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Yes, I along with most of the humans in the Western hemisphere have seen many movies with exotic scenes of Hong Kong as the backdrop. Suave and daring secret agents raced through town wrecking havoc as they chased enemy spies or ran desperately away from blazing guns and razor-sharp knives. Whether it was during the day or night, on land or splashing through the water or flying massive airplanes between tall skyscrapers, this city was the stage for mysteries, adventures and drama.
Now, for the first time in our lives my bride and I are in Hong Kong. We are seeing sites that we only remember from the silver screen. They are spectacular when we are in the middle of those sensational scenes.
It is crowded. Throngs and hordes and crowds of people are going everywhere. The sounds of so many accompany the masses.
Yet, when it is time for many to board a bus, a tram or a subway train, the people are orderly. They queue up and patiently wait in line. There is absolutely no one cutting into line. Such order in the middle of such chaos is a stunning sight to take in.
Then, of course the city lights at night has to be a famous feature of this city. Whether we gazed at Hong Kong island or took the Star Ferry and looked back on Kowloon, the lights of the city were festive in an unforgettable way. I don’t remember the last time I walked through a city at night and felt no fear, but this was a welcomed experience.
Our hosts told us that we would feel quite secure in walking the city at night. No pick pockets, no racial unrest, there were no shady characters waiting to rob anyone and no dark recesses that hid nefarious activities.
Man-made buildings and transports were features of the city. Now, it was God’s turn. From the top of Victoria Peak we scanned the gorgeous islands that made up Hong Kong. Each protrusion from the waters of the bay were a powerful reminder that God did His handiwork to make this natural harbor a home for one of man’s freest enterprise markets in human history.
Setting aside human structures and stunning vistas the most remarkable feature of this special city are its people. We have special friends here who call Hong Kong home. They welcomed us into their hospitality and we thoroughly enjoyed the embrace of love.
photos by brucefong photography
We have 34 graduates this year. They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region. Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.
To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north. We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin. We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.
I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service. The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing. Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.
Photographs with special people were endless. The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer. Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.
Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends. Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate. Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.
Children were laughing with their parents. One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg. Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.
Gratitude is over the top on this event. Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd. With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.
Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”. They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others. Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.
photo credit: brucefong photography
For some reason I thought that I could reflect on that life-change for at least a little while. Yet, life as meted out by the Great Administrator does not always coincide with human assumptions. Instead, more friends are spending massive amounts of time in the examination room as doctors poke and prod.
An email alert came from Becky. One of my buddies, her husband, and I have shared many moments in the woods open to whatever the wonderful world of the wilds had in store for us. Hiking, gazing and exploring were filled with conversation and laughing.
Richard was in and out of the hospital. Doctors could not figure out what was not right. Yet, Richard knew something was off kilter.
We play tag on email as he keeps me up-to-date with the latest medical guess. He is in pain. Something is wrong and we are praying that the wonderful world of medicine can figure it out.
Then, another email flashed across my screen. Frank was in the hospital. I picked up my phone and gave the hospital a call.
Frank laughed, “Yep, I am in the hospital. I had a few strokes last year and led to a visit to the doctor.
“THREE strokes? Doctor? Like are you for real?”
“Yeah, now the doctors tell me I need a quadruple bypass.”
“Good grief! Dude, you sure know how to surprise your friends.”
“Ha. I told Cindy to trade me in for an upgraded model. She told me she was happy with what she has. Cool, eh?”
The telephone visit was brief but encouraging all the way around. Friendship among guys is like that. There was no denial, no worries, no whining.
Another email alert raced across my screen. This time it was Duane. He was in the hospital.
I picked up the phone and called him. He just got to the hospital that very morning. His internist had been treating him for pneumonia but the treatment was not making Duane feel any better.
When the antibiotic schedule was done, Duane went in to see his doctor. The stethoscope told a very different story. Immediately, the doctor admitted Duane into the hospital.
Duane needed a new heart valve. Yikes! My friends are hurting. I am praying for them, texting them and hoping that next week all will be better, much better.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Three years ago I made this same flight. It was exciting then and exciting now to anticipate hanging out with great friends. There is something extraordinarily special about friendships that defy the test of time.
The last time we gathered to tell stories, laugh heartily, eat voraciously and tease mercilessly I was taking a break from a fabulous but rigorous work in San Francisco. This time I was snatching a respite from the fast-paced quickly-growing ministry in Houston.
