Friday, April 11, 2014

When in Rome...

Last week I mentioned in my blog that I had some big news to share. Well, I can finally announce that I have decided to do another year of service with the Young Adult Service Corps!

In 2014-15, I will be serving political refugees at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in Rome, Italy! The center, which helps those seeking asylum from countries in Africa and the Middle East, is located in the crypt of Saint Paul's Within the Walls - Rome's only American Episcopal Church.

My future home, St. Paul's within the Walls
Here is a short excerpt from the JNRC website about its history and outreach:

"During the 1970s, Rome experienced a substantial increase in the number or refugees, fleeing from disaster, persecution, and war in their home countries–mainly, but not exclusively from throughout the African continent.  During this time, Italy adopted a generous and sometimes unregulated “open door” policy towards forced migrants ... The Center remains a sanctuary for political refugees in heart of Rome–many in transit to other countries–where radical hospitality is expressed towards the strangers in our midst.  Refugees learn about the Center mostly by word of mouth.  Among refugees, it is offer referred to as the “underground church.”   According to one guest in the Center from Afghanistan, “I am Shia Muslim, and many of these men are Sunni.  Shia and Sunnis are at war around the world.  In my country, there has been constant war of one kind or another for 34 years, but those who gather here are tired of fighting and respect this Center as a place for peace.”

I'm beyond excited at the opportunity to work at St. Paul's. Not only is it a beautiful and historic church set in the middle of Rome, but it is also the home parish of Rev. Austin Rios, his wife Jill and daughter Asa. I've known Father Austin for many years as we are both alumni of Camp Henry, an Episcopal summer camp in Western North Carolina. Many who have gone to Camp Henry (including the current YASCer serving in Rome, Jared Grant) would say that the bond created at camp is much like the bond of family. So I'm not a bit nervous about moving to Rome, doing completely different work and fitting back into Western culture. I already have some Camp Henry fam waiting there for me.

Father Austin and family in Roma

So another year of YASC means another round of fundraising. This year I will need to raise $8,000 to make this mission to Rome a reality. Last year I was so blessed to receive donations from so many people. Those donations and support have sustained me physically and mentally through my time here in Hong Kong. If you would like to donate towards my fundraising efforts, please send me an email at Williamsmithbryant@gmail.com and I will fill you in on how to help. All donations are tax deductible. I know it's never a good time to ask for money. Times are hard and money is tight, but if you are able to make a donation I would be incredible grateful. Prayers and kind words are equally important during this time as well.

I will be coming back home to Asheville in the beginning of August and will leave for Rome in the middle of September. While I am excited to know what lies on the horizon, my focus will still be completely on my work here in Hong Kong. Serving seafarers has been an incredible experience that has made an indelible mark on my life, and I'm excited to be out on the water with them for the next three months.

Ciao!

Will

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Konichiwa!

Hello and happy Spring from Hong Kong!

Spring has definitely sprung in Hong Kong. Flowers are beginning to bloom, it's getting much warmer and the skies have been much clearer the past few days. I'm happy to bid adieu to the cold weather and rain, however I'm not looking forward to the heat and humidity that accompanies the spring and summer.

A lot has happened since I last posted. Most notably, I went on a five-day trip to Kobe, Japan, with Rev. Stephen Miller to witness and celebrate the ordination of the Mission to Seafarers Chaplain Paul Tolhurst. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to visit Japan, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a beautiful, calming country with hospitable people and delicious food. I could definitely live in Japan. 

Entrance to the Kobe Mariners' Centre
Rev. Paul Tolhurst has been working at the Mission to Seafarers in Kobe for almost 15 years now. Like my boss, Paul is young and energetic, and he brings that energy to his work at the Mission. The building is quite different than our building in Hong Kong. There is not a hotel, swimming pool or bowling alley, but the idea is very much the same - they take care of seafarers. The Kobe Mariners' Centre takes care of all those coming and going from the Port of Kobe. They offer a nice bar with great wi-fi connection, and a small chapel where they hold services each Sunday. 

It was so interesting to see another branch of the Mission to Seafarers. Even though there are Mission chaplains in over 260 port cities worldwide, I had never been to one outside of the US and Hong Kong. It's rejuvenating to talk to people who do the same job as you, face the same obstacles and share the same frustrations. I learned a lot on this trip. 

Paul's ordination was a great experience. The service took place in St. Michael's Cathedral in downtown Kobe - a beautiful, old church set right in the middle of the city. You would think that going to a church service in Japan would be much different than going to a church service in North Carolina or Hong Kong. However, despite what you might think, the service was remarkably similar - the only difference being the language spoken. Everything else was the same - the liturgy, the peace, the sermon and communion. In many ways, it was just like being home. 

