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.


Home for the Holidays

10 01 2012

Have you ever been stuck in a line at an airport, or in traffic on your way home for the holidays, wondering how long is this going to take?  If you thought the line-ups at the airport in your city for the recent holidays or even for Thanksgiving were long – think again.

Migrant worker on the way back home

Chinese New Year is just a couple of weeks away, and many people in China are already beginning to start traveling back home.  China has well over 200 million migrant workers working away from their homes, and many of those will be making the long journey home over the next couple of weeks. For many of the migrant workers who have been working in factories along the east coast and the southern province of Guangdong, or the university students away studying, it’s their only opportunity to go home each year.  So they will pack up their suitcases with gifts for their family, with enough snacks to keep them from getting too hungry before they arrive at their destination. And they will endure the 18-hour, 24-hour, even 40-hour train ride just to be able to spend time with their family during the Lunar New Year.

Chinese government officials say they are anticipating a 9% increase in the number of trips planned over the next 40 days, estimating that 3.1 billion journeys will be made by bus, car, or plane between now and February 16.  Yes that’s right – 3.1 BILLION different journeys!  Now imagine the lines that people will have to endure at airports as well as bus and train stations.

Migrant worker entering Shenzhen train station

Though the government has been rapidly building high-speed railways, there are not enough trains or staff to deal with such a surge in demand. Traffic on the roads and railways and in the skies will be up to 10 times the normal rate.

To put these numbers in perspective, compare these statistics with those from 2011 Christmas & New Year’s travel in the USA.  The largest motoring organization in the USA, AAA, reported that US travel during the 2011 Christmas and New Year’s holidays’ weekends was at the highest level in five years.  Of the nearly 92 million people who traveled 50 miles or more from home during the holiday period, automobile drivers and passengers accounted for 83.6 million of the year-end holiday travelers, with another 5.4 million people traveling by air.

So the next time you feel upset at the long lines at the airport, or with how long your trip is taking, just be thankful you don’t have 3.1 billion travelers in line ahead of you!

Until next week,

Joel & Debbie

Full Speed Ahead?

5 08 2011

For the past several weeks most people in North America have been fixated on the debt ceiling debate.  But that has not been the case in China.  Instead most of the people there have been fixated on a train crash – and the outpouring of opinion by ordinary citizens.

China’s high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai opened to great fanfare on July 1st, timed for the Communist Party’s 90th Anniversary celebration.  However, over the next several weeks, this much heralded technological advancement was beset by glitches and breakdowns. High-speed train service on the Beijing-Shanghai line was suspended repeatedly as a result of bad weather, power outages and a variety of other problems.

And then on the evening of July 23rd, a bullet train traveling south from Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang province) slammed into the rear of another stalled high-speed train, killing 40 people and injuring another 192. The crash, which occurred near the city of Wenzhou in eastern China, sent four coach cars hurtling off an elevated section of track to the ground 70 feet below.

Maybe more importantly, was the public outcry that grew in the days following the crash. The accident, and the government’s bungled handling of the aftermath, triggered national outrage, much of which was expressed on Internet microblogging sites. In spite of efforts by government agencies to muzzle the media, questions were raised about the causes of this tragic accident and whether it was the product of a style of governing that recklessly pursued rapid economic growth above all else.

This deadly accident has highlighted a paradox facing China’s leadership. In order for them to remain in power, they need high-speed growth that creates jobs and keeps social tensions in check. But rapid growth has spawned regime-threatening risks – deadly accidents, many of them preventable, and an upsurge of scandals in areas like food safety and illegal land seizures.

China had a similar experience at the start of the 20th century, when the government of the day made a desperate bid to transform the country into a modern, industrialized power. Using foreign loans, the imperial court attempted to create a national rail network. But the attempt to nationalize the few local railways was met with angry resistance by the middle class populace. When added to the growing discontent of the Emperor’s inept handling of other events, the upheaval from the ensuing riots contributed to the downfall of the Qing dynasty, a century ago.

The recent high-speed train disaster has fed a growing cynicism and despair among many Chinese. They’re concerned about the corruption and regulatory problems that have led to numerous scandals in the past several years, from poisoned baby formula to bridge collapses to embezzlement and other abuses of power by officials and their families.  Today, it is China’s new middle class, just one part of the estimated 485 million Chinese regular Internet users, who are venting their frustration and expressing their opinions almost instantly to networks of friends and “followers” on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

While there is no indication that this crisis over China’s high-speed rail network shows any sign of directly threatening those currently in power, Communist Party leaders are anxious to avoid the fate of Chinese emperors who were traditionally deemed to have lost the “mandate of heaven”—the divine right to rule—in times of national crisis.

In 1 Timothy 2:1, the apostle Paul wrote: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Pray with us for China, and for the leadership on every level of their government.  Pray that God would give them wisdom in resolving the systemic problems that have contributed to this accident and other recent scandals.  Pray that the Lord would continue to raise up followers of Christ across China to be His messengers of peace and reconciliation in their local communities.

Until next week,

Joel & Debbie

Joel is scheduled to speak at Olympia, WA this weekend.  Pray for God’s annointing on him as he shares about our ministry in Hong Kong and China.
Debbie is back in Hong Kong preparing for another school year which will begin next week.  There will be a number of new students coming to middle school, who will be experiencing even greater transition and stress – pray that they will be welcomed and quickly find friends & support.