Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Christmas 2017, Part I

Dear Friends,

As I write, it is the second week of Advent and the last week of classes at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong before our Christmas break. It has been a very busy semester because we had so many special activities commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Maybe you did, too. On October 31, there was a huge ecumenical worship service held at Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong, with 2,000 worshipers in attendance, including those invited especially from the Roman Catholic Church. If you would like to see it, you can click on this link to the website of the Lutheran World Federation, which televised the service to represent the Asia region:
https://www.lutheranworld.org/reformationdaylive. (You can move the “Live Broadcast” video to the right place by clicking on the “play” arrow and then dragging the red dot to 8:30.) The service is in Cantonese, but you can open an English version of the order of service and sermon by scrolling down to “Reformation Day Live Program” and clicking on “Asia Region”. However, if you want to experience what life would be like for you much of the time if you lived in Hong Kong, just listen to the service in Cantonese and open the sermon in Chinese. You might find yourself bewildered. I teach in English because my students are from several different countries, but I am surrounded by Cantonese, the dialect of Chinese spoken in Hong Kong, but not by me. Since I do not understand spoken or written Cantonese, I often find myself bewildered. For example, last week I was on the bus, riding to church, when a parade passed by. It was a long one, with drums and many marchers wearing t-shirts and carrying signs. I looked for some recognizable words or characters on the signs but found none. So the parade faded away behind us, and I don’t know what it was about. I’m grateful that many signs in Hong Kong are bilingual. I enjoyed (one stating no Pokemon-catching near a construction site.)
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Christmas 2017, Part II

Some signs are even entirely in English, like this one near the 10,000 Buddhas temple complex just around the corner from the post office:

I met some fake Buddhist monks before I saw the sign (or maybe there was a sign in Chinese and I missed it!). They wanted HK$100 (around US$15) in exchange for a blessing. I assured them that I was deeply blessed already.

We all have been blessed, including the Reformers, the protesting marchers, and the fake monks, because at Christmas God gave us a sign that people of any language can see, and it is not a sign of prohibition or warning but of promise: The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

The sign of a Savior: a baby in an animal’s feed-box. “Do not be afraid,” they said. Here God wraps himself in our weakness, inadequacy, and confusion, and makes it his own. These things cannot separate us from the God who loves us and is making us and all things right in himself. It is in him that we are all held together, in spite of language barriers. That’s the good news of great joy for all the people that I want to share with you and celebrate this Christmas.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

October 2017, Part I

Dear Friends and Companions in Mission, In his letters, Paul always greets the church in this or that place and urges the members to greet each other with a holy kiss. I pass those greetings on to you. In his letter to the Romans, whom he had never met, Paul wrote about how much he wanted to visit them "so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:12). That was how I felt about my first-time visit to Myanmar.

Recently, I had the wonderful experience of being a visiting lecturer at the Karen (pronounced Kuh-REN) Baptist Theological Seminary (KBTS) in Yangon, Myanmar. The trip was sponsored by the Mekong Mission Forum, a subgroup of the Lutheran World Federation that nurtures church networks, social services, and educational institutions in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Some of you might know Myanmar by its old name, Burma. The word "Burma" refers to the largest ethnic group in the country, the mostly Buddhist Burmese. The change of the country's name reflects the fact that Myanmar is very diverse ethnically; not everyone is Burmese. The Karen, for example, are another large ethnic group, most of whom are Baptist because of the nineteenth-century Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson.

The 30 students who attended by lectures at KBTS for three days are in the final year of their MDiv (Master of Divinity) program, so they already knew a bit about church history, especially the history of their own Baptist tradition in Myanmar. I chose to talk about something I was pretty sure they knew little about because very few church history textbooks cover it well: the history of the Assyrian Church of the East. The students were surprised to learn that the first Christians in Myanmar were not Baptist!
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

October 2017, Part II

The reason I wanted to introduce the students to the Church of the East was that the situation of the church in Myanmar today reminds me of the situation of the Church of the East throughout its history. Except at its very beginning in the independent kingdom of Osrhoene (southeastern Turkey today), the Church of the East has never had political power. For about 1,800 years, it has lived in places where the majority of the population is not Christian and where the government does not support Christianity. The students certainly concentrated hard as they explored this new topic in their third language, English. (Karen is their first language and Burmese their second.) I was happy to notice that they grew bolder and more talkative each day. Here we are after our final class. I was given a longyi (a traditional wrap) and the students were delighted that I wore it on the last day.

