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IMG_3809Yes, 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 areIMG_3782 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.

IMG_3877Our 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.IMG_3916

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

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IMG_0278High School graduation was part of life.  It was filled with my classmates who were putting their stamp on a season that we shared together.  This special year would be a stake in the ground that we could all look back and remember our beginning, a commencement into life.

Different kinds of classmates were all around me.  My music buddies amazed me at their talent.  When they sang, I was stunned at how well they could captivate an audience.  Others could pick up an instrument and be judged among the best in the state.

Marching Band occupied a lot of my time.  Friendships grew when times were tough.  A new High School opened up and hived off so many of our musical talent.

We were left with a corporal’s guard.  But, we gave it all we had and enjoyed it.  We could not change much about our size.  However, the quality that we produced was memorable.

Some of my history was in sports.  I wrestled in High School.  We had one stand-out who went on to State.  All of us were proud of his achievements.

Athletes wore their block letter “M” on jackets and sweaters.  Winning may have been a rarity among our sports enthusiasts but spirit could never be questioned.  Our cheerleaders were the best.

Spirit at C.K. McClatchy High School was always on a high level.  Cheering together gave us an identity with this special year of a special class.

There were a lot of smart people around me too.  In Elementary Functions, pre-calculus, our brainy math wizards solved impossible problems.  Collaboration on the black board with options to finally solve a problem were a blast.

Science club gathered another kind of “smart” students.  Philosophy and experiments launched us into a world already too big for young lives to tackle.  But, we chased our chemistry, physics and engineering dreams with youthful energy and exuberance.

When Pomp and Circumstance was played for us, we marched in gowned up and eager to head to college.  A world was waiting for us to conquer, serve and make it better.  Since that special year of 1969, my classmates have made a difference in the world.

It was a special year with special people and amazing dreams.  Do you remember that year?  The world has never been the same since, don’t you think?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5318Word of my friend Michael’s passing still makes me shake.  It was a total shock and surprise.  Someone so special in my life now gone.

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

FullSizeRenderThree 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

IMG_4382Tuesday 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.

IMG_4380Not 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.

IMG_4407Standing 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

iPad-2013.09.19-12.42.07.804 (1)This past year has been full of adventure, challenges and God’s blessings.  But, it is past.  Now, it was time to gather my leadership team, go out for a good meal and reflect on what we did well and what we can do better.

Four of us share in the leadership of our institution of graduate higher education.  Each one on this team is extremely capable and humble in carrying out their duties.  Loyalty is huge among us.

I chose the restaurant.  It was a surprise to everyone.  No one else had ever been to this snazzy place to dine except me.

It was a Brazilian steakhouse.  Lunch was the perfect time to come.  It was not as crowded as the evening and the price was like getting the meal on sale.

The salad bar is exquisite.  There are not many presentations of vegetables and unique offerings that compare.  Everything is fresh, bountiful and succulent.

But, for the four of us men, a visit to the salad bar was a mere courtesy.  The main event was waiting to converge on us.  All it took was to turn over a 3×3 card from red to green.

Setting the example with my veteran experience, I flipped my card to green.  Extremely attentive servers were at my side like flies to honey.  A long three prong skewer was loaded with three sirloin steaks, still sizzling from the grill.

The fragrance was enough to make my mouth drool.  He deftly sliced a generous portion and I grabbed it with my tongs and laid it on my plate.  But, I did not have a chance to taste since another server was quickly at my side.

On his serving skewer was a perfectly aromatic lamb roast.  I had to say yes.  When he sliced the tender portion and I laid it on my plate, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Another server sliced me a heavenly portion of prime rib.  It was succulent and overflowing with juices.  Quickly I turned my card over to red to stop the flood of food.

It was time to enjoy the moment.  Each slice erupted on my palate with the perfect balance of flavor, heat and tenderness.  This was an ideal spot for us to celebrate a fabulous year together.

Eagerly the four of us rehearsed the last academic year, discussed our hard lessons and reminded ourselves of what we could do better.  Each of us spoke specifically of our great strength, our faculty and staff team.  Others make the success possible, of that we assured ourselves, while downing another slice of roasted perfection.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Israel 2014 IFL 366When 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

Israel 2014 IFL 233The timing of our entrance to the Holy City was perfect.  We had been traveling throughout the Land of Israel for several days.  Our spirits were drinking in the spectacular sites and stories of old.  We were now ready.

