July 27, 2014

Sunday Testimony

I just had a great encounter in my life. And maybe this testimony will encourage you.

Yesterday was a curiously quiet day. Some quiet moments with the Father. Some stress. Spontaneously anti-social as I missed all my scheduled SP events. Lots of alone time. I prayed over the following day's encounters. 

Today I started the morning at 06:00 with a 25K run from Kenmedy Town to Causeway Bay. I was tired and hungry after the run. I stepped into a Tai Hang but I had to take a number. I stepped out, looked down the street and spotted another restaurant. I checked out that restaurant's menu, saw a big breakfast and stepped in. 

The restaurant had space in the back. But I would share the table. An old man had also entered the restaurant and walked to my table. He sat inside and to the wait staff's curiosity, I sat outside. He ordered fast -- perhaps he's a regular. I took my time to sit down: I was still standing and had pulled out my iphone from my backpack. My ID card had become stuck to the iPhone screen during my run. As I pried the card off, the iphone escaped my grasp and flew underneath the table. The man was sitting beside a woman. I asked both, in English, if either could fetch the phone for me. The man picked up the phone and I thanked him. 

He asked me about my running. We started talking about running, and more generally sports. He plays football these days and doesn't run. In his youth, he did hike a lot, round the island, three times, in fact.

The wait staff thought we were together, and a waiter expressed surprise that we wanted separate checks, so unusual is strangers' talking in our city. I clarified we had just met and built relationship. Taking a cue from all my explicit ministry in Hong Kong, I had supposed all along my neighbor was chatty because he was older, and I could listen to him.

I cannot help praising God, whether in English or Cantonese. And I don't remember how, but we started sharing our histories and travels -- when I told him about my American upbringing, he said he couldn't tell I was an American. He shared his education experience in English schools in Hong Kong and how he had not graduated from university because back in the day even a diploma was sufficient. We had a laugh when I talked about my degrees upon degrees and how even PhDs are so prevalent these days. We both shared a burden for HK, not least because of the dangerous forces acting upon Hong Kong people in this age. We don't want HK people to have hope, unity and a future.

When he said he had been to San Francisco -- he often visits his children in Toronto and had even visited relatives in Kentucky! -- to visit a Baptist brother, I realized there was greater depth in this man. I asked him about the reason for Hong Kong and international Baptist and Methodist denominations; I shared with him my experience teaching in Methodist school; and he told the history of intra-denominational difference in HK; and he told me about the history of HK missionaries and their denominational schools. He asked me if I knew The Lord Jesus and I shared my testimony with him.

I shared God's visions for my life; and he spoke lots about Koreans in HK and Korean missionaries in China. He knew a lot. Hallelujah!

I had ordered the biggest breakfast and the staff had mistakingly provided an extra omelet. My friend was happy for me; I asked the waiter what to do; and she said just receive, no charge. I answered, "This is grace. I receive!"

We began speaking very boldly about The Lord Jesus, the mission life and the Gospel for Hong Kong people. Other customers and wait staff looked at us curiously, not least because we had been strangers and because of our strong language for Christ. This man had the gift of encouragement. We strengthened each other to love our neighbors as ourselves in HK.

His name is Mr. Cheung. He asked me to guess his age and I said 70. 77, actually. He has been retired for a long time. He doesn't use a computer, but he does have a phone number, paper and a pen. We wrote our contact information on a slip of paper and exchanged our numbers. I wrote my email in the event he ever encountered a computer. We took a selfie!

He left first. I ran after him when he left his umbrella on the table. The wait staff were horrified as I had run after him while leaving my phone and valuables exposed on the table. When I returned, the wait staff were amazed that we had been strangers, but had bonded because we discovered we both are believers. I told them I met my spiritual grandfather today. A waitress asked me for how long I had believed. I said not too long compared to Mr. Cheung, he being 44 years older than me! I then asked the waitress for her age. She was shy. We all had a laugh. Hallelujah. A new go-to restaurant in Causeway Bay. Praise God for kindness and favor in that place.

Finally, God surprised me again. I had met a language exchange partner for the first time on Friday. I invited him to church, he thought about it, and he accepted the invitation on Saturday. We had lunch, and attended service on Sunday. After a powerful message, after worshipping God through song, after he had met at least a dozen brothers and sisters by name, we were speaking to one last church brother. I had known this church brother for years and today he was especially coherent, encouraging and bold. When I introduced my friend to this brother, this brother immediately asked if my friend had accepted Jesus. My friend said he wanted to. Whoah! Hallelujah. I said he could know Jesus right then. We moved to a table, I explained prayer to him and led him through the sinners prayer, and he received The Lord Jesus as savior. Praise God! That was unexpected. Maybe he'll be back at church next week. I am encouraged that my friend is a made man for eternity in Christ; and humbled that God would partner with me, all the more in my great weakness today. 

July 26, 2014

AXA and Some Hospital Thoughts

I had waited several days to write this because I had so many thoughts to write. I did not know how to distill my thoughts, mostly frustration and aggravation, into coherent writing. On a quiet Saturday evening, I'll take my shot.

First, praise God for a successful second eye operation. 