As miles passed behind me, I could feel my spirit unplugging while the turbo prop plane flew over the night light lit skies of Laramie, Wyoming. Not even a dozen travelers disembarked the aircraft to be greeted by family and friends. One other couple waited with me outside of the airport terminal, laughing that this was the first time any of us had closed an airport.
My buddy drove up in the official Western rig of the outdoor world, a pick-up truck. We were all smiles and in constant conversation on the drve back to his cabin. I had experienced amazing Wilson hospitality many times in the past and knew that I was in for a treat.
Those who cheerfully serve others are less and less common. To make friends feel at home and enjoy a time away from busy responsibilities is a gift. Ron and Roxanne are very gifted at it.
When I walked into their cabin the conversation that filled the room with laughter and cheer paused with a welcome that warmed my heart. An addition was coming. Friendship among the guys is not real unless it is peppered with merciless teasing and revisions made on our past historical exploits and mistakes in the most exaggerated style.
Years had separated us. There were very rare telephone calls, occasional text messages, sparse e-mail and a Christmas card may have been exchanged. Nevertheless, real friendship picks up where it left off.
Friendships would deepen during the next several days of our reunion. We caught up on old news. Most news we laughed through but some we listened with soberness when life was at risk and trouble was lurking.
Good friends enjoy life better because of whom they have a chance to share it. When the atmosphere of joy is created through the wonderful mechanism of hospitality, something supernatural happens. Joy expresses itself with fellowship that can withstand the test of another set of years apart.
Thanks, Ron and Roxanne. You used the wonder of hospitality just as God showers blessing on those whom He loves. We who have received your expressions of love are grateful and call you, “Blessed!”
photo credit: brucefong photography
Tuesday night there was more than thunder rumbling through my adopted city of Houston, Texas. Michigan buddies rode their motorcycles into town for a visit. That is over 1,000 miles of road warrior travel just for the sake of the ride and good memories.
These residents of the Motor City were introduced to a metroplex with a penchant for individual vehicle transportation. Everyone drives in Houston. You cannot live here very easily without a vehicle, preferably a pickup truck.
Some have even assessed our city culture and suggest that a vehicle equals or in many cases surpasses the choice of a place to live. Is that extreme? Most of us who live here would at least suggest that there is some merit to that assumption.
My motorcycle buddies at least have that thought planted in their minds. They were introduced to Houston traffic after a long day of riding. Add to the stop and go traffic of I-610 a major thunder-storm and it really gets dodgy.
Not only was the rush hour traffic horrendous and the thunderstorm unpleasant but construction with narrow lanes and debris added to the tricky negotiations of motorcycle riding. Of course those occasional out-of-state transplants who speed and cut annoy everyone. Too many in traffic jams are on their phones texting and drift over their lane lines and squeeze a motorcyclist.
Aside from the hazards of riding our fellowship was amazingly fun! The rain kept pouring down so we parked the bikes under the hotel eave and piled into my pickup truck for a tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center. It was a perfect day to visit.
Schools were not bringing in bus loads of children and the tourist season had already ended. Without the crowds we could see everything and did not wait in lines. The displays and historic moments were easy to enjoy and take in for our easy riders.
Standing next to the massive 747 and Shuttle we felt our diminutive size but also sensed our enormous pride in what our nation has able to do. Our smart phones have capacities that old computers in the past could not do. Yet, our nation launched men into space, landed them on the moon and brought them safely home.
Our little band of bikers took in the size and sights of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. Mostly, our time was about our journey through life, friendship, past rides and fun adventures. Ron, Richard and Scott are great friends and even greater buddies with shared memories.
photo credit: brucefong photography
My culture is marked by its cuisine. It is no doubt a favorite take-out choice of many busy Americans and people the world-over. Many of the menu selections of a Chinese restaurant are comfort food for the billions of us who grew up eating that style of food.
Mom’s devotion to her task of feeding the family marked our palates for life. Grandma double-downed on the family recipes. Daughters and daughters-in-law copied, observed, tasted and tested the ingredients for that familiar family smile and reservoir of compliments.
Now, when we celebrate we go out to a local restaurant. On a menu that seemingly needs a magnifying glass to read it, we pick out what we know. Something familiar leaps out from the pages and we wait with expectation to enjoy all the memories of family, youth and legacy.
Once in a while something new happens. It is not a completely new dish but there is a certain twist that captures our creative adventuresome spirits. That happened at a Portland restaurant with my best buddy.
