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A New Partnership

I want to share some exciting news about our ministry here in Taichung.

As we have spent more and more time living and working, learning and listening, sharing and speaking with our friends here, we have realized that one of the great needs is for an English Worship Service.

That probably sounds odd when you consider the amount of time and effort I’ve spent learning Mandarin and investing in the culture, but let me explain.

The reasons for starting this service are many, but can be narrowed down to two main ideas. First – Central Taichung is missing a vibrant, Gospel centered English ministry. Second – English is a tool which can be used by the church to reach people for Christ.

So, after a lot of prayer and working together with our local church, here is the plan.

We are going to partner with our local church, Taichung Baptist rather than start a stand alone church. The Bible says that two are better than one and a strand of three cords is not easily broken. Our partnership, which has been forged over two plus years of hard work together, is just beginning to bear fruit for the kingdom and we (the pastor and I) believe this is a natural next step.

In addition, we need the wisdom and resources of our local church in this culture to do the right thing in the right way.

We see this as a way to open doors of ministry for the expatriate community that will allow them to join local Christian brothers and sisters in serving this great city. The Bible says let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. We want to work together in such a way that the city gives glory to God for our service.

So, beginning this January 10 we will begin Taichung International Fellowship as a partner ministry of Taichung Baptist Church. I’ll be preaching weekly in English, but following every service will have an informal Q&A for all who desire to ask questions in both English and Chinese.

We ask for your prayers and support. If you want to be part of supporting this ministry and our continued Gospel outreach in Taichung, please CLICK HERE to join our support team.

Oh the Places You’ll Go

So, for those of you who know me, this post will be especially interesting. For those who don’t, I think you might still get a good laugh.

From the time I was very young, I really wasn’t much of an athlete. I’m not sure if I didn’t have the genetic code or just spent too much time watching tv. I did enjoy being outside, riding my bike with friends, climbing trees and such, but I just couldn’t get the hand eye coordination thing down when a ball was placed in my hands.

When I played little league, I was content to stand in right field close to the concession stand just dreaming of that final inning when we could rush to get our suicide icee. Unfortunately, it was punctuated by painful times at bat when my left arm was pulverized by the errant fast ball, or was it just that I didn’t really know where to stand. Hey, at least I got on base!

When 7th grade arrived, so did puberty and I grew a little faster than the other boys, so it just seemed natural that I should play basketball and do my part for God, country and community. That too was a failure. After two weeks of tryouts as all the boys lined up at the locker room door to see if their name made the list, I too crowded in praying to God that the coach had done his due diligence and rightfully struck me from the team. The other boys didn’t understand my gleeful exclamation as I saw my name was absent from the roster.

In high school, golf rolled around and I did my best to honor my father by playing and thought I could follow in his glorious career. My dad played alongside Ben Crenshaw and some of the other greats in high school and college and to this day remains quite a great player. Unfortunately, I spent more time in the weeds and trees searching for lost balls than on fairways and greens chasing pars and birdies.

All that to say, I don’t know a thing about sports. It is as elusive to me as the mind of a woman. I do enjoy going to a game with my friends. I just try to shout when they shout, clap when the people around me clap, repeat the things they yell – but the truth is – everyone knows I’m a pretender.

So, this past week will be especially funny to everyone and mostly to me. I got a call from my good friend at the local sports university here in Taichung. (also a source of humor in my life story – but that’s for another day) asking if I wanted to help as a translator for someone in town working at the Big 12 Baseball Tournament. I immediately laughed and questioned her sanity because even she knows my relationship with the sports world. But she pressed me and said that I should do it because it would really help my Chinese ability and be good experience for me. So I gave in and called the contact person.

As it turns out, there was a documentary film crew in town producing a multi-part film about the Big 12 Tournament as well as Taiwan Baseball. So for the next few days, I accompanied the director and a couple of cameramen around for various shoots, introduced them to many of my local friends who ended up being part of the film and got to use my recently acquired skill in Mandarin to it’s full potential – even learning many new things along the way.

The funniest moment came at the very end when the director had finished all the filming he would do in Taiwan. We were standing at home plate of one of the big baseball fields, the Japanese team had left the stadium and we were alone. He turned to me and said, well, now it’s time for your interview. I laughed and said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I want to get your perspective on baseball in Taiwan and in America.”

I burst into laughter and thought about all my friends perhaps seeing me try to speak with any authority on anything sports related just laughing their heads off and told the director he was out of his mind. He told me that he was serious and he wanted my opinion. So I said, well, with the caveat you don’t make me look like an idiot.

