Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Goodbye, Hong Kong

Last week I was eating lunch with a seafarer aboard the Warnow Carp during one my trips out in the anchorage. We spoke of the usual things. "How long is your contract? Do you have a family? How many kids do you have? What is the next port of call?" It was just like every other conversation I'd ever had with a seafarer, but then he started talking to me about all of the ports he had traveled to during his many years at sea.

The weathered seafarer was a Greek captain, and had been at sea for nearly 45 years. 45 years! Over the course of his long career he had been everywhere. And, I mean everywhere. Every major port in North America, South America, Canada, Europe and Asia. This man claims to have been to hundreds of different ports in his travels. With a tone of amazement, I ask the obvious question:

"What is your favorite port?"

Automatically my mind begins to roll from one exotic harbor to the next. Rio de Janeiro? Bangkok? Dubai? Which will he say?

But the old captain takes hardly a second to respond: "Home. My favorite port is my home port," he smiles. The other seafarers around us eating lunch, all look up from their plates and begin to nod and smile. "This is true for every seafarer," said the captain. "There's no place like home."

I took this photo on my final day of ship visiting. That's the mission launch in the foreground.

On July 31, I will officially end my first year with the Young Adult Service Corps, and board my flight back to that refreshing pint of IPA I call home: Asheville, NC. While I am so happy to go home, I am also very sad to leave my friends and family in Hong Kong. During my time here I have made some great friends and had the most amazing experiences. 

I got the opportunity to live in the middle of one of the greatest and most advanced cities in the world. I was able to travel and experience life in different countries around Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Japan and Vietnam. I was able to spend most of my time on the water in Victoria Harbour and the South China Sea, helping seafarers from all over the world. I made friends with the most unlikely characters, ate the most interesting foods, and I feel like I truly made a difference to the thousands of seafarers that I came across.

Taking a seafarer selfie. 

Happy seafarers gather for a photo after a visit from the Mariner's Club.

This blog has been fun to look back on over the past few days. This morning I was looking back at this post from Aug. 19, 2013. It was the blog post I published just before arriving to start my mission here in Hong Kong. Take a look:

"One question I have been asked frequently over the past few days has been, 'What are you most excited about?' This has been a hard question to answer, and I think the answer has been different with every response. However, now that I have thought it over, I think I am most excited to grow.

What do I mean by growing? Culturally, mentally, spiritually - this mission is going change me. I've never lived in such a massive city. I've never been so far from home. I've never been in a better position to wrestle with my faith."

I certainly did a lot of growing up in Hong Kong. The type of growing that one can only do while living in a foreign country. I think the Will that came to Hong Kong last August, and the Will that leaves Hong Kong on July 31 are two completely different beings. Truthfully, I found what I was looking for in Hong Kong.

Culturally, I have gained invaluable insight into an ancient and fascinating way of life. Mentally, I have grown more confident about my own capabilities as a human being. Spiritually, I have come to recognize how important sharing and practicing my faith is to my own personal happiness.

I have also seen time and time again with seafarers how important faith and spirituality is to other people. After witnessing it over time and time again, I have come to this conclusion:

God, I think, in one way or another, whether you recognize it consciously or sub-consciously, is what holds us all together. This is a lesson that I learned not from reading the bible or going to church, but instead from just talking to seafarers every day out in the anchorage. Seafarers, much like missionaries out in the field, rely so much on their faith to see them through the rough weather, the long contracts and the pangs of homesickness that strike most every day. Perhaps its only through such difficult and uncomfortable lenses that you can see the true nature of God, and the importance of practicing faith. Maybe without these lenses, you can't see the ties that bind us.

The Hong Kong missionaries of YASC on a sailing trip in the fall. 

It's easy to look back at my year of mission work and be proud of what I have accomplished. To think however that I did it alone would be a massive blunder. I was only able to be successful here because of the people I work with and the friends I have made along the way. To all my friends and co-workers in Hong Kong who may be reading this, thank you so much.

Equally as important are all of the people back in the USA that donated money to help bring me here. And I can't forget the people that wrote me letters and sent me packages. None of this would have been possible without you. Thank you!

Amazing friends and co-workers at my farewell dinner.

Hong Kong friends gathered to say goodbye. I will miss these people! 

My Hong Kong family. They were so welcoming! 

My mentor and great friend, the Rev. Stephen Miller. I learned so much from him. 

So where do I go from here? My flight to Rome, where I will begin my next year of mission work with the Young Adult Service Corps, leaves Asheville on Sept. 12. But Before I leave, I've got nearly a month and a half to spend catching up with my family and friends.

The world is full of beautiful and exotic places. No doubt, Hong Kong is right up there with the best of them. However it is time to go. There is meaningful and urgent work calling me elsewhere across the globe. But first it is time to lower the ladder and drop anchor in the most welcoming of ports. The port that seafarers and missionaries the world 'round would agree is without equal.

Home.

Thanks for reading,

Will Bryant