After arriving at Hong Kong airport on June 22nd and exchanging some money, i found a $40 (hkd) (5.5usd) bus to the city. There was very little other than trees and hills and sea for the first 30 minutes, and i was starting to wonder if this was really the super city i had heard about. Well, that was answered quite breathtakingly after coming around one curve to see what may be the largest container dock in the world – what a sight! The mounds of containers forming a little city by themselves, with 5 or 6 huge cargo ships willing to piggyback them to ports afar….just thinking about how much time and energy went into just getting all these containers to this one place, let alone producing all the stuff that is in them is mind-boggling. Yet, somehow it gets done.
The Seventh-day Adventist church in Happy Valley (love that name!) is having Prayer Meeting as i arrive. It is all in Cantonese, so i just sit in the back and look thru the hymnal. There are only 5 attendees, and as they break up to leave they ask me individually about where i’m from, my purpose here, and where i’m staying. When i tell them i might stay at the McDonald’s or in the park, they look a little flustered, and walk off, except for the young man who calls a friend who he thinks might be able to help me, but gives up when no one answers.
So i see them all off, then sit down on the steps to spend the nite. Fortunately there is a ledge high above the door which keeps out most of the rain, as the last stages of a tropical storm pass over. It is a good time to reflect on the goodness of the Lord, and think about the many things that have happened in my life. To enjoy a passing cloud, to hear a bullfrog praising God, to see the rain coming down in sheets in the lights of the horse racetrack over in the distance, to see the parade of luxury cars and taxis going by, feeling the wetness, feeling the hardness, all the sensory things that make life, life……to wish for sleep – ha! Sleep finally does arrive around 3am, as i learn i don’t have to just sit, i can actually lay down (a little slow on things). My bottom on my pants gets a big red “C” on it from the plastic bag i’ve put under me to keep me dry, but it just brings a smile to me and many memories of the supermarket i got that bag at in Thailand over a year earlier, and of course of the many people i met and stayed with there, and what “might have happened”, had the school kept going, had the friend decided to start our own school, etc etc.
Morning comes early, and hot. I’ve had a long sleeve shirt on all nite, partly because of the chill, but also to keep the mosquitos off, and it has worked perfectly, for which i’m most thankful. Taking it off to reveal just the short sleeve shirt below feels nice for a while, but then the red, itching welts pop up pretty quickly, forcing me to get a move on. There are 7-11s everywhere, and like in many SE Asian countries there is a huge selection of different kinds of soy drinks to choose from – yum. The nuts and raisins brought from Japan are enjoyed in a little park with the soy milk and rolls. Breadmaking skills never really arrived in the Far East outside of the former French areas, but it is palatable.
The Chinese Union Mission office is my main goal for the day, so i head off to the subway (MTR) to the place where i found it on the web. I really hate Google, but their map search is the best i know of. Today tho, it produces an epic fail. No one around the station where i get off, and go to the place marked on the map has even heard of the area, let alone the building name! I quickly find out that Hong Kong is very different from my expectations of something similar to Singapore in English skills, as i find many people cannot even read English, let alone speak it. In the city center there are lots of foreign-looking people, and lots of signs in English, but just a couple of miles from there plants you firmly in Chinese-speaking territory. Finally one man pronounces the address i’ve written in Roman letters, in Cantonese, and tells me i need to go to a place 4 train stops away. How to find the place once i get there? I have not a clue, but have come this far so……. Getting off at that station i look for an area map, when i notice right below the exit sign a list of places it serves, and there is the name of the building i’m looking for! Thank you Lord for helping me this far.
The Chinese Union Mission office is located on the 12th floor of an office building way outside of the city center, in a mostly residential area. The lady i’d contacted before on the internet seems a bit flumfluxxed about why i’ve come, but quickly becomes very friendly and helpfully introduces me to the publishing director who talks with me over 20 minutes about this book and Ellen White. We have some common ground as he went to school at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee (i didn’t go to school there, but have been there many times), but lose our common ground when he says regarding Ellen White books being published in the Chinese language: “We have too many Ellen White books already”. Perhaps he meant that there are many books not being read enough, but more talking reveals that he has some problems with Ellen White. He gives the same reasons as many others have about why this 1858 edition of The Great Controversy is not necessary, with the main reason being that Ellen White got better and better as she went along, and corrected her earlier works. Ouch. I agree that everything has to be read in context, but believe there are no mistakes in the earlier works. He then shows his views regarding the Bible, as he says Paul told the people in Corinth that a woman should cover her head, and not teach over a man, but that was just because Corinth was such a wicked place. So we must consider all the context of everything written. I keep mostly quiet, but demure a bit, saying that all the words in the Bible are inspired, to which he seems to politely disagree. He mentions that next year the General Conference is instructing to print many Great Controversy books, to which he shows his reluctance to perform, saying that he would rather give Desire of Ages to someone who doesn’t even know about Christ, unlike those in Western societies. I agree that to non-Christians, Steps to Christ should come before The Great Controversy.
