The Hong-Kong based Anglican writer Alice Wu reflects on a recent good news story which highlighted the transformative power of prayer.
Rarely do we find good news in the news, but on those rare occasions that we do, they brighten our days. Most precious are experiences of being completely captivated by “good” stories that inject hope in humanity.
Last Monday morning, I was scrolling through the newspaper headlines. Of course they were filled with doom and gloom, well, except for one item in the South China Morning Post: “Hong Kong Sevens: Tonga sing and pray for Hongkonger ahead of life-threatening heart surgery”.
The Tongan Team, at the Hong Kong Sevens, sang and prayed for a complete stranger ahead of his life-threatening heart surgery. It’s beyond an act of kindness, it’s an extraordinary modern example of what the Apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of 2 Corinthians — that Christ, through us, spreads to every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him (verse 14). They taught me the valuable lesson of what praying truly means.
To not only “see” the needs of others, but to be on the active look out for them.
It means more than just seeing others’ need. The Tongan Team, ahead of arriving in Hong Kong for the tournament, searched for and reached out to Jonathan Mo, who had his dreams of being a professional rugby player dashed after he was diagnosed with a heart condition and needed a pacemaker. The 23 year old Mo only found out a few months ago that he would need to undergo a risky surgery.
To huddle together in prayer inspires incredible hope.
People either huddle together because they’re cold or frightened, but for sports teams, they huddle for solidarity. The Tongan Team reached out to Mo and asked for the chance to pray for him, but the team did more than just “pray”. They invited Mo to be in their midst and showed him in ways only teammates can to support and lift him up in prayer and in action.
They sang and prayed together with one heart. If you watch the video, you can feel the power of that act, and it makes people swell up in an incredible sense of hope. It takes the willingness to be companions — to stand together and to stand strong together. The team invited Mo to join them — in their bus to the stadium, to spend the day with them, and to walk around the pitch with them during the team’s parade. It’s an incredible gesture of inclusiveness — they brought someone in need into their fold.
To show hospitality to strangers, to live out the character of Christ, to give off the aroma of Christ.
They were guests to the city, but yet, they did this for someone who calls Hong Kong his home. At the end of the day, it is the team’s acting out of the love scripture requires that we do and the kind of service that is pleasing to God. They did not merely “show hospitality to strangers,” (Hebrews 13:2) they did the “incredible”.
Mo said: “They didn’t even know me but they were doing all these things for me. . . They didn’t have to, but they did and that shows their character. . . To do it to a stranger, they never knew me, they never met me, but they do it all just to make me feel like pushing on, not giving in. It’s incredible.”
It is no wonder that in Revelation 5:8, God compares prayer with sweet-smelling incense that pleases Him. Prayers, when done like the Tongan Team did, is fragrant, powerful and transformative.
In recent years, I have felt pangs whenever I find myself typing “thoughts and prayers.” Those words feel too easy, and empty.
In response to the October 2015 mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, the then-US President Barack Obama said: “as I said just a few months ago and I said a few months before and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough.”
The Tongan Team taught me this Lenten season that those “thoughts and prayers” indeed need to be backed up by real action and real impact. They inspire all of us in step up, “for we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
From all the attention and “shares” the story had, it looks like the fragrant Tongan Team touched more than just Mo, or readers like me, but many more across the world.