IMG_3614Our guide was waiting for us at the Concierge’s desk.  She did her best to communicate with us in English and her efforts paid off as we got used to her vocabulary and accent.  There was a lot of pointing but also plenty of laughter and the typical overabundance of Thai smiles.

The drive through the city of Bangkok took over an hour.  She reminded us that the traffic was unusually light.  Our trip home would be a bit longer due to the rush hour.

Nevertheless, she made the trip interesting.  She pointed out the highest building in Bangkok, the United Nations headquarters of Asia, the Army base, various hospitals, Thailand’s best university, the picture of the King and his mother, the local grocery store and the names of the rivers that we passed over.  This must have been a route that she had guided many times in the past.

Finally, we rolled up to the Thai Cultural Center.  There we strolled the grounds and took in the pristine water features with quaint bridges, examples of Thai agriculture of rice, lemon grass and water lilies.  Then, we lingered long at the display of women harvesting silk from silkworms and spinning it into thread and then weaving into amazing scarves.

IMG_3586Then, it was time for the cultural show.  Elephants, dancers, martial artists and musicians gave us a massive portrait of the Siam that became Thailand.  The climax came with the traditional bamboo dance that originated in the northern parts of Thailand.

The dancers came into the crowd to seek volunteers to join them.  I was self-controlled and tried not to embarrass my family name so I gripped the seat that I was occupying with two tightly knitted fists.  Really, I could have done it!

On the way out of the parking lot our driver got excited.  He pointed ahead and slowed down.  That’s when the large monitor lizard of about 4 feet long casually walked across the asphalt looking for the nearest body of water to do some evening fishing.

IMG_3601The long drive back to our hotel took us through Bangkok traffic.  It is no fun.  But, it did afford me some opportunities for some fun photo shoots.

The famous Asian Tuk Tuk filled me frame.  Tiny 125cc motor scooters were the vehicle of choice for many locals.  They could easily zip here and there.

Safely back at our hotel, I just sat down and rested through dinner.  Images of smiles, dancers and a bustling city danced through my mind.  Bangkok is a delightful city full of treasures for the eye and a lasting memory.

photos by brucefong photography

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The medical staff ushered me into the examination room and Dr. Wan introduced himself. He is in his 70’s and slight of build and very gentle in manner.  When he explains his practice and why he does what he does, you feel like you are hearing Yoda give a lesson about life.

My appointment was with Dr. Wan at 4PM on my day off.  It was tough to make it from my truck into the waiting room.  The pain in my back was agonizing.

Traditional Western medicine provided temporary but very limited relief from the back pain.  I had been trying almost every option from shots to pills to physical therapy.  Even surgery was starting to look like a viable option.

I would not say that my foray into the Eastern world of therapy was a desperate move.  It was one of several options that was on my short list.  Pain has a horrible way of making itself at home and disrupting every facet of your routine.

Simple tasks like putting on shoes was agonizing.  Walking any length even to put out the garbage at the curb was punishment.  Standing still for worship at church was more like penance for the sins of many lives.  It just hurt.

As Dr. Wan went on with his questions, I was reaching the limits of my self-control.  Reluctantly, I broke into Dr. Wan’s discourse, “I’m sorry but I am in so much pain now, I can hardly listen to what you are saying.”  Then, he went into action.

“Let me take of that right now,” he calmly assured me.  He was down on one knee.  With his left hand he grabbed my right knee.  My left foot was firmly in his grasped.

The strength of he two grips was remarkably powerful.  That’s when the surprise of his moves startled me into the reality that my back pain was subsiding at a breakneck speed.  “How did you do that?”  A few moments more of his technique and he simply smiled, “Let’s start your acupuncture and take care of this problem on a more permanent basis.”

He did not have to ask me twice.  From literally breaking out in a painful sweat to being relaxed and under control, I rehearsed in my mind what just occurred.  No pills, no painful manipulation, no fancy machines but just the right grip of an experienced man set my pain back into the “no problem” category.

 

 

The mystery of the Far East and its exotic shadows of life and health have been with me from my childhood.  Whenever family members caught a bug, the typical radio advertised local pharmaceutical remedies were administered. But, in our home there was also a flair and fanfare from Grandma’s recommendation.

Whether someone had a cold, cough or fever Grandma’s solution seemed to work wonders.  Then, more serious maladies like hay fever, spinal stenosis and sciatica visited our family.  Grandma was not deterred.  She had knowledge of life to pass on to the rest of us.

