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.


March Madness Hong Kong Style

26 03 2013

Hong Kong is much more than a global financial center, and if you need any further proof of that fact you need to visit here in the month of March.  For whether you live in the USA or here in Hong Kong – the end of March signals one thing – March Madness!  The US version of March Madness focuses on NCAA collegiate basketball and runs for 3 weeks.  The Hong Kong version of March Madness takes only three days when the city hosts the premier rugby sevens tournament – the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

It’s an action packed weekend, on and off the playing field (pitch).  This year a record number of teams – 28 men’s teams in total – played a record 70 matches in just one weekend. Rugby sevens is a fast-paced version of traditional rugby, with most games lasting no more than 15-20 minutes (two 7-minute halves).   With only seven players per side on the field at a time, quickness, discipline and tackling skill are important keys to success.

Expat fans at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens

Expat fans at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens

But if you have ever attended the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament, then you’ll know that for many people it’s about more than watching the rugby games.  The Hong Kong Sevens has earned a reputation for its carnival-like atmosphere in the stands, where fans not only proudly wave the flags and colors of their home or adopted country, but they also try to dress up in the most outlandish outfits and costumes for the weekend.  Expats from all around Asia and as far away as Great Britain travel to Hong Kong just to be part of the excitement – and it makes for a very international-flavored weekend both in the stands and on the field.

If the games ever get slow or too boring (not likely!), you can always watch the antics of the fans in the South Stands (known for their creative attire and raucous behavior) – never a dull moment there!

This year’s tournament was not only about winning one of the four trophies handed out (1st tier – Cup; 2nd tier -Plate, 3rd tier – Bowl and 4th tier – Shield), but it took on greater significance as teams are looking ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where rugby sevens will make their debut (do you know the last time rugby was an Olympic sport?).  The teams seemed more evenly matched this year, as evidenced by three of the final four games:  Shield Final – France (19) Argentina (14); Bowl Final – England (42) Hong Kong (7); and Plate Final – Samoa (12) Canada (7).

Action from the Fiji - Wales Cup Final

Action from the Fiji – Wales Cup Final

The heavily watched Cup Final featured returning champions Fiji up against a young and dynamic team from Wales.  With Wales jumping to a quick 19-0 lead by the end of the first half, the Hong Kong stadium roared in anticipation of an upset for the mighty Fiji team.  But from the start of the second half, Fiji showed their experience as they forced the younger Wales team into turnovers and penalties.  They tightened up their attack and half way through the second half the match was tied at 19-19, with Fiji getting the winning try in the final minutes to win the game 26 – 19.

Not to be outdone by the men, Hong Kong also hosted a women’s rugby sevens tournament this week as well, with Canada soundly beating Australia in the final game 29-0!

We decided to stay home and watch the games in the safety and comfort of our apartment this year, as one of the local TV stations broadcasted the games live.  At least they did that up until the penultimate moment of the Cup final between Fiji and Wales. With the game tied and both sides pressing for the winning try, the live broadcast was cut off as the local TV station began their evening news report!  By the time we found the web site for the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, the game was already over – lessening our excitement a bit for this year’s grand finale.

The anticipation of rugby sevens at the next summer Olympics has only increased excitement for next year’s Hong Kong Rugby Sevens – we’re expecting it’ll be another thrilling weekend for all who attend.  In light of that possibility, we may need to start booking our tickets for next year – anyone interested in joining us for some March Madness – Hong Kong style?

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie
(Go Canada! / Go USA!)
Canada US Flags

Hong Kong by the Numbers

10 03 2013

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.
George Bernard Shaw

In the pursuit of sharing some insights into the city where we now live, I thought I could use some statistics to give you a glimpse into Hong Kong.  There were many different areas I could have researched and mentioned here, but I came up with a list of 6 factors that I believe are somehow all inter-related.

Hong Kong is not a large place area-wise, and isn’t all that populated compared to many other major cities in the world.  But when you put the two together – 7 million people living on 407 square miles (1,054 sq. km) of land mass, it makes for one of the most densely populated countries in the world.  That means there is an average of 18,000 people per square mile, compared with Canada (9 per sq. mile) USA (84 per square mile). If you are a little bit claustrophobic you might want to prepare yourself before coming here for a visit! You’ll especially notice this when you get up close and personal with all the other people riding the elevators with you.

