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IMG_3104The number 42 made me smile today. Today is the anniversary of my wife and my wedding day. We have been married for 42 years.

In all of that time, decades of years and nearly countless days, she never once considered divorce. Now, temper that with the unsurprising reality that murder was on the table many times. With chagrin I will admit that she was justifiably and understandably well within her rights to make that choice! We had tons of adventures that makes us smile more broadly today than we did when we began our journey together.

Just weeks after our wedding ceremony we packed up our pickup truck and drove to Dallas, Texas. Good ol’ Herman, our pickup truck, didn’t even have air conditioning. My wonderful wife melted in the Texas heat but stuck with me.

Then, we packed up our possessions and moved to our first ministry post in Portland, OR. God blessed us with our three wonderful children. Many lifelong friendships began in the city of Roses.

We crated what belongings we could and moved to Aberdeen, Scotland. Our little family had a ball in the United Kingdom. Each of the children picked up a lilting Scottish Brogue. Wonderful blessings and amazing International friends packed in Highland memories for life.

Then, it was back to Portland for season. That was followed by over a decade of sacrificial ministry in Michigan. God then led us to San Francisco, CA for more amazing service. His perfect and divinely ordered journey returned us to Texas, this time in the amazing city of Houston.

My bride has been by my side through it all: blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and humidity. We have clung on to the best Christians in the world. Together we weathered human storms with His grace. I never would have survived without her.

She is my love, my confidant, my greatest fan, and most patient advisor. Happy Anniversary, My Love! May our Mighty and Merciful God generously grant us many more years of being in His service together. Joy!

Unknown-1Walking up on an unsuspecting magnificent beast in the woods is not new in my experience. This has happened for me in many places and many times. But, the moment is never ordinary.

The Texas morning sun welcomed me to a new day. I was up and washed up before the sunrise. This way I could be walking in the woods and feel the splendor of a new day awakening.

It wasn’t long before the vestiges of the human settlement disappeared behind me. A few more steps and the trees and brush swallowed me up. Now, I was alone in the woods.

Something was running through the grass. There was more than one. I stopped and smiled.

The sounds confirmed that the scurrying was a pair of squirrels. They were doing their Spring thing. Yes, Thumper had it right. These little energetic rodents were “twitterpated”. Up a tree they raced. Dodging limbs and knots they disappeared in a thick clump of leaves.

My walk continued. Maybe I was lulled into carelessness. Frankly, even if I were ready, the explosion of a herd of pigs makes most humans quick to jump.

A 90 pound sow raced out of a brush pile. She was slicing through the grass, mowing everything down in front of her. A passel of cute piglets squealed, snorted, and grunted trying to keep up with momma. It made me laugh on many levels.

As that brood of pork disappeared into the tall grass, I froze. Maybe it was experience, maybe providence, or maybe hope made me do it. But, movement to my right directed me peer through the wall of flora.

It wasn’t the wind moving branches. Instead, several brown mounds in the grass a mere 50 yards away came into focus. The movement that started this visual moment was a massive set of antlers on the King keeping a steady eye on his harem. That gigantic crown  swayed gently but powerfully in the shadows cast by the trees.

The wind was in my favor. Plenty of trees gave me good cover. I moved silently to cut our distance in half.

Our creator masterfully designed this great bull, powerful, massive, and courageous. He rolled his head enough to rest his right antler on his back. It gave him a steady rest for his head and powerful neck. He was resting. I had enjoyed him enough. It was my cue to disappear and leave this herd undisturbed.

photo by brucefong photography

 

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When Christianity does something right, there is not a lot of coverage. Do something wrong and it is all over the place. There is no shortage of slams and “there they go again” opinions.

This picture is one of the right things done. These are seminary leaders who are higher education leaders in Houston. Several different seminaries are represented. Their doctrinal beliefs have distinctive differences.

Nevertheless, we meet annually to build our friendships and cheer each other on in the name of our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t argue theology, we don’t water down our beliefs or convictions. Instead, we eat Texas BBQ and deepen our friendships. That’s allowed.

Advancing our conversation and camaraderie, precludes what is too easily done. We have dispensed with throwing critical stones. It is tough to slander a friend.