Herbs, soups and teas were no longer on the menu.  Instead, the conversation turned to acupuncture.   To the uninitiated this alternative method of treatment seems a bit odd or even bizarre. More than once I have heard people snicker.  At least the more polite ask what is the science behind the practice.

I certainly am not the most qualified person to champion the practice.  There is a long list of doubters who have many avenues to probe and questions to ask.  My expertise is in theology not acupuncture.

Nevertheless, what I lack in expertise, I possess in personal benefit.  The needles have been expertly implanted in various parts of my body to match the pathways of my Chi.  Can I explain how the pain goes away?  No.  But, can I testify to the fact that it does what no other medical practice has been able to do? Yes.

My appointment was with Dr. Wan at 4PM on my day off.  I was in a lot of pain.  It was even difficult to make it from my truck into the waiting room.  The pain from my back was agonizing.

Traditional Western medicine provided temporary relief at best.  It offered very limited relief from my back pain.  I had tried almost every option from shots to pills to physical therapy.  Even surgery was starting to look like a viable option.

Physical therapy made me feel worse.  Climbing off of the treatment bed was next to impossible.  I was limping back to my truck.

When I arrived at home, the challenge of getting back into the house lay like a bed of hot coals to walk over with bare feet.  I did not know if I could do it.  Gingerly, one step after the next and a normal short journey was all about pain.  It was time to try something new.  Maybe it was time to try acupuncture.

 

IMG_2417Mt. Carmel is a “holy site” in Israel.  It is one of the first stops on a Holy Land tour for many agencies and tour groups.  On top of this Mountain, just on the south-western edge of the Valley of Jezreel.

On this special mountain top the events of 1 Kings 18 took place.  The great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Whose deity was real?

Elijah was in the minority.  He stood alone in a challenge against Ahab’s priests who numbered in excess of 800.  The size of the crowd that came to witness the challenge is never identified, but it could certainly have been sizable.

The ground rules were simple.  Each contesting party was to build an altar for a burnt sacrifice.  The designated priests were to then call on their deity to accept the offering by fire.

The priests of Baal went first.  They went through every plea and dance they could. For hours they begged their Baal to send fire and accept their offering.

After an embarrassingly lengthy time, Elijah began the trash talking.  He urged them to shout louder since their god was likely on a long journey and couldn’t hear them.  Or maybe he was busy with necessary activities.

Finally, after exhausting themselves, Elijah’s turn came.  He simply prayed.  God answered with fire that not only consumed the offering but the water that Elijah had dumped on the offering.  Even the stones which made up the altar were also consumed.  It was a powerful show of who was the real God and which was the fake.

A church sits on this site today.  Situated on the pinnacle of the church is a cross embedded on an original spherical stone.  However, it is now a hemisphere since lightning struck a few years back and split the sphere in half.

It is a powerful reminder not to forget the demonstration of history of who the one true God is.

 

FullSizeRender-2This was going to be a particularly difficult day.  Pressures at work, a long line of demands had been queuing up for months, responsibilities were pushing the limits of our sanity.  My bride and I were comparing notes and it was going to be a tough day to start the work week.

On top of our regular routine we have a major trip coming up in a matter of weeks.  Details of overseas travel are horrendous!  We had to find time to invest in that preparation.

Departure times and dates are already getting tangled in our scheduling.  Today we would have to make sure we made those adjustments.  Double booking ourselves is an inconvenience for everyone and could easily undermine our efforts to be effective at all of our responsibilities.

We both heaved a deep sigh of dismay, loaded up our car with our bags for our day and drove off into the dark morning for our long commute.  My thoughts were lost in our need to get over the financial hump of needed changes, travel expenses and time investments.  If I could I needed to think about relieving my bride of the pressure she was feeling.

Now, we discussed possible drastic changes in our circumstances.  What dramatic changes could we live with if that meant the relief of life pressures?  There were no easy answers.

Then, we rounded the arching on ramp to the Interstate freeway.  The Houston eastern skies were waiting to cut short the threatening discouragement.  In front of us the Creator was putting on a show.

Clouds burst out of the east, pointing to the west.  Behind those finger shaped clouds were the indescribable colors of the divine palate, splashing reds, oranges and yellows in balanced effect.  Blue skies in the background were pushing the loud colors , pressing the daylight splendor.

We both smiled at the interruption to our concerns.  The God of all gods was breaking into our worrisome souls.  It was sensational sunrise.

He was starting the day off with a splendid artistic masterpiece.  In massive swathes of colorful strokes that were changing by the minute, we could only watch as He finished up the waking of a new day.  No words but just splendor.