Hong Kong Skyline

Some of the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island

So it makes sense that in a city where land is limited, you will need to build taller buildings in order to meet the demand for office and living space.  Hong Kong continues to hold the # 1 ranking as the city with the most skyscrapers – for the 6,593 high rise buildings (100 meters / 25 stories or taller) and for the 1,316 skyscrapers (200 meters / 50 stories or taller). All these skyscrapers make for a wonderful view over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor – but at what point will they run out of land on which to build these impressive buildings? One of the latest proposals for dealing with housing needs in Hong Kong is something called the Bionic Tower, which if it is built would be 300 stories high and house 100,000 people.

With land at a premium, most families are unable to afford to buy a single-detached home, and instead live in one of the many multiple residential dwellings scattered around Hong Kong.  But it doesn’t come cheap – whether it’s buying an apartment or some other form of residential real estate, Hong Kong has one of the highest home prices per square foot .  A recent report had Hong Kong ranked as the city with the second most expensive real estate – an average of $4,570 – $5,050 USD per square foot of property.  When compared to the most expensive city in the USA (San Francisco – an average of $421 USD per square foot) it’s no wonder that a high percentage of people in Hong Kong live in apartments smaller than 700 square feet in size.

If the place you live in is relatively small in size, you probably won’t want to spend a lot of time there. But in order to get wherever you want to go – work, school, shopping center – you need a way to get there.  Most people in Hong Kong do not own their own vehicle, but rather rely on public transportation to get around.  I believe that Hong Kong has a world class transportation system – with more than 11 million passenger journeys made every day on either railways, trams, buses, minibuses, taxis or ferries. The centerpiece and probably most frequently used of transportation here is the MTR/KCR – subway/train system with 82 stations covering 108 miles of track.  In 2012 it was ranked as the 10th busiest subway in the world – 1.444 billion riders in 2012 – an average of 3.96 million people per day. Again, if you are little bit claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend riding the subway here during rush hours – it can get a little crowded!

Hong Kong Subway

Hong Kong Subway

Many of those who use public transportation on a regular basis are students, as they make their way to one of the primary, secondary and post-secondary schools scattered across Hong Kong. Education is highly valued in Asia, and Hong Kong is no different.  There is much pressure on students to excel at their studies, and a good amount of their time is given to education. Recently primary students in Hong Kong were recognized for their academic prowess, ranking #1 in the world for reading/literacy, # 3 for math, and #9 for science.  And if that wasn’t sufficient to swell the heads of most Hong Kongers, then a recent (but yes, controversial) study has Hong Kong ranked #1 with the highest national IQ – (107).

You would think with all these high rankings and accomplishments that Hong Kong would be a happy place.  In spite of the fact of being one the world’s top three financial centers and ranked #1 for global competitiveness, it was only the 70th ranked city for worldwide quality of living.  The most recent Satisfaction With Life Index, that included Hong Kong in their report (2006), showed that people here weren’t quite as satisfied with life as a lot of other countries – Hong Kong was ranked #63.  So maybe it goes to show that being # 1 in economic and academic endeavors doesn’t always lead to happiness, and that a city is more than just all these facts and figures – there needs to be more than just these factors in place to bring meaning to life and to individuals within a city.

In the end, Hong Kong will be assessed by more than all of its accomplishments and world rankings. As someone once wrote, “Life it is not just a series of calculations and a sum total of statistics, it’s about experience, it’s about participation, it is something more complex and more interesting than what is obvious.”1 Whether you come to Hong Kong for a short visit or stay for a longer time to work, we think you’ll find it to be an amazing city – come see for yourself!

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie


Thank you for your prayers for Debbie’s dad.  We are thankful that he seems to be making some progress in the past two weeks, but PRAY for continued strengthening and that his one eye (re-attached retina) would continue to heal.  PRAY that Debbie’s brother and his wife would have wisdom and discernment for the decisions they are required to make as the primary care givers for Debbie’s dad.

Joel will be traveling to Guangxi this coming week (March 11-18) to meet with church leaders in three key cities.  PRAY for wisdom and discernment as he talks with them about various church construction and leadership training related projects and has the opportunity to share with them on a deeper more personal level.

