Thursday, July 9, 2009

See the tree, rather than the forest

Observing an individual's contributions a rich experience

When in a open-aired helicopter, remember to secure your seat belt. I thought I had done that but just as we lifted a few feet, I felt too loose in the seat -- something you don't want to feel. Hooking up the seat belt made me feel as secure as a bug in a rug.

We were lifting off the tarmac at the old Hong Kong Tai-Kak Airport in the year 1974. One of my film students (Hong Kong Baptist University) was in the front with the pilot and I was right behind him with David Y.K. Wong. We were off to fly over Hong Kong's Central District, the harbor and Kowloon. We were taking some movie film of the recently burned and half-sunk liner, Queen Elizabeth in the western outer harbor.

The venture had its beginning in Houston, where Fred, our neighbor and news cameraman for the local NBC-TV station (KPRC), gave me an old 16-mm movie camera. It had been on many a news story from fires to crimes to political gatherings. He gave it to me for use in our television writing and producing courses. It was almost an antique even then.

I was teaching a course in television news production (First in Asia) at Hong Kong Baptist University. One of my students from Malaysia was excellent with a camera, so he got the trip and extra credit. I invited Dr. David Y.K Wong, then president of the Baptist World Alliance, along for the ride.

David Wong, who died last year in California, spent some of the war against Japan (World War II) building an airstrip for the Nationalists army in Kunming, southeast China. Kunming was the end of the Burma Road and the home of the famous Flying Tigers, a group of American pilots who were fighting the Japanese before America got into the war. (John Wayne was in a movie about the Flying Tigers, but he was better in horse operas than playing a fighter pilot. I had a friend who was a pilot with the Flying Tigers and they were pretty special people. That is another story.)

David Wang was the first Asian to be elected to head the Baptist World Alliance, which is mostly a fellowship organization to unite and encourage Baptist churches world-wide. (As to the unifying work they do, it is all uphill!). David and his wife Lillian were always the life of any gathering. Not in the show-off manner of some, but an ordinary and well-to-do architect. Someone who made you feel good and even important.

I have no idea the make of the helicopter, it had no need of windows as it had no sides. But if you ever get in one, see that it has seat belts and then check out the hand grips first. Fortunately we did not have to sit on apple crates and the grips were worn, but did the job.

What does all this have to do with anything? Nothing. Just that there are people who come into our lives from time to time that deserve remembering. People who owe us nothing, but share friendship. People who do not look down on us if we are not really in their circle. "People-persons" as they have been called. They are not looking for what people do or don't do, but see always see their potential. They see the individual trees rather than the forest.

David Y.K. Wong was a people-person as was Millie Lovegren. She was born in the countryside of the Sichuan province in China to missionary parents. Toward the end of her father's service in China the local communist cadres arrested him. Kept him in jail and later house arrest just for being an American.

Meeting Mr. Lovegren later in Hong Kong helped me see why his daughter Millie preferred people to programs and things. Dr. Lovegren had no hard feelings toward his captors or his time spent in their hands. He saw them as young kids terribly misled.

So asking David to take the helicopter ride over Hong Kong was a way of thanking him for being who he was and all he and Lillian meant to the Christian cause and his dreams for all the Chinese and, especially of south China and his Hong Kong home.

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