A View from the Curb

31 05 2013

On a recent trip into China, I watched as a group of young students on their way home from school, nonchalantly and safely made their way across a busy street. There wasn’t a crosswalk for them to use, but they carefully navigated their way from one side of the street to the other – as a variety of vehicles made their way down that same road.

Crossing Guilin Street

Students trying to cross a street in Guilin

It’s a scene that is repeated on a daily basis all across China, and if you’re not used to it, it can be a little unnerving. Growing both up in residential & more rural parts of Canada, I was taught & learned the rules of the road – when and how to safely cross a street – and that served me well until our family came to Asia. But upon our arrival in Taiwan, and on my subsequent travels into China, I quickly discovered that what worked for me in Canada and the USA wasn’t going to work here.

At first everything seemed some chaotic – there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why people were driving the way they were, or how people could safely cross the busy road without being run over. (If you want an idea of what it’s like to cross a street in China, imagine a real life version of the old arcade game – Frogger!

But as time went by, I began to see more than just the cacophony of cars and people and instead saw the rhythm – the ebb and flow of walking and driving in Asia. It’s hard to explain on paper all that’s involved (I guess you have to be here to experience it) but part of that rhythm involves having patience and being willing to wait for the right moment to move forward.  (Maybe that is why it has taken me 24 years to learn this particular lesson!)  But learning some patience and waiting for the right moment to step out has helped me survive the past 24 years on the streets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Now, when traveling in China, I know how to safely make my way across a busy intersection without being run over by passing cars.

Crossing Nathan Road

Crossing a busy intersection in Hong Kong

As I reflected on this the other day, I realized that I have had to apply these same principles to my personal life and ministry.  Life and ministry is different here in Asia, and living in a culture where everything is go-go-go, and constantly under pressure to produce results, it’s not always easy to be patient.

As much as I would like to rush forward with all the great ideas I have gathered over the years – I need to bide my time and wait for the right moment before stepping out.  Peter Marshall said it best: “Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.” When the moment is right, we need to step out in faith, and move forward.

So whether it’s just a matter of us trying to cross a busy street safely, or trying to determine the next step in life or in ministry, remember – ‘Have patience with all things, but, first of all with yourself.’ (St. Francis de Sales)

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie


PRAISE God that students and staff were able to move into the new Guangxi Provincial Training Center building the middle of May.  Classes for this year’s students will be completed the end of June. As they complete their studies PRAY that these graduates would be both an encouragement and a help to the ministries of their local church.

We are thankful for recent improvements in Debbie’s dad’s overall condition.  He is on a new medication, which has helped to improve his recall and focus.  He is doing a bit of exercise again, getting out to church and making plans for our summer visit.  We are encouraged by his hopeful outlook.

We are thankful that we were able to attend our daughter Janelle’s graduation from Azusa Pacific University at the beginning of May and celebrate this milestone together with her.  PRAY for God’s leading both for summer employment and plans for the coming year.

We will be back in North America again this summer (June 16 – July 31st) – spending time with family and sharing with some churches about our ministry.  PRAY that in the midst of all our travels that we would have time for rest and rejuvenation.


When All is Not Well

26 04 2013

Recent events here in Hong Kong and China have brought back a certain level of unease, tension and fear for many people.

Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of China’s Wenchuan (汶川) Earthquake (May 12, 2008) where nearly 70,000 residents were killed, 375,000 injured, another 19,000 reported as missing, and nearly 5 million people left homeless.  Included in this number were thousands of school children, who died when the school buildings they were in that day collapsed on them.  And now just as many of these families were trying to move on with their lives, disaster has struck this province in central China once again.

2008 Wenchuan earthquake

Last week (April 20th) another devastating earthquake wreaked havoc on the people of Sichuan, hitting the rural county of Lushan (芦山), south of the provincial capital city of ChengDu. While this earthquake and the resulting aftershocks have brought back memories of the terror and destruction of the Wenchuan earthquake, it appears that it will not be as deadly – latest reports are 193 killed, and more than 12,200 injured.

But now, as Chinese soldiers have arrived and begun assisting people in this latest earthquake area, the questions have started again in China.  This time, the questions are not about corruption leading to collapsed buildings, but rather, whether local officials can be trusted to properly handle the influx of relief funds. Here in Hong Kong, local legislators have delayed sending a $100 million HKD ($13 million USD) donation for relief efforts in Lushan, over fears that funds might be misused. One Hong Kong lawmaker was quoted as saying “The mainland does not lack money but lacks a system. It would be wrong to hand over money if some of it is pocketed by corrupt officials.”

