there, which I look forward to seeing & experiencing first-hand at some point in the future. Next we ate lunch with, visited the offices of, and prayed with the workers from Sports Services International, which is affiliated with the ISC, YWAM of Hong Kong, Sports Ministries Coalition, and Gateway Camp & Outreach. (Again, one of workers I had already met at the ISC conference in Pattaya, too.) After lunch we visited some amazing women working with Revival Chinese Ministry International. They shared stories of their experiences in the mainland and poured out their hearts & passions for this incredible ministry. We ended our day with a visit to our friend's church, Revival Christian Community (RCC) of Kwai Fong -- a vibrant & growing church which meets in an old movie theater! It was definitely a very full first day.

Other ministries & missionaries we spent time with throughout the other 9 days include Jeff & Janet Brice (pictured right) with the East-West Institute, Godwin, Jared, Jaya & Melanie with YWAM's Shanti ministries, YWAM's Brisbane, Australia DTS team, Craig, Tammy & their wonderful kids with One Voice, the McEntires & Woods family (pictured right)
supported by my home church (Montreat Presbyterian Church), High Rock Christian Centre & Ave Robinson with Mobile Mission Maintenance, Kam Yee Ho & other workers with St. Stephan's Society (Jackie Pullinger's ministry), and John Hsu a long-time missionary, trainer, and friend of our parents.

On Sunday, we visited 3 churches -- the RCC in Kwai Fong with our sports ministry friend, the Vineyard Church which Jackie Pullinger leads, and St. Andrew's Methodist with Jeff & Janet Brice. Each service was very unique yet rooted in the Spirit. It was wonderful to see so many different Believers worshipping together in the same place. Next time we'd love to visit some of the other growing churches that we heard about in the area, because there just wasn't time this time to travel all over the city, let alone eat lunch in between, to check out all the places of worship.

The rest of our time in HK we spent visiting with our amazing host (Jason Hinojosa) who has become like a brother to us, hanging out some with his friends, hiking the beautiful mountains of HK, taking a boat ride with a number of the HK International School staff & friends, joining the throngs of people at the Chinese New Year parade, and eating dinner with Elizabeth & David's old friend Alex & his beautiful wife & daughter.

Again, our time in HK was very full. Overall, though, we were amazed by all that God is doing there. Many of these people shared with us their deep passions and really inspired us in our walk. Unfortunately, though, our time ran out so quickly that we missed out on meeting with 4 other people we wanted to visit.

Now, as we've moved on & down to New Zealand, we are quickly getting connected with the Body as best we can. We're not sure of our plans for the south island (which is where we are currently), but the north island contacts are really coming together (even though we won't be there until after Easter). Nevertheless, we are moving forward & only God knows what will happen when we leave Christchurch, aka "the city of Christ" as the Chinese translate it. As always, we wonder what God has planned for us next.

02 February 2008

Long Live the King

"Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Heaven's Armies - he is the King of glory." Psalm 24:10 NLT

I have to admit that it is hard for me to understand this concept of "king". My comprehension of this personification was limited by being raised in an independently-minded culture where democracy is idolized. The idea of subserviant submission challenges my "American" ideas of "free thinking" and "free speech". The closest I've ever come to understanding the idea of royalty are the British crown and the midevil tyrant-like monarchies.

Yet after spending so much time in Thailand within the last 3 months I have a whole new perspective and appreciation for the term "King" because the Thai really love their king. We were warned from the very beginning to never say anything negative about him, lightly joke about him, or even step on a Baht note (Thai currency) if you accidently drop it because it bears his image. This adoration for their king is well-founded though. He is a very good & respectable king, and he has done so much for his people.

My friend Emily pointed out to me recently: wouldn't it be wonderful if all Christians could show this kind of adoration to the King of kings? That statement started me thinking about our irreverent detatchment, especially as a western culture, from God. I'm not saying all Christians are like this... many show awe toward the Creator. Unfortunately though some limit God only to a counselor in times of trouble. How would it tranform the Church (and therefore the whole world) if Christians really understood how much more God really is & the magnitude of His love for us? Many times I have been brought to tears by the Newboys' song: "Amazing love how can it be that you my King would die for me? Amazing love I know it's true. It's my joy to honor you. With all I do, I honor you."

In fact, the difference between our Heavenly King and the Thai king is that many fear the inevitable death of the their beloved earthly king because his successor is less than desirable, but no one really ever needs to fear the death of our beloved living Father. "All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

Our time in Thailand just ended with a couple weeks that were quite different to our time in Laos. After heading over the boarder into northern Thailand, we were received by the Haynes family in Chiang Rai who gave us the nurturing that we needed desperately. We were amazed by the Haynes family -- all 5 of them (William, Cindy, Emily, John William & Marshall) having such generous hearts... and an incredible family cookbook with some delicious recipes.

