Interview with Jamaican Chinese Missionary Linda Lowe

XM: How long have you been a Missionary?

LL: A missionary can be put into two categories — home missionary and overseas missionary.
I was a home missionary in Jamaica with Jamaica Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), a Christian organization especially formed to serve children. I began serving with CEF on a part-time basis while I was attending the Jamaica Bible School (now College) way back in the 50s and about 3 years full-time after my graduation.
I left Jamaica for Hong Kong where I have served with CEF in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific Region for the past 40 years.

XM: I know it must have been a difficult decision to leave your family and Jamaica to go into the mission field. Do you remember the very moment when you realized you wanted to do this? Was it a “calling from God” as most missionaries say?

LL: Yes, it was not easy to say “Yes Lord, send me” when He definitely called me to serve Him full-time at an Easter Camp run by the Chinese Christian Group, now merged as Swallowfield Chapel. While packing to go to camp, I remember the Holy Spirit (God) saying to me “Linda, I am going to do something special with you at camp this year”. Yes, that special thing was the calling of God.

XM: What did your family think?

LL: I remember when I came back from camp I did not know how to tell my family. One day I laid on the bed and wrote my sister a note that God had called me. Her immediate response was that she would take care of our mother financially.

My mother was another story. Why couldn’t I remain in Jamaica like our Chinese brethren and work among the Chinese? I am the last child in the family. Little did I know that as a Chinese, I was the most “precious”! What do we say in Jamaica? I was the “wash belly”.

XM: It is ironic that you are of Chinese decent and most of your recent mission trips have been focused in the Orient.

LL: Yes, when I went to Japan, the people thought I was Japanese. When I was in Korea, they thought I was Korean! When I am in Hong Kong, they think I am from either Singapore or Malaysia. Despite all these year in the Orient, they still think I do not look like them.

XM: How has this experience affected your knowledge on a culture of your ancestors?

LL: When I came here I realized how much I (and my generation) did not know about the culture of our ancestors. My parents came from a small village and they were not really exposed to the overall culture of China. All they were interested in was keeping the yearly Chinese New Year. Remember how Chinese shops in Jamaica all closed on that special day? Living in Hong Kong and making a few trips into Mainland China have exposed me and helped me to understand much of the Chinese culture.

XM: What are some of the similarities you have found in these different cultures and the Chinese population in Jamaica?

LL: Similarities:
1.Have 10 Chinese and they do the same thing in 10 different ways, each thinking his way is right!
2.The family system is very close and there is no room for anyone outside the family.
3.A true friend lasts forever.
4. Not “meddling” in one’s neighbour’s affair — even if it means not helping out.

XM: Did you realize this year makes it 150 years since Chinese immigrants first came to Jamaica?

LL: Yes, I was aware of it and wondered how I could contribute in a positive way. I know many Jamaicans do not have many good things to say about “Mr. Chin” or “Mrs. Chin”, but our parents worked very hard to put us through school so that their children would not end up chopping salt fish in grocery shops where they slaved from dawn to late night.

Bravo to those like my parents (despite hardships and not knowing the language) and their children who make a positive contribution to Jamaica.

XM: Where are you currently and what are the goals of this particular mission?

LL: Right now I am “finishing up” in Hong Kong. I will be leaving at the end of June 2004. Our little flat has become a mini warehouse with things to be packed and shipped.

Although I retired two years ago, I was asked to work on a Children’s CDROM for CEF, Asia Pacific Region. The aim is to motivate children worldwide to care and pray for the children of the Asia Pacific Region. We are also working at creating a set of toys to go with this package. The CDROM will be free-of-charge to children. We are also putting it on the Internet so that children, who have not received a CDROM, can enjoy the site and information.

XM: Being that you are on the other side of the planet far away from Jamaica what do you do when you miss the Jamaican culture especially the food?

LL: I believe a day is what you make of it. When I first came to Hong Kong, I could not cook (even the water boiled dry!) I learned to cook and even learned to make a few Jamaican dishes! My specialty, much loved by my friends, is Jamaican stewed oxtail. Yes, we can get the ingredients here but I dearly miss pig’s tail in the rice and peas! Bacon does not give it that special taste.

I was glad to discover JAMAICAN.COM where I learnt more about the Jamaican culture and have had a few good laughs. On Saturdays while doing “Saturday things” I put on a few Jamaican CDs, playing them really loudly. One day my flat-mate came home earlier than I expected and asked, ”What’s that?” when she heard all the “noise”.

XM: How have you been received in the various places you have visited?

LL: Because I am an invited guest of the places I have visited, I have been received with great hospitality. I began to travel about 10 years ago in the capacity of one of the CEF Asia Pacific team. I was in Promotions so learnt how to shoot videos and sharpened my photography skills.

XM: Have people requested you teach then some Jamaican terms?

LL: Yes, and it always ended up in a good laugh without their trying.

XM: What is the perception of many of the people you meet in the Orient on Jamaica and Jamaicans?

LL: The first question is: “Where is it?” I still have to answer that question wherever I go, be it in the market or among my co-workers. I had a co-worker for several years and one day I overheard her say that Jamaica is “somewhere in Africa”!!
Once a British soldier came to see me about being a counsellor at camp. He knew I was Jamaican. Whenever I’m tired, I speak with a real Jamaican accent. When he met his friend he told her that he was so surprised that I turned out to be Chinese! He was looking for a “real Jamaican”, many of whom he had seen in England.

