“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.”