I answered a few questions and off we went. Who knows if what I said will end up on the film or the cutting room floor, but it was a great experience. Working with some world class athletes, getting in the middle of fans enjoying their favorite game, cutting into the middle of press conferences, shoving microphones into people’s faces – and doing it all in my second language.

Oh, the places you’ll go.

“If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small.”

Do you remember the very first Bible story you ever heard?

Adrian is an exchange student at NTCU from Malaysia. This past week he came to our weekly Outreach Bible Study on campus for the first time. It was the first time in his life he had ever heard a story from the Bible. The reason he came is because I am able to be on campus every week meeting and engaging students in their daily lives. In one of those encounters, Adrian was interested – he looked at me and said, “I want to know you”. So I invited him to come to our weekly Bible study.

As we talked about the two parables we were looking at, I could see that he really was clueless so I asked him about his spiritual background. He told me that he was a Buddhist. He went on to say that he believed that all religions were the same and that we all were just using different paths to try and reach the same end.

I paused, prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to help and then spoke. Using the scriptures and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I showed him and the rest of the students how Christianity stands apart from all the religions of the world.

Because our study is at lunch, Adrian had to leave for his afternoon class. But don’t worry, I’ll see him this next week and we’ll keep going.

Thank you. On behalf of these students and others who have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel, Thank you.

It’s the end of the year when we plan our budget for the next year. I am glad to tell you that currently, Mission Taiwan is financially healthy. Through year end annual gifts and monthly giving our needs are met. Not only that, so far we have been able to say yes to all the ministry opportunities that God has presented so far and do things such as purchase Bibles, rent rooms, provide meals, etc.

One example of what a ministry gift goes to: We just purchased a set of brand new English and Chinese Bibles that we were able to give away to the people who come to our Sunday morning outreach. As we gave them out they wanted to know what they needed to pay. Some were going to give them back because they just didn’t have the money. What a blessing to tell them they were already paid for – a gift from friends they don’t know (yet), but who love them very much and want them to know how much God loves them.

This next year our ministry will continue to grow. The number of people hearing the Gospel is increasing every week. Since finishing Chinese school, we have been able to start campus ministries on four campuses and it is possible that another campus will open soon. The number of teams from American coming to help us with outreach will double and could possibly triple by the year end. And – we are doubling – adding an intern for all of 2016, which will increase our ability to say YES and do more follow-up than before. All of this within just a couple of months of formally finishing language school. Praise God – He is answering all of your/our collective prayers.

So I’m writing to ask for your partnership in our ministry. Will you pray and consider giving a year end gift to help us say yes to all these opportunities in 2016 and continue spreading the Gospel in Taiwan?

As I mentioned, we are starting our new Mission Internship this January. Brian Lee, the young man who will be joining us, is raising part of his support, but we will also be providing a part. So we must raise an additional $20,000 to fund his part of the ministry.
 What a blessing. Help us press forward so even more hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

You can give online HERE or mail your check to:

Mission Taiwan
1601 I-40 West
Amarillo, TX 79109

Thank you for your prayers, support and encouragement. 

Todd & Crista
Katelyn, Ashlyn & Andrew

The Stranger

This video is produced by OMF, another mission group here in Taiwan. This will help you understand the spiritual struggle that many people here go through and how better to pray for them. The first is in English, the second in Mandarin.

Grappling with the Ghosts of Taiwan’s Past

This past weekend, three friends and I visited TouCheng 頭城 near Yilan 宜蘭 to see and experience the once a year event known as “Grappling with Ghosts”.  As many of you already know, this past month in the lunar calendar has been the celebration of Ghost Month.

Strangely enough, even to most Taiwanese, the meaning of this festival is a mystery. After some research, I discovered the meaning behind the symbolism. It is rooted in Daoist tradition and lore.

In summary, the fir tree towers you see are covered in food (meats, rice dumplings, etc.). The symbolism in the fir trees is related to the wood that ships are made from.

This “feast” is intended to draw all the remaining, wandering “good brothers” that have yet to return to the “other world” together. The originators of this event feared that these “good brothers’ might wish to remain in this world and cause some trouble. They wanted to find a way to ensure that all of these spirits would return to the other world and leave this world in peace.

As midnight approaches, the people send up their champions, racing up the poles in a climb to the very top. The first one to reach the top must snatch a red flag as his trophy, which is then sold to the highest bidder (who traditionally is the captain of a sailing vessel) as an amulet of spiritual protection for the following year. At that point, the crowd breaks into cheers and screams along with the priests chanting, drumming and playing their horns which should scare the “good brothers” back into the underworld.

