Classes officially started this past Monday and in about half I am the only exchange student. What an interesting experience that is in itself! In America, an exchange student probably does not stick out as obviously - it's a diverse nation made up of people of all colors and types (granted there are many places that are much more homogeneous), but in Hong Kong I definitely stick out like a sore thumb in a classroom full of Asians. I don't mind it really, on the contrary everyone has been so welcoming and I enjoy being surrounded by locals who I learn so much from. I just couldn't help but laugh when my Comm Theory professor pointed me out in a class of 50, and said "You must be Sarah, not too hard to spot!" and then proceeded to call on me for every American example he provided (which were quite a few). Such an experience. Classes are only once a week here, but they are three. hours. long. I used to get antsy in my 90 minute classes much less 3 hour ones! I was nervous about that, but surprisingly the time went by really fast in all my classes and it looks like I will survive the long timeframe just fine (at least that's how I feel for now).
Polaroid photoshoot with my new HK friends :)
Don't get me wrong though, the first week can be far from described as a week that just "fell into place." The majority of the time I was running here and there trying to get registered for the right courses, open a local bank account (a failed mission), figure out my phone, buy groceries (I must have walked to Lok Fu like 15 times), and all sorts of other little errands I ran in an effort to get settled in this new place. Though at one point I doubted it would ever happen, I am happy to say that after a little over one week I feel quite settled in Hong Kong. I know how to work public transportation, can easily navigate campus, and successfully do laundry - small feats that go a long way in an exchange program. I could probably detour on this paragraph to a million places such as my successful jailbreak/unlock of my iPhone (I may boast about that one for awhile), getting lost at the train station, buying the cheapest McDonalds meal in the world, having a traditional Chinese dinner with a group of Hong Kong locals, and having the best trailer food dumplings in Mong Kok. BUT I could probably write a novel so I'll spare everyone and just keep it at those few exampled bullet-points.
Temple Street Market in HK
The most exciting part of this week was probably today and the Lord bringing me to a church community that already feels like home - Hallelujah! Throughout the week I was trying to do everything all at once, not a really uncommon thing for me I suppose (and of course my mom reminded me of that via Skype) but I was trying to sort my whole life in Hong Kong including a weekly ministry. I guess for me I feel like I'm only here for 5 months! That's nothing, especially to build relationships that go deeper than surface conversation and share God's love in a more transformational way...any way, it's just not a lot of time. So I wanted to get plugged into ministry right away! I googled real hard and was getting myself stressed out OVER MINISTRY. As if it is MY ministry to be in control of, as if I could guide myself on a path to the Lord. Isn't it funny how even in our Christian lives, even with things that are "selfless" on the outside, we can be so selfish! Sure we can label ourselves as "good Christians," but how much of our work is genuine? Are we serving because it makes US feel good; are we serving one people group while judging another; are we fighting for our beliefs on things like gay marriage or abortion but turning our eye away from just as crippling sins like self-sufficiency and complacency? It hit me hard. I feel like lately I have been getting a lot of praise from back home about things I'm doing or my faith - and don't get me wrong my love language is words of affirmation so I GREATLY value and appreciate that - but I'm just so unworthy of that praise! I am just as broken as the next person, and it is a continual continual continual process of me falling and running back to the Lord and going through the motions and having a spiritual breakthrough, cycling on and on and on. And I am sure a lot of Christians feel like that, and I just want to say - don't give up. It's so easy to want to. It's so easy to question. Why does this not make sense? Why do I feel more love from Buddhists than many Christians? Why does it matter? God hears it all and he wants to communicate with you, bring you comfort, challenge you so that He can hold you when you've gotten too self-sufficient. And it's wonderful and beautiful and worth every doubt - because He is always present, His grace is always sufficient, His love is deeper than anything in this world. And He reminds me of that - and accepts me back every. single. time.
Today in Sunday small group, I had the privilege to be led by a Pakistani Christian. The words of His prayer were beautiful and powerful. As we talked about Mark 8:34-37, about denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus; about what that really looks like in our daily lives, he mentioned the challenge of being a Christian. He didn't go into much detail, but simply referred to how difficult it is for those in his homeland. I was hit hard in that moment. I'm an American Christian. I'll never fully understand persecution as experienced by those in Pakistan or Mainland China or India. But that's okay. As the words of Jacob's prayer fell over me, I realized God was using Him to show me that He is at work. He is training leaders like Jacob to go back and minister to His people, there are people coming to know Christ all over the world, and yes He does want to use me - but He doesn't need me. Yes I can be a tool for His Kingdom, but He is the Creator and His plan is far bigger than me. So, why do I allow myself to stress over ministry - again, it is not any ministry of my own.
Phew, okay. Stepping off my pulpit. At the end of the day, I just want to submit to the Lord. It's hard. It's not going to happen every day. But daily that is my hope and I can be confident in the truth of knowing that THAT is all God asks from me - because the rest, is all in His great and mighty hands.
"For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it" Mark 8:35 (ASV).