The other event drawing increasing attention from both Hong Kong and Chinese government officials is the recent spread of the H7N9 virus – another avian influenza (bird flu) virus. It seems that Hong Kong and China have been dealing with a long term ‘bird flu’ problem for several years, but now that the WHO has stated this new bird strain is ‘one of the most lethal’ flu viruses, it has gotten people’s attention.Riding the Hong Kong subway during SARS

In light of what happened back in 2003 (do you remember SARS?) health officials in Hong Kong are keeping a close eye on any new outbreaks of this bird flu virus in China.  With China’s ‘Golden Week’ national holiday coming up next week (May 1), government officials are concerned about the influx of up to 350,000 mainland Chinese tourists who will visit Hong Kong, and the possibility that one of them will inadvertently bring this bird flu virus to Hong Kong.  Hotels and tour agencies here are on increased alert to pay attention to the health of these tourists, so they can notify the health department should anyone become ill with bird flu-like symptoms.

As reports come from China each day of new cases of the H7N9 virus, health officials are doing all they can to try and prevent an outbreak here in Hong Kong.  I have seen an increased number of people on the subways and trains wearing a surgical mask – either out of fear that someone might pass the H7N9 virus onto them, or that they might give their cold or flu bug to someone else.

So how do we respond in light of our fears and worries – whether it be about earthquakes, deadly viruses, or something else?  As I was wondering how to conclude this blog, I came upon the following devotional thought that seemed so very appropriate.

George Muller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” It has to be one or the other. You can’t yield to both, because the two are incompatible.

In Mark 5:36 Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jesus spoke these words to Jairus as if they involve a choice. They do.

Faith and fear are often categorized as emotions, but they each come down to what you choose to think about.

Worry-driven thoughts chip away at your confidence in God’s ability to provide. Faith-driven thoughts have the power to knock fear off its feet.

You may not have to worry about the after-shocks from an earthquake rattling your home today, but it’s possible that you and your family may be facing another kind of disaster – financial or otherwise.  The spread of the H7N9 virus may be far away from where you live today, but it doesn’t mean that you or one of your loved ones isn’t facing another health problem.  So how should we respond?

Remember again and again what God has done before. Choose faith-driven thoughts. Sing again and again a favorite hymn. Recite again and again a promise from Scripture. These will open the door to a faith-filled perspective, driving fear out of the way.

Faith or fear. It’s a choice. One eventually overtakes the other, so let’s choose our thoughts carefully.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie


Construction on the new Guangxi Provincial Training Center building was completed last fall, but to date, church leaders have been unable to move into this new facility. PRAY that both church leaders and training center students would have patience as they wait for final inspections to be completed.

The health of Debbie’s dad has continued to fluctuate over the past couple of weeks and we have noticed some signs of memory loss and confusion. However, he continues to remain at his home, and we are thankful for Debbie’s brother (Stephen) and his wife (Linda) who have been the primary care givers on most days.  PRAY that God would give them strength and wisdom for this responsibility each day.  PRAY that Debbie’s dad would have a sense of security and peace as he faces changes in the time ahead.

A Day in Pictures

20 11 2012

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  We have tried to offer some insights into China today, but in some ways it is difficult to adequately describe in words what you might see in China on a typical day there. So with that in mind, we have put together a brief slideshow of pictures that Joel took on his last trip to Guangxi.  We hope that as you view these scenes, that you will gain a different perspective on daily life in China.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie


Debbie will be attending a conference in Thailand this week for Christian educators.
PRAY that God would ordain conversations with individuals there and make it a fruitful time for her and the Bible program at ICS.

Continue to PRAY for Debbie’s dad, whose eye is still in need of healing after suffering a detached retina several months ago.

The newly built Guangxi Provincial training center is waiting for final inspections to conclude before students and staff can begin using this new facility.  PRAY that provincial church leaders would have wisdom as they work with the construction company and local officials to have this training center opened by the end of November.

