Travelogue only!

Not a lot of Matt talk—just some pictures of this fascinating place.

Well, first some Matt talk. I’ve been helping a student with a special project, and he took a few of us sailing. I showed you that. Now he’s taken me a couple other places—where the locals go!

Dim sum! Potstickers on the upper right; dai bau, the star of the day, on the lower left: a huge bun filled with beef.

Food is a good place to start. We went to a local dim sum restaurant (a kind of smorgasbord for us) with many dishes. This place was impossible without Cantonese skills, so I felt lucky. The colorful dishes just kept coming!

Dragon boats

After a short bus ride, we were off to Sai Kung, a fishing village I had seen just briefly before.

Fresh
Bubbling cases of unknown creatures!
Rustic shopping. It’s not Hy-Vee!
Temple to the goddess said to protect fishermen

Small temples are found throughout Hong Kong. There’s a sweet smell of incense, and every color imaginable!

Guan, guarding the entrance

The last outing was to Stanley, a popular beach and shopping area for expats. It was a cloudy day, but it’s still the ocean and a pretty great place.

Most of the locals thought it a bit cold for swimming, but I jumped in with enthusiasm! (No pictures. You’ll have to trust me!)

Some great trips. Still much of Hong Kong to see and do. Only two barriers: work and the summer heat!

Freedom

Now that I’m free, time is racing. Easter is almost here, and there are only about 6 weeks left of school.

This last bit of news caught me off guard. I saw that a “picture taking” day was coming up, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant.

Graduating students, already outfitted with caps and gowns, joined faculty members for a hot morning in the sun. After our group photos were finished, I posed with a few graduating students of mine, snd we each took a new photo for the website. Yes, the weeks are flying now!

Chapel talk

Yes, I am still taking a turn now and then at morning prayer. Last week I spoke about isolation, something I had just experienced in an intense way! I think there’s still one more sermon to give.

Three former students have been working on their theses with me. We work one-on-one, looking for grammar errors, repetition, organization, and formatting. It’s a slow process. For these young men, English is their third language so, even though they are doing well, there are many details that need attention. And, like many of us, they had a deadline that was too soon. (I didn’t say they procrastinated. The deadline was too soon). Only one of them finished on time; the other two received modest extensions, and we are working daily to get them ready.

I’m learning a lot, of course. Two of the papers relate to Myanmar, so I am taking in a lot of new information. The third is an interesting study of Exodus through the lens of modern trauma theory. The student suggests that God could have led the Israelites to the promised land much more quickly, but that those 40 years were needed for healing. Another new thing for me to ponder.

One day this week, a local student took some Myanmar students and me for a sailing trip! He has access to a 32-foot boat that is moored on the east end of Hong Kong. It was an all-day trip that included good food, swimming, and a little instruction

Our host takes a selfie.
Yes, it’s really the ocean!
It’s a big boat!
Hong Kong is so beautiful!

Mountains, beaches, skyscrapers, forests, ocean—Hong Kong has it all. What a privilege to work here! It’s great to get to know students and colleagues away from campus now and then.

It’s great, too, to be stretched a bit. I have never edited masters theses before, never given regular sermons, and never lived amidst a city undergoing so many changes. I wonder what else may lie ahead!

This summer I will return to Iowa to plan and attend a service of celebration for my mother. I think it will be hard in some ways, but I look forward to good music and time with family and friends. But much to do here before all that!

Quarantine. Just 21 Days.

I like some alone time, but this is too much! No other complaints.* The room is nice, they deliver three meals per day, and friends have brought by special treats to spoil me.

Office/classroom on the right; kitchen on the left.
Clever coffee filters

I don’t consider myself a “foodie” or a snob, but I was concerned about three weeks of Nescafé. Friends Tim and Mandy brought me these cool paper filters that unfold to hold real coffee. They also, of course, provided coffee from Vietnam and a second bag from IKEA (and fruit and bread and…)

Not to be outdone, my college friend Jon supplied me with a terrific flash drive of music. For each of the 21 days, there was a 10-hour playlist. The first day featured music from 1960, our birth year. Next was 1964, and on it goes. I feel the progression of time by the music I hear. I’m happy to report that I am now in this century. Only 5 more days! What a great and creative gift.

