Fit & Fab: Faith, hoops & charity
Samuel Song, founder of local Christian church Solomon's Porch, is not your regular pastor.
Song, 45, is youthful and fit, and an inspirational and formidable force both in the pulpit and on the basketball court. When he's not shooting hoops, he hits the gym or leads his staff through circuit training at a park. "Sport is huge in my life," he says.
It was, in fact, basketball that first brought Song to Hong Kong in 1992 - as part of an outreach through sports programme. Despite being a Korean-American "suburban man" who spent much of his earlier life at the beach in southern California, he says he has always felt a calling to Hong Kong. "I love this city. I really enjoy the people and the place; things are always happening."
After that first trip to the city, he vowed to return, but a torn ligament in his knee temporarily diverted him from sport and along the path of accountancy. Ten years later, he made it back with his wife and established Solomon's Porch. The congregation has grown from six members to 400.
His mission is to give modern sermons that people can relate to. "I like to reframe people's thinking about the ministry and religious service," he says. "Hong Kong has many different vices. We hope to answer people's questions in a way that's meaningful and contemporary, without taking away from the message, which we believe is central to our faith."
His church's work extends to the rest of Asia, and to developing countries in particular. Says Song: "We are not just blessed, we must also be a blessing to others. I always say, 'God has blessed my life with opportunities so that I can be a blessing in someone else's life.'"
It's not only the Bible he preaches, but also the importance of being active. For years, the church has been organising an informal basketball game almost every Saturday morning. "We just come to play and have fun," Song says. "It is a really relaxed atmosphere, and it offers a way for the new guys to get to know the church."
Song's team dominated the South China Basketball League from 2005 to 2008, much to the dismay of hot-headed bankers in rival teams. "They didn't like losing to a 'bunch of Christians'," he says.
The team's secret? "We weren't playing for ourselves; we were playing for the Lord. It was our commonness and teamwork that pulled us through."
Where do you think your love for sport comes from?
I grew up very insecure and didn't know who I was. I was an Asian kid in an all-white neighbourhood. I encountered a lot of racism. I took taekwondo, which was good, but also bad because I got into a lot of fights.
I had a chip on my shoulder, and my natural mode was to fight. I was always looking for ways to prove myself. But now it's all about getting in shape and staying healthy so I can keep up with my three daughters.
How does your faith help you when you're on the court?
There are no ups and downs. My trust in God and what he is doing in my life is constant, so it doesn't matter whether I win or lose. From that courage, everything grows. It helps me to be humble; I have nothing to prove, anyway.
How do you fit it all in?
I have a pretty regimented schedule. I'm up quite early in the morning and walk to work every day. I still play basketball and softball when I can, and I often go to the gym at lunchtime. I've realised as I've gotten older that I've got to be very intentional; otherwise, it's never going to happen. My health is more important to me nowdays.
How do you encourage people to have a healthy balance in their lives?
A requirement of the discipleship classes I am teaching is that students must exercise. In Christianity, we are talking about wholeness. Our lives are not just mental and emotional experiences. Fitness and eating right are part of what makes us a whole person. If you're sick, it affects you mentally. In a recent retreat, we offered a morning exercise class. I'm always trying to encourage people to be healthy whenever I can.
When I've had some of the most difficult times of my life, other than prayer, I've found that being inside a gym when it's just you and the ball, shooting on your own, can be quite a religious experience. It helps me to think and to process. And then when you get a bunch of guys together, it just adds a whole other element. My outlet is sports, it always has been, and it always will be.