Gold Rush

9 10 2012

This past week has been a busy time for many people in China and here in Hong Kong.  In addition to celebrating China’s National Day last Monday (October 1st), this past week was a time when many looked forward to a “Golden Week” of holidays.  It’s a time where most of the people in Mainland China are given a full week off from work – one that was initially set up to allow people to travel back home to see family, or visit tourist sites around the country.

Tourists at Beijing’s Palace Museum

However, since the Golden Week holidays are one of the few times that many people in China will have the chance to travel – this week is usually a time of chaos and overcrowding.  For those who traveled to any of the major tourist spots around the country it resulted in a lot of ‘grid lock’.  Mainland China’s National Tourism Administration has already reported a 21% increase in the number of tourists at the top 119 scenic spots across China during Golden Week.  If you are a little bit claustrophobic, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near some of the major tourist sites including the Forbidden Palace in Beijing where 186,000 people visited on one day last week!

Loading goods in Hong Kong to take back to China

But Golden Week is about more than travel and visiting scenic spots.  For many it was also about the shopping as more and more Chinese used this Golden Week to spend some of their hard earned money. Many of those who came to Hong Kong this past week were more than willing to take advantage of a favorable exchange rate here as well as cheaper prices buying better quality goods. And those who came to Hong Kong for the shopping were taking back more than just the high priced luxury items they have focused on in the past – jewelry, designer clothes and electronics.  Many were intent on buying items here in Hong Kong that they could resell quickly for profit back across the border – including such items as baby milk powder, diapers, cosmetics and toothpaste!

The people of Hong Kong are trying to find a way to deal with these challenges, especially since the nearly 28 million tourists from Mainland China who visited Hong Kong in the past year have poured significant funds into the local economy.  The flood of Mainland tourists and their newfound disposable income will continue to increase on both sides of the border, and we will all have to find ways to deal with this new phenomenon of a more affluent Mainland China.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie

Making Sense of the Church in China

24 09 2012

There’s a long, long list of articles and books that have been written about the Church in China.  If you don’t believe it, just do an online search for “Church in China” to see how many articles, books and opinions there are listed!

We would like to think that with the increased availability of reports and statistics on the Church in China, that we would have a clearer picture of it today. But more often than not, those writing on this topic tend to have their own bias or preconceived ideas about things.  And, like so many other aspects of life in China, the present state of the Church in China and its present role in society are complex matters. What, then, can be said with any certainty about the church in China?

That’s why I appreciated a recent article I read by Brent Fulton entitled, The Facts about the Church in China.  I thought it presented a balanced perspective on the current status of the Church in China, and would encourage you to read the entire article. Instead of re-printing it here, I just want to summarize his main points for you in our blog this week.

The church in China is growing.
All would agree that the church in China has grown dramatically from less than one million believers at the middle of the last century to its current number today. The fact is that no one knows the true number, in part due to the diversity of the church and the larger political environment in which it operates.

The church in China is diverse.
Christians in China generally worship within one of three “streams.”  Devoted Christians can be found within all three streams. All would agree that the church is struggling to keep up with the demand for trained leaders and other resources. Relations between the groups vary, depending on location, from open antagonism to mutual avoidance to generous cooperation.

Christianity is not illegal in China.
The Chinese government knows what the Christians are doing. Its opposition to Christianity is not ideological (as it was during the Cultural Revolution). Rather, it is the government’s preoccupation with stability above all else that limits the growth and influence of any group that could possibly threaten the Party’s grip on society (particularly if the group in question is perceived as having foreign ties).

Policy doesn’t change; practice does.
The Party’s religious policy, spelled out in 1982, has not changed substantially in 30 years. Yet there has been a sea change in the climate for Christian activity. The last decade in particular has seen the emergence of Christian bookstores, Christian publishers, Christian-run private schools, counseling centers, business conferences, Sunday school conferences, children’s camps, and a plethora of Christian web sites emanating from within China — all happening legally and, in most cases, unobstructed.

I don’t know about you, but I am encouraged by the growth of the Church in China.  I have had the privilege of seeing much of this growth up close and in person, and am excited to see what God is doing in and through Chinese believers and pastors as they seek to impact their communities and cities with the good news of Jesus.   And yet, there is still a long way to go.  While we continue to lift up the Church in China to God in prayer, may we remember the quote – not just for ourselves, but for the Church as well – “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet!”

Until next time,
Joel and Debbie

PRAY for the ICS Middle School camp taking place from September 26-28.  PRAY that relationships will be built, and that students would be willing to take the next step in “owning their faith” (our theme for this year).