*Yes, I do have one more complaint. Nothing except trash can leave my room, which means that I must wash my clothes in the small bathroom sink and hang them up to dry. My mom’s friend Audrey, hereafter Audrey 2, sent some detergent and hangers with me. (After Mom died, Audrey 2 and her family hosted me in Atlanta and took great care of me). She also sent along a book of crossword puzzles and other necessary items.

If you were a fan of “I Love Lucy,” then you can get a good visual image of me trying to get the clean duvet cover over my duvet. It’s not a skill I have ever needed. Due to the virus, no one can enter the room, so all housekeeping is left to me. After about one episode’s worth of struggle, I used the cover as my tip sheet and the duvet as a blanket. (Did we even have duvets when I was growing up?)

My views from the 16th floor.

The quarantine is surreal. I feel like I have been in this room for a month or more. The walls are getting a bit closer together. I’m glad to have classes and regular interaction over zoom with friends.

So, there are some challenges. But I am grateful for all the help and encouragement I have had on this 11-week trip. Meals, lodging, cars, rides, and most importantly, love and encouragement after my mom’s passing. It has been a long, difficult journey, filled with acts of love. Thank you!

The long journey back to Hong Kong

It is a bittersweet day. I am high above the US on my second flight back to Hong Kong. I left Minneapolis on Wednesday, after a couple of weeks visiting friends and grieving the loss of my mother. I’m so grateful to everyone who welcomed me home, especially my many hosts. I couldn’t have done it without the generosity of many friends.

Highs below zero!
Meeting a president in South Dakota.
Dinner with South Dakota bishop Constanze Hagmaier and Pastor Dirk Hagmaier, who is pastor at one of my sponsoring congregations, Trinity Lutheran, Madison, SD.
A cold walk in frozen South Dakota with friend Panda.

After a day back in Atlanta for my covid test, I just boarded the long trip to Seoul. When I arrived in Atlanta, I had a new wave of grief. I was back in the neighborhood where my mother died. The images and sounds of those last two weeks became much more real, and when we took off from Atlanta, I felt as if I were leaving her again.

Not too busy at the Atlanta airport!

But it feels good to head back to Hong Kong. I’ve enjoyed teaching my students from abroad, but I am looking forward to rejoining the seminary community. I miss my colleagues and students, the beauty of our mountain, and my daily routine.

There’s just one more large hurdle I need to jump before my normal life can return: a three-week quarantine in a Hong Kong hotel. I must not leave the room for 21 days. I look forward to your calls, texts, and pictures. This seems quite difficult, so please accept my not-so-subtle plea for communication!

Police bracelet. I can’t leave my room!
My hotel desk.

So I am ready to continue my mission in person. The rest of the semester will go by quickly and we have much to do. I am excited for the June graduation and to see our graduates go out to begin or continue their service to God’s people around the world!

Strength, Courage, Support

Each time a mission opportunity came up, I always thought about Mom. Should I go and leave her? Would she be too worried or stressed to have me far away? I hesitated to ask her, especially the first time.

I was wrong. Each time she said, “Of course you should go,” without hesitation. She had confidence in me, trusted my judgment, and, when it came time to say goodbye, put my happiness above hers.

Now she is gone.

I had the privilege of coming back to the US, to encourage and comfort her, and to say goodbye. On Wednesday, January 27th, she died peacefully, after two weeks of time together at a hospice house outside Atlanta.

Before the hospice house, I was permitted just one visit at the hospital. She was talking and we had a good conversation. Just two days later, she moved to hospice, and the conversations changed: I talked and she listened.

And talk I did! I talked about good memories, I read from the Bible, and I tried to play all sorts of music that I thought she would enjoy.

It was fun to pick music Sometimes it would be a musical that I knew she enjoyed playing from the pit. Other times, I would choose music I had heard her play at church. Sometimes I went for comfort or inspiration: some hymn or anthem that I hoped would ease her mind.

I can’t be sure she heard any of it—the talking, reading, or music. But maybe she did. At least I enjoyed it.

Her office for 37 years.