For pictures of the event and the other activities that occur along with it – CLICK HERE. Warning – it is graphic including animals.

Of course – it actually means nothing. There are no ghosts. This is another tool that the enemy has used to ensnare and enslave the Taiwanese people. They are bound up in fear.

How desperately they need to know that a Champion has already come and done everything needed to free them from fear and slavery. His name is Jesus. There is no need to go on and on endlessly repeating these mindless, senseless rituals. Their powerless idols have left them with no hope.

The State of Affairs

So, I’ve been spending the last few days studying how to share the Gospel in Chinese, reading a lot and also digging into the statistics on the church in Taiwan. People like to throw numbers around and statistics can often be made to say whatever you want them to, so I wanted to see if the numbers added up.

After doing a little legwork and finding the statistics that I wanted (Taiwan is great in this respect, people here like to keep very good records and reports), I was able to put together a fairly accurate state of things. I have done my best to be generous in regards to some things, but a little narrow in what I would call an evangelical church or evangelical. If anyone has information that would help me clarify or better present the data, I would really appreciate being informed.

So, what is “The State of Affairs”

This is a general report on the numbers of churches in Taiwan. It is based on data obtained from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan’s Annual Report. The Presbyterian Church keeps the most accurate and regular reporting system on churches in Taiwan.

From 1989 – 2013 the number of registered denominations in Taiwan increased from 40-57 (64% increase). Over that same period of time, the number of registered churches increased from 2,660 – 4,101 and church membership also increased from 448,220 to 1,307,842 (291% increase). At first glance, that seems like some amazing growth. But let’s look deeper before drawing any conclusions. During this same period of time, Taiwan’s Population increased from 19.95 million to 23.315. (8.6% increase)

So, as a percentage of the population, church attendance has increased from 2.25 to 5.61%. However, these numbers are deceptive if you are looking for the number of Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Churches. This data is not easy to mine from the information available, but in general, this is what we find.

The reported Average Church Attendance for this period of time increased from 204,179 to 604,632. If you exclude Catholic, True Jesus and Seventh Day Adventist congregations (about 326,000 people), that leaves a number of 278,632. And if you exclude their congregations from the church total of 4,101, that actually leaves 2999 evangelical (I think) churches in Taiwan.

Now, specifically in regards to Taichung, currently there are 439 registered churches. But If we use the percentage from above to remove Catholic, True Jesus and Adventist Churches and their attendance from the numbers, that leaves about 237 potentially evangelical churches in the city of Taichung.  The Presbyterian Church estimates there are 263 evangelical churches in the city. (76 of those are Presbyterian) Compare that to the 899 registered temples (in my opinion this is not anywhere near the actual number of temples in the city).

Specifically for my area of interest, the Chinese Baptist Convention reported 48,733 members in 2013, with an average attendance of 26,170 in a total of 217 churches. The Presbyterians estimate a number of around 20,000. (Over 4,000 of this number are ages 5-12, which means that only a little more than 22,000 Taiwanese people over the age of 12 attend a Baptist church in Taiwan. That is .001% of the population.
This came from a total of 217 churches.

Finally, if you use the number above of 278,632 that attend church on average, that means that just about 1.3% of Taiwan’s population has been reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ghost Month in Taiwan

This year, August 14th, begins the annual celebration of Ghost Month here in Taiwan and across many Asian cultures. Ghost Month of Gui Yue in Pinyin is celebrated during the 7th lunar month of the year, specifically during the first 15 days, although the entire month is designated as such.

What is Ghost Month? Although there are some variations on this event, here is a brief guide to what you can expect to see over the next month along with some important cultural information.

First, a little background. Taiwanese religious culture is varied and diverse. There are many religions and beliefs represented on the island. That being said, the main religious belief system is held in the family. It is what we might call Traditional Folk Religion. Some families practice Buddhism, others Daoism while others might draw from both and add some elements of animism.

To help you understand this event, you need to know that most Taiwanese believe that when you physically die, your spirit goes to live in another world which is very similar to this one, the spirit world. Those that have done good go to a place of rest and happiness, those that have done bad, go to a place that is not happy. The second place is also where spirits who are killed or die apart from family are sent. In particular those with no family to worship them, people who moved to Taiwan and left their family in China, died here and now they are forgotten, those killed in major disasters where whole groups of people are killed and no family are left to worship, etc. This group of spirits must go through some process to work their way towards the other spirit world where they can finally rest. This may include reincarnation and another chance for some.

