Sunday, December 30, 2012
…But we can't go inside!!!
I spent 11 hours outside today. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees all day, but I'm not sure what the wind chill was… The Observatory doesn't report that. Suffice to say it was considerably cooler than 50 with the breeze blowing. For those of you who are reading this with snow on the ground outside your window, you might not have much sympathy for how cold my friends and I were today. I understand that. When I first arrived in Hong Kong 5 months ago and it was 100 degrees outside with a relative humidity in the 90s, I scoffed at the suggestion that I would ever be cold in this subtropical climate. As is frequently the case, I was wrong.
The Mission held an event today designed to "give care" to the domestic workers who constantly care for others. I arrived at 7am for event set up and spent most of the day on the "Information" team… Distributing flyers about the event and sitting at a booth answering questions. Free services were provided to migrant workers-- wellness services such as massage, reflexology, blood pressure and glucose screenings, 30 minutes of internet access, and an entire booth devoted to the counseling we normally do in the office-- all brought outside to Chater Garden.
In a previous post, I explained that many domestic workers are forced to spend their day off outside the place where they live-- their employer's home. Come extreme heat, torrential rain, harsh wind, or bitter cold, whatever the weather conditions, they are outside on their day off. Walking down Chater Road today, the temperature drop was evident. Some domestic workers were not even visible underneath their makeshift tents of blankets and cardboard boxes.
A common line in a meal time prayer is to ask God to "make us ever mindful of the needs of others." As I sit comfortably in my apartment slowly warming back up after a long day, I am so thankful to have protection from the elements and reminded that too many people in this world do not. I choose to spend my Sundays outside with the domestic helpers, but they are offered no such choice. While I pray for everyone in the world without decent shelter, I'm so thankful to have an opportunity here in Hong Kong to work with a specific population toward a specific goal of making life better for migrant workers.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Celebrating the quintessential American holiday in a cross-cultural context really made me evaluate everything I appreciate and everything I take for granted! I am beyond blessed to be able to spend this time in Hong Kong and I'm thankful for everyone who made it possible.
I also thank God for:
-your prayers that cover me, despite the oceans and continents that separate us
-family and friends back home, who provide an amazing support system
-Skype, which keeps me connected to loved ones
-new friends in Hong Kong, who make life here more enjoyable than I could have imagined
-the inspiring women and men I work with, who tirelessly pursue justice and a better life for migrants
-the staff at 815, who support me in this endeavor
The highlight of my first Thanksgiving abroad was teaching my British friends' sons how to draw a handprint turkey. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything as adorable as a little boy repeatedly saying "This is very clever!" while coloring in his turkey.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you're enjoying your long weekend!
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Learning a new language is tough. At least, it is for me. I am constantly in awe of people who speak multiple languages, especially those who do it with apparent ease. As all of my French teachers can attest, I am not naturally gifted with language learning.
Would you like to know another area I'm not particularly gifted in? Teaching. Sure, I do okay when I have a lesson plan and 6-8 elementary aged kids in a Sunday school class. The only reason I can do a passable job there is because I've had a week to prepare in advance.
It occurs to me today that there's much about my work in Hong Kong that I haven't shared with you- about the basic issues surrounding foreign domestic helpers, about the way the migrant community works together, about why it's important that I'm here and everything I'm learning. I haven't shared much of that for several reasons. I don't update my blog that often, and when I do, I don't want to bore you with a novel-length post. Also, I'm still in the early stages of the learning process, even after two months. I'm just now beginning to understand some of the aspects of the work here.
A little background I find important to impart in this particular post: foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) have a contract with the Immigration Department, the Labour Department, and their individual employers. This contract stipulates a number of things, but there are two points I'll focus on today. 1) FDHs are required by law to live in their employer's homes. The contract states that the employer must provide reasonable private accommodations for the employee, but many times that doesn't happen. 2) Employers are required to give FDHs one rest day per week. Usually, this day occurs on Sunday.
At home in the States, or here in Hong Kong, when I have a day off (or sometimes just in the evening after work), I can easily invite my friends to my home. We cook and eat together, we watch tv or listen to music, we sit around and talk. We're pretty much at leisure to do what we want, where we want, when we want. For the most part, FDHs do not enjoy that luxury. They do not have space of their own to spend time with their friends and their time off is strictly dictated by their employers.
My Lonely Planet Hong Kong City Guide describes the Sunday situation like this: "While Indonesians descend on Victoria Park and the Nepalese prefer Tsim Sha Tsui on their one day off a week (usually Sunday), Filipino [FDHs] take over the pavements and public squares of Central. They come in thousands to share food, gossip, play cards, read the Bible and do one another's hair and nails."
By this point, I'm sure you're thinking, "Okay, Grace, what do language learning, teaching, and Sundays have to do with each other and why are you telling me all of this?" That's an excellent question. Here's an answer- I was invited to spend the afternoon with a group of Thai FDHs in Kowloon City today. Once a month, they have English lessons in a primary school building. I unexpectedly found myself teaching a bit of my native language, with no prior preparation, and with increasing respect for my foreign language teachers. As fellow intern Beth and I gave an impromptu lesson on telling time in English, I remembered all those lessons I received on how to tell time in French.
|I wrote questions and answers on the board.|
|Then Beth and I took turns pronouncing them with the Thai ladies.|
The Thai ladies were much more grateful than I ever was to be receiving a foreign language lesson. To my extremely patient and very talented teachers- Mme. Thompson, Prof. Fortin, and Dr. Day- thank you for your tolerance and perseverance in trying to teach me something that doesn't come easily to me and for providing inspiration as I seek to instruct others.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
In my life, cookie making is a sacred event. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to give a baking lesson last week at the shelter.
There's not a lot in life that a warm chocolate chip cookie can't fix, at least for a few seconds while it melts in your mouth.
I was equally delighted when I was approached about another lesson this week.
While waiting for the banana bread to bake, we talked about favorite foods from different regions.
I'm under no illusions that I'm actually teaching anything; more accurately, I'm learning from the wealth of experience and life lessons these women have to teach me. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to know them and share a little of their lives, if only for a few hours while we swap stories of home.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Despite the fact that I've been in Hong Kong for almost two months, there's still so much I don't know about the neighborhood around my flat. True to my character, I've fallen into a routine that generally doesn't deviate much from day to day. I go to work the same way every day, I go to the same stores to pick up food or other essentials. In a volunteer position that is constantly changing, where each work day is only predictable in its inherent unpredictability, I seek constants where I can.
It's my day off, so this afternoon I thought I'd try something different. I decided to venture to a grocery store I'd heard about that I was told was "just up the hill." (Side note: everything in Hong Kong is "just up the hill" so one never really knows what that means.) I looked up the location on Google Maps and was informed it was only 1km away from home. Right then, I thought, no problem. So off I went, with my shopping bag and some cash. (Another side note: if you're reading my blog in the hope of vicariously experiencing some sort of exotic adventure, I'd advise you to check out some of my fellow YASCers' blogs to the right hand side of this paragraph. This is a pretty boring post; it really is just some commentary about a mundane trip to the grocery store!)
As soon as I got downstairs, I felt a few light drops of rain. Also true to my character, I forged ahead without my umbrella. I started out on a road I walk every day. Then I veered off in the direction I knew I needed to go. After the third turn, I encountered an intersection I haven't ever seen before. Roads are not marked in Hong Kong the same way they are in Kentucky and for all those back home, let me say that this particular intersection would make Spaghetti Junction look as simple as a child's wooden figure eight railroad track. I stood on top of a foot bridge for a while, sweating from the humidity and trying to decide which way to go without a map. The rain was still falling lightly, so I didn't want to get too far off the familiar path. In a fit of indecision, I descended the stairs from the footbridge and went another way. After encountering a few dead ends, I returned to the footbridge, still unsure of my location relative to the illusive grocery store. Still I hesitated to move forward, just standing there trying to decide what to do. At length, I took three more steps, and I suddenly saw the grocery store sign in the distance.
If you're still reading, you may be wondering why I wasted the last few minutes of your life imparting a story about wandering around Hong Kong on a Monday afternoon. I have a point, I promise. As the grocery store came into view, I was struck by the analogy formed by the journey. How often does indecision, fear, exhaustion, or confusion keep me from finding and having good things in my life? When I'm willing to take those three extra steps in faith, without being sure of the outcome, I'm usually pleasantly surprised by what happens next. Christians are quick to quote Jeremiah 29:11 as reassurance of the good things God has in store, but I wonder how often I am able to undermine potential blessings with my own hesitation to move forward?
Again, you may be thinking that finding deep, philosophical meaning in a trip to the grocery store is quite a stretch. Maybe it is. But as I wandered up and down every aisle, just like my grandpa taught me when I was a kid, I found something holy about getting where I was going today.
|Fish waiting to be purchased (and eaten) at the grocery store.|
Sorry I don't have more pics to share today!
Saturday, September 22, 2012
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." --Matthew 25:35-36
I recently attended the blessing, reopening, and anniversary celebration of the main Bethune House shelter.
There are many stories I could tell about the gathering, about the residents, about the reopened shelter itself, but I feel that being too specific might do a disservice to the general spirit of the place and the people who work so tirelessly for the rights and protection of domestic helpers.
Instead, I will share some pictures from the event and leave you with part of a prayer from the blessing of the reopened Bethune House shelter.
|Residents and volunteers preparing food in the shelter kitchen prior to the celebration|
|A few of the current residents|
|Spending time in the common area before the festivities commenced|
|Everyone gathering outside as the blessing began|
Holy God whose name is not honored where the needy are not served, and the powerless continue to be treated with contempt: may we embrace our neighbor with the same tenderness we ourselves require so your justice may be fulfilled in love. Bless and prosper Bethune House…that it may continue its ministry without fail: a shelter, a refuge, our home away from home.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Monday, September 10, 2012
In honor of my mother-in-law's birthday, I'm posting a picture of two of her favorite things: kids and choir. Happy birthday, Rhonda!
The Children's Choir of St. John's Cathedral did a wonderful rendition of The B-I-B-L-E yesterday to honor the incoming Dean of the Cathedral and his family at a welcome lunch.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I have an unfortunate tendency to giggle when I'm uncomfortable. It gets me into trouble. Laughing at the most inconvenient times- when someone gets hurt, when there's tension between people in a room, when I've embarrassed myself- is rude at best and extremely hurtful at worst.
Now that I've shared a humiliating personal flaw with everyone on the internet, take a moment to imagine my dismay when I felt giggles bubbling up into my chest when I witnessed a disgusting act of discrimination today, committed against my coworker. We were trying to enter a restroom, my coworker was in front of me. Several people had entered before us when the restroom attendant suddenly appeared and denied access to my coworker while welcoming me into the restroom. It happened so fast, I really didn't know what to do. It's one of those things that I was completely blindsided by and in hindsight, I had a thousand responses for the transgressor, but in that moment, I could only stand with my mouth slightly gaping, trying really hard not to giggle.
Never have I felt more useless. I should have defended my coworker, I should have fought for her rights, at the very least, I should have had a strongly worded response for the offender. All I could do was stare at the restroom attendant and ask "why?" when she refused my coworker entry and encouraged me to come on in. I don't think of my coworker any differently than I do myself. In fact, I probably think more highly of her than I do myself. So I was completely baffled when someone else looked at the two of us standing next to each other and determined that I was acceptable and she was not. I wasn't about to enter the restroom when my coworker wasn't allowed. That action confused the restroom attendant, who went back inside and locked both of us out.
My lovely friend, whom I learn from and laugh with, the lady I called when I found a lizard in my hairbrush tonight, the child of God who was made in His image as surely as I was, the warrior who campaigns for the rights of domestic helpers, was denied access to a restroom simply because she looks different than I do.
I'm not naive enough to think racism doesn't exist. I know it's alive and well in all parts of the world. I know the fact that I'm a white American shields me from much exposure to it. Hong Kong bills itself as a "world class city." As long as behaviors like the one I witnessed today happen with any sort of regularity or acceptance, I think there's still a lot of progress to be made before that's an accurate title.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
During my short time here, I have done a variety of things I'd never experienced before:
--I have talked with domestic helpers who have been abused by their employers
and have been cheated out of money through illegal agency fees.
|--I have witnessed live seafood waiting to be cooked.|
|--I have attended a beach party thrown by Mission for Migrant Workers.|
|--I have participated an Eid-al-Fitr celebration in Victoria Park.|
--As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I visited a shelter last week.
I tell you all of this to give you a little bit of context for what I've been doing since I arrived in Hong Kong and put the following statement in perspective…
By far, the strangest, most foreign thing I've experienced here is that the fax machine doesn't print a confirmation page after the fax is sent. :)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Yesterday I attended orientation to Mission for Migrant Workers. During the presentation, three main topics were addressed: the plight of the migrant worker, how Mission for Migrant Workers got started, and what Mission for Migrant Workers does to aid domestic helpers in distress.
Today, my fellow volunteer Joy took me to visit a shelter. I really wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I was excited for the opportunity to spend time with the women. The first thing I noticed after entering the shelter were the smiles on the women's faces. They didn't know me at all, but they were so welcoming. We spent the next few hours there. I briefed two women for their upcoming appointments at the Labour Department. They looked so, so young to me. In Hong Kong, you have to be 21 to work as a domestic helper; however, many of the Indonesians are able to lie about their ages to get work. I don't know if that is the case for the two women I spoke with, but my goodness, they seemed young… Too young to have to be fighting court battles over unpaid wages. (Side note: I realize there's never an appropriate age to be mistreated. The reality just seems particularly harsh when looking into such youthful faces!) After I spoke with the two individuals, I participated in group English lessons. I also tried to learn some basic words in Bahasa Indonesia. I think it will take me a few more visits before I can remember them!
About halfway through our visit, a wonderful meal was presented to us. I was concerned that only two plates were provided for an entire room of people until Joy reminded me that the women living in the shelter are observing Ramadan. I was completely humbled by their hospitality in allowing us to eat while they were fasting. Of course, there were quite a few giggles among the group about my struggle with spicy food. Even Joy said it was very spicy for Indonesian cuisine. I drank probably a gallon of water and kept repeating "terima kasih" every time they refilled my glass. It was quite a sight to behold, I'm sure, but the women were so good humored. I look forward to visiting with them again.
At the end of the MFMW orientation yesterday, Cynthia summed up the discussion by saying, "We are happy to be here. We are sad to be here." I couldn't help but think of that statement today. I was so happy to be in the company of these courageous, joyful women, but I was sad that visiting them in a shelter meant that they had been so mistreated that they had no where else to go. Will you please pray for the women I met today, as well as the other migrant workers, whose lives and livelihoods are in flux as they await court decisions?
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui's Missionary Area of Macau. The hospitality I have received in the Anglican Province of Hong Kong since I arrived has far exceeded my expectations and the visit to Macau was no exception. After arriving at Macau via ferry, we were taken on a tour of two community centers, two churches and an Anglican school. My favorite part was talking to some of the kids that the community centers serve.
|With Father Bruce Woodcock, the daycare class, and their two teachers|
In 2009, Macau surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenue. There are currently 34 casinos operating in Macau and 7 more will open in the next year. Over 50% of Macau's population works in the casino industry. One of the community centers we visited operates a gambling addiction recovery service.
|Just part of one of the newest casinos|
While standing on the balcony of that center, we could see two high-rise apartment buildings right next to each other. One building is government housing where each apartment costs around $10,000 US. The other is a luxury complex where units are sold for over $1million US. I've not yet been in Hong Kong a week, but what's struck me the most so far is the economic disparity here. I have a feeling that understanding will increase as I begin work next week at Mission for Migrant Workers.
Also while in Macau, I saw Mainland for the first time and enjoyed delicious Portuguese food! I will definitely return to Macau if I get an opportunity!
Monday, August 6, 2012
So much has happened since I last updated my blog from Canada! I arrived in Hong Kong on August 3. The past three days have been a whirlwind! In some ways, it feels like I've been here longer, but that may be because I've done so much in the short time.
Of all the meetings, conversations, outings, and explorations, the most important thing I've done here so far is attend a church service at the Cathedral. When reorienting myself in any new situation, I find church to be the most grounding experience.
I was excited to see that St. John's has a labyrinth. I will be taking advantage of that while I'm here.
I plan to start work next week, so this week is a bit of getting acquainted with Hong Kong and a bit of discussion with my new supervisors and colleagues. Has anything exciting happened with you while I've been away? Feel free to share below!
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Being on the campus of Victoria University the past seven days, I've heard many different languages. Our program shares space with camps for kids from all over the world. At meal times, its much more likely to hear a language that is foreign to me than my own native tongue. I've been told that Canadians value multiculturalism. This is evidenced when I've walked around the city. On the way to the coffee shop, art museum, live music, or even the quest for poutine, many languages are spoken by pedestrians on the street.
This morning, I was blessed by attending two services at Toronto Chinese United Church- one in English and one in Cantonese. It was the first time I've participated in worship in one of the (many!) languages spoken in Hong Kong. During coffee hour, I spoke with a young woman who was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada with her family at the age of 5. She was able to share some of her own insights about Hong Kong. I don't know that anyone from Toronto Chinese United Church will ever stumble across my blog, but if so, I'd like to extend my thanks to the congregation for the gracious and hospitable welcome I received.
Orientation is going well. I believe we're building a wonderful community here between newbies (like me!) and more seasoned veterans of mission. I know I'm learning a lot by listening to the stories of my fellow YASCers as we embark on our separate journeys together. I've enjoyed spending time with my three lovely suite mates from the ELCA. During the day off yesterday, I went with a group of orientation participants to Niagara Falls. Between the actual training sessions and extracurricular activities, I'm pretty tired and feeling a little under the weather (which may be evidenced by the picture I posted from this morning!) Will you please pray for me and for all the participants, facilitators, and denomination staff as we head into week two of orientation? Pray for our strength, health, positive attitudes, and a continued openness to God's working in our lives. Thank you so much, friends. I really am excited that you're participating in this journey with me!
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Today I'm packing to spend two weeks in Toronto for global ministry orientation. I'm excited to meet back up with my fellow YASCers as we prepare to move to our respective placements. Will you please pray that we all have open hearts and minds as we learn how best to serve God, the Church, and our mission placements?
I'm thrilled to share with you that I've raised $9,500 of the $10,000 I need for my mission in Hong Kong! Thanks to everyone who has supported me both financially and with prayer. Your affirmation of my ministry is more encouraging than I can possibly express.
Does anyone have suggestions about what to do with any free time we might have in Toronto? I've never been to Canada, so I'm open to any recommendations you might have!
Saturday, May 5, 2012
I saw something on tv this morning about Hong Kong… It was one of those cable travel shows. Sometimes its hard for me to believe that I'll be there in less than three months! I'm even more amazed about how much information is available online about a city half way across the world. I've taken my friends and family on a virtual tour of a city I've never seen via Google Maps. I also wanted to share a couple links with you that are particularly relevant to my work in Hong Kong. First, the church I'm partnering with in Hong Kong is St. John's Cathedral. Second, Mission for Migrant Workers also has a website. Check them out!
Monday, April 30, 2012
Just over two years ago, when my husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, people started asking me if I would start a blog to share our journey and my feelings about it. I am a fairly private person and the thought of sharing that part of my life so publicly was overwhelming, not to mention that there weren't enough hours in the day! After he passed away, I was urged again to write about my experiences as a young widow, but that also felt too intimate to be shared on the Internet.
Now, it's different. I have GOOD news to share, both personally as well as part of my mission with the Young Adult Service Corps and the Episcopal Church. That's the whole point, right? The first goal of the Five Marks of Mission is "to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom." Don't get me wrong, not every post here will be theologically profound. Certainly between now and the time I arrive in Hong Kong, I'll be posting nerdy things like "I bought an Apple World Travel Adapter set today, so now I'll be able to charge my computer in Hong Kong" (true story- did that today!)... But it is my good news. So to both my faithful friends who have seen me through my darkest days and my new partners in mission, I welcome you all to my blog. I will endeavor to keep you up to date on my progress as I prepare for my trip and my status once I arrive.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am humbled to share with you an exciting development in my life. I have accepted a one-year missionary assignment to Hong Kong with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) through the Episcopal Church. I will be serving with an organization called Mission For Migrant Workers.
The Mission for Migrant Workers is an ecumenical organization that provides assistance to migrant workers who are in distress. Many domestic helpers in Hong Kong have left their native countries to earn money to send home to support their families. Frequently, these women are abused and mistreated by their employers. The Mission for Migrant Workers is committed to helping migrant workers help themselves. Part of that process involves a transitional women’s shelter where I will spend much of my time.
I am ecstatic about this opportunity. God has granted me a peace about this decision that is unprecedented in my life. I truly believe God has been preparing me for this assignment through the events in my life thus far. I am blessed to be a part of an amazing, supportive community and I know I can’t embark on this adventure alone. I am writing to you today to ask that you participate in this journey with me. First and foremost, I need your prayers. I know that this year abroad is about so much more than me. Will you please pray with me that I would be a servant to God’s redemptive plan in the lives of the migrant workers? Will you please pray that God’s love and reconciliation will surround the migrant workers who are in crisis? Second, will you prayerfully consider financially supporting me in this mission? The average cost of sending one YASC volunteer overseas is $22,500. That covers a round trip ticket to Hong Kong, housing and a monthly stipend, health insurance, visas, orientation and debriefing, evacuation insurance, in-country language learning, and a $1000 repatriation allowance when I return. The good news is that the Episcopal Church covers over half of that amount. So that means I need to raise $10,000 between now and July in order to go to Hong Kong. Your tax-deductible gift will make a tremendous difference. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in making a donation.
Honestly, I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness and provision of a plan for my life. A few years ago, I would have laughed if someone had told me I’d be living in Hong Kong for a year! Now, I am confident that God’s plans are so much bigger than I can comprehend, even when painful and confusing events occur. I know how important prayer support is. Your prayers have kept me afloat through some terribly tumultuous times. Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I continue to seek God’s will in my life.
Blessings to you,