Since it’s not safe to hold a proper service now, we will wait until summer or later, if need be. I wish we could have had some way to grieve this difficult loss together, but that time will come. In the meantime, we’ll go back to our routines and deal with her death in our own ways.

I’m grateful to Mom for so many things. I know that she wanted to be a mom more than anything else. I received a small portion of her musical gift, and I’m glad that she encouraged me to continue playing and singing.

Mom and her boys on a trip to Minnesota.

This blog has gone on for almost 8 years. I wouldn’t expect anyone to read every post. But, as I mentioned last week, she read them and she forwarded them on to other friends. When I was writing, I was often writing to her. The blog has lost its most faithful reader, and I have lost my biggest supporter.

Venue Change

Your man in Hong Kong has stepped away! Have no fear. Classes are meeting on Zoom, as all seminary classes are. I’m just teaching them from the US, at crazy hours.

Just before Christmas I decided to make a quick trip home to visit my most faithful blog reader: my mom! Not only does she read each word, but she forwards my posts far and wide.

Shortly after arriving in Georgia, Mom got a little sicker, so I am hanging around Atlanta to keep her company during the day, while I teach at night. So far, so good. I’m still meeting students individually and attending meetings.

I thought I had explained it well to my students. But one guy, after the second week, said, “Do you mean you’re not in Hong Kong?” Oh dear. I should know to never assume I am being understood.

I’ve enjoyed spending some extended time with my mom. It was also great to see my sister and her husband. After a year and a half in Hong Kong, it has felt good to connect with family and friends. And my Zoom classes look and sound just the same from here! But I will be so glad to see them in person. Let’s keep those vaccines rolling out!

A Very Quiet Christmas

One more semester is in the books* and it certainly ended with a whimper. The last three weeks we returned to online teaching.

*I don’t think any students read this blog, but if they do, they need to know that it’s not in the books until they finish their assignments. Come on! Help a guy out!

Class pictures in the COVID era..

We still managed, but it just isn’t the same. This is no way to end a semester and say goodbye!

Last chapel talk

My last turn speaking in chapel was also a bit less satisfying. I’m grateful that I was able to use the chapel and have help operating Zoom. When I led a service alone on a laptop, I found it to be too much. I was more concerned with technology than with my message.

We had a four-week Advent series on Thursday mornings. Each week the speaker focused on one person from the Advent story: Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist. We each chose an image of a stained-glass window that featured our subject. I had the last turn, so I hunted for an image of John the Baptist. Not so easy! Most images show him baptizing Jesus, as you would expect, or they show his head on a silver platter, depicting his martyrdom.

Zagreb, Croatia

I needed one from his time in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming Messiah. I chose this one. John is holding and pointing to the Lamb of God and, if we could see the entire ribbon around his staff, we could read “Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold, the Lamb of God). Except for the empty chapel, it was a very meaningful experience for me.

Sheng maintenance

For my last session before Christmas, my sheng teacher, Isaac, decided it was time for some maintenance on my instrument. It’s a long, tedious project. Each of those blue reeds had been connected to the pipes above by a thin bead of wax. Our first job was to pull them off. The wood is too soft to use a knife, so we tried to use our fingers.

Then each of the bronze reeds had to be scraped clean with a razor blade. Yes, I did knick of of my fingers.

Malachite

Then Isaac put a bit of water inside this metal bell and started making circle motions with this stick of malachite. (Look it up—I don’t know either). This blue water eventually appeared, and we dabbed it on the reeds, as shown above. Isaac heated up what looked like a dental tool and put a thin bead of hot wax around each reed to seal it to each pipe.

Apparently, the reeds will be more responsive and have a slightly brighter sound. Unfortunately, that took most of an afternoon. We will have to have a second session to add a dab of something on each reed to tune it. This is also a tedious project. When we’re finished, the sheng should be in good shape for another year or so.

I must add that I’ve had the same trombone for 43 years, played it for thousands of hours, in heat and in snow. After about 30 years, the spit valve spring broke. That’s about it for maintenance. What happens to this sheng when I’m not in Hong Kong?