We have joined him there only once before. It was so long ago no one could quite fix their finger on the occasion or date. Finally, we set that thought aside when it was time to give the waitress our order.
Bob asked about our favorites. We told him our short list. He filled in a few gaps.
“You guys like tofu, right?”
“Oh, yeah!” it was a chorus in unison. Comfort food was written all over that interchange.
“Then this will be a real treat,” he smiled broadly. “I have this dish a couple of times a week. You’re gonna love it.”
We have been friends for decades. Our paths in life have covered many adventures. Some have been sad but most were marked with great joy.
When the dish showed up we all took a modest helping. The expectation was reserved. After each one in our family tasted the dish we were stunned.
It was very familiar to all of us. Nevertheless, it was very new. Everyone was eager for a second helping only with a bigger portion this time.
The texture was buttery smooth. It nearly had the similarity with custard. Everyone complimented this dish.
Bob was right. We loved the dish. There was some leftovers that he graciously allowed us to take home.
Excellent leftovers make it to breakfast. After that they are just a memory. Something so familiar with a new twist gave us another great memory to tuck away with a fabulous friend.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Dan Lockwood and I met in Dallas, Texas in the mid 1970’s. He was embroiled in his doctoral studies and I was immersed in my masters studies. We had a mutual friend that gave Dan an excuse to invite me to his apartment for a meal. It was a new beginning that would blossom into a professional connection for decades. That’s the way Dan was. Splendidly welcoming and hospitable.
That first meeting set the mood for every conversation that followed. Dan always had a reason to smile and chuckle over something that was germane to our bantering or not. It brought a kind of cheer when others might just erode into a dour melancholy. I liked that about him. That’s the way Dan was.
Years later he contacted me in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was the new Dean at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. We talked about life, chuckled about studies and then he offered me a teaching post at the seminary. He was willing to take a risk on me! That’s the way Dan was. He saw the best in others.
For a decade I thrived under his leadership. First, he was my Dean. Second, he became my president. Both were honored positions for me under his direction and vision.
His cheer never left. Thoughtfully and Biblically he measured his decisions. I marveled at his skillful leadership and ability to move among the generations and personalities that funneled through the Multnomah campus. That’s the way Dan was. He liked people and people liked him.
He let me teach, shepherd and engage our students with great freedom. Building into their lives with creativity and adding extended ministry beyond campus were always smiled upon by Dr. Dan. I loved my stint at Multnomah under Dan’s leadership.
Then, for a decade he and I were colleagues as fellow presidents in theological education. We laughed together, spoke somberly together with understanding and had a quiet moment or two that only presidents can understand. It was fun cheering each other on in His goodness and grace. That’s the way Dan was. Generous in encouragement.
During his last years in his leadership role we happened to find a moment together in San Francisco. We had our normal cheery banter and reflection over God’s blessings. Then, he spoke about his hardest year ever while in the Lord’s service. That was the closest he got to complaining. No one would have ever heard a tone of regret, fussing or grumpiness in his voice. There were no names or actions of others that were maligned. That is the way Dan was. Superior in graciousness.
Dan is now with the Savior forever. He left this earth with an impact on so many lives. Each of us will spread the cheer and joy that he deposited into us. That’s the way Dan was.
photo credit: Multnomah University photo
When I was invited to serve as the professor on one of the Insight for Living buses during a tour of the Holy Land, I was ecstatic. It was an honor and privilege to teach people what it meant to be in the Land of the Savior. During my early morning hours before work and late night moments after coming home from work, I poured over the itinerary and studied the Scriptures pertinent to the journey.
Then, in the mail my wife and I received a list of names. These would be the pilgrims who would be travelling with us on Bus #11. We were designated the Caramel bus.
We scanned the names on the list. Also, we noted the cities and states that they called home. During our initial exposure we tried to guess families and individuals by their last names.
There was not much information to go on as we formed in our minds who these travelers were and what they would be like. Since we had no pictures or descriptions we did what we could do. We prayed for them.
Everyone needs prayer. Few people turn down that service by others on their behalf. Besides when we pray for others we start to remember their names.
Then, the date of meeting arrived. We were in the hotel at Tel Aviv. Our team had been there a day in advance.
Hotel hospitality, tour company personnel, bus shepherds and bus professor couples lined up at the entrance. Guests arrived by the bus load. We greeted our pilgrims with smiles, handshakes, delicious beverages and sweets.
