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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

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_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

IMG_1402We have guests coming to our home soon.  All of us are getting into the Christmas spirit.  Our fault and staff along with their families are converging on our home to celebrate this very precious season commemorating our Savior’s birth.

My wife and I are incredibly busy so neither of us can wait until the last minute to decorate and set up to entertain our nearly 40 guests.  Days in advance I have mapped out the errands that need attention.  Each day I knock off a chunk of that list.

High on that to-do schedule is setting up the Christmas tree.  It is a long-process.  Yet, without the tree everyone would know that something is missing.

Over a week ago I was in the closet pulling out from storage our decorations.  The tree was in a box.  That tree has been set up and taken down in three different states of the Union.

Each time it has been surrounded by joy and cheer.  It is a part of this favorite time of year.  So many symbols and memories and reminders of the reason for the season is represented on this central decoration.

I fluffed up each of the branches.  Once the tree was presentable I decked it with a multi-colored string of lights.  The lights were tested and approved.

The garland added color and sparkle.  Ornaments made us reminisce over the years of happiness and great memories that have passed by.  Special people, amazing moments and deepening love are all a part of what those ornaments point to.

Of course the tree topper is a climax.  Over the years we have had different tops to finish off our tree.  But, we often favor the Precious Moments angel.  She smiles down on all of our guests as they fill our home with more laughter, cheer and memories.

Love is a big deal this time of year.  Sure, it takes a lot of planning and effort.  But, that is all lost when I stand back, turn off the lights in the house and turn on the lights of the Christmas tree.

A moment of pause fills my spirit.  Smiles linked with special people ooze into the night.  Our musical clock chimes out a Christmas carol.

Love dominates the moment.  Family and the devotion of treasured ones rises to the surface of life.  Warm embraces will soon come.  It is all about love from family and friends so close they are family.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4213Getting a chance to slip out of Texas during July is a respite from the searing heat and sticky humidity.  Taking a week to see family made sense.  Yet, it did not take long for the soul to be missing the tug from the Lone Star state.

Texas has a pride that grows on you.  I was not born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.  That is a standard line for all of us transplants.

It usually gets a knowing laugh from native Texans.  This phrase also brings a warm welcome from the locals.  Soon the mystique grows on everyone who emigrates here.

It is not usually the scenery in Houston that conjures up  the spirit.  Houston is flat with no landscape sensations worth mentioning.

Natural beauty takes place in June when the wildflowers burst into bloom.  Blue skies and puffy cumulus clouds add to the flavor of the state.  Green grasses set off the blues, reds and yellow flowers.

Another natural wonder that we see often are the cloud formations.  Since the land is so flat we watch the spectacular thunderclouds roll in and see jagged flashes of lightning across the skies.  Jacob’s ladders form in the clouds as the sun fights to send its rays on to the earth.

People are a strength in Texas.  The people here have a kindness and hospitality about them that is refreshing.  Texans are likable and they like others in return.  God seems to have added a larger dose of cheer in the average Texan.

While I enjoy a variety of cuisine, Texas BBQ is special.  When the smoker is pumping out the white billows of hickory mixed with the aroma of pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken halves or sausage links the mouth waters up cheeks full of saliva that only knows eating as a solution.  This is the Texas spirit.

While away in Oregon, I saw an opportunity to take my family to some BBQ.  An eatery was recommended.  They served BBQ beef ribs.  I did not have to think about that choice; it was off my lips as soon as the waiter greeted us.

The aromas of the grill wafted through the restaurant.  I was looking forward to my treat.  The plate was mounded with ribs and the sides were just like home.

I sank my teeth into the fare.  At first I was happy.  Then, I knew that I was just encouraging my own spirit.  I missed Texas and BBQ was one of the reason I did.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The news of a family came in the mail.  Beautiful wedding invitations stand out from the pile of ads, flyers and assorted junk mail.  We looked at the return address and recognized the relatives that would soon be enjoying a gathering of the whole family.

It was a long distance away.   The miles and years have made the relative faces less and less familiar. Nevertheless, it is about family.

My memories have dulled over the decades.  Now, youngsters have matured into adults.  They have met special people and fallen in love.

They have announced the day that they would say “I do.”  In front of God and witnesses they exchange vows for life.  According to God’s Word two would begin their lives together as one.

As family we would gather from many miles and join in the celebration.  Our travels would take half way across the country.  Thousands of miles lay between us and the site for the nuptials.

Going to a wedding many states away requires a lot of planning and the costs are nothing to sneeze at either.  Yet, it is about family.

My checklist was long.  Slowly but surely one item after the next was checked off.  It took time, scheduling and effort.  But, after all, it is about family.

