July 10, 2009

Kindling Friendships in Hong Kong

I do not know of anything much more fun than traveling with good friends, meeting old friends, and engaging with new friends. We arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday evening and spent yesterday trekking around the city in the spiritual practice of friendship, surely one of the key ways the Spirit of God sculpts our lives into Christ's likeness. Dr. John Gravley, the leader of our intrepid group, spent nearly nine years in Hong Kong employed by International Ministries of the ABC, so he knows the city well and made some life-time friendships, which he is quick to share. He models exemplary intercultural friendships, and we learn by observing his respectful engagement of Chinese women and men. Also in our group is Mr. George Townsend, his wife Karen, and son Wes, amiable traveling companions, eager to explore and learn. Understandably, our friendships will deepen as we share this remarkable journey.
I suppose it does not surprise any of my friends that when I get to a new city, I head for the nearest Baptist seminary. I have several friends at the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary--a former student, now a professor there; a retired professor from my home church; and, the newly inaugurated seminary president, Dr. Joshua Cho, who graciously hosted us for lunch. It was a precious opportunity to confer about the challenges and privileges of theological education. Our mutual desire for excellence in ministry preparation for the good of the church and larger community was refined as we shared table fellowship and our very lives. It was a joy to visit the campus and see their library and chapel, facilities of special interest to those of us who serve at Central in these days. Remember to pray for this visionary and gifted leader. I know how much my own tenure as president has benefited from the faithful prayer of friends.
In the evening, we met some new friends over an elegant Chinese dinner, with courses too numerous to count. [The airline may be adding an extra freight charge when we fly home if these gustatory habits continue!] Our conversation was wide-ranging--everything from the state of the church in China, the global financial crisis, the challenge of healthcare in the world, to the Obama presidency. Of course, we solved all of these issues by the time the nearly three-hour dinner was over! These new friends of Central shared our excitement as we told them of the ways God is blessing our seminary.
In John's Gospel, "friends" is the preferred designation Jesus offers his followers. Friendship is a spiritual practice that allows the flourishing of human life in community. How good and pleasant it is when friends dwell together in unity (Psalm 133).
We traveled to Bangkok this morning. Friends await us in this city, too. [There will also be a seminary to visit, I'm told.]
Molly T. Marshall, Ph.D.


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