You may have seen or know that in almost every Taiwanese home, there is a family altar which must be continually maintained. At this altar, the ancestral tablets are placed and worshipped every morning and every night by the faithful. On certain days of the lunar calendar, it is very important to observe certain rituals and at times, even enlisting the aid of a shaman or spirit priest to aid in making certain that your ancestors are happy and satisfied. This is one of the most important acts that a good Taiwanese family does to make sure their ancestors stay in a state of happiness and do not turn into Hungry Ghosts. Ghost Month is not related to this regular act of ancestor worship in the family home.

Now, what is Ghost Month – and why is it such a big deal in Taiwanese culture.

Taiwanese, along with many Asian people, believe that during the first 15 days of the 7th lunar month, those spirits which have not achieved the place of happiness are released. This is their “holiday”. It is a time for them to enjoy themselves and escape the worries of the other world to which they have been banished.

Taiwanese people who subscribe to this belief, which is a great majority, will place an offering in front of their home and/or business for these spirits. They will also burn “hell money” and offer worship, the purpose being to aid these “wandering spirits – good brothers” in the hope they will be able to leave the place of torment and finally achieve a place of rest and happiness in the afterlife. Next to the table will be placed a small bowl of water and washcloth. This must be a new washcloth and it can never be used again after this time, otherwise it will bring bad luck. The hope is that if a spirit happens to drop by, they will take their fill of the offering outside, wash their hands and dry off and then be on their way without coming inside. I’ve seen many foreigners perplexed and even try to convince families and owners how ridiculous this is, knowing the items will stay on the table, not ever being consumed. Taiwanese people don’t expect it to “disappear”. They believe it is a spiritual act, so don’t bother.

In addition, over the years, Taiwanese have developed a set of cultural taboos and superstitions that they hold to fairly closely during Ghost Month. Most of them are related to night. The reason behind these taboos have been lost to many people, but if you dig deep enough you can find out the origins. If you are close to Taiwanese people, you may here these things talked about, mentioned or they may even urge you to abstain from certain behaviors. Here is a brief list of some of the main superstitions:

  • Don’t hang your clothes to dry at night. – The reason for this is that wandering spirits might think you have left them these clothes to try on and the next morning your clothes will be gone.
  • Don’t lean or walk against walls. – Spirits like walking next to walls where it is cooler.
  • Keep away from water. – Spirits that died in water will try to drown you. This is a particular taboo and has its roots in the idea that if a spirit can cause your death, it can return to the world of the living.
  • If someone calls your name or taps you on the shoulder at night … Keep walking.
  • No whistling or tapping of any kind. – This behavior encourages wandering spirits to come and visit you.
  • Don’t buy a home. – The reason for this is that buying a home is a celebratory act. During this month, you should avoid all types of celebrations. This is the spirits time to rest and celebrate. You are to lay low.
  • Try not to take the last bus home. – This is when the spirits are coming out at night and you might be stuck on a bus with them.
  • Keep away from hospitals.
  • Don’t take pictures outside at night. If you happen to catch a picture of a spirit, it is very unlucky.
  • Don’t get married. – Related to the idea of celebrating above.
  • Don’t have funerals. – Again, because of the large gathering of people associated with a funeral, it is like a celebration. This one generally applies to the first 15 days.
  • Don’t use the word Ghost. In Taiwan, these spirits are called “good brothers”. More on this below…

So, why call these spirits “Good Brothers”? It’s because they are family. The idea is to create a good feeling, you don’t want to do anything that would create enmity or anger between you and the departed. The one thing traditional Taiwanese fear almost more than anything else is being left in the afterlife with no one taking care of you in this life. Hence the term “Hungry Ghost”. If your descendents in the land of the living don’t pay attention to you in the afterlife, then your spirit turns into an angry and vengeful ghost.

There are three very important days during this month when there will be a great deal of incense and spirit money burned. Of course there will be plenty of burning going on the whole month, but you can expect a great deal more on these three days. They are: August 14th, August 28, September 12. These are the 1st, 15th and last day of the 7th lunar month.

So, over the next month, we will have many opportunities to talk about spiritual things. We ask you to pray for Taiwanese people who feel afraid during this time. Pray that Christians here will speak boldly about their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. Pray that the feelings of hopelessness will lead people to seek hope in Jesus Christ.