The people were also the same! There were the old, sweet ladies after the service handing out coffee and snacks (except the snacks were sushi). There was the exasperated usher rushing around the sanctuary trying to put people in the best possible seats. There was the intense and focused choirmaster carefully conducting the anthem. Yes, it was a different country, but the dialogue and the characters were nearly identical. 

St. Michael's Cathedral in Kobe, Japan. 

Inside the sanctuary at St. Michael's. 

The Bishop of Kobe posing with chaplains of Mission to Seafarers. 

As a country, I fell in love with Japan. The food, people, culture and environment were all top notch. I had plenty of delicious sushi. I even had Kobe Beef, which turned out to be one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten in my life. For those of you that might not know, Kobe Beef is so special because the cows are served gallons of beer each day, massaged with rice wine and then listen to classical music while they are fattening up. The result is an amazing piece of beef with fat marbled throughout.

Moo.

We want some moo, we want some moo.

One day in Japan, Rev. Miller and I took a train over to Kyoto, the ancient capitol of Japan. We only were able to spend around eight hours in the imperial city but it left quite an impression. Undoubtedly, the highlight of our day was visiting Kinkau-Ji, an ancient Zen Buddhist shrine. It was an unbelievable experience, and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to go.

Kinkaku-Ji in Kyoto, Japan.

I have some very exciting news to announce next week so stay tuned, knuckleheads!

Peace,

Will

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How You Like Them Apples?

Hello there!

Sorry for my delay in putting up this latest blog post. The start of this new year has been busy!

It's really weird to say this but I'm no longer feeling like a foreigner in Hong Kong. I am definitely in a routine with work, and I'm starting to recognize and receive phone calls from seafarers each and every week. It's a nice feeling to wake up to messages from seafarers coming to port soon, asking if I or another member of our staff can come and visit. There are now easily over a dozen ships where I know at least one or two crew members by name - and they know me too!

Work has been really interesting lately. For one thing, I recently stumbled upon this giant tower of Dole Fruit Shipping Containers. What is inside? Where did it come from? These are interesting questions that I wish I had the answer to. However, I think there is definitely something we can take away from this mass of steel and fruit waiting on the deck of the Hong Kong container port:

A. Where do you think your fruit comes from?
B. How do you think it gets from the source to your grocery store?
C. Do you ever think about any of the two questions above?
D. Why not?

SO. MUCH. FRUIT.

But let's not spoil this blog post with sour grapes, shall we? Orange you glad, I'm such a big fan of puns?

On to something deeper:

I recently spent some time aboard the ship Alula (she is HUGE) with crew hailing from Egypt. The experience of which was really interesting as many of the seafarers are Muslim. (FYI, The Mission to Seafarers helps all seafarers regardless of color and creed.)

Big shocker here, but this Carolina boy has never spent much time with people of the Muslim faith. However going aboard this vessel was really refreshing as its occupants showed me respect and grace despite the fact that I was not one of their kind. They gave me a tour of their ship, a delicious lunch, and even let me take a peek at their prayer room:

Entrance to the prayer room. Notice the times set out front. 

The prayer room on this ship was really intriguing for a variety of reasons.

First, this room is representative of how important faith is to seafarers during their lives at sea. Space on a container ship is TIGHT, so to make space for a whole room just for praying is a big deal. The room alone made me realize that this company takes the spiritual and mental needs of this crew seriously.

Second, the times posted outside of the prayer room are updated everyday depending on where the ship will be headed. Seafarers cross in to different time zones multiple times a week, so they are never on a stable schedule. It takes someone of devout faith to make sure this prayer schedule is updated accurately every day for Muslims on board.

Third, the walls of the prayer room are covered with the prayers of Islam and also features a digitized compass that always points the way toward Mecca. Obviously, the direction of Mecca could change every hour so this is something that always needs to be kept up to date. Again, I was just impressed by the measures taken by the ship company and crew to make sure that the faith of these seafarers is not only taken serious, but thoroughly supported.

Finally, just a thought. People of the religion of Islam observe five formal prayers EVERYDAY. I really respect that about their faith and culture, and it makes me look at my faith and culture a little closer. If it was required or expected of you as a Christian (or Jew, Buddhist, etc.) to pray five times a day, would you do it? Going to church and engaging one another as a community is crucial to the Christian faith, however most Christians only go to church one morning per week. My thought in all of this was: Am I praying enough? Listening enough? I think there is room for improvement.

How about you?

Much thanks to Peter and the rest of the crew of the Alula for having me.