I thank God for my best friend and friends near and far who have prayed with me for healing. At the moment, I don't know if my vision is improving, but I know God is my healer, and he has heard. He has promised to heal me. 

The operation was elaborate and extravagant, not least in hyper-specialized procedures and human resources. Actually everything is this way when I compare my experience at the Sanatorium to that  at the Australian hospital -- my thoughts about the Canberra emergency room, but not the eye clinic, are at the end of this post. After all, I have to perceive lots because I paid lots at the Sanatorium. Thankfully, per a different but equal framework, both hospital experiences have been beautiful and long -- and I find friendly people in both! Hallelujah. 

One is not better. But both are better than Queen Mary -- my thoughts about Queen Mary are at the end of this post. I thank God for an opportunity to afford better health care, and for price discrimination mechanisms in our society. Nonetheless, Lord have mercy on his children in the public hospitals, where stress, busyness in heart and much more stifle communication and relationship. These complicate everything -- and I also noted how at Sanatorium a few hyper-specialized nurses were a bit too hyper-active in heart to be friendly and to communicate effectively. 

I don't know how much longer I'll be able to afford treatment. I do know I'm looking into new insurance providers because the customer service at AXA broke me. AXA HK's operations are a mess, and like Wellcome's self-checkout line, I don't stand for silos and shitty information system management. My observations and experiences with AXA:

  1. Axa first-line operator has no immediate access to my records; and another department must answer for my records; welcome to silo hell; in contrast, the Sanatorium first operator receptionist has immediate access to my records and other department records
  2. Two departments. Personal and group medical insurance. I was transferred to the wrong department -- personal -- for a callback. And first operator not having my records creates not only call backs but also wrong transfers! When they called back, we discovered they could not answer my question. Another transfer. Silo hell. 
  3. Too many phone numbers to dial, another indicator of silo-hell. Numbers on HSBC websites and AXA websites and forms; and also phone numbers from operators to call. That influenced the next point. 
  4. I called AXA six times in a month to learn about my medical coverage. They had 100% failure rate for callback, whether I left my name on the voicemail or with the operator. AXA should not promise 24-hour call back if it can't keep it. AXA breaks promises and I share that with everyone!
  5. I learned to demand immediate satisfaction and refuse to hang up on an operator to get answers. I frantically called AXA three times on my procedure data. I refused to hangup on my seventh call, with an operator, and received a transfer that provided some answers about my coverage. For the eighth time, a call also on the morning of my operation, when I had a new question about whether hospitalization was a requirement to claim any surgical benefits, I received a machine and a promised return call by 16:00. Someone did call back at 16:00, but too late for me: I called a ninth time, after my operation, as I had to decide whether to keep or to cancel my hospitalization reservation: I refused to hang up and got my answer that hospitalization wasn't a requirement.
  6. Social media works. On Saturday morning, July 19th, after a machine told me the AXA offices were closed for the weekend, I found AXA, albeit the UK offices, on Twitter and Facebook. I sent out a provocative tweet -- I deleted that later -- to AXA Twitter and then a private message through Facebook. I got a response from them. They followed up, passed the message to an emergency handler in the HK office, and a day or two after my procedure, that handler called me to follow up. AXA UK is a well run operation. It's AXA HK's good-looking, successful cousin.
  7. I study complex systems and organizational learning in schools and apply that to other institutions, including supermarkets and in this post, hospitals and insurance companies. I refer to AXA HK as silo hell. My best friend who accompanied me noted the spirit of greed. Maybe that is the case too with this corporation: I heard from operators and the emergency handler that there are too many calls and not enough operators -- I have not told them that there isn't enough information sharing between silos. This is not reassuring: AXA HK is a typical institution, a bloated, hapless bureaucracy that has achieved incompetency. I can't comment on AXA's mix of greed and ineptitude. 
  8. In fact, I had to call the emergency handler on her direct line to confirm that I only need to submit my original hospital receipt with my claim form. A simple question, what needs to be submitted with the form, the answer to which is not on the claim form -- in fact, no instructions on the form! I had called AXA twice in two days following my procedure but did not get a call back. Thank God for a direct line!
  9. I'm cautious about switching companies because I heard through my social network that customer service at other insurance companies is not exemplary. There's not guarantee of better customer service in the HK health insurance marketplace -- though I heard on the foreigner websites, and in the SCMP this week that non-HK health insurance marketplace may offer better customer experience.
  10. I'm looking to upgrade my insurance, and to change provider so long as this eye condition doesn't count against me in any change. I'm meeting someone next week to discuss this and to browse product. 

This Canberra emergency room reminds me of the Queen Mary emergency room insofar as wait times are long. On the other hand, in Canberra, patients are far fewer, nurses are more chatty, friendlier and relaxed. In sum, perhaps extremely large crowds and extreme relaxation can lead to long wait times. Ironically, patients have assaulted nurses in the Australian emergency rooms -- the signs at the counter tell me so. Strange for this phenomenon and the signs. We don't have that assault culture in Hong Kong.