When I wasn’t teaching, I was being treated with great hospitality. My hosts took me sightseeing in Yangon, where the main attraction is the phenomenal Shwedagon Pagoda, a golden pagoda encrusted with jewels and surrounded by numerous similarly lavish pavilions. We went at night, when the whole place glitters. I’ve never seen so much gold! Many people were there praying, especially at the Tuesday corner. There is a corner for each day of the week, and we were there on a Tuesday. I leave you with this photo of girls meditating as they learn to be Buddhist nuns, and a recommendation to visit Myanmar someday and make sure to meet the Christians there so that you can encourage and strengthen each other.

Carolyn Schneider
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Christmas 2016, Part I

Dear Friends and Partners,

Christmas greetings to you from me in Hong Kong. I want to share the Christmas message with you via the ceramic relief sculpture below, from the Catholic Church of St. Joseph in Macau. Macau is an island close to Hong Kong that was a center for many of the early Christian missions in Asia. I took the students in my History of Christianity in Asia course there last month to visit the sites that were so important for the spread of the church in Asia. This photo was taken by LTS student Ngui Au Sze, a Malaysian pastor now writing a Master of Theology thesis about the significant role of female deacons in the history of her church, the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia.

I love this nativity scene because everyone is there - all the characters from the story in Matthew's gospel plus all the characters from the story in Luke's gospel (plus some characters not mentioned in either gospel). It's not a quiet manger scene but a crowded and active one, appropriate to Macau and Hong Kong. Every figure, from king and soldier to angel and cow, is intensely interested in what is happening in the manger, although for different reasons.

Christmas in Hong Kong is that intense. It seems like everyone is here. The malls play Christmas carols endlessly, while thousands of people stream across the border from mainland China to go shopping. Most of our local students are working hard in their churches, and, although some of our international students go home, many stay in Hong Kong because it's too expensive to go home or because their visas don't allow re-entry if they leave before their studies are finished. I'm staying, too, and will spend Christmas day at church with Filipinas who are here to work in the homes of local families. Along with us all will be many people from around the world who have come to Hong Kong seeking refuge and asylum from war or persecution.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Christmas 2016, Part II

On December 20, after the last exam has been taken and the last term paper handed in, my LTS "family" of eight students and one English teacher, ELCA missionary Jenna Bergeson, will have a day of volunteering at Crossroads, an organization that helps refugees and other people in need. We will go bearing gifts in our backpacks: about 50 bottles of shampoo that were donated by a local Korean congregation. In order to get to Crossroads, we will have to go through some of those crowded malls because the main train stations of the metro system are located inside malls. Although I do not enjoy the super-crowds and I can easily become cynical about the Christmas carols, thinking, "Why do the stores play these songs that are meaningless to employees and customers alike?," I will let this nativity scene from St. Joseph's Church remind me hat Jesus is not present only in the quiet scene of a hushed stable at midnight. He is also at the center of the uproar, in the middle of the chaos, when everyone is there, including those who know that something is going on but don't have a clue what it really means.

I hope that what this picture shows is as welcome to you as it is to me. Living as a foreigner in another country, I often feel clueless about what is going on around me and what it means. I am so glad that the future of the world does not depend on the state of my mind, and that Jesus does not wait for everything to settle down, but the Savior is born right into this swirling world.

Christ's peace to you.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Easter 2016

Fu Huo Jie (blessed resurrection holiday)! In these past weeks, churches all over Hong Kong have gathered to celebrate Christ's resurrection with you. This year, Easter in Hong Kong has had an added twist because Easter Sunday coincided exactly with the traditional Chinese festival celebrating the start of spring, qing ming jie (spring festival).