China Haze

3 02 2013

I knew we would need to be prepared for some changes when we returned to Hong Kong the middle of January.  After we had enjoyed the beautiful clean air of the Pacific Northwest over the Christmas break, we just weren’t prepared for how quickly the air quality would decline here.

Last Saturday Debbie & I decided we’d take some time away from the busyness of work, and head down to the Hong Kong harbor – enjoy a leisurely stroll together, take in the view.  Shortly after arriving there, we discovered that we could barely see the buildings on the other side of the harbor – smog was obscuring our view so much that we decided to abandon that plan and go inside to view an art and photo exhibit instead.

Air Quality in Nanning on January 30, 2013

Air Quality in Nanning on January 30, 2013

Over supper that night at a nearby restaurant, a lady sitting at the table next to us struck up a conversation.  We learned that she had been living in Xi‘an (northern China) for the past several years, and while she had come to Hong Kong for some surgery she was enjoying the ‘clean air’ of Hong Kong!  If she thought Hong Kong’s air quality was good, we wondered how bad the air pollution was in Xi‘an (it is one of the more polluted cities in China).

This past Monday I traveled into China, and flew into the provincial capital of Guangxi – the city of Nanning.  On my ride up to the Shenzhen airport, I noticed that the air quality in that city was worse than it was in Hong Kong, but when I arrived in Nanning, ‘poor’ air quality took on a whole new meaning.  In fact, the air pollution was so bad, that as our plane began its’ final descent, we were enveloped in this grey cloud of smog (without any rain), and it was not until the last 10 seconds before we landed that we broke clear of the smog.  I wondered how the pilots could have seen where they were going, and as we landed, I noticed that the runway lights were lit up, even though it was only noon.

At the same time media outlets were reporting on the horrific air pollution in Beijing and surrounding areas.  One report said that ‘visibility was reduced to a few hundred metres in downtown Beijing’, and the US embassy pollution monitor in Beijing showed that air quality there had reached hazardous levels for the 19th time in 25 days. Residents of Beijing and many other cities in China were warned to stay inside as smoggy weather choked Beijing and an area spanning 10 municipalities and provinces. The Chinese government ordered factories to scale back emissions, while hospitals saw spikes of more than 20 to 30 percent in patients complaining of respiratory issues.

Two women wearing face masks to deal with Beijing’s polluted air

Two women wearing face masks to deal with Beijing’s polluted air

There are no quick or easy answers to this problem. There have been pledges by local and national government bodies to cut air pollution in China, but it doesn’t appear that much progress has been made. When you consider the growing number of vehicles in China, the unregulated smoke spewing factories, China’s growing urban population and the recent report that China now burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, it’s obvious the China has a grave pollution problem.

The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die every year from breathing in tiny particles present in indoor and outdoor air pollution. Compared with most cities in China, the air quality here in Hong Kong is pretty good, but compared with most cities in Canada and the USA, it’s not so good.  Ten years ago Hong Kong, and the rest of the world, was rocked by SARS, and for those of us here in Hong Kong, wearing a ‘mask’ when we went outside became common practice.  While people in Beijing and other polluted cities across China have had to start wearing those masks for protection when they head outside these days, it hasn’t reached that dangerous level here in Hong Kong – yet. We’ll keep you posted – cough, cough.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie

Catching Up

24 01 2013

It has been a busy couple of weeks and yet a very satisfying time for us.  We were able to spend the Christmas holidays with our adult children back in the USA – it has been 3 years since all 6 of us were together for Christmas.

After spending a week full of family fun and celebrating together, we went our separate ways, with Debbie & I back onto the airplane for the long trip back to Hong Kong.

Chute Family - Christmas 2012

Chute Family – Christmas 2012

These past couple of weeks since returning to Hong Kong has been a time to get caught up on all sorts of school & ministry-related details. And in the midst of all this ‘busyness’, we have been trying not to get too stressed out on all that needs to be done in what seems like an ever-decreasing amount of time.  I have found myself thinking & saying things like, “If I can just get through this month, then things will slow down.”

Have you felt like that? Too much to do, and not enough time to get it done – or so it seems.

This was when I came across a devotional written by David Henderson in a magazine called Discipleship Journal several years ago entitled “Is There Enough Time?”.