Queen Mary
At Queen Mary, I felt the total institution. Many patients to the point of overcrowding in the hallways. Announcements ad nauseam. Efficient, alienating processes. Some staff hastier in heart than others. Thankfully, some more relaxed than others too. I want to hold on to the people, patients and staff members, without the tyranny of urgent. And I want to break that tyranny in this place, on the others.

The doctor was the most human. She was also Canadian. We spoke English, which she preferred. She diagnosed my super floater -- an unusual, 2mm ball-like vitreous condensation -- in my left eye. She complemented me on my mindfulness because many would ignore such a super floater. We negotiated taking a photo of my floater and my viewing that photo. We talked about our lives.

I realize taking photos of eyes is a complex skill. What one staff member could not do I five shots, another could do in two! The way they held my eyes differed greatly. The two-shot wonder was much gentler in instructing me, holding open my eyelid and in permitting to blink.

HKBSA Report 25

I reached new levels of helplessness and in doing so experienced new mercies. Praise God for his curious provision and favor for my life.

I arrived late, but I arrived, not least because the Facebook message about insufficient number of volunteers spurred me on. I realize part of my burden is to care for the least normally capable, and I facilitate this by arriving late -- imagine kids choosing teams; I always get last dibs and actually enjoy taking whoever hasn't been picked.

AM was paired with me. He didn't talk much. I did most of the talking and all of the as kings We walked lots. He liked to look at his watch and didn't do much besides walk, mumble and answer my questions. I picked my questions carefully and found asking him for the time and time remaining occupied him well. I was dying to myself and letting the Spirit of God hold me. I cannot endure and overcome the slow and silent without patience, and God's perfect grace for us. The Father and those around us encouraged us greatly.

A small moment of kindness and favor: AM and his mother are believers and I shared the joy for AM in reiterating the meaning of AM's name: God her his momma's prayer; praise God!

At the end, I took OH down the hill to the sports centre. He walked so slowly, crookedly. He seemed half distracted, his mind in a daze, intermittent attention. I could do nothing but enjoy the evening quiet and praise God. I have no power. I am helpless. Hallelujah! And then when I took OH down the hill from the sports center, we got lost. I had no idea where he wanted to go. I had difficulty following his instructions; I suspect he did too. Praise the Lord for his provision: another volunteer arrived and led him closer to his final destination.

I experienced great joy tonight. I also experienced the depths of my selfishness and sin -- this is my disability. How I need The Lord to transform me and lead me all my days.

A Quiet Day Alone

A quiet day. Alone, not necessarily lonely. 

A stressful day. Stress ironically stemming from church events, men's ministry this morning and pastor's farewell party this evening. I eventually passed on both, but not before freakin' out. Missing the mark last night. Sleeping lots and passing on men's breakfast and prayer. Frustration and futility in selecting a recipe for this evening's potluck, experiencing more F and F at the supermarket self-checkout machine -- I really hate poorly organized information systems, and I guess other people do by how long the human cashier lines are and how barren the self-checkout space is at Wellcome; English supermarkets do it better -- and finally skipping social dinner and eating alone in the dining hall. Haven't done that in awhile.

Indeed, today was an imbalanced, irregular day. Scant social. Lots of research doing. Do. Do. Do. I already know that is not a fulfilling life. A type of fruitfulness there but also an emptiness in my person. The treasure is the people. 

Tomorrow will be different. I'm around people a lot, and my heart will be ready, I pray. I had an opportunity to be quiet today, had a moment with the Lord, and He's showing me my last 24 hours in a loving light. He's also healing me, because he's revealing the depth of the self-reliance and trespass in my heart. To be sure, when church stuff stresses me out, something is wrong -- I'm not sure if spiritual warfare was a reason. I know my perfectionism, performativity and shame are real, even for church socials. I have been deciding my own mark and falling short of it. And I've given up. If I follow the Lord' mark, I don't beat myself up and persevere, and perhaps today ends up differently.  Praise God.

July 25, 2014

Friendship Revelations

I had a revelation today while taking a nap. Maybe Patrick has moved from a friend to a brother. Now he is family, and since the relationship has fundamentally changed, so have my responsibilities. Maybe God has planned this all along, to move from choice, and exchange, to humility and total grace. This also means the seasons have changed for us, individually and corporately. I can back off as I back off with all my family members. Selective, seasonal engagement. The events of the summer have led to this result: I recall my increasing heart desperation to lose my anger and selfishness around Patrick, and about his interests -- and I still pray God change my heart and his. I also recall purposefully staying away from Patrick. Yesterday's misunderstanding through WhatsApp suggests that now is another off-season; we came from bad situations and hit each other's buttons in the wrong way; we learned a lot from our last heart-to-heart, and now we are on the way to learn more: and in blocking Patrick on Whatsapp, I am adamant about and committee to no longer engaging him through text. He has been my toughest, most counter-cultural, Christ-inducing friend, and therefore the best -- my misunderstandings with all my other mighty men combined pale in comparison to the misunderstandings and challenges from Patrick and my relationship, because he is Mr. Hong Kong. We are no longer friends, but surely brothers.

Finally, about my wife. While walking up the hill to the reservoir track last night, I received word that my wife is already in my social network. She will not be a new friend. I already know her! Praise God.