Against the wind: DBICC's determined dragon boaters

Pamela and Brent Wallace proudly paddle against the current with Discovery Bay International Community Church’s The Ripple Effect – and do a little good along the way. Elizabeth Kerr reports

Maggy is nowhere to be seen. It’s late on a rainy afternoon in Discovery Bay and Pamela Wallace shows up at the ferry pier without Maggy, her and husband Brent’s eight-year-old pooch and unofficial The Ripple Effect dragon boat team mascot. The Wallaces relocated to DB six years ago after selling everything – house, cars, horse – except Maggy,who also had a hand (paw?) in deciding to call DB home. 

“DB is such a nice stepping stone from a regular American town. It’s a very unique little community. There are some amazing people here. Something about DB drew us,” says Pamela. Maggy, however, isn’t too keen on rain. 

Ohio native Pamela, now 51, lived within an 80-kilometre radius of Detroit most of her life before moving to the SAR, and Brent, 50, is a native Texan who bounced around the US growing up. Brent’s job at BASF brought the couple and their tween and teenaged kids, Kelsey, now 19 and studying in Hawaii, and Mitchell (21, in Ohio), to Asia. Both kids have hinted that they would like to return to Hong Kong after school for work.

“They grew up as teenagers here after moving from the Midwest ofAmerica. It was such a different experience; they could safely get on the MTR and go to a movie, take themselves to school and everywhere. They didn’t need me to drive them around. They became very independent!” notes Pamela. “We like Hong Kong, we really do. It’s a very special place to live, especially Discovery Bay.” 

Emailing from Berlin, Brent chimes in on the subject, adding that DB’s transient nature has made it a place where it’s easy to find acceptance. “We really love the openness of the community here,” he begins. “Everyone is happy to add new friends and relationships. There’s no need for cars, just jump on and off any bus, anytime. Plus, when I’m in town, it’s very easy to get to the office, and a ferry beer on the way home always helps to melt the office tensions away.” 

Dragon slayers 

But back to Maggy, and the dragon boating, a shared passion the Wallaces discovered almost on moving to DB. They now manage the Discovery Bay International Community Church’s (DBICC) The Ripple Effect dragon boat racing team, which serves as an outreach programme. 

Dragon boating appealed to Brent’s outdoorsy side, and he jumped at the chance to join The Ripple Effect, having connected with the church shortly after arriving in Hong Kong. By year three Brent was sold on the sport and when the team captain was transferred to Kuala Lumpur, he took over, quickly drafting Pamela in to help. 

“I don't think either of us would want to do it alone,” he reasons. Pamela agrees: “It’s something we can do together, which has been awesome as our new empty-nest life has evolved since the kids went to university.” 

Competing purely in the mixed competition at the DB Dragon Boat Races & Carnival, The Ripple Effect isn’t exclusively for church members – it’s something that “allows Christians and non-Christians to join in unity,” Brent explains. The team regularly makes it to the mixed finals and won the inaugural Community Cup in 2015. 

The DBICC and the team support a number of charities, among them Back to Jerusalem, which, when not performing traditional mission work supports safe houses for former ISIS trafficking victims, and Hong Kong’s Filipino Fire Choir – the “most joyful people” Pamela has ever met. 

The church is also behind various DB events, including Kids in the Park and Nativity in the Plaza. 

For Brent, the dragon boat racing plays a vital part in ensuring the charity work of the church is as effective as possible. “It targets individuals that are not in a lot of our other outreach things,” he says. “Here it’s a lot of athletes and it does bring the awareness to a\ different group of people.” 

The Ripple Effect only races once a year in DB but the Wallaces are so into the sport, they also paddle for the Sea Cucumbers – the Cukes – a more competitive local team. “Last year was the first year that the Cukes were invited to race in the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races in Victoria Harbour. I was extremely proud to race there,” Brent says. “It was thrilling, even if the weather did not cooperate; it was pouring rain much of the day. We (the Cukes) are invited again this year and plan to enter two teams.” 

Judge not, lest ye be judged 

It’s clear that one of the few things the Wallaces did bring with them from home was their dedication to community. The second was their faith. Brent professes that his Christianity poses no real issues personally or professionally, but Pamela agrees the current social climate puts them on their guard. A Sunday dog walk recently ended with her having vitriol hurled at her by a stranger. 

“It wasn’t like this 20 years ago, not in my experience,” Pamela says. “[Hostility] comes out in a lot of different ways. When people first find out I’m a Christian, sometimes they back off a bit, but as they get to know me they realise I’m just another normal person... I  like to think the people who are friends with me, who don’t share the same faith, respect us and the fact that we love everybody. My upstairs neighbour is Muslim and last week she sent down food. These are two faiths who, according to the media, hate each other, but that’s not always the reality of people. 

“The best way to reflect on your faith is to treat people a certain way and not judge them. I don’t know if enough Christians have done that, and how much of it is a [lunatic fringe] that makes the rest of us look bad or how much is media propaganda. Probably a little of both,” Pamela argues. 

Putting bigger issues aside, Pamela and Brent have a lot of training to do ahead of the DB Dragon Boat Races & Carnival on May 28. So for now it’s back to the dragon boat grind, fortunately a grind they both enjoy, and yes, more ministering, such as it is. 

“I would love to tell people about Christ, but I can’t do that if they don’t trust me,” finishes Pamela. “Sometimes I’m not the one that leads them to the Lord. Sometimes it’s just being their friend. It’s the ripple effect.”


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