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Baptist bookstore manager leaves heart in Hong Kong

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Walker Downs can’t leave his heart in San Francisco because he’s already given it to Hong Kong.
“My love affair with Hong Kong began in 1989 when I had gone there with the Mississippi Baptist Convention to do a revival in Japan. We went through Hong Kong for three days at that point, and I fell in love with it.”
Downs was manager of the New Orleans Baptist Book Store from July 1993 until July 1996 when he took a leave of absence from the Sunday School Board-operated chain to participate in a mission trip to Hong Kong. For almost a year, he served as the business manager for the Hong Kong Baptist Mission, a group of 55 International Mission Board missionaries. “When I was working in the New Orleans store, I got my master of divinity degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and missions has always been a part of what I wanted to do. I was sitting in my office when I was a manager, and it was a very busy day.
“I began looking through a magazine we just got, and it was like God just poked me and said, ‘Go to Hong Kong.’ I called the International Mission Board, and eight months later I was in Hong Kong.” Downs, now manager of the Baptist Book Store in Birmingham, Ala., served as a volunteer missionary under the International Service Corps, a program of the IMB.
Going to Hong Kong as an accountant wasn’t exactly what Downs had in mind, he said, but he figured that was where God needed him.
“I guess I was filling God’s immediate need for the Hong Kong mission there. They were without a business manager, and since my undergraduate degree was in accounting, and I had spent my whole working life doing that type of management and accounting, I was useful there at that time.”
As it turns out, being a business manager for the Hong Kong mission was fairly interesting work, he said.
“I was in charge of helping the missionaries with housing needs, transportation needs, helping them get their visas. I oversaw the office needs of buying and selling equipment, and I bought and sold property (owned by the IMB).”
Downs said when the missionaries got a church on its feet in one area of Hong Kong, they had to move to another area. That’s when he stepped in and bought housing.
“I bought one apartment — about 950 square feet — for $1 million.”
Downs said property is so expensive in Hong Kong because there is so little space. “There are 6.3 million people living on 404 square miles. And actually, Hong Kong is 47 percent parks owned by the government, so all those people are really living on about 220 square miles.”
Downs, who is single, said he lived alone in 650-square-foot apartment where a family of six or eight might normally live.
“It was worth about two-thirds of a million dollars and cost $2,300 a month in rent. The price of property rose across the board 35 to 40 percent while I was there,” said Downs, who witnessed the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong while he was there.
But the bookstore manager said his mission work in Hong Kong wasn’t all paper work.
“I worked with two chapels, and that was the part of my stay I enjoyed the most. One was a Cantonese-language chapel and one was an English-language chapel.”
Downs said on Saturdays and Sundays he played basketball with the boys and girls at the Cantonese-speaking chapel and on Wednesday evenings he conducted Bible study, which turned into “three-hour prayer meetings” at the English-speaking chapel.
Downs said he enjoyed his mission work so much he had a difficult time returning to the United States.
“Linda Jackson, my regional manager, called me in (Hong Kong) in April (1997) and wanted me to consider managing the Birmingham store. I was supposed to be in Hong Kong a year. Accepting the job meant I was going to have to leave Hong Kong early, and I wanted to make sure this is what God wanted me to do.
“So I prayed about it three weeks.”
Downs said he finally decided God wanted him back in the states to manage the Birmingham book store, which he took over in July 1997.
He said he is very appreciative of Sunday School Board management for allowing him to take a leave of absence from his job and perform mission work in Hong Kong.
“Most employers wouldn’t allow you to just pick up and leave your job for a year. I appreciate the opportunity the board gave me to do this.”
Downs said the Birmingham store “is a tremendous challenge. It’s the biggest Baptist bookstore the board owns, and it’s one of the biggest Christian bookstores in the U.S. We have an opportunity for a tremendous ministry here just by providing products and materials to local churches and through some of the things we can say to our customers. I do have a real heart for missions, so I love that.”

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  • Terri Lackey