Perhaps our quiet and enjoyable fellowship will help our churches and future leaders to engage in the most important of Christian virtues: love. That option is certainly much more invigorating and edifying than other options. Antagonism is left behind. Judgmental attitudes do not get any fuel out of our time together.

Maybe this kind of seminary engagement will not only bring our participants personal satisfaction but also stir the pot of Christians showing the way to be civil, edifying, and compassionate toward one another.

Who knew that Texas BBQ could be the emissary of the Gospel of Jesus. This is good news. Again the Savior shows us how powerful his redeeming work is.

UnknownThis movie, Unplanned, was one that I anticipated. Trailers popped up periodically for months. The story was very compelling.

I will admit that I have a strong attraction to movies based on a true story. Real lives, real drama, and real transformation win my attention. Weave in a message that is important to life and I am ready to buy my tickets.

A good person enters into the world of Planned Parenthood. Her personal saga is uncovered and adds to the intricacies of the story. Family and friends and faith all play a part in this narrative.

The movie portrayed the presence of extreme protesters and terse rants on the part of the right to life crowd. The obnoxious ones were a small minority but they were clearly identified in the story. At the same the majority of the life side were depicted as kind, gracious, and helpful.

Thankfully, the side of Choice were also depicted well. They were portrayed largely as good people albeit surrounded in a volatile atmosphere. Desperate young women with few apparent alternatives come to the clinic seeking a solution.

The chief adversary was left unexplained. Thoughts of greed, power, bitterness, and the like were introduced as possibilities. But, more questions than speculation were presented.

The one antagonist was cast well. She displayed and portrayed the intent of the Choice side. It was unlikable.

I liked the movie. Prayer works. Christians need to persevere. Unborn babies need to be protected.

When abortion happens, it is ugly. An innocent life that ends because of human intent, it is heartbreaking. The movie wrencheed my soul.

Reflecting over this film, I have good thoughts that sometimes justice prevails in the courtroom. Family is a genuine support group. Husbands can do well. Forgiveness from a merciful God is wonderful.

brucefong photography

Unknown-1How long does it take for a local church to plan an annual Missions Conference?

Clear Lake Chinese Church of Webster, TX first reached out to me in July 2018. Their pastor told me that they had been planning their 2019 Annual Missions Conference for March, nine months away. I had to keep scrolling through my calendar to see if I was free to accept their invitation as their keynote speaker.

Before I accepted the invitation, I have several decided practices that must always precede my official answer. I don’t mean to sound super spiritual but I do pray about such invitations. Really.

My prayers for God’s guidance are not new. Regularly, I am praying about opportunities to serve the Lord who gave me a life-long calling for ministry. During these times of intercession I am asking for peace, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Then, I seek the counsel of my personal team. These are a collection of amazing and godly people who help me with varying perspectives. We discuss details. For example, where is the venue? How many times do they want you to speak? What is the purpose of the gatherings? Does the theme fit within your area of specialization? What is the demographics of the expected audience? Do the logistics lend themselves to your current obligations and commitments?

The final decision to accept or reject speaking invitations is ultimately left in my hands. However, I know that when I include these others in my decision, it automatically garners a huge amount of prayer support when I do accept these engagements. To end God’s sovereign administration never ceases to amaze me. He knows when my calendar if open. By far I accept more invitations than I send my regrets.

UnknownOver nine months I read with interest how the church was formulating their Missions Conference objectives. They wanted to have their church family challenged to “Reach the Nations in their City.”  Wow! That theme captured my heart.

Plotting out my study time in the course of fulfilling all of my current duties as the Dean of DTS-Houston, I made notes, studied exegetical issues, considered theological lessons, matched clarifying illustrations, and prayed for a powerful and clear presentation for this conference. During the course of our communications, I ascertained the receptivity of the audience, imagined definitive niches of people types, wondered at how the challenges of the Mission objectives could be presented to each season of life.

The time came. The introductions were given. I stepped up on to the platform and months of preparation unfolded. We connected. By God’s grace some amazing life-changes will be new habits of life for many.

IMG_0836We all share a common experience during election season. How many political groups have my phone number? A number of those irritating calls have those toll-free numbers. The area code gives them away.

Sure, we were taught by our moms to be polite at all times. Politeness and manners wear thin after the rat-ta-tat force of words that stream from the mouth of a volunteer don’t give us room to breathe let alone give a thoughtful response.

Within seconds they have dumped a well-design load of words into our ears. It was just a prelude for them to ask for a financial donation. Yes, they specify an amount. Any hesitation on our part is met with a lesser amount. Of course the desperate need for our hard-earned dollars is vital to the cause.

This midterm election surprised me. The “other” party called and asked me for a donation. They were polite but just as forceful. I was also polite in my refusal and I asked them to remove my name and number from their list.

I did try to lay my telephone receiver down on my desk while I carried on with my work. Their constant barrage of words and salesmanship went on for several minutes before I heard them ask, “Are you there? Hello! Hello!” They hung up. I felt a little guilty.

Enough is enough. No more annoyance. No more guilt.

I went out with my bride as soon as our schedule allowed and we voted EARLY. It was amazing. After that the relentless political ads were no longer troubling. Further, the phone calls started to fall away.

Never doubt my resolve. I love my country and put up with the political wrangling. Yes, I even donated to the candidate of my choosing. But, voting, that is a privilege of great price. Those who fought and died so that I could have my voice heard, I am forever grateful. If we could only put a lid on the political ads, calls and bickering.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

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The birth of a new idea is like the spark that sits in a handful of some kind of fire starter. You see the possibility. You’re shivering in the cold. The temperatures are dropping and you crave the warmth that a fire promises.

Carefully, you cradle the ember and coax it with gentle steady blowing. Slowly tendrils of smoke rise. The spark grows brighter.

Hope for a real fire to warm chilling bones emerges. Your anxious body begins to relax. Small strokes of heat from the newly born fire lick your face. Eagerly, you place the crackling fire into the waiting pile of sticks and gathered wood.

Not long ago an idea for the church came to us at DTS-Houston like a spark that promised a fire. Concerned believers gathered to address a problem. Chinese churches in the USA are facing a major crisis. Up to half of the pastors of Chinese language churches in America have pastors closing in on retirement. Who will fill those pulpits?

But, it’s not just the coming hole of pastoral roles that is looming on the horizon. There is also a vast number of amazing church members with a deep hunger for the Word of God. Every pastor loves having a large portion of these spiritually mature and growing saints in their congregations.

Several conversations ensued about both of these streams of people. Beyond merely a cavalcade of words. real action resulted from these meetings. Most notably, money was donated and scholarships were funded. Parameters for qualifications were designed. It was time to get the word out.

Here at DTS-Houston, pastors from a number of Houston area Chinese churches came. From as far away as College Station and Austin they arrived. After a sumptuous meal we prayed, introduced ourselves, and listened to an amazing presentation of scholarship opportunities for new students.

Qualified students who are accepted at DTS-Houston could apply for several scholarships. If they are preparing for pastoral ministry or desiring to increase their knowledge of Bible and Theology then we have a path for them. As well, if someone knows that God has not called to professional ministry but they are eager to advance their knowledge and skills for lay ministry, then was also have a path for them.

Our prayer is that the pool of generous resources that has been given for DTS students can find a great match with eager students to impact the local church for God’s glory. The gathering of key pastors in the greater Houston area was wonderful.

We live in SE Texas. Images of cowboys rounding up cattle, oil donkeys pumping crude, and Bluebonnets decorating miles of rolling hills may be the images that dance in your mind’s eye. For others they have a personal experience and a vivid memory: HOT HUMID summer days of August may come to mind.

This unrelenting summer weather hits visitors in the face when they come out of hiding due to obligations of work, meetings, or life necessities. Texans joke about this weather, “It’s great for your complexion.” “But, look at the other 10 months of the year…PERFECTION!”

It is the wrong time of year for our refrigerator ice maker to go out of commission. We had come home from a West Coast vacation where the cool Pacific Ocean allowed us to bask in its daily refreshment. Then, the Texas heat and humidity welcomed us home.

Inside our air-conditioned home, we dropped our bags and went straight into the kitchen. Our 1.5 year old refrigerator would give us the relief of ice-cold water, right? Wrong! The slowly grinding gears of the ice machine delivered nothing. We tried over and over to coax just a few ice cubes from the relief maker. Nothing.

Laying hands on the unit, prayers, and promises did nothing.

Finally, it was time to read the owner’s manual. Nothing. Even when I found the English version of the instructions. Nothing.

For days we purchased bags of ice from the market. We would make the journey into the garage freezer to collect the ice and have our refreshing beverages. Multiple times during the day, I would think and think more about my options. Warranty? Repair? Purchase?

Finally, one night I stumbled on to several YouTube.com entries. Multiple videos of fixing this problem were listed. Victory! Success! ICE!

The sweet celebration of fixing a problem shared by others online was satisfying indeed. Now, the Texas heat and humidity are at bay once again. It was a close call but refreshing ice is again waiting to be collected in our glasses for a refreshing beverage at our convenience. Voila! ICE!

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photo by BWFong

Our morning stroll abruptly stopped. The brisk cool air was heating up fast. Houston is like that.

In our minds the destination was paramount. Add some steps to our day and then head home before the temperatures got into the bake-range. Houstonians survive the summer that way.

This moment was different. We could add a few minutes to our new-day stroll for this purpose. “Cute” is an easy choice to prolong our walk, even on a day when temperatures threatened to soar into the record books.

A ring-tailed lemur was catching its morning rays. It must be still be “ok” temperature-wise since he has a permanent fur coat and we humans were created with a water-cooling system for such days as this. I much prefer the “dress-for-it” option than the “one-clothing-fits-all-weather” designation.

The lemur big eyes met ours. There was no fear indicated on its end. We were just filled with curiosity on our end. What a fascinating creature the Creator formed in this special animal. Better than a picture or video, seeing one of these special animals face to face makes me appreciate the wonder of creation.

It spied some of its fellow lemurs. There was some chatter going back and forth among them. Maybe they were talking about the humans who paused in front of their paddock.

Do lemurs have a sense of humor? Ha! I chuckled thinking that they may be telling jokes about the Homo sapiens. Maybe “cute” or “wonder” never made it into the lemur conversation.

The sun shifted as it kept climbing to its apex for the day. Uncomfortable heat drenched my bare arms and legs. It was time to head home.

Our visit to our zoo was coming to an end. The lemurs comical look was our finale. Smiles lingered with thoughts of these comical creatures in uncomfortable fur coats on another hot Houston day.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

IMG_1746The world of academics, especially in higher education, climaxes every year with commencement. Every student, faculty member, staff, administrator, family and friend has this same date circled on their calendar. It is the target date to unleash the greatest celebration and ultimate relief all at the same time.

That special occasion is now over. The pomp or circumstance has been completed. Photos now are in high-capacity review.

Graduates are scattering all around the world. Students have geared up for their summer schedules. Faculty has climbed aboard planes for parts un-known to practice what they teach.

A few of us are left on the grounds of our campus. I walked our empty halls. Quiet classrooms lined my walk like hollow cauldrons hungry for purpose again.

This was a wonderful time of personal reflection. God had given a great year. It was the best year in the history of DTS-Houston.

Our largest graduating class in the history of this extension campus walked across the stage this year. We celebrated 58 graduates from our Houston campus. Three of our graduates were lifted up by the entire DTS faculty with Commencement awards. They were the best among all 400 plus graduates from all of our campuses.

In addition this was our 25th year of operation here in Houston. Since 1993 DTS has had classes offered in the 4th largest city of the nation, the most diverse city in the USA, the home of the largest port of America, site of a world-class medical center, and a theater district with seating second only to New York. We who live here love our city and pray that our small part will be a part of making this city a hub for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Names and faces and testimonies swirl in my mind. The graduates whose laughter, tears, conversations, sermons, and prayers serve as a cacophony of memories while I wander our empty halls. This will always be a special class from a special year with a force in numbers that may never be rivaled any time soon.

It has been a privilege, an unparalleled honor to have served these delightful souls. Being a part of their journey to answer God’s call on their lives was a treat. I love them all. This is what God has called me to do and I treasure serving in this ministry.

photo by bruce w. fong photography

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