**********************************************************************
Finally, a recent highlight of mine has been hosting a good friend, Luke Wander, during his brief stay in Hong Kong. I have known Luke literally all of my life, and it was so good having someone from my tiny part of the world here in Hong Kong. We did some of the touristy things, and I even took him out on the boat with me for work. By far, one of the coolest things we did was take a hike on the Dragon's Backbone. Thanks for coming, Luke!

View from a ridge of the Dragon's Backbone. Incredible hike! 

Luke cheesin' on the bow of the Mariners' Club launch.


Being Pirates. 



Sunday, January 12, 2014

This is My Life

In early November, I mentioned that a reporter from the Episcopal News Service came to Hong Kong to do stories on the Young Adult Service Corps Missionaries working in the city. Two weeks ago, one of those stories was published. In the story below, you will see what I do from day to day here with Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong.


Special thanks to Matthew Davies for putting this piece together. Your gift for storytelling is certainly an asset for the church. I hope this video inspires someone thinking about YASC. Hands down, it has been the best decision of my life.

Another glimpse into the outreach of the Mission here happened just this morning. The Mariners' Club, in conjunction with the Hong Kong shipping community, sent a shipping container stocked full of much-needed supplies to the Philippines for those still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

What was in the container? Good Question:
  • 7 Boxes of Toys
  • 1 Box of Toiletries
  • 2 Bags of Shoes
  • 1440 Bags of Sugar
  • 400 Bags of Rice
  • 3,690 Packs of Noodles
  • 1,560 Bottles of Water
  • 1,392 Cases of Dried Food
  • Lots of Love
Got Rice?

From left to right: Rice, Myself, Catering Manager Peter Lam 

So much water!



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hong Kong Holidays

Happy New Year!

I hope each of you have had a blessed holiday season. Mine here in Hong Kong has been excellent - full of family, great food and fellowship. This year marked the first time in my life that I was not in Asheville, North Carolina for Christmas. It was a little sad to be away from home, however I was extremely thankful for the Hong Kong "family" that I have made here.

I doubt I will ever forget where I spent Christmas of 2013. Christmas Day was spent out on the water delivering presents to seafarers out on the waters of the South China Sea. Reverend Miller and I had a great time playing Santa Claus, yelling "Ho Ho Ho" and singing carols to bewildered seafarers on the intercom of our small launch. Throughout Advent the mission has delivered over 7,000 wrapped gifts to seafarers. The gifts are items that are extremely useful - clocks, bumbags, flashlights and wallets. While not life-changing, I think the mere of act of receiving a present means a lot to these lonely people at sea. The reactions upon receiving the small gifts were priceless.

Rebecca and I packed hundreds of bags for seafarers this Christmas season

The Rev. Stephen Miller sends up a bag of presents on Christmas morning. 


Happy seafarers

While I missed my true family on Christmas Day, I was fortunate enough to see them soon after. My mother, father, brother and sister-in-law were all able to come visit and experience my life in Hong Kong. Fortunately I was able to take a few days off from work and show them the sights of the city. Having my family here was very humbling, as it made me realize how blessed I am to live in a place as vibrant and beautiful as Hong Kong. Their visit also made me realize how much I have matured since I last saw them before I departed on my mission. August 2013 seems like a lifetime ago!

Enjoying a sunny day up on Victoria Peak 


Cheesin' in front of the Big Buddha

Tour on top of a double decker bus 


Craig being a mutt at the Chi Lin Nunnery


I cannot thank my family enough for traveling all the way out here to visit me. While we missed one brother and sister-in-law that remained in the USA, it was revitalizing to see some familiar faces from home. To quote one of my favorite songs, "Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name." I love you all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Gospel of Manny

My work here in Hong Kong with the Mission to Seafarers can be lonely. Unlike my brothers and sisters in YASC who work and worship with the same community day after day, my community is one that changes regularly. My "congregation" is composed of whatever the tide happens to bring in on any given day as seen from the Hong Kong Marine Department website that allows us to monitor the traffic coming in and out of the port. Some of the ships that come into Hong Kong might be coming for the first and only time in the crew's memory. Other ships, however, may be coming to Hong Kong every week, or every month. Regardless of their schedule, it is difficult to get to know a seafarer like you would a member of your community or parish. Their lives are so transient, so unstable, that they often don't open up to people from the "outside" world.

And I can't blame them.

These seafarers are gone from their homes 9-12 months out of the year, passing like driftwood between ports all over the world. Life for them is just one big commute. Why get attached to anything in such a lifestyle? Nothing is stable.

The sea is a lonely place
Our Mission in Hong Kong however seeks to shatter the monotony that these seafarers face, and we do so with a variety of tools. Every ship visit I come aboard with a warm welcome, newspapers from their homelands, and perhaps most importantly, recordings of their favorite sporting events.

