Tag Archives: Presbyterian Church in Taiwan

just say yes

“You don’t dig up a fruit tree every year, do you? If you do, you’ll never get any fruit!” It does make sense, when you think of it like that.

Pastor Chen, a Taiwanese Presbyterian minister, shared why he has chosen to stay put, in the same place, for the past 20+ years of his ministry.

In the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church when one is done training to be a pastor, the first ‘assignment’ is truly that – a lottery system, picked out of a hat, if you will, and you are told where you will go. Sort of like an arranged marriage. Pastor Chen, before receiving his assignment, decided that wherever he was sent, he would stay.

He wound up being sent to a poor, aboriginal (indigenous) area of Taiwan, to the Juang San Church. He himself is not of the aboriginal peoples, but that was where he was sent.

Though Taiwan has only a small percentage Christian population (around 3.5%) the aboriginals are overwhelmingly Christian (close to 70% of aboriginals are Christian).  They are a small portion of the total population (around 2%) and tend to be the poorest and most marginalized in society.

Pastor Chen quickly realized that not only could the congregation not afford to pay him as their pastor, but the church itself was already in debt, and the church members were themselves out of work.

Needing work himself, and needing to figure out a way to help the church become self-sustaining, Pastor Chen began to wonder what might be possible.

Nearby the Juang San Church is the Changua Christian Hospital – what has become the leading medical center in the area, and begun with Presbyterian roots.

As it happened, the hospital approached Pastor Chen to see if he and some of the church members might become the cleaning crew for it.  “Yes!” he said – explaining that those who have few resources always say yes. The new cleaning crew had to quickly figure out what it meant to be providing that service for the medical center – they didn’t have experience in this, just a willingness, ability, and a need.

After working through issues of the floors being a bit too polished – it could get dangerous if people were to slip and fall in the hospital – the crew settled into a routine and won the approval of the hospital.

After a while of this the hospital came to Pastor Chen and asked, “You are doing such a good job with the cleaning – do you do fumigation?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – having no idea how to do fumigation. “But we learned.”

Again, pleased, the hospital came to Pastor Chen and his crew – “Do you do landscaping?”

“Yes!” said Pastor Chen – explaining to us that after trimming the trees back a bit too much, they learned.

What began as a crew of 4 is now a crew of over 300, including church members and non-members, now sustaining themselves, their families, and also the church.

Because it has become self-sustaining the church is able to give back more to the local community, offering after school tutoring to local aboriginal children, and helping them protect the local habitat – in danger due to the forces of globalization – whose destruction is the biggest threat to the traditional way of life of the aboriginal people.

“The purpose of the church is not just for evangelism” said Pastor Chen, “not just for spiritual things, but for the whole life – for the whole person.”

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photo: weaving the old and the new…

Old woman in the Taiwanese mountain village of 烏來 practices the aboriginal craft of weaving (the sign of a ‘good woman’) while, on stage, young men and women perform native dance, but with a modern aesthetic.

weaver, 烏來 Taiwan
© 2012 erin dunigan

the beautiful shop

“I will take you to the beautiful shop.” It took me a minute to realize what Mary Lien was talking about, but then quickly I realized.

The ‘beautiful shop’ is, of course, the local salon, or beauty shop. Mary Lien had taken one look at the remnants of my last pedicure, chipped from stubbing my toe on a curb, and informed me of our need to visit the beautiful shop.  That fading pedicure, of course, had been at a Vietnamese nail salon—but half a world away, in Southern California. Now I was in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City to be exact, and discovering that it is not just in America that the Vietnamese are known for their beauty shops, but here in Vietnam itself as well.

Mary Lien and her husband are the leaders of the local Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church of Vietnam (UPCV). Because the communist government is not overly comfortable with ‘religious organizing’ in Vietnam, most gatherings are forced to meet in houses, and remain small—in the range of 20-25 people attending.  This government persecution has, as a by-product, birthed a vast network of such house churches. Often those who are leading them have only a bit more training about the ‘stories of Jesus’ than those who they are seeking to lead, but the UPCV has developed a nimble training program to match the fluidity of their churches and leaders.

I am here with a group from the PCUSA as well as representatives from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), to see how the three (PCUSA, PCT and UPCV) might partner  in mission together. It is like a ‘triangle mission,’ as Pastor Andrew Chang, General Secretary of the PCT (and also a fabulous photographer!) described it—with the love of Christ at the center, and each of the three churches making up the equal sides, working together, learning from one another.

Today was a day for just such learning. Our group spent the majority of the day in a meeting (thankfully, with 95+ degree temperatures and 85% humidity, in an air conditioned room) learning about the persecution of the church in Vietnam (“we must keep one leg in the prison, and one leg in the church” was how Pastor Khoa described it—he’s been imprisoned for being a pastor) but also learning how the church in Vietnam has managed to adapt to a changing political climate and not just survive, but thrive and grow.

The UPCV has, even in the midst of its own difficulties, also sought to reach out to migrant workers, many of whom are from Vietnamese tribal groups, who go to Malaysia or Taiwan or Thailand for work and can be vulnerable to issues that often face migrant workers in this area of the world. Because of their caring for these people, it is happening that when workers are able to return home to their villages in the tribal areas of Vietnam, they are bringing their families and sometimes communities into the UPCV house church movement as well. These workers have been loved by the UPCV and it is a love that they then are sharing with their own friends and family when they return.

In the middle of all of this talk of ‘big things’ we took a break for lunch—prepared by Mary Lien and one of the women in the church. Rice, vegetables, meat, crab, soup and mango were all in the mix, and delicious. As the meal was winding down Mary Lien came to get me—we were the only two women in the group. “We have to go do women’s things,” she explained to the men, who were rather afraid to ask anything more.

We walked outside their house that also serves as a church, down about three doors, to another house that also serves as the ‘beautiful shop.’ It was simpe—no spa chairs in this shop. My chair was plastic. I was given a small plastic bowl of water to soak my hands, and another one for my feet. Mary Lien chatted with the women in the shop as I sat there, as oblivious as I am to the Vietnamese around me in the nail shops in the US, but completely content to sit and take it all in. Mary Lien wanted me to take pictures of the single girls, joking that it might help them find American husbands. One woman was in curlers. Another was in the midst of a color job. A third was getting some sort of facial mask, and another was getting a pedicure. The small little front room of the house was full of activity.

As I sat and waited I was struck by the blessing of being able to share that space with those women. Women who, in many ways, might seem very different from me—in hair color or appearance or other external criteria. Women who took me into their space with no hesitation.

I was also struck by the living example of the house churches of the presbyterian church—a hospitality, as well, offering the love of God to those in their neighborhoods and those in need.

A beautiful shop indeed.