Continue to PRAY for healing for Debbie’s dad’s eye (detached retina) and for patience during the process.

PRAY with Joel for a training class that’s scheduled to take place in mid-October for 20 Sunday school teachers from two district churches.  PRAY that this training time would not only provide these teachers with the ministry tools they need, but it would also help develop a stronger working relationship between these two churches.

Improve Your China IQ*

16 09 2012

Time stops for no one.  So while we were back in the USA this summer, there was a plethora of new articles written about China – everything from historical perspective, to opinion and analysis written on current issues.  We have looked back over the list from the past several months (thanks to ZG Briefs), and here are some of the most interesting articles we read about China this summer.

Historical Perspectives:
Shanghai – Now & Then
If you don’t want to spent a lot of time looking through galleries of pictures to understand the change that China has undergone over the past 20 years, check out this link – pretty amazing!

What Hong Kong looked like 40 years ago
Nick DeWolf was an engineer and Family in Lanzhou, Gansu 1944 (restored by R. Repo)entrepreneur who enjoyed cataloging his life with a camera in his spare time.  These photos were taken in 1972 by Nick on his visit to Asia, and shows what Hong Kong was like long before the construction of its current skyscrapers.

Random Pics From Old China, Restored
A wide variety of pictures of China from the late 1800’s through to 1940’s, showing living conditions, historical events (Ulysses S Grant’s visit to China), and ordinary people.

Current Issues:
Rural Chinese get online as mobile overtakes desktop
We have all heard about the changes taking place in China, and this report highlights the technological changes taking place there.

The following two articles offer some insight into attitudes about parenting – Chinese style.
Chinese diver Wu Minxia’s Olympic success comes at a high price and
Why Are Chinese Parents Hiding Bad News From Their Children?

Opinion and Perspective on China
You’ll never be Chinese
The author has lived in China for the past 16 years, but has decided that it is time to leave.  He provides some interesting insights into the challenges of daily life there, as well as his reasons for deciding to leave China now. While it is a bit long, I recommend reading it for his insights into current social issues, and his perspectives on the current state of China.

Making sense of six Chinas
With so many different perceptions written about China, how does one determine which one it true?  The author tries to being clarity to this issue by describing six different personas of China today.
The best way to make sense of the current state of affairs in China is to think of not one but several ‘Chinas’ — each is real, but none by itself is the full reality. The following are six of the ‘Chinas’ that exist today; the question is which of these will command the future.

China Is a Black Box of Misinformation
As a native of China and a U.S.-trained investor, the author writes about her concerns regarding the reliability of China’s rosy statistics.
But, as history has shown, statistics and ideology don’t always work in a harmonious relationship; one has a habit of eclipsing the other until the lie that has been said a thousand times becomes the truth. Data manipulation, however, is a nontruth that can only fool for so long. Let us hope that when it is exposed, it won’t result in China’s next Great Leap Backward.

Meet China’s Next Leaders
If you are interested in world politics, and are wondering who will make up China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the governing body that rules China, then this is the article for you.

China’s Greatest Challenge is not America, but Within
The author of this article argues that in the coming decade, the next leader of China will need to spend a great deal of time addressing a host of internal challenges: tough economic, demographic and social issues.

Most importantly of all, as you read these articles we hope that you will not only gain a better understanding of the current situation here in China, but also a stronger desire to pray for China.  Leave us a comment, or share your thoughts with us.  But most of all, we ask you to join together with us in prayer for China.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie


We praise God that Debbie’s dad is feeling less abdominal discomfort since his surgery a couple of weeks ago. On Monday he will have fluid drained from his eye that has been holding his reattached retina in place for the last several months.  PRAY with us for the recovery of his normal sight – these last months have been difficult for him to get out because of blurred vision.

From Sept. 26-28 ICS will have middle school camp – 2 ½ days full of non-stop energy, activities (maybe a pillow fight or two in Debbie’s cabin!) and times to interact around God’s Word. Be praying for the students, that the Holy Spirit would be preparing their hearts to hear from and respond to Him.

Another year of students have enrolled and begun classes at the Guangxi Provincial Leadership Training Class.  Pray that these 35 students, who have come from a variety of locations from across the province, would be built up in their faith and equipped for ministry in their local churches through their year-long studies.