We got the message.  What did we really have to worry about if He was in charge?  Now, we had a day to look forward to instead of dreading.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

IMG_1493Our move to Houston had a number of priorities on our relocation list.  The normal items of finding a home, establishing myself in my new job, finding a new job for my bride and of course, finding a new home church.  This last item was not the lowest on our priority even though it comes last on my list.

During our visits to Houston we not only shopped for a place to live and find a house to buy in the area that we chose to be our home, I asked a lot questions about church recommendations.  My list for churches that others were excited about was growing longer.  Now, it was time to systematically make our visits and trust God to lead us where He wanted us to serve.

Essentials on our list for a church to call home were simple.  There was doctrinal alignment.  Worship vibrancy was on our list.  Most importantly we wanted a church home where we would be able to love our pastor, support him and his family and be a couple that he could count on as the church moved forward.

We seemed to visit churches forever.  Each time we like so much of the many very good churches in Houston.  Yet, we just could not connect with our list of essentials.

Then, we met Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church.  He was on Sabbatical the first time we visited HFBC.  In the meantime we roamed the city visiting all of the churches that people recommended to us.

When our list ran out we heard that Pastor Gregg was back from his sabbatical.  We chose to visit.  We were blown away!

It is like meeting an old friend and connecting right off the bat.  We met for a Dr. Pepper break, he invited us to their Christmas Celebrate and after a short decision discussion, my bride and I went forward in December 2012 and joined the church.

After years of serving as a pastor, cheering on other pastors, encouraging broken pastors, standing by the side of besieged pastors we are solidly in our Pastor’s corner and doing everything we can to honor his life and ministry.  Often our friends in far away states in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee ask how we like living in Houston.  Our response always includes the great reality that we love our church and our pastor.  That’s the way it should always be.

photo credit: yvonne fong photography

 

IMG_2165When I checked the weather, the data took my breath away.  Today was a scheduled bicycle ride day.  In Houston the weather for bike riding makes year-round peddling a possibility. This news, however, could toss a wrench in my day-off plans.

The temperatures were down to 45 degrees.  In Houston terms that is very chilly.  A 5 mph wind calculates into a wind chill of 42 degrees.  On a bicycle with the increased riding speed of 15mph that would feel more like 40 degrees. Brrrr!

Now, it was time to think and remember where I stored my cold weather riding clothes.  40 degrees is about my limit for comfort when it comes riding a bicycle outdoors.  Anything colder means that I have to carry an ice pick and stainless steel flask filled with hot chocolate.

My base layer was set.  All of the gaps for exposed skin were closed up.  Good socks fit into my riding shoes.

My riding jacket was ideal for this kind of weather.  Of course my long finger riding gloves were essential.  My last item, however, eluded my searching.

That is one of those rarely used items that you relished on your last cold weather ride.  But, my short term memory was no better than my long term memory on this search mission.

I looked in boxes upstairs, downstairs, garage, closets and miscellaneous containers.  There sure are a lot of miscellaneous containers around our house.  Each one is filled with really useful and valuable stuff.  One of these days I am going to sort out and organize all of it.

So, I paused to think.  Where would I have put that one last cold weather piece of clothing.  Ahah! With a quick step into the garage and a look inside my gear for motorcycle riding, I pulled out that special items, Balaclava!

No, it is not a Middle Eastern dessert.  There are no nuts or honey with this piece.  Instead, it is made from bamboo, making it tough.  It is light weight and just enough coverage to make it comfortable for my head not to freeze during a cold weather ride.

Now, I was ready.  I pushed off and settled on to my bicycle seat.  Soon I was getting into a rhythm for riding.  The exposed parts of my face felt the chilly temperatures bite into my tender skin.  But, the specialty clothes that I wore kept me very comfortable.

It was a reminder that the world that the Creator gave to us has its down sides.  But, with some great choices a careful pattern of dress could easily protect us against the elements.  Keep on enjoying His presence and the good feeling of a brisk morning ride.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

 

 

13_Hours_posterA lot of anticipation preceded this film. Its public announcement both in the news and through trailers stirred a massive amount of interest. But, I wondered, “Would the film live up to anyone’s expectations?”

It is a very good movie well worth seeing. But, prepare yourself.  This true story will affect you deeply.

On the 11th Anniversary of the unprovoked attack on the United States’ World Trade Center and Pentagon, hostile forces attacked the US diplomatic center and CIA “Annex” compound. A small band of 6 CIA contractors made up of former Navy SeALS, Marines and Army Rangers take the initiative and do all they can to defend the Americans who are in the crosshairs of the terrorists. These 6 faced overwhelming odds yet managed to fend off the waves of attacks.

A historical fact that left me mystified at the outset of the story is that the USA has over 200 diplomatic outposts of one nature or another around the world. Of those there are around a dozen that are classified as severely hostile and dangerous. The two most dangerous are both in Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi.

Every other country had pulled its diplomatic teams out of Benghazi.  The USA was the only country with a remaining contingency.  It was a city torn by military factions and violent extremists yet its two sites were woefully under-protected.

When the US Ambassador to Libya came to town, he had a protective team of a mere two US combatants.  The compound was primarily protected by local police and native personnel who ran away as soon as the attacks began.  No one trusted these local hirelings so there was no surprise when they betrayed their clients and ran for their lives.

As the story developed, the dangers of a planned attack showed heroism in action.  No help was forthcoming but the few did not hesitate to put their lives in harms way to protect those who were in danger.  Even in the face of administrative fear and hesitation, the 6 fought off wave after wave of terrorist combatants.

Respect for the courage of the few Americans skyrocketed.  Sadness sank into fearful desperation when the US government failed to send in the resources necessary to render necessary aid to the brave 6.  Those two words make up my summary of how this story affected me: respect and sadness.

photo credit: film promotion release poster

 

 

IMG_1164Tinsel, colored lights, special music, tasty meals and sweet snacks are a part of this special time of the year.  Smiles come with every reunion of family and dear friends.  Shoppers excitedly wrap great finds in stores and shops around town.

People are busy as cash registers sing.  Lines with people dressed warmly for the winter cold wait with expectation, thinking how loved ones will shout with glee when gifts are unwrapped on that special morning.  Young ones and old ones all learn to love this great and wonderful time of the year.

Old memories and new ones too of getting chilled in the playful snow building snowmen, snow angels and snowball fights chase us indoors for hot chocolate and cozy family hug times around a fire.  Colorful stories that make us laugh wonder and imagine fill these special days leading up the most special day of all.

Christmas is the day we celebrate.  It has marked our childhood with joyous memories and happy days.  This special day defines the word JOY.

For all of the sad times in life, the tears and the hardships we somehow find a way to make Christmas a time to smile, laugh and hope.  All of us turn to God in this season because this is the special time in history when He gave us the first Christmas gift, the gift of His Son Jesus the Christ.

The Savior was born on this day of commemoration.  He is the reason for the season.  When we worship Him on Christmas Day and every day that we draw breath we have figured out the true meaning of Christmas:

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel† of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.† I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior† has been born to you; he is Christ*† the Lord.† 12This will be a sign† to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace† to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2.8-14

Merry Christmas, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1504So many of us have been surprised by the Minions of Despicable fame.  They aren’t even the star character in the Universal Pictures animation movie.  In fact they are extras that have risen to stardom almost by accident.

Now, in toy stores and pictorial renditions of favorite characters, the Minions surpass the original stars of the film.  Felonious Gru was a star but his character doesn’t stick in the memory like his little Minions.  The morphing of the super villain from interstellar thief to nurturing parent is enhanced with the supporting cast of innumerable minions.

Margo, Edith and Agnes are adorable.  While I was watching the story, I wanted to adopt those three wee ones! But, there was something about those Minions.

Vector was the ideal villain of villains.  He was dastardly.  You didn’t like him.

It felt good to root against him.  When he succeeded it was disappointing.  His achievements made you cheer on Gru!  But, still there were the Minions.

Didn’t those little guys make you smile?  Their jabbering made you chuckle.  Sometimes laughing out loud was just the right response.

The first time I saw them on the screen, I they reminded me of Hostess Twinkie.  Since then I haven’t met a soul who thought the same thing.  Oh well, maybe I’m a little out of touch.

There’s something about characters who make you react the way we do.  Real humans could pay attention to a life truth here.  Too many people miss this.

In each of our lives we will influence other people.  Those people will rarely remember the words we speak or the deeds we do.  However, they will almost always remember how we made them feel.

The same wisdom comes from that ancient adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Some of us who are educated beyond our moral capacity to implement that information productively, sometimes forget this truth.  Instead, if we impress others, embarrass others, win arguments at others’ expense, then we feel a measure of satisfaction.

The Minions are a great reminder of just making others feel good because we have come into the lives of others.  Influence people for good.  It is a great way to live.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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