One of the things that happens during qing ming jie is that families visit the graves of their loved ones to sweep and clean them. How fitting to have so much life going on around the graves on a day when Christians are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. The women went to Jesus' tomb to tend his dead body, but it was no longer confined there.

Epitaphs in the Christian cemetery just next to the seminary witness to the hope that Christians have that we, too, will share in the resurrected life of Jesus. We experience that new life in small ways even now.

Here is the grave of Anna Martinson, "awaiting the resurrection." She was the mother of the ninth president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Harold Hauge Martinson, who was in that office from 1956-1967. Four years later, the seminary would have its first Chinese president, Andrew Hsiao Ken-Hsieh (1971-1993). When he died, his ashes were placed by the fish pond in the center of the campus, where his epitaph proclaims the message of Isaiah 43:19, "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

How fitting, too, that Easter and spring should be celebrated together, when creation itself seems to witness to the possibility of new life. Hong Kong, which means "fragrant harbor," is truly fragrant in the spring. Many trees and plants are in bloom, including the bauhinia tress. The sweet-smelling bauhinia flower is the symbol of Hong Kong, appearing in stylized form on the flag of Hong Kong.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

December 2014, Part I

It is now the first week of Advent and the air is just turning chilly here in Hong Kong. "Chilly" means 13 degrees Celsius (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit). Life in Hong Kong these days goes on with a mix of everyday-ness, protest, and celebration. For me, the everyday-ness means teaching the last two weeks of classes at the seminary before the Christmas break, and taking exams myself as a student of Mandarin Chinese (called Putonghua).

For me, the protest means paying attention to the local news so that I am aware of what is happening on the streets of Hong Kong. Police are trying to clear protest sites so that transportation and normal business can resume in those areas, and protesters are considering the best way to ensure that elections in 2017 for Hong Kong's Chief Executive are open and democratic. These events are very painful for Hong Kong people because they are a sign of discord in the community rather than harmony. Neither Hong Kong itself nor its churches is accustomed to public discord and so finding ways to talk about the issues is very hard. The churches, seminaries, students, and staff are all struggling toward this.

In the meantime, thought, they don't forget to celebrate God's gifts to them. I have attended two big celebrations in the past two months. First, on October 18-19, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong celebrated its 60th anniversary with a big worship service at the Hong Kong Coliseum, with all of its congregations present. It was a joyful time of songs, liturgical dance, and preaching from Bishop Ben Cheung about how the risen Jesus accompanies us as he accompanied his first disciples. The test was Luke 24:13-35, where Jesus walks with his disciples, discussing his death and resurrection from the scriptures and then revealing himself to them as he breaks bread for supper in Emmaus.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

December 2014, Part II

The second celebration was just last week, November 28. Annually, the seminary hosts "Founders' Day" to commemorate its anniversary. This was year #101. The seminary began in Hubei, China in 1913, but war caused it (and thousands of refugees) to move to Hong Kong in 1948, where it had two other homes before the present campus was built in 1992. Included in the present design were the 121 steps that I climb each morning to get to the campus.

The 121 steps are meant to be a reminder of Psalm 121, which we also remembered as we spoke the psalm during our worship last Friday night. It is a good blessing with which to leave you as you go about your daily lives, perhaps with a mix of protest and celebration.
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Schneider

Meet Rev. Schneider

Carolyn teaches church history at the Lutheran Theological Seminary to help prepare leaders not only for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong, but also for the churches of the broader region in China and southeastern Asia. She works with students and colleagues on campus and participates in the seminary's pastoral and educational support of congregational ministries off campus by preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments.

Scottish Country Dancing, organic gardening and landscaping, walking outdoors, cooking and eating international foods, listening to classical music.

Additional Information from Carolyn:
I am learning Mandarin in order to become more effective. I was a "missionary kid," born and reared in the Philippines. In 2005-2006, I spent 7 months participating in the World Council of Churches; Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. In 2012, I spent 2 semesters teaching at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt. I have published one book, "I Am a Christian: The Nun, The Devil, and Martin Luther" (Fortress, 2010). I am working on a second book about a fourth-century Coptic sermon from Egypt on love and self-control.
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