At the end he relates an interesting story, and his even more interesting take on it. After asking me if i’m Adventist to which i assure strongly that i have been all my life, to which he says means “nothing” because maybe i’m “Reform” or something, he asks me what my impression is of Belshazzar. I tell him i think he was a party-going king, and he begins to tell about a group of people in mainland China who love Ellen White books and read them all the time. He said they told him that Ellen White writes that Belshazzar repented, and even called on the name of Jesus! He said he couldn’t believe it, and thot it must be a translation mistake, but when he went home, he read the English and it was essentially as they had said! He asked how i account for that, and i said i would have to see it all in context, to which he agreed, and after prayer we amicably parted company. I couldn’t help thinking even as we were talking tho, that while he’s saying we don’t need more Ellen White books, he agrees that we should read all her works in order to get the proper context, hmmmmm.
Later in the day i check the Ellen White writings, and do find the quote in Testimonies for the Church Vol.26: “I have been shown what man is without a knowledge of the will of God. Crimes and iniquity fill up the measure of his life. But when the Spirit of God reveals to man the full meaning of the law, what a change takes place in his heart. Like Belshazzar he reads intelligently the hand-writing of the Almighty and conviction takes possession of his soul. The thunders of God’s word startle him from his lethargy and he calls for mercy in the name of Jesus.” This is so clearly not referring to Belshazzar having repented, but to the fact that there are people which have conviction of soul when God points out their sins. It is distressing to think that a leader in our church cannot help correct such a simple erroneous interpretation (or translation) held by some well-meaning members who are reading to come to an understanding of the truth.
I’m directed to go to the Hong Kong Macao Conference office in the city, and it is easy to find Even tho there is a big meeting, one of the leaders comes out and talks with me for around 10 minutes or more. He asks and says all the normal things leaders ask when first exposed to this book, but possesses a friendly, harmonious spirit which is nice to see. A young man helps set me up on the internet which i use for a few minutes, and then, when the meeting is over, i find the woman i was told to meet. We talk for around 10 minutes also, and, sad to say, nearly all the stereotypes about church leaders regarding this book, and about the Chinese in general, come out in the conversation. First, “We have this book in Chinese already”. When told otherwise, she tries to verify with someone else, who does verify that. Secondly, “Why do we need this book when we have the later editions?” I give a short answer, but groan inwardly. Really, if these are the words of God, shouldn’t we be overjoyed to know of something new that we didn’t even know existed? In a similar vein, if someone had really found the original manuscripts of the Bible, wouldn’t we be eager to know what was written in them? Isn’t that part of the worldwide exclamation over the Dead Sea Scrolls? When i tell her that i’ve had two people translate this book for me already, but neither one is a faithful translation, i get a diatribe that brings to mind all the worst stereotypes around about the Chinese – they are super-proud of their “4,000 years of history”, are arrogant, are hardworking, and are rude. She tells me that i’m not a native speaker, so not qualified to know if the translation is faithful to the original or not (!), that Chinese has different ways of saying things than English (obvious), that only qualified people designated by the church structure should translate, that she is sure no SDA lay member in Hong Kong has time to translate it (?) and on and on. It was painful, but God gave me patience, and i asked her to pray for me, to which she happily agreed before we parted ways. Lord, how is your church ever to going to fulfill your prayer for love and unity???
I’ve got my computer along with other stuff in my backpack, making it probably around 12lbs or so, and drudge off looking for a place to stay. No one at either church office offered anything, altho they both asked about my accomodations. It would be better they didn’t ask, than to ask and not do anything about it….. Anyway, i stumble around the Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui areas, walking in and out of lots of guest houses which are usually on the 3rd-6th floors of what look like mixed office/apt buildings. After going off the wrong way for a while, i finally spot the sign of the main place i’d been looking for, a backpacker’s place geared to Japanese. But sadly, they are full, so i go to plan B, which is to look for the notorious Chunking Mansion, a big building seemingly entirely given over to Indians and Africans. Some of the reviews i read online about cockroaches and filth and noise and crime had me wary, so it was with trepidation that i approached the building. Sure enough, an Indian tout grabs me and starts hauling me off to his guest house. I quickly tell him i’m looking for a 120hkd room (15usd), causing him to call out to another Indian, whom i follow up to the 9th floor. The Grand Guest House. Really,,,,well, for the money, it IS pretty close to “grand”. No bugs, little filth, no noise, even an A/C and TV in the room!! And all i had expected for the money was a bed with a fan – happy sleepy time!
