A Good Show - An Interview with Edmond Lam, Associate Professor of Counselling Studies
Written by Mimi Tang
If life is a drama, Edmond’s role is a challenging one according to the script in his hand.
Growing up from a family with many issues, Edmond realized from childhood that his family would not give him security. It was full of bitterness, anger and negativism. “When we teach counselling, we often mention about ‘family script.’ The older generation has written a script for you. You have to follow as the play unfolds naturally.”
A script that had been written
Edmond’s parents came from Chiu Chow, Mainland China, to Hong Kong in the 1950s. At that time, many churches distributed relief materials to new immigrants. They met a Christian who also came from the same hometown and therefore, they learned about Christianity and naturally the whole family attended church service. Edmond has five sisters and one brother, and he is the youngest among them. “Our relationship was not close. We had our own lives and attended different churches. Hence, our family has a distinct feature that we belong to many church denominations!”
Edmond’s childhood was filled with uneasy memories. His parents had quarrels and fights every day. The children wanted to be independent and left home as soon as possible. At the fourth grade, Edmond planned to drop out of school and made a living by selling newspapers with his classmates. His elder sister urged his mother to transfer him to another school to continue his studies. “From my first grade to fourth grade, I knew nothing about what was happening. I did not know whether there were quizzes today, or when to submit the homework, or what the teacher had taught. Every day I went to school, I was so scared that I could not cope with the studies and would be punished. But I finally made it to junior high school.”
Once he was in junior high school, he followed the footsteps of his siblings and looked for his own church. Having walked from Causeway Bay to Wanchai, he finally stopped in front of a church in red brick. Since then, this church has become his spiritual home, where he met the Sunday school teacher who influenced him deeply, by walking forward with him through the storm and let him experience lovingly care throughout the years. “She seems like a mother given to me by God. And because of her, I was inspired to become a mentor and help the young people.” At the age of 19, his father died of illness. At that time, another mentor, Charles Yu appeared. “He took me around to his lectures and introduced me to the field of social work. He was like a father given by God to ‘take care’ of me.” Four years later, an issue from a love relationship drove Edmond to receive counselling. “The problem was an alarming sign to make me realize that emotional distress could be so impactful that I could not live a life as usual and could not help myself. It also reminded me to face my dark side.” In his experience of brokenness, caring and rebuilding, Edmond grew a strong interest in faith and psychological counselling. Therefore, he studied his diploma in social work as a mature student and after graduation, he served at the Breakthrough Organization.
Before Edmond became a social worker, he had a dream. In the 1980s, there was a wave of urban folk songs in Hong Kong. In his early twenties, Edmond won awards in two creative music writing competitions. A record company invested HK$400,000 to produce an album for the winners. How was that going? Edmond couldn't help laughing. “It was a total loss. I had never been popular. It was indeed a precious experience that God had made me clear of what I should be heading towards in my life.”
An Unexpected Turn
The dream has been put aside and all his creativity was utilized in helping people. While serving at Breakthrough, Edmond had the opportunity to participate in counselling, and he took to counselling like a duck to water. A mentor encouraged him to study the Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary and put together the first year tuition fee for him. Edmond took his Sabbatical leave and brought along his wife and his one-year-old son to study at Fuller. Everything seems to be smooth, but Edmond was thinking about different excuses of not going. “I was very timid and afraid of changes. I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone. Even though I did not have to worry about tuition fee, my son was so young. It would be the best for us to stay at Hong Kong. Eventually, the “opportunity” came − I was not able to meet the GRE schedule (laughter!) and I thought, “Hey, that’s great!” So, I wrote a letter to inform the Seminary, surprisingly they did not turn down my application. Instead, they asked me to find my university teacher to write a recommendation letter for me.”
The story went on, Edmond was finally admitted to Fuller without taking the GRE. This was an unprecedented exception. “At that moment, I was speechless. It was all God’s work! No one can stop His plan. Having experienced many difficulties and obstacles since childhood, I was amazed that I can come to this phase and to be used by God. He is really wonderful!” In the summer of 2002, Edmond and his family of four returned to Hong Kong. For more than a decade, he has been serving in the three-in-one model of “teaching, pastoring and practice”. He has been teaching Theological Education by Extension at CGST, serving at North Point Alliance Church as a volunteer pastor and maintaining his private practice, his favorite work in the frontline.
Stepping into golden age, Edmond began to think about changing his ministry model while his sons have grown up and the family burden lessened. “I deeply believe that joining CGST is the future direction that God has given me.” With the experience of counselling and pastoring for many years, Edmond saw the prevalence of emotional distress and witnessed that too many young people were unable to go on their life journey because of the trauma from their families of origins. “Parents’ personal developmental problems would affect the marriage relationship, and their negative emotions would pass on to the next generation. From my own experience, people are mostly afraid of dealing with and would very much like to escape from their personal problems. As Carl Jung said, ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. But the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid.’ ‘We don’t so much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems.’ This is very convincing! People are so strange that when you want to escape, you would defend yourself. You would project the things you don’t want to person whom you feel the safest and would be most controllable, usually the next generation. As a result, your children would become the victim.” He hopes to build up more counselling elements into the pastoral ministry training and to develop a concise and practical counselling method with his students, which can be effectively applied in the pastoral ministry field.
Even if we are not able to choose the script in our hands at birth, in His time, by His grace and with His unfailing love, it will eventually become a good show.