Most of those who entered were a bit shell-shocked. They were surrounded by mostly strangers. These were friendlies but strangers, nevertheless.
Many conversations and introductions were filling the quiet air with laughter, enthusiasm, stories and hopes. Endless questions were scattered in those moments and answers were plentiful. We achieved our goal to orient everyone to the next steps and get them situated comfortably in their hotel rooms.
Dinner was exciting. The travel team expertly had everyone’s attention. Musicians and worship leaders were brilliant.
The anticipation of a well-run, sharp and spiritually minded lead team was firmly established in all of our minds. Now, it was off to bed. A few night owls kept the rumble of new-found conversations and the beginning of new friendships flourishing.
Now, half way through the tour, we knew each others names. We easily expressed our awe at the places we visited. Tears, smiles and teasing we now common since we had been transformed from strangers to friends.
photo credit: brucefong photography
This is a special day. We stop whatever we are doing and pause to remember. It is an honorable recollection.
For some of us the BBQ grill is fired up. Guests are making their way over to our home. Food is brought out from the pantry and lining the counters.
Games are scattered throughout the backyard. Little ones will fill the inflatables, pool or field the badminton court. Space will be occupied by special lives.
Sounds will overwhelm the space. Laughter and talking will test our sensory overload limits. Smiles and hugs will dominate our day.
Others will have a traditional journey in their day. They will drive to the family plot at the community cemetery. There fresh flowers will decorate the headstone of a dear loved one.
Next to the flowers an American flag will be inserted into the ground. This was not just a family member that is remembered. Here lies one who died for his or her country.
Yes, Memorial Day is about family and friends. Yes, it is about a day off to relax from the rigors of our labor. Yes, it is about celebrating with food and fun.
Nevertheless, at the heart of this day is why all of these moments for fun and partying were made possible. Those in our armed forces who fought and died for our freedoms is the meaning behind this day. Liberty is a costly privilege.
Some time during this special day, we can deepen the meaning behind our gatherings when we take a moment to look at our American flag and be grateful. Our thankfulness for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us would give meaning to our day. It would inject great value into the remembrance of those who died on our behalf.
Then, our gratitude would be a treasured moment. Suddenly, it is not just a day-off but a day of meaning. Life is much more than a time about doing what we want instead of what we have to do.
Listen to a patriotic song and feel your spirit leap. Consider the lyrics of our national anthem and be grateful. Treasure the sight of Old Glory waving in the skies above.
When the red, white and blue come into view, be a thankful citizen. Smile at the thought of those who courageously squared off with the enemy and beat them in battle. Remember the warm tears of loved ones who buried those brave soldiers in the soil that they won for our liberty.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Very special gifts must be carefully planned. No one “needs” gifts when they turn 50. Adding to the collection of other stuff does not need to be the focus. However, what’s a party without gifts? This day calls for a personal work of creation that is fitting of the new season of life. It is that special. Such a gift must be thoughtful, fresh and full of meaning.
I had those inspiring stimuli in my mind when I visited our local discount store. There I roamed in the various departments collecting items that would form into a sculpture worthy of this once in a lifetime landmark. If an item lit up my face, added to the vision forming in my mind, and especially made me laugh, then it passed the sniff test and went into my shopping cart.
“Back at the ranch” I unpacked my discoveries and went to work on the assembly of the unique presentation. First, the heart and soul of this sculpture was the cane. It was a red, white and blue telescoping deluxe model. Certainly, it would depict the patriotic spirit of this newly minted 50 year-old.
Close to the cane’s handle was a combination bell and compass. The bell can easily be operated with his thumb. It serves as a friendly sound to signal friends and neighbors, a cheerful “Good-day!” sound.
Next, a rear view mirror is attached. Of course it is multi-directional with unlimited adjustments. The glass is a fish-eye style to help aging eyes focus on oncoming traffic. Hanging on the stem of the mirror is the headlamp. It really is a “head” lamp. With the elastic band, he can strap his light around his forehead for night-time walking.
Just below the mirror is the advanced emergency warning system. Some might think that it is just a horn. But, they would be wrong. When traffic is slowing him down a single blast of this instrument will clear the obstacles for a clear hobble home.
Finally, there is a sports bottle for a single dose of Ensure. A bear bell hangs in a sack on the bottom of the stack. Once it’s popped out it will jingle with every movement so that his wife will always know where he is. The combination chain lock will keep this unique and practical sculpture safe for his own secure use. Happy Birthday, Stephen!