After my nap i try to go down, but notice the elevator passes me by going down with the “Full” sign on, so i decide to head down the stairs. Around the 2nd floor area there are two guys smoking in the stairwell, and as i pass, one calls out to me: “hashish?”. I shake my head no, force a smile, and hurry down. I find a vegetarian restaurant in the building, where i get 2 curries with rice for 25hkd. yummmm. I spend an hour or so wandering the streets, looking at the myriads of people walking around. Hong Kong has a chaoticness to it that Japan is definitely lacking, and also a sense of raw power. I don’t see the total disregard for rules like in the Philippines or Cambodia, and things are mostly clean. There aren’t many cars in this downtown area, as the fleets of double-decker buses carry people above-ground, while below, the MTR is busyily carrying people hither and yon. There is some funny Hong Kong English, but one thing i’ve never seen before in Asia is the sign “Subway” over an underground walkway. Perhaps that is what it is called in Britain, and is not one of the “funny” things i’m talking about 😉 The “Friendly, Happy, Smaily” letter sheets IS one of the humorous things.
Shower is basically over the toilet, in typical SE Asian and Indian style, and i’m out like a light after that. In the morning i’m up around 8 to go to the harbor to see the view, if any. WOW! This is definitely the touristry hilite of my trip to Hong Kong. The skyline of the Hong Kong Island side is fantastic! Just incredible. The sunshine cooks my legs while i eat and write 3 postcards to friends and relatives. I cook my insides with some more curry, then go to my room to rest and check internet a bit. It seems there is free internet just about anywhere you go in Hong Kong, making it easy to keep connected
Supper is egg curry with chapatis and raw onion at a Pakistani stall with an apathetic caretaker, and then i take the 10minute walk back down to the harbor where my legs got roasted the day before. I wonder if it is really the best thing to do on a Friday nite – to see a free light show with lasers and music all over the buildings, but go anyway. Here i have one of the best opportunities to witness on my whole trip. A young man allows me to sit next to him, and we strike up a conversation. He tells me he has 3 siblings, his family came from the mainland many years ago, and live in a little flat, that he took the university entrance exam in May, with the results due on June 30, and that he was very, very anxious about the results, as only around 20% of the applicants pass. He was glad to be in Hong Kong with the freedom, but he said “freedom to work all our lives to own a little flat, whereas in the countrside in China they don’t have much, but they have a little piece of land with greenery around them. hmmmm. He is very engaging and informative, and when i offer to pray for him, he eagerly accepts it, bowing his head with mine. Lord, please bless L, and may he gain peace of heart that only comes from knowing you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Sabbath morning is a dried banana with some nuts and raisins i brought from Japan, (oh, and another malted soya drink – yum), and i’m off to find the church where i was on Wednesday nite. For some reason i can’t find the station right near me, instead of walking 50m to the right, i stumble to the left and around for almost 10minutes! Is this a bad omen? Yes, as i get off at Causeway rather than Wan Chai, as it looks closer by the map, but again, the locals don’t understand the English road names i give, and the streets are all jumbled together, so that after 15 minutes of walking with my backpack, and swimming in sweat, i come across the same MTR entrance i just came out of! Ouch! So i just go the opposite way, which leads me to the church, where there are around 120 Filipinos, and maybe 20 assorted others. It looks like only 1 of the Filipinos is male, with all the rest being in Hong Kong either doing domestic service (maid), or placing them. I know for sure, (and in talking with them in the afternoon), that almost none of them are keeping the Sabbath. Even if their employer gives them Saturdays off, none of them are getting Fridays off, except maybe.. MAYBE for the ones who have SDA employers. They even have Sunday worship services for those who cannot attend on the Sabbath. I believe that is not good, and yet, we should show a willingness to help those who are in a difficult situation. However, nearly all of these CHOSE this difficult situation, making their responsibility even greater!