Although many do not know Jamaica, or heard of it, as I describe my country their conclusion has always been: “It must be very beautiful!”

XM: What are some of the most memorable moments you have had as a Jamaican missionary?

LL: 1. Being able to open my picture book of 8 X 10 pictures to a group in the Solomon Islands and say: ”My people look just like you!”
2. Being introduced in Tonga as a Jamaican and wondered why people did not ask: ”Where is that?” I soon found the answer — Bob Marley t-shirts are sold in the shops!
3. Being able to recount memorable stories of my childhood with the children in my Sunday school and Youth Fellowship group.

XM: What are some of the least memorable?

LL: 1. Being a Chinese and not able to speak Chinese! Once a shopkeeper told off my sister and me as we pointed to the cakes we wanted to buy instead of calling the name. He could not understand how Chinese could not speak the language! Today, he would think differently because Hong Kong has become very cosmopolitan.

2. Coming from a close-knit family and having a great number of friends, it was difficult to adjust to not having them close by. The loneliness during my first term was, at times, very acute.

XM: What are some of the major accomplishments you are proud of since you became a missionary?

LL: 1. I was able to turn over the work in Hong Kong to someone more capable than I. The work had branched into avenues where I was not capable of leading. It is now completely run by national workers.

2. I see children who were once in my home Good News Club (a week-day Bible club for un-churched children) now grown and are faithful Christians. A few weeks ago we went up memory lane — to my former home, accompanied by a couple of these clubbers and their children. Cameras clicked and the video cam rolled as they recounted the days running up to Good News Club. On the way we met a former clubber, whom I thought was (nicknamed) “spare ribs”. “No”, he said; he was “monkey”. He recounted how we took the kids up to the open lot and had an Easter egg hunt.

3. Being faithful — that is what I had asked God that I may be. I know I am not a gifted person so I asked God to help me be faithful.

4. I am able to finish a Promotional package of a CD video both for adults and children to be used worldwide.

5. I am able to finish a children’s CDROM for the CEF Asia Pacific Region. It has been my retirement project for 2 long years and, while I am writing this, I still have 4 more countries to go!

XM: Jamaica is mainly a Christian society as much of the Western world. You have visited places where this is not the case and there is even hostility to Christians. Can you tell us about some of these experiences?

LL: As I said before, I have been only to places where I have been invited so I have not come across any hostility.
There is only one incident in which I had to keep my identity a secret. That was a visit to China, to a place where the people speak my parents’ dialect, Hakka. Although a friend invited me, we both thought it would be much better if I kept my identity (a missionary) a secret. We had to come up with the same answer if we were quizzed separately. I ended up being able to give Bible stories to a group of the church’s children who were there to practice for a Christmas play. One of them went home and told her family: “Today was the happiest day for me; I heard a bible story!” On our next visit, we were able to take two co-workers with us who held a short teacher training class. On the next visit, my co-workers who held another teacher training class were able to reveal our status as a Christian organization working among children. Since then, other visits have been made and now that church has begun a Sunday school! During our visits we met a dear 70-year-old retired doctor who said she had been praying for many years that some form of work could be done among the children! God has answered her prayers.

XM: With the new global climate on terrorism today do you have any fears as you travel from place to place?

LL: Since I am retired and now working on a project which does not require much travel, I guess there is not the fear of an attack. I did not think about that on my recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia!

XM: You are also in a part of the world where SARS has been rampant. How has that affected your travels?

LL: It has. I was scheduled to go on a two-week trip to Inner and Outer Mongolia to shoot pictures for the project I am working on, but due to the SARS outbreak in Beijing, we had to cancel. We would not want to be quarantined!

XM: How do you communicate with family members?

LL: In the early days it was by letters. When fax appeared, I would use that. I have two sisters in Jamaica so when one of my sisters received the fax, she would take it to my other sister’s house and share the news. Then I began to phone my sister (the one without a fax) once per month. Although it was expensive even for a 15-minute call, I thought it was worth it. She would pass on any message I had to my other sister and whoever I wanted to be in touch with.

Recently a friend of mine set up a Yap Jack at my sister’s house (the one without a fax) so she does the calling. It has been great not having to rush.

There is a very cheap calling rate to Canada where I have another sister. We either communicate by phone or by this great thing called e-mail.

XM: I realize from the many photos you have sent me of your travels that you are an avid photographer. Did you learn this on your travels or is this something you were formally trained to do before you became a missionary?

LL: I liked art as a student but did not have enough talent to enter that field. An opportunity opened up after school at the former Sang Sang Photo Studio on King St. for me to learn retouching (negatives). I think it was then that I began an interest in photography. I did not have any formal training. I just played around with a camera, taking pictures of children. I find them to be the best subjects, especially boys.

Then video came on the scene. I remember when I first held a video cam my hands trembled for sheer joy at the potential of such an invention. I mastered that through looking at peoples’ work, their angles and asking questions.

Now it is the age of digital cameras. It is great and I am enjoying the one I have.

During my years in Promotion, photography was a vital role in which I reveled.

XM: What is your advice to anyone who is thinking of becoming a missionary?

LL: The world has changed. Governments have changed. It is now the world of degrees. It is easier to enter into a country as a tent maker (working at a job and doing missionary work on the side). If you believe God has called you, get as much training as possible, keep your vision clear, be a home missionary first and then when you think you are ready, step out.

* Note: Linda moved back to Jamaica Last month.