The Henry Center has gone international. Director Doug Sweeney and Managing Director Owen Strachan (the author) are hosting an international conference in Hong Kong, China this week that covers the topic of Christian identity in diverse situations. A number of faculty from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL are joining, as are scholars from Westmont College, Beeson Divinity School, Christar in India, Alliance Bible Seminary of China, Evangel Seminary in Hong Kong, and China Graduate School of Theology. Students from TEDS and local seminaries will attend, as will area pastors and interested laypeople. The conference will be on May 29-31, but most of the conference speakers are here.
It is my privilege to give you just a little taste of this exciting event through a blog series. I don’t have a lot of time, and there’s a great deal going on, but my posts should give you a window into what we’re doing. We are really excited by this conference, as it’s not common for Christians from East and West to gather together for such meaningful and productive fellowship. This is a very unique part of the privilege it is to labor for Christ in a world of increasing connection.
Without further ado, my humble little travelogue.
Day One (and Two): Discovery and Jetlag
(Sunday) 9:00am–Say goodbye to wife. Brave the wilds of O’Hare Airport. Check-in goes surprisingly well.
9:30am–11:35am–Wander O’Hare in search of vitals. Debate on which magazine to buy when confronted with 13,000 choices.
11:35am–Board plane for flight to Hong Kong. Sit for an hour. Am aware of what it is like to be a distinct ethnic minority. Think to myself that this experience is going to be very good for me.
12:35pm–Fifteen hour flight to Hong Kong commences. Ponder the fact that I’ve only once been on a flight longer than eight hours. Begin reading book (one).
1:15pm–First movie (of five!) begins screening.
3:45pm–Start reading book (two).
6:45pm–Lunch is served. A little plate of noodles and chicken with a microwaved roll never tasted so good.
1:15am–Both seatmates are asleep, as is most of the plane. I’m staying up so that I can sleep once we arrive in Hong Kong (we will arrive at 4:30pm their time–HK is 13 hours ahead of Chicago time (CT)). Realize that this means I have to stop reading. Commence watching of “27 Dresses.”
1:30am–End watching of “27 Dresses.”
2:30am Chicago Time, 4:30pm HK time–Arrive at HK. Connect with fellow TEDS folks. Find our escort. Drive into Hong Kong.
I’m going to break in here and talk for a bit about my first impressions of the city. For those who don’t know, it’s a port city. In addition, though the city stretches over many miles, the terrain is quite hilly, even mountainous. There is not a great deal of actual real estate in the city. Thus, there are skyscrapers everywhere. The roads are narrow. The city is very clean. It is utterly baffling to be in such a tightly constructed area. Not a spare inch is wasted. After we arrived at our hotel, we went out for a bite to eat. Along the way, we entered a mall with ceilings that could not have been higher than 7.5 feet. Little tiny shops proliferated, and people were almost back to back. I noticed a number of real estate shops–places advertising apartment housing. The rooms in these apartments boggle the mind, as they’re nothing less than tiny. Yet if one wants to live in the city, it appears that this is standard–less than 800 square feet for whole families is quite normal. For many Americans (outside of New York), such an apartment would be quaint. Here, it is standard.
The city is crawling with red taxis. At one stoplight, roughly thirty cars were stopped. Over half were taxis. Big rectangular buses swoop in from out of nowhere and park on a dime. It’s interesting to ponder what it would be like to live in a city like this all of one’s life. One gets used to simple things like seeing thousands of people per day. In general, people seem to move in their own isolated trajectories with little sense of the larger flow of others. Chinese pop music is everywhere. It throws me off, because I expect to hear American voices. In just a few blocks, we pass five banks. The market here seems to be exploding. Little noodle shops are also everywhere. Some smell good to my American nose, others hint of strange foods I’ve never encountered and couldn’t imagine consuming. I don’t think that I have ever felt like more of an outsider in this world than these moments. I don’t say this in a negative sense, as if I think that people are excluding me. No, I mean more what is cold, hard fact: I am an outsider. All around me are people speaking words I can’t understand. Language appears now more of a unifier than ever before. Walking along, I yearn to be able to connect with others through language. It is perhaps the simplest means of communication, one we take for granted, and I have no access to it, and am thus something of a shadow in the city, a passing presence who might as well not be there.
Back at the hotel, we ready for rest. We’re all flagging, and jetlag is working its stupor-inducing magic. Before I fall asleep, I look out my window. A place like this reminds one of the bigness of God. He oversees all of this, all of the madness, the controlled chaos, the billions of people who live and walk and buy noodles in places just like this. I am overwhelmed by this city–though I’ve seen probably 1/50th of it–and discover that it is in places like this, places that overwhelm the senses and boggle the mind, that God’s sovereignty and presence becomes very real. In a natural sense, there seems to be no center, no common point around which this all coheres and takes shape. Life is anonymous, moving at light-speed, insignificant. With God, though, there is a center. Better than this, there is a personal center. God is here. He is ruling. He is caring for His people and His world. To eyes struggling to take it all in, His transcendence emerges clearest. It is not simply in the pastures and meadows that we find God, and our need for Him. It is in the city, walking on sidewalks, surrounded by ten thousand people who do not know my name, do not speak my language, and do not even know I exist.
That concludes day one (and two). I put this all under day one because our flight and arrival was of a piece, though it stretched over two days. The value of this experience will, I know, be immense, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be here, to go outside of myself, to fellowship with fellow Christians of foreign background, and to learn lessons of faith in a new land. Tomorrow, I’ll give you a snapshot of our sightseeing, and the next few days, I’ll take you into the conference, and give you some highlights.
From Hong Kong, Owen Strachan.