Many weddings just happen at impossible intervals when work and travel are just impossible.  Hopefully, family members understand.  Maybe people understand that the great distance only allows us occasional appearances.  Surely, they will understand.  After all, we are family.

The two legs of our flight took up a good portion of the day.  Traveling is tiresome but it is worth the journey.  After all, it is about family.

Soon the day arrived.  We dressed up, drove across town and saw the gathering of people.  The mood was celebratory.

It was an outside wedding.  The sun was shining and cumulus clouds gave us occasional respite of shade.  Reunions with good friends and distant relatives happened on every turn.

Catching up with news, exciting changes and life moments filled up the day.  The ceremony was delightful and the reception program was very entertaining.  There were loads of smiles and laughter.

Conversations and introductions followed the meal.  Names and connections were clarified.  Newly discovered relatives sunk roots together.

Family is special.  There are never guarantees like choosing friends because we do not choose our relatives.  We inherit them by genetics.  Love them by choice.  It adds to our family value.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_3884Do you like hoards and hoards of people trying to do what you are trying to do?  When the sun is hot, the temperatures are soaring and the lines form like a funnel each time you want to take in a special moment on a vacation that you have saved to enjoy after years.  Fuses are short even at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Grouchy people come with the program bursting with people on a mission.

A snarly husband with irritation dripping from his steely voice, “What did you lose?”
Desperately slapping her pockets, checking her purse, searching her bag a woman exclaimed, “Hold on.  I’m looking.”
With an escalating volume out of control, the man shouted with a growl, “Tell me!  What did you lose?”
Desperate and trying to find whatever she had misplaced, she blurted out, “My wallet.  I lost my wallet!”

By now everyone around that small patch of shade were looking up.  We were all looking on the ground, checking the bench and even slapping our own pockets.  Clearly there was sympathy for her and a frantic effort to stay the pending eruption written in red on that man’s face.

Just in time she announced, “I found it!”

A wind of crowd relief exhaled.  That man just turned on his heels and stalked away.  The family gathered their personal items, huddled together and followed after the heated furor of the family.

Quickly all of us in the crowd stepped back into our world of ease.  Everyone loses it some time under certain circumstances.  Most of us have the dignity not to hang our laundry in public, however.

We loved our visit to Disney World.  Yet, we encountered a few who were grouchy, a small number who were rude and very few who were pushy.  Humans get a little testy when their circumstances are not  ideal.

When the temperatures soar, so do the frayed tempers.  During the crowded spaces and slow-moving lines people do snap at others.  No matter how broadly Mickey smiles and cheers, someone is going to be unhappy.

Humorously, grumpy people want others to know how unpleasant they are feeling. Broadcasting their ill will seems to be a necessity for them.  Blaming others or making others feel badly is like a calling in life  for them.

Sometimes we are best just to keep quiet.  Other times we can smile back or send a cheerful way.  We cannot change the whole world but maybe we can infect a few with wonderful happiness.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Our drive up north is becoming a familiar journey.  Every other month I schedule a trip from Houston to Dallas.  A face to face with key personnel is a small price to invest in our ongoing communication with the mother ship.

Dallas Seminary is branching out.  It has several locations around the nation and overseas.  I have the privilege to serve in the Houston Campus.

Part of my long list of responsibilities is to give oversight to the educational endeavors of our fine institution in the fastest growing city in the USA.  Emails, text messages, Skyping and phone calls are countless.  But, nothing beats 30 minutes of smiles, conversation, immediate feedback and details of initiatives with instant approvals.

Most of the time I drive up from our megalopolis to this gem in the heart of Texas. It is a four-hour drive compared to the 3.5 hours of commuting, checking in and flying via commercial airlines.  That comparison does not even include getting from the airport to the campus once I arrive in Big D.

When I arrive my credentials and permits get me to a safe parking spot and on to the campus without any delay.  A list of people are on my mind and I head for my first location.  Invariably, I see someone and we stop and talk.

It is the unplanned spontaneous serendipitous meeting in the parking lot, in the foyer, in a walkway or along a stairwell that makes for strategic initiatives.  Ideas are born.  Personalities meld into operational plans.

During the day I am taking notes.  When I end my day, I am at my computer rehearsing ideas, making notes, recording thoughts and linking those thoughts with people.  The future is born out of those providential gatherings.

The sun is now setting.  As I scan the changing hues and marvel at the city lights, the long trip has been worthwhile.  Questions are answered and relationships with key people are deepened.

On my long drive home I will rehearse every one of those discussions.  In my spirit certain thoughts will seal into further plans.  Others will keep the back burners simmering until the time is ripe.

Sixty days will pass before I make my journey north again.  But, by then several initiatives that were discussed today will be in the history books.  I intend to make good ideas into real results in the near future.  Tomorrow is all about today’s conversations.

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

Motorcycle to Banff 2008 144This 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

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