* Information Quotient

China By the Numbers

8 05 2012

So much has been made in media reports about the enormous figures related to China.  Most of us know that it is the most populated country in the world (1.34 billion), but you may be surprised to read some of the following information.  Even with all of these large numbers, just remember this – size may be important, but bigger isn’t always better.

China consumes the majority of just about every major commodity!
With its’ economy booming over the past 10 years, China has had an insatiable demand for just about every major commodity on the open market.  While China’s GDP is only 9.4% of the global economy, and its population is 19% of the world population, China leads all other countries in its demand for the following commodities: (Link)
% of Global Demand
– Cement = 53.2%
– Iron ore = 47.7%
– Coal = 46.9%
– Steel = 45.4%
– Lead = 44.6%
– Zinc = 41.3%
– Aluminum = 40.6%
– Copper = 38.9%
– Nickel = 36.3%

It’s not just METALS that China has a hunger for …
You can understand that with the world’s largest population that China has to find a way to feed all of their people.  Whether it is pork or chicken (undoubtedly two of their favorite meats) China leads the way in both the chicken and pork producing countries. (Link)  It seems that the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for pork, for in 2010, China produced more than the next 74 pork producing countries combined.  Remember that the next time you enjoy a serving of Sweet & Sour Pork!

China’s economy has been on hyper-drive for much of the past decade, so it’s not surprising that …China’s GDP per capita has risen from $949 in 2000 (136th lowest) to $4,428 in 2010 (89th lowest in the world), still below that of Algeria, Angola & Jordan. (Link)  It’s still got a long way to go to catch Canada ($46,212), the USA ($47,153) or the country with the highest GDP in 2010 – Luxembourg ($105,194).  But the people of China have come a long way since the 1980’s when their leader, Deng XiaoPing was quoted as saying “To get rich is glorious,” and they are determined to keep climbing the economic ladder of success.
Combined with all of this economic activity has been the mass migration of the Chinese people to the cities.  It is estimated that by 2025, China’s urban population will grow to 926 million, and hit the one billion mark by 2030.  In less than 20 years, China’s cities will have added 350 million people – more than the entire population of the United Sates today.  By 2025, China will have 219 cities with more than one million inhabitants, and 24 cities with more than five million people. It is projected that to meet this need, 40 billion square meters of floor space will be built – in five million buildings. 50,000 of these buildings could be skyscrapers – the equivalent of ten New York Cities. (Link)

There are already more Christians in China than the entire population of either France or United Kingdom.
For some time now there has been a debate on the number of Christians in China.  Depending on your viewpoint, there are anywhere between 30 and 120 million believers.  But a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts the Christian population in China at just under 70 million believers.  (Link) The CIA’s World FactBook puts the current total population for France at 65.6 million, and the United Kingdom at 63.0 million. (Link)
In his recent article “How Many Christian are there in China? And Does it Make a Difference? Andrew Kaiser reflects on the significance of this report. (Link) I appreciated his candor when he wrote: “While I am generally curious to know just how big the Chinese church is, I must confess that I find in recent years I have found it to be increasingly difficult to get excited about the actual results of these studies. … My main reason for showing less interest in the total number of Christians has more to do with my own understanding of what is at the center of Christianity.  In his ministry on earth, Jesus repeatedly demonstrated his preference for depth—for heart transformation—rather then (sic) mere numerical increase. In other words, can we say in China today that more Christians means more of Chinese life transformed by the Gospel? Is the Chinese church transforming its society in ways that please God and reflect His kingdom?  Size is important, but it is only part of the equation.”

We sometimes think that bigger is better – that it’s a sign that everything is going well.  But in spite of all these ‘amazing’ numbers in China for their economy, the country still faces significant problems as a result of this growth (ongoing environmental problems; widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’; increasing problems with corruption – to name just a few).  The next generation of leaders will have their hands full trying to deal with these challenges for at least the next decade.

One of the main reasons we remain engaged with the church in China is to assist them in their goal of becoming a church that helps transform their communities in ways that honor God.  As more Chinese come to faith in Christ, and are encouraged to go deeper in their faith, our prayer is that they will want to reach out to their communities and surrounding areas with the love of God.   Pray with us that God would empower pastors as well as laymen and women to be salt and light wherever God places them – whether it be in their homes, workplaces or communities.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie