Small town to skyscrapers - College student spends summer volunteering in Hong Kong
When people think of a summer vacation, lying on the beach in Florida or shopping in New York may come to mind. But for Alexandria's Lauren Noyes, summer vacation meant traveling 3,400 miles away to volunteer - in Hong Kong.
Noyes, daughter of Alicia Johnson Noyes and Robert Noyes of Alexandria, is currently in her fourth and final year at Concordia College, Moorhead, working on her major in business management and communications/public relations. Since graduating from Jefferson High School in 2008, she has traveled to England, Egypt, Spain and countless other countries for school and church.
Before her senior year in college though, she decided to spend her summer as a missionary in Hong Kong.
"I've been on other missions before and I've really liked them," Noyes said. "This time, I applied to a variety of organizations in Asia and Africa. But mission work in Hong Kong, where I could talk freely about Jesus, ended up working best for me."
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) World Mission set Noyes up with a group consisting of three other people - an older couple from Iowa and a college student from Benson.
After eight weeks of service, Noyes came home to Alexandria on August 8, immediately missing the mile-high buildings and cluttered sidewalks of Hong Kong.
A NEW CULTURE
"When I first flew over Hong Kong on June 11, I was in shock of how much stuff fit into such a small amount of land," Noyes said. "Going into this I knew nothing about the culture I was going to live in. Usually I've researched the country, but Hong Kong was all new to me."
While in Hong Kong, the group lived in a school called Sui Luen with offices that had been renovated into apartments.
They attended a Lutheran church service at the school every Sunday.
"The entire service was in Cantonese," Noyes said. "We had a translator, but he missed almost half the words so I just kind of stopped listening after the second Sunday."
Noyes recalled that she had major culture shock to some of the things she experienced during her first few weeks in Hong Kong.
"I had to eat every food that was offered to me even if I knew I didn't like it because it was impolite to reject food there," she said.
During her stay, she tried a variety of foods including egg tarts, chicken feet, jellyfish, dim sum and whole fish.
"One night I went to dinner with a family from the school I was staying at and they had me eat the eyeball and cheek of the whole fish - which I learned was an honor in their culture."
Though almost 8,400 miles separates the U.S. from Hong Kong, Noyes saw distinct American influence in their society.
"There were McDonald's and KFC's littering the streets and most people were dressed in American-styled clothing," Noyes recalled. "It was a nice mesh of culture though, they didn't clash at all."
"For eight weeks we taught 5- to 13-year-olds English and Christianity through Bible stories," Noyes said.
Though Noyes' experience teaching swimming lessons and interning with the school district prepared her for the teaching side of the mission that LCMS had not trained her for, she relied heavily on the two-year missionaries right away.
The first two and a half weeks in Hong Kong were spent helping at vacation Bible school, after which Noyes' team moved to a primary school for six days.
"The primary school was very welcoming - I think it was their first time having Americans at their school," she speculated. "They had huge banners out front with our faces on them and a festival was put on to welcome us."
The festival consisted of a fashion show, dance and instrumental performances and a puppet show.
After the primary school, her team made its way to two secondary schools followed by an English camp.
"Most Hong Kong students are very refined, but because the 5- to 6-year-olds I taught during the English class were so young they had never been in school before. They had no idea how to behave," she said.
Though the children yelled and ran in circles during the two-week class, Noyes saw some of the most extraordinary students.
"One of the 5-year-olds knew perfect English," she recalled. "Another boy, his name was Bosco, would write numbers out numerically, and then phonetically - and he was only 6!"
TIME FOR A VACATION
Apart from teaching, Noyes went sightseeing in Tokyo and China during her free time.
"I went to Buddhist monasteries, a fishing village and one of the largest Buddha statues in the world," she said.
She also saw Avenue of the Stars - which is Hong Kong's Hollywood Walk of Fame - and bungee jumped off the second tallest bungee jump in the world.
PLANTING A SEED
A large part of Noyes' trip was about spreading Christianity throughout Hong Kong.
Though there are currently only 21,000 Christians of the seven million people that live in Hong Kong - the Lutheran Church has grown immensely since 1977 when it first became independent.
"We planted the seed in them about Jesus. Hopefully, it will grow over time," said Noyes. "By telling them about Jesus now, they might convert later in their lives."