The New Year is underway! Thank you so much for following and supporting my work in Hong Kong. Together, we have the privilege of helping committed, genuine brothers and sisters fulfill their calls to service. I say “we,” because I couldn’t begin to do what I do without each of you. Thank you so much!

Our diverse community!

Students from Myanmar, Thailand, and Nepal, sporting their traditional dress.

What a wealth of color and culture! It’s so great to be a part of a school with students from many different parts of Southeast Asia. Almost every student pictured represents a unique language and heritage. We all have a lot to learn from each other!

They don’t dress like this everyday. Last Friday we were celebrating Founders Day. LTS is 107 years old. The small school that Scandinavian and American missionaries started in Hubei, China has grown to a thriving learning community on a peaceful mountain in Hong Kong. It must have been a very difficult mission, to travel to China and start a school. We can only do what we do because of their hard work, sacrifice and faith.

The service started outdoors, near the fishpond.
A little traveling music on our way to the chapel.

But things change quickly! Although the numbers are quite small compared to the US, we are experiencing a 4th wave of the coronavirus. Just a few days after this big celebration, the color and energy are gone. We are teaching online again and the campus is oddly quiet.

Our last day of face-to-face class.

We often pose for pictures at the end of the semester, but we knew that this would be our last real meeting, so a student suggested a picture.

Now back to that fishpond! It’s one of my favorite spots on campus. When we have a break during class, I like to go out and watch all the fish swimming around. When I get to the edge, they think I will feed them, so they all come swimming over.

Hungry!

One of my colleagues said he picked a favorite fish and that he looks for it each day. I decided to do the same.

There are two black and gold fish, so I started there. One has an orange mouth, so I have adopted him.

In these difficult times, sometimes just finding “your” fish feels pretty good!

An invitation!

I’m honored to be one of four panelists for a discussion entitled, “A Conversation on Life and Justice in Interfaith Settings.” It will be held on Zoom this Friday, November 20, at 8 pm CST.

The discussion will be centered around our interfaith environment and how it connects with issues of life and justice. Panelists will be from India, Cambodia, Japan, and…Hong Kong! Franklin Ishida, ELCA Area Program Director for Asia and the Pacific, will moderate from Chicago.

My contribution will focus on my work with students who are ethnic and religious minorities in their home countries.

I would love to have you join! Click below to register. A Zoom link will be emailed to you.

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMvceGprTIjGNXqKCOAXeXtPAECpRAe5VD6

If you’re not free Friday evening, the event will be available later and I will post a link. You are not off the hook!

A Time Traveler

Martin and Me

Martin Luther made a cameo appearance before today’s Reformation service at LTS. He said nothing. He posted nothing!

“Lutheran” might be a poor choice of a name for a church. We don’t worship Luther, and he was no saint. But we remember the words he used to bring the church back to its essential message: Grace alone, Faith alone, Word alone. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith, as recorded in the word.

Your amateur preacher is keeping a busy schedule. The board in the picture above (it’s hard to read—trust me) says that I was the preacher of the day a few weeks ago. After many years of teaching, I have no problem standing in front and speaking, but I’m still not completely comfortable preaching to a room full of theologians. My next talk is this Sunday, for the small English service held near the seminary. It will be All Saints Sunday, so if you have any good ideas for me before Sunday evening, pass them along. No, I’m not kidding.

LTS Family of Joy

Once a month, my colleague Francis and I plan a social gathering for our “family” of international students. Francis has been perfecting the art of making pasta, so he invited us to his apartment and put us to work!

Cranking!

The dough gets stuffed into this small device, and while David cranked, Nay cut the tubes at just the right time. Lian and Bawi are preparing the next batch of dough, while Harvey and I spread out the pasta on towels to dry. The three women in our group are just outside the picture, preparing the tomato sauce.

I was reminded that cooking can be pretty fun if you’re not working alone! It was a great lunch and afternoon of conversation with some fine young people.

Time is going quickly, in many ways. Each day is full—teaching, editing, practicing, and growing into my role. I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement I continue to receive. Not every day is easy, but I know it’s a privilege to be here and and to learn with people from around the globe. So, thank you!

I leave you with some of the beauty of “autumn” on our mountain!

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