Our buses made the steep climb up from the Jordan Valley, near Jericho.  The schedules in our hands announced that today we would arrive in Jerusalem.  Jet lag was under control and cameras were poised.

The driver and bus shepherds were synchronized.  Freeway signs pointed to the tunnel entrance to Jerusalem.  The meter markers alerted us to be ready.

At the appointed time the tour guide turned on the sound system.  His eyes met the bus shepherds.  The smile said it all.

He pressed play.  The song began.  It was the masterpiece, The Holy City.

The bus emerged from the tunnel. Before the eyes of all on our coach the city of Jerusalem unfolded.  Amazing lyrics lifted our hearts to the special place that this city has had in history, in our faith, in the prophetic Word of God and in the lives of people who traveled from all over the world to be here on this tour.

There was no talking on the bus.  The words of this majestic song filled every crevice of the bus.  Countenances told Israel 2014 IFL 237different stories.

Some were just happy to finally make this once in a lifetime pilgrimage. Others were holding back tears as the meaning of this place bombarded their minds.  Still others prayed quietly for the peace of Jerusalem.

I felt a deep honor to be their bus professor on this trip.  Through the past few days and into the next I would be privileged to begin each day with a devotional talk from the Word.  Now, I could focus on this city and the amazing things that happened with the lessons for all time that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, taught then and now.

Israel 2014 IFL 241To grasp the expanse of what we would cover, the buses converged on the Israel Museum.  On our first day in the City we would tour the model of ancient Jerusalem during the time of Christ. Under the beautiful skies of Israel this scale model shows the surrounding walls of the city.

Included is Herod’s Temple.  Everything in the model is 1:50 scale.  It covers over 21,000 square feet.

Imagining the movements of Jesus and His disciples is a marvelous experience.  The topography of the area helps seal in our mind the events of those days.  This spectacular city is now becoming very familiar.

photo credits: brucefong photography

IMG_3314It is Stephen’s 50th birthday.  Being a half centenarian means maturity, experience, impact, establishment, success, promise, hope and joy.

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!

IMG_3195Glancing at my watch I just had a minute to wrap up a project.  Then, I would have to dash to a meeting in the Houston Heights.  If traffic was not too much of an issue then I would arrive in time for my lunch gathering.

This would be a new eatery for me.  New friends would be gathering.  They are a delightful bunch.  We serve together at our church and have fun doing what we do.

The five of us were enjoying our visit.  Sometimes we laughed, other times we caught up on each other’s happenings and of course we had some serious conversations about studying the Scriptures.  The brainpower of my colleagues is very stimulating.

Our fellowship was interrupted by waiter.  He announced that there were several options that were not listed on the menu.  Then, he recited about five dishes.

Politely I listened but that courtesy stopped when he described their Texas chili.  My ears perked up.  When he asked me about my order, I asked him if their Texas chili was made without beans.

His smile erupted like a spontaneous dancer who just got caught up with the music.  Affirming my inquiry, I filled him in on my interest.  “I have been in Texas for a year and a half and have not found a place to try real Texas chili with out beans.”

Continuing his animated conversation, he assured me that their Texas chili was one of the best in town.  I confirmed my order.  This was going to be a check off the list of to-dos in Houston.

My lunch order arrived piping hot.  They often refer to Texas chili simply as “Red”.  It is not that it is so hot that it burns.

Rather, Texas chili made commonly on the ranch or on the trail, always simmered a long time.  The natural spices and herbs were allowed to cook in and blend with the beef.  Any flavor of raw spices was melted away over time.

Ground beef or chunks of beef are a toss-up depending on personal tastes.  Texans appreciate tradition but as aficionados of this Tex-Mex food staple they also without apology act through their individual independence.  If they want to substitute another kind of meat in their Texas chili no one is going to tell them otherwise.

Texas Red is wonderful in flavor and individuality.  Chili competitions have rotated around many offerings.  What counts is that you try it, love it and pass it on.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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