During our 5 days there, we helped a YWAM d.t.s. team build a bamboo fence, visited the Family Learning Center several times, saw an energy-filled performance by the Christian band "Isarapap" out of Bangkok, toured Home of the Open Heart a ministry "caring for HIV/AIDS orphans & their families", spent a Saturday with Ruth Fox (American Baptist Association) & Paul Pierson (Mission to Unreached People Society) who shared their stories from the heart with us, checked out a couple of Chiang Rai's temples, supported a Christian hill tribe village by taking an elephant ride, and finally visited Vern McCally to learn about the Eden House (a Project LIFE project/YWAM ministry which "extracts" young girls from extreme "at risk" situations & provides care for them in an orphanage-style setting).

Aside from all the visits with various ministries and with the amazing Haynes family, I had an infection on my foot treated at a Christian hospital for only $33. Amazing, eh? Makes me think of Michael Moore's recent film "Sicko"... and glad I haven't had to pay exhorbent prices for all the health care I've had to received over the past few months.

After Chiang Rai we went to Chiang Mai and stayed (for 10 days) with our gracious host Karen Thomson -- an amazing woman who has been working in Chiang Mai for 8 years with CBN Siam. While there, Hope took traditional northern Thai massage & foot reflexology courses, and I visited with some amazing youth workers & missionaries, including Steve & Tirzah Gibboney with Chiang Mai Community Church, Mel Walters with Christian Outreach Center of Thailand & the Haven Project, Norbert & Cathy Baner of DTST-Asia & Vineyard Community Church, the Haynes' friend Tessa Hershberger with The Centre, our friend Greg whom we met at the sports ministry conference in Pattaya, and the Alexanders' daughters Annie & Emily plus Emily's beautiful daughters Vera & Lydia.

Over the weekend, we took it easy, visited with Karen, and checked out an elephant project. On Sunday Karen took us to Thammanikhom Church (a Church of Christ Thailand with a Presbyterian Church affiliation) where we met Joan & Allen Eubank -- American residents of Thailand more than 40 years... and still going strong! When we met them, they were hosting "mission tour" group from the States which we tagged along with after a "cultural" church service & lunch for their afternoon activities -- visiting a "dormitory" program for hill tribe children. Next we drove into town & arrived just in time for the youth service at Chiang Mai Community Church in which I gave a testimony about our unique journey. Out of that testimony God presented us a number of open doors that we are currently trying to pursue for New Zealand.

Then, in our second week in Chiang Mai, the dynamic duo joined forces again to visit with some more amazing people, including a few from the Eubanks' visiting "mission tour" team, a Montreat College graduate friend in town from China for a conference, Rev. Esther Wakeman, Ph. D., who is the Vice-President for Student Development and Religious Affairs at Payap University, Esther's husband Rob Collins who is about to retire from leading the Christian Communications Institute started by Joan & Allen Eubank which communicates "faith through Thai culture", Bill Yoder (another Thai mission veteran) who just retired from PC-USA missions with Payap University, the staff of the Garden of Hope which "helps nurture new beginnings" by "offering choices for life" (to those seeking refuge from the sex trade industry), our new friend Grace who we met in Satun (southern Thailand) in mid-December - picture, and Mark Crawford & 3 of his kids who introduced us to the amazing ministry of Agape Home "for babies & children with HIV/AIDS" (Avis, the founder, has been so faithful to God's call on her life & she's still actively involved... we caught up with her while she gave children haircuts in her office).

Obviously, we stayed very busy in Chiang Mai -- observing incredible ministries and learning about so many opportunities to serve. We didn't even have time to visit with everyone we'd hoped to, so I'd love to come back one day to spend some more quality time. In fact, if you have any desire to work with young people here or anywhere else we've been -- at the university level, in churches, in orphanages or on the streets -- please let me know and connect you with the right people.

Our last few days in Thailand we spent in Bangkok trying to fit in a few visits with "old" new friends and with a friend of a friend (Benjamin) who works in children's ministries (King's Kids) through YWAM. We also attended a very emotionally transparent & humbly honest Sunday morning service at Evangelical Church of Bangkok.

The last 3 months in SE Asia were very blessed. We are so thankful for the privilege and pray to have the chance to return to this unique & beautiful part of God's creation.

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue our journey through Hong Kong for 10 days and then on to New Zealand. As usual we are walking in faith, not knowing what God has in store for us. Please continue to pray for strength, energy, good health, ministry contacts, and discernment of His will as we travel.