Now it just may be a "guy" thing, but few things make you feel more at home than watching your favorite sports team from continents away. I, myself, have experienced this by finding live streams of UNC basketball games and Carolina Panther football games during my time in Hong Kong. It brings a mysterious sense of comfort knowing that the world you left behind is still running smoothly without you. It's nice to know that the despite the tumultuous and unstable activity going on in your own life, your favorite traditions are still alive and well. That's what these sports recordings do for seafarers out on the sea. In an ocean of instability, sports give them peace.

On Nov. 24, 2013, a sporting event took place that, despite its violent nature, is still spreading peace and comfort to seafarers today. On that day, Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines brought down the hammer on Brandon Rios in an epic boxing match that revived a legend's career, restored hope to a broken nation, and granted the seafaring industry's most important demographic a little peace of mind.

Watch below as the lighter and older Pacman puts a hurtin' on Rios.



Filipino seafarers are the backbone of the shipping industry. They make up the majority of the seafaring workforce and have the least glamorous jobs. They have also had a terrible year in terms of the well-being of their country. Earthquakes and typhoons have left thousands dead, many of which are related to Filipinos seafarers. In fact, an estimated 160,000 Filipino seafarers are directly affected by Typhoon Haiyan. So, in many ways, the 34-year-old Pacquiao's victory was much bigger than a boxing match. His win showed millions of Filipinos that even though we may get knocked out from time to time, we can and must pick ourselves up.

Like I mentioned earlier, ship visiting can be hard. However, armed with the latest victory of Manny, I have found that talking about the boxer and his accomplishments is a great icebreaker. Even more so when you can actually give a Filipino seafarer a recording of the fight to watch.

If I have time, I love to watch the fight with them.

During those times on the ship, in front of a small TV in the vessel's mess room, we could be anywhere. His comfortable home in Manila, his wife and kids only in the next room over. The fight makes him forget about the troubles of the sea, the demanding and isolating life of the seafarer.

With the fight on, it's only him and his hero. A lucid demonstration that life outside the ship is moving forward in the way that it always has (and should), and clear evidence that there is finally good news coming out of a place that has seen way too much bad news in the past year.


I titled this post the "Gospel of Manny" because in many ways Pacman's victory has lifted a broken group of people up much in the way that faith and religion are capable of picking people up. Time and time again in the bible, we see God's people revitalizing/reinventing themselves to be better and stronger after invasions and disasters. Is Manny Pacquiao a saint? Absolutely not. However, if you could see the look of happiness and surprise that darts on the face of seafarers after they have received a copy of his most recent match, you would have sworn you'd seen the face of God. Home, healing, and hope - all in the same expression.

Now, that's truly a victory.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Distinguished Guests and a General Secretary

It's hard to believe that it has been a month since my last post. October literally flew by! I'm going to be writing a much more in-depth post in the next week, but for now I would just like to give you a few updates about my life this past month:

  • We had a team of journalist from the South China Morning Post come do a story on my boss, Rev. Stephen Miller and the Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong. You can find the story and video here
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke at St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong.  The church was packed for the visit of the ABC. He gave a wonderful sermon which can be heard and seen here. I even got to shake his hand. Therefore - I'm officially one degree of separation from Queen Elizabeth and baby Prince George. Boom. 
  • I turned 25 years old on October 21! Fortunately for me, I was taken out to eat by friends and colleagues in order to console my grief about turning into a real adult. I even got a cake from Rev. Stephen Miller and our mom secretary, Rebecca. Here's a photo! 

Rebecca, myself and Father Valan before we devour the cake. 


What's a birthday without a selfie? 
  • I had a amazing individual and journalist by the name of Matthew Davies come do a story on YASC and Mission to Seafarers for the Episcopal News Service. The story, which should be coming out soon, is all about the work that I and the other missionaries are doing here in Hong Kong. I can't wait to see the finished product.
  • I finally got to see the Hong Kong Philharmonic perform. Last week I was privileged to see their performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem under the direction of Lorin Maazel. The performance was deeply moving. If you ever have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.       If not, it's worth the time to read the history behind the Requiem and also to read the poetry of  Wilfred Owen
  • The Sailors Home and Mission to Seaman 150th Anniversary in Hong Kong Gala Dinner was a HUGE success. Photos of that will be coming along shortly. The General Secretary of Mission to Seafarers was in attendance, as were many of the leaders in the Hong Kong shipping industry. It was nice to see the community come together in such a big way for the organization.
    The event was packed! 320 people came out to the Gala.
The Rev. Stephen Miller, myself and the
Rev. Andrew Wright, General Secretary of Mission to Seafarers
My Mission to Seafarer Family

Sorry for the brief check in, however you can expect much more thorough posts in the coming weeks. 

Sham on.