Leaving One Stage for Another
By Peter Wong, M.S.
"Lower your head a bit please," Seattle Pacific University’s President Philip Eaton calmly asked me during SPU’s 2006 Commencement ceremony. Being visually impaired, the act wasn’t immediate. The other two awardees automatically took off their mortar boards and bowed their heads when President Eaton approached them. I did not know the protocol for receiving the Presidential Award medal. No one had told me about this part of the event during the pre-event special practice. It was my moment on stage and I did not have a clue.
As a child, I always felt envious of the students who would go on stage to receive an award. In my young mind, I was certain that I would never to receive public recognition. This pessimism began when a physician discovered that I had glaucoma. I was 14 when the disease began to pilfer my vision. During middle school, the stage literally began to disappear right before my eyes.
Laying Out a Future Path
In May 2000, prior to attending SPU, I had been working with 60 people, mostly from Fujian province, which is located on the southeast coast of China, who had hid in containers to illegally enter the United States. In early 2006, some illegal immigrants died inside the container on the Cape May . The survivors were housed in SeaTac Federal Detention Center, and our ministry team would visit them once a week to sing hymns with them, to read Bible with them, and encourage them. Soon, they considered us their relatives; and most of them accepted Christ before they left the detention center.
Fast-forward to 2006. At Commencement, and having completely lost my vision by now, I received another chance to step on an academic platform. Yet because I had lost the rest of my vision, I was unable to see my colleagues, their families, and friends. But I clearly heard the voice on the loud speaker announce, "Peter is a student who co-founded Heart Renewal Prison Ministry, who co-founded Rainbow Missions, and he has preached in Mercer Island First Presbyterian Church, he has been involved in Christian broadcasting,” said the university president. “After graduation, he will begin providing marriage and family therapy to Seattle’s underprivileged Asian community, and he happens to be blind ..." Finally, it was my day in the sun at SPU’s Commencement Ceremony at Qwest Field.
“Launched From the Stage Into the World”
Following graduation, I began to collaborate with a Bellevue physician involved in family medical practice. Today, I have my own a marriage and family therapy private practice in Bellevue, Washington. I have continued to lead a prison ministry in the SeaTac Federal Detention Center on Sunday nights; Rainbow Missions continues to serve disabled and underprivileged Chinese children. And after 2008 Sichuan earthquake, we have been focusing our efforts on the children affected by the disaster.
On graduation day, President Eaton and my SPU family launched me from that stage into the world. My credentials would allow me to support couples and families as they faced relational challenges. My clinical training enables me to see the brokenness of those who are in pain and lead them into healing.
Recently, I have come alongside a couple whose dreams were shattered when a physician diagnosed their son with autism; I have counseled a wife who felt her husband's changes came 10 years too late; I have helped a young woman who pierces herself to try to feel something in the middle of her numbed existence; I have been called on to comfort a woman whose baby was taken away while she was incarcerated; and I have been supporting an ex-convict who cannot find employment after doing hard time in the penitentiary. Rainbow Mission has helped a woman who lost 15 of her 19 family members in the Sichuan earthquake. We are supporting a little Chongqing girl who was thrown off the cliff by her parents because she was blind. And I have discovered more about my own internal struggles. Since graduation, I have cried with, loved, and served the broken hearted to find that I am most effective and experience the most healing when God’s love is flowing through me.
As Professor Bill Collins, lecturer of marriage and family therapy, used to say, I have grown up a little, just a little bit these days. I stepped off that graduation stage and walked onto the real stage of life — yes, the reality of suffering in the world. I am grateful for the preparation that I received at SPU. I'm even more appreciative that I'm not doing it alone. Jesus is always there offering hope. He said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18–19)
Just recently, Sherry Danza, a senior at SPU who volunteers in the prison, arranged for me to meet a new staff member from my alma mater at a cultural event. Danza was displaying Tony Ng’s beautiful origami during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration at Westminster Chapel in Bellevue. Ng is a prison inmate on McNeil Island. Max Hunter, the assistant director of John Perkins Center, brought out his family to support her efforts. Danza has taken a serious interest in Ng's spiritual and social well-being. Ng was denied parole in 2007. Although he was acquitted of murder, the courts convicted him of 13 counts of first-degree robbery and a single count of assault with a deadly weapon. Each robbery charge brought a minimum sentence of five years, to be served consecutively. Taking a holistic approach to reconciliation, Mr. Hunter wanted to discuss the Chinese-American community, the Wah Mee Massacre, and Ng’s spiritual well-being.
Danza is hoping to see Ng released from prison, restored to society, and embracing God’s grace. After talking with Mr. Hunter, I was amazed that an African American who had gone from an inner-city experience to attend a prestigious ivy league school, and a blind Chinese American who groped his way from discrimination and self pity to become a family counselor, were discussing the restoration and reconciliation for the co-defendant in the largest homicide in the state. I wondered, Why are Sherry and Max willing to go to bat for a Chinese inmate who is being blocked by the Chinese-American community from being released on parole? I had a feeling that Ng’s is about more than one prisoner. It's much, much more than that.
A Place on a Different Stage
Captivity also results from marginalization and our own brokenness. When I was younger, I competed for the stage. My inability to gain recognition led to grief and bitterness. I hated those who had access to the stage; it was all about me and my disability. In my mind, it was all about proving to the rest of the world, and to myself, that I was normal and capable. After being in ministry for years, standing on the stage of life has taught me that it's all about God's grace and allowing it to heal myself and those around me.
So, who was on that stage June 10, 2006, anyway? When I ponder the changes that have gone on inside of me, it’s difficult to relate to that broken person. I know these internal changes are the result of experiencing SPU’s grace-filled community, coming to terms with the redemptive grace of Jesus, reaching in and reaching out, daring to reconcile, daring to make an impact, daring to heal, willing to love just a little more. Looking forward to serving Ng, and others, I hear the gentle voice of Jesus saying, "lower you head a little please.”
Peter Wong, a 2006 Seattle Pacific University graduate, is a registered counselor in Washington, specializing in family, disability, cross-cultural dynamics, and mood disorder. He is the chairman of Rainbow Missions, which serves the disabled in China, and he coordinates a team to visit inmates in prison. Peter worked in the Accessible Technology Group in Microsoft for many years and is now focused on promoting and providing wholistic solutions to the disability population.
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