Today was a day of sightseeing as the gracious staff of Evangel Seminary hosted the conference speakers from TEDS and elsewhere on a tour of Hong Kong. Have you ever had a day in which your whole view of the world was expanded, stretched like a rubber band until it was irrevocably changed? I had that kind of day today. Let me tell you about it.
There is so much that happens to us simply by seeing new things. It’s interesting. You don’t need to interact with things; you don’t need to handle them; you can be a complete stranger to an area, and yet, simply by seeing them one’s perspective is shaped. This came home to me as our group toured an island village about thirty minutes by boat from Hong Kong. We left the city harbor on a big ferry, were buffeted by strong waves, and then passed through big stone walls to the port of Cheng Chau. Once afoot, we walked the island, gazing into the little shops and nooks. To those who have not been to such a place, let me say that the closeness of the quarters is stunning. There is not an inch of wasted space. In the West, we take space for granted. Even poor people (in rural areas, granted) have massive land holdings compared to those in Hong Kong and its outlying territories. Yet I am sure that the people whose homes I glimpsed do not share my conception of space, and thus are comfortable in their homes. My brief time in Hong Kong has altered my understanding of real estate and the privilege of landholding. What one takes for granted in the West is a virtual fiefdom in parts of the East.
While on Cheng Chau, the group visited Alliance Bible Seminary. We took a tour of the campus and ate a very nice lunch that our hosts provided us. Alliance could be termed a “resort seminary” as it is porched on a gorgeous hill of the island’s coast. Tropical plants abound, and the campus, though small, is quite appealing. Though located in a corner distant in my eyes from the mainland, Alliance has 180 full-time MDiv students and 900 students including part-timers. For those who don’t know, those are impressive numbers. The school has just started a PhD program and clearly believes in a brand of scholarship that is propelled by faith and intellect. It has a library of roughly 50,000 volumes, an impressive total for a school in its situation. Made me think of the almost unbelievable wealth of the Western church and the need to share that wealth with the East. It would be no small thing for a church or parachurch organization to set up a book distribution system such that Christians could share resources with the global household of faith. Many of us will end up having larger personal libraries than sister institutions worldwide. Perhaps we can think about this situation, and perhaps we can ameliorate it in time to come.
After our visit to Cheng Chau, we visited a Lutheran retreat center in Tao Fong Shan started by Areopagus in the hills of what are called the “new territories,” regions just opened for business, so to speak. We visited a fascinating church/temple (yes, I’ve got that right) started by a missionary in the early twentieth century who believed that one could combine the best of Christianity with the best of Buddhism. Interesting proposition. He fashioned a statue with a cross emerging from a lotus. Following our trip to the retreat center, which was peaceful and made one want to stay and take a nap, we drove to Evangel Seminary and enjoyed a kind reception from our hosts. During the reception, I heard that the home of Chinese movie star Chow Yun-Fat was down the street a little ways. I ran down the street (departure time was drawing nigh) and easily located the house. It was the one with the barbed wire coils three feet high! I took a picture of the house (that I may post on this blog at a later date, check back) and saw that a window on the second floor was open. Perhaps I just missed my brush with Hollywood greatness. Oh well. Mentioning this house takes me back to my above comment on the preciousness of real estate. The fact that Yun-Fat has a two-story house speaks of astonishing wealth. His home, which was nice but entirely unremarkable, was worth the GDP of a small country.
Following that, we returned to our hotel. The day in sum brought reflection on the great responsibility of missionaries to steward the faith delivered to us in the Word. It has occurred to me numerous times over the last few days that the church unreached countries (of which China was once one) are so very dependent on the teaching of missionaries and scholars who take up residence in these places. The awesome responsibility of gospel stewardship becomes very real when one sees effects of theological waves that ripple on farther shores. The point is an obvious one, but Christians taking the gospel to unreached places have a huge burden upon their backs. They must tell the truth about God and His Word. They cannot avoid hard questions or fall back on ignorance. They have to know the truth, for what they know and teach becomes in a very direct sense what the reached peoples will know and teach. Perhaps this sounds obvious. When one is in a foreign land, though, it gains fresh meaning and import. Suddenly, innovation and experimentation seem less captivating. Fidelity and seriousness seem of the utmost importance. If we may say this of missionary work, of course, we may say it of all teaching done in Christ’s name and for His glory.
That concludes our recap of day two. Tomorrow, the conference begins. Some of the papers to be given sound absolutely engrossing. The nature of how Chinese identity shapes and is shaped by evangelical identity is very complex. I’m looking forward to hearing how world-class scholars comprehend the question and answer it, and I would invite you to join me in this great task of learning.