October 31st was Reformation Day, the day that Christians around the world set apart to remember how God restored the true proclamation of the Gospel to a church which had largely forgotten it. Aside from being important for that reason, it’s also kind of like the Lutheran July 4th: a day we bust out the pom-poms and celebrate the remarkable heritage of faith we have received in the Lutheran confessions. As such, we were PUMPED to celebrate Reformation Day here in Hong Kong. Last year, we threw a big party with decorations, trivia, themed food, twinkle lights, the whole 9 yards! We even persisted in having an outdoor trivia contest despite TORRENTIAL rains!
That was last year. This year, we felt it was ESPECIALLY important to do a Reformation Party. We had many reasons for this: we have been blessed beyond our needs with an indoor living space and kitchen that is larger than typical for Hong Kong, and especially with an outdoor space, in our school courtyard, that is extremely atypical for people to have in Hong Kong. Yards are very uncommon here. We wanted to use these resources to have fellowship, continue to get to know our community, and throw a massive party.
But beyond this question of convenience, we had another motive! The Reformation, and distinctively Lutheran heritage, isn’t very widely known about here in Hong Kong. When we talked to people here about Reformation Day, very few people knew what it was. When we talk to people about Lutheran beliefs, they are often very surprised to hear what we believe: Christianity is not just laws and rules, it isn’t a good luck charm for your life, it isn’t just a promise for the afterlife, it isn’t empty cheerfulness. So we wanted to throw a party that would highlight the wonderful spiritual treasures that Christianity, and particularly Lutheranism, has to share with the world.
So where to begin?
Well, all parties begin with their most important element: FOOD. We decided to do our party as a potluck. We pledged to make a large amount of pulled pork, which somehow was translated into Chinese and then back into English as a “meat mountain.” Fair enough. To go with that, we also committed to making a huge pot of mashed potatoes, getting lots of bread, BBQ sauce, and making a big thing of homemade coleslaw. Then we asked other people to sign up for food.
At first… we didn’t get signups. And we got worried: what if we did this big party AND NOBODY CAME? Or…. what if lots of people came, but nobody brought food? Either would be a disaster!
We were wrong to underestimate our Hong Kong neighbors! People came through in style, and we had a huge spread of food: dumplings, chicken, pork, veggies, fruits, more than enough for everybody to eat, with food to spare.
You’ll notice it’s a bit dark there. Well, we wanted the party to be lit by twinkle lights. The only problem was… we didn’t have twinkle lights.
Luckily, you can buy anything in Hong Kong. And usually, whatever it is, you’ll find it in Sham Shui Po, an area with street markets essentially 24-7 selling everything under the sun.
So off we went to Sham Shui Po! A friend here had sent us a Google map pin for a street where we could find lighting. And it turns out, it was an entire street dedicated to selling lighting! Who knew such a thing existed?
Soon, we had a good 50 or 60 yards of twinkle lights and headed home. But when we got home and strung up the lights in our courtyard for a “practice run”…. uh oh! It wasn’t enough! So a few days later we headed back and got another 50 yards of lighting, giving us around 100 yards of lights when it was all said and done.
The result was beautiful (if a bit dim).
Oh and that red-and-white Reformation-themed bunting? We made that too! That was a long night of cutting fabric. 🙂
We set up a bunch of games for kids to play: Luther’s Rose bowling, The 5 Solas bean-bag throw, The Wheel to Wartburg hula-hoop roll… it was a little chaotic explaining the games, but, one way or another, the kids had a lot of fun playing with the various toys we’d set out.
One activity that DID get a lot of interest though was our Reformation TRIVIA game!
Trivia is tricky in a bilingual environment across cultures: questions that seem simple can be very complicated, or involve very specific subject knowledge few people know. As such, we decided early on that open trivia as we have done in the past wasn’t likely to work. So instead, we came up with a list of short Reformation history facts, and questions about them. Pastor Albert at our church translated it all into Cantonese, and we set up placards around the courtyard offering Reformation Trivia. As people came in, they received a booklet which, among other things, included a question sheet of trivia questions. We gave prizes to anybody who completed the trivia.
And the prize was… a DIET OF WORMS! Hardy-hardy-har (sadly a joke lost in translation).
Food, games, ambiance, trivia, friends… what more do you need for a party?
Oh right! You need HYMN SINGING! This is a BIT challenging here since we needed hymns we could do in English and Cantonese, and because many of the hymns that are available in Cantonese and known to the churches here are not specifically Lutheran hymns, but we still ended up with 6 great songs to sing together. We printed off music sheets to put into each person’s party booklet, Ruth busted out her violin, and we were off to the races!
For a video from the hymn-singing, you can check out Ruth’s instagram.
All in all, the party was a huge success. On Sunday afternoon we had a redux for the Sunday School kids and families, though catered in food rather than doing a potluck. We heard from many people at both events how glad they were to attend, how surprised they were to see such a large event organized (each event had probably 100 people pass through), and how excited they were to have missionaries here who are building community, not just passing through. But while flattering, the truth is, we didn’t make these parties successful! Our party planning was uncertain, we often didn’t know quite if we were doing things the right way, and up until the day of, we had no idea if the event might be a huge flop! What made it successful was God’s good providence, working through the means of our wonderful friends and neighbors here in Hong Kong who really did a lot of the heavy lifting to make the parties happen. Much as it was God who restored true teaching to the church through the Reformation, using reformers like Martin Luther as a means, it was God who made these parties a fruitful place for fellowship, service, and witness here in Hong Kong, using many helpers as His means.
Soli Deo Gloria!