In our world today it seems that everyone is busy, and technology renders us accessible at all times. David Henderson wrote that: “Has God given us enough time? No, not if through our busyness we’re trying to find significance, fill boredom, cover pain, gain acceptance, or safeguard our futures (or those of our children). However, there’s all the time in the world for us to do those things to which God calls us. Time to pray, to enjoy God, to sleep, to further the kingdom.I'm Too Busy

Hong Kong has a reputation for its fast-paced lifestyle, and it is all too easy to allow oneself to walk and work just as fast and hard as everyone else. I think that where we (and maybe it’s just me) get ourselves into trouble is when we allow the pace of life to not only affect our calendars, but also change our life with God.

You may have heard the story told of the tourist visiting Africa many years ago who wanted to see it all.  He hired local people to carry his supplies from place to place. On their first morning of their expedition, they started early and went to as many places as they could until the sun went down, and they set up camp for the evening. The second and the third day of the expedition were much the same – long days filled with as much as possible. Much to the consternation and amazement of the tourist, the local hired help refused to move on the fourth morning.  Instead, they sat and rested under the shade of tree late into the morning.  When pushed to explain their behavior, the tourist’s translator simply said, “They’re waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.” 1

While we still haven’t finished getting caught up on all the school & ministry related work we wanted to get done by now, I would rather that my soul is at rest, and my heart in tune with God.  Whatever your schedule looks like today – make the time to allow your soul to catch up with your body.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 62:5

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie
1Terry Hershey, Sacred Necessities: Gifts for Living with Passion, Purpose, and Grace, 68-69.


We heard early this week from Debbie’s brother that her dad was taken to the hospital (January 20th) after having what appeared to be a seizure.  He was kept overnight at the hospital and test results taken were inconclusive – Debbie’s brother told us they were hoping to arrange a CT scan as well as a consult with a neurologist.  PRAY with us that God would provide a doctor/specialist who would be able to zero in on the core issue and help give us a diagnosis on the root cause of his recent health problems.

Joel continues to work with church leaders in south central China as they oversee the construction of a county seat church.  This county has 680,000 residents – and this will be the very first church built in this area.  They hope to have the outer structure of this new church completed before the start of Chinese New Year (February 10th) – PRAY with us that the completion of this new church building would encourage believers to share the Gospel in meaningful ways with their unsaved friends, family members and neighbors.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

16 12 2012

How do those of us living in Hong Kong know that Christmas is approaching?  Well, since it hasn’t snowed here in over 37 years, and since the temperatures have been unseasonably warm recently (70-75° F; 20-24° C) we have had to rely on a couple of other indicators to remind us that it is Christmastime.

One of the first signs in Hong Kong that reminds Christmas-in-HK-2012-016us that Christmas is getting near is the appearance of Christmas displays around town.  It seems as though each of the countless shopping malls spread across Hong Kong go out of their way each year to put together the most unique Christmas display for shoppers to come and look at.  Over the years we have seen every imaginable color of Christmas tree, along with numerous characters in these displays that go beyond what we traditionally associate with Christmas.  In fact, this year at one of the malls closest to us, they have an orange Christmas tree with a Garfield theme!

But in addition to those Christmas displays and signs in shop windows advertising Christmas specials, there’s one more indicator that lets us know that Christmas is near: Christmas music.  In stores, malls, and just about any place where music is played, the songs and carols of Christmas (in English) can be heard across Hong Kong. It is true that many businesses use the Christmas season as just another marketing ploy, but when else can you hear music about Jesus played in shopping centers day after day?

Today as I walked through a mall, I stopped to see if I could hear any Christmas songs being played.  At first I couldn’t hear anything with all the noise from the hustle and bustle of people Christmas-in-HK-2012-004all around.  But then just when I thought that the carols had been drowned out by the sound of shoppers, I stepped into one of the many stores in this mall, and was greeted by the sound of beautiful voices singing “When a Child is Born”, followed by “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  Hearing those songs reminded me again of the real reason for Christmas – a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

So while those of us here in Hong Kong won’t be going out caroling in the snow this year, it still is the most wonderful time of the year – a time to share true joy, peace and hope with those around us.  Take time to slow down from the busyness of shopping and preparing for Christmas to listen to and maybe even sing some Christmas carols this year – celebrate Jesus and all that His coming to earth means to the world and to us personally!

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie

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.