The Sabbath school lessons are taught by an Australian man, who also mostly fits stereotypes of Australian Adventists, with a warm, fuzzy, nothing message (he even ridiculed one woman who used the word “righteousness”, saying it was “Adventist jargon”). My attention wandered to the Sri Lankan man teaching the other half of the room, and was happy to hear him correct one Chinese-looking man who said that it is OK to eat fish, because Jesus did. Afterwards, i go up to that man and tell him i appreciate what he taught. No doubt the darker-colored people get much less respect, as i saw no one else wanting to talk with him, while several crowded around the Australian….
The sermon was a very nice testimony from 3 ladies who’ve been baptized recently, telling about the joy and peace they have gotten from following Jesus, and then the Chinese-looking pastor gives a nice sermon. During potluck i meet an American who was involved in a project i remember reading about somewhere — they went to mainland China, and set up a curriculum and “know-how”, sold it to around 4 or so schools, all of which are thriving. No, they can’t teach outright Christianity, but in “Ethics” classes, they can teach Christian universal principles, like “Do to others what you want them to do to you”. It’s amazing to me. He expressed a bit of interest in trying to find a Chinese translator for the 1858gc, which is the best encouragement i’ve had on this since coming to Hong Kong. A lady “ambushes” me, as she calls it, and asks me to speak for AY meeting in the afternoon. Filipinos have a good custom of staying in church all Sabbath, so i talk 13 minutes about my life story, and study the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs in chapter 30 – about how Satan’s angels will appear before us as our dead friends and relatives. This is one big thing that is a problem (stereotype i know) with the Filipino SDAs — they love to sing and talk, but don’t study much. So i wanted to give them something of use in their advancement of truth. I stay long, until 7:30, having chances to talk with many people. The man talks about his country’s immigration officers incompetence, the ladies mostly just chat, but i have a deep talk with one lady who stays long also to practice the piano so she can help more in the Sabbath School class. Lord, please bless the group there, and may they grow more in grace and knowledge of the truth.
I take the E11 bus to the airport, instead of the A11 bus, the one i came on. It is only 21hkd instead of 40 like the A11 bus. I saw that on the sign at the airport, but in asking 3 people and even a bus driver at the airport, they all told me to take the A11. I’m a bit miffed, but mostly just glad to catch the bus. This bus does do some gyrations going here and there, taking maybe 10 minutes longer than the A11 bus. Maybe that is why everyone told me i “couldn’t” take the E11. Anyway, it takes around 40 minutes or so to get there from Wan Chai, and after looking at panels that show the history of aviation in Hong Kong, i find an empty row of 3 seats and hunker down a while with maybe 20 other people doing the same thing. Surprisingly i can even get around 3 or 4 hours of sleep, going to the Air India counter just after 6am, eating breakfast, thru security, down to the waiting area where who do i see but an elderly lady i had seen at the Kansai airport waiting area when coming this way! She seems as excited to see me as i am to see her, and when her husband joins our excitement grows as we find out we live in the same area, only around 5 minutes away on foot! That is pretty incredible to me. We talk a bit more on the airplane flying back. Air India has nice, new airplanes, but like many American airline companies, the staff is not really polite (actually the male attendants are nice, and the females are abrupt), and there is a bit of trash here and there in the plane. The food tho is excellent, if a bit too hot. Again the flight is only around 40% full, so there is plenty of room to stretch out.
Now for the time of reckoning – immigration in Japan. I was told by an American friend who knows immigration very well before leaving, that the 3rd time to try and use a visitor’s pass to come into Japan is usually the time when they tell you to go back to your home country, so i’m praying and praying and praying. I pray that i can get a male officer, and the Lord provides one (female officers are much more strict). Then i stand at the desk, put my index fingers out to get my fingerprints taken, the picture taken, passport stamped, returned, and — i’m in! I say “arigatou gozaimasu” and dreamily go thru, praising God. I stop after and give a quick prayer thanking God for letting me back in. After that it was just a bit of time to get my air ticket out of Japan refunded at the Asiana counter (after they took 5,000jpy for the privilege – oh well), and i train it back to my room almost 2 hours away with a very light heart.
Lord, thank you for allowing me back in Japan. Thank you for letting me meet some of your children in Hong Kong. Please work on hearts to soften them there, so that they will come to the simple faith that is found in your words, and “learn to do well.” Please encourage and strengthen the things that about to fall there. Thank you for using me there, and i pray you will continue to use me in any way you wish, amen.
addendum: The Kobe church felt some responsibility for my having to leave Japan, and even tho i didn’t ask them, or it even enter my heart, they generously decided to pay for half of my airfare – thank you Jesus! Now i really have to get busy finding a visa sponsor, something that American friend has expressed a willingness to do.