Shifting Gears

Anticipating a move to the mission field, we’ve approached our whole married life with the attitude that we’re not accumulating a lot of stuff. So we either got nice things that are worth taking with us, or we got cheap stuff that we could get rid of. As our departure for Taiwan drew near, we went into get-rid-of-stuff mode. Yard sale, trash, Goodwill, family. Either it’s coming with us or we’re getting rid of it. So we’ve ended up with just a very few things stored with parents.

Thankfully, that all happened in the spring. We’ve had a whole summer of not having to work on that. A summer of staying a few weeks at a time with friends, thinking about one feature of our life in Taiwan: we’ll get to furnish an apartment.

That shifted us completely out of get-rid-of, into accumulation mode. It’s really been fun to think through what we’ll need and what’s essential to get first. And I think it will be fun to look for appliances and furniture, trying to find deals and decide what we want the apartment to look like and feel like.

Lord willing, we’ll experience the Lord’s grace to stay patient and gracious while we find just what the Lord has for our family and furnish our apartment in a way that will provide a safe, comfortable (but not extravagent) home for our family, and at the same time an inviting, comfortable place for people we minister to. Here’s another chance to do everything for the sake of the gospel.

Making Friends

One of the great things about deputation is the chance to see old friends and make new ones.

Recent travels have introduced us to several new Taiwanese friends. In North Carolina, a Taiwanese couple shared a meal with us. They encouraged us in our vision for planting stable, growing churches in Taiwan. They also told us about their outreach to Chinese students in the States. We shared a basic discipleship resource in Chinese, and met a recent convert they’d been working with.

In Ohio (also over a meal), Taiwanese students at a state university shared their stories of coming to Christ, giving us more insight into Taiwanese thinking, and more appreciation for the power of the gospel. Their pastor told us about several resources for Chinese ministry we weren’t familiar with. He even gave us copies of some of them.

In Minnesota, we met a Taiwanese woman at a supporting church. She was so kind in offering to help in any way, suggesting resources, and talking about Taiwan. We were pleased to learn she knew about the church we’ll be part of while in language school. Her unsaved relative lives nearby.

The Lord has given us so many helpful people – not just Taiwanese – and we’re so thankful.

A Taste of Culture Shock

While I was in Taiwan recently (for a 2-week pre-move trip), I had two quite different days. One was sunny, the other dim and rainy, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

The sunny day: I rode a borrowed bike past the Zuoying train station to Lotus Lake. I went armed with my camera, my notebook, and great intentions of getting some good pictures and some helpful notes about life. I’d heard about the produce in the market, so I especially wanted to get some pictures for my wife, so she could get a reminder of what was available and what the prices were like. I also wanted to see if I could get some more pictures of the temples on the far side of the lake.

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Seeing the piles of fresh produce, I almost wished I needed to buy something. I also got more interaction than I expected when a vendor insisted I let Martin, a 13-year-old with 3 years of English study, practice his English on me. He seemed embarrassed, but we did have a sporadic conversation; he practiced English and I practiced Chinese.

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Me and Martin… and some very fresh poultry

I made it around to the temples where I took some pictures.

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Then bought some postcards at a small store down the street. I wanted to send something to my children. (The postcards arrived at our home a few days after I did, but they kids were still happy.)

The rainy day: I was on my own, partly by my own choice since I’d declined an offer of company. I wanted to explore on my own, though I did have a specific destination in mind. Getting to the MRT and taking it to right stop wasn’t a problem. I exited the MRT station and headed down the road… the wrong direction. But it wasn’t till I’d gone quite some distance that I discovered my mistake.

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That sign doesn’t help me!

Once I got headed the right way, I found the store I’d wanted to revisit. Only to discover (after some time of looking around) that they didn’t have the items I was hoping to buy. Walking back to the MRT station, I was hungry. I’d kept putting off lunch, planning to eat after I bought the things I wanted. Now it was late and I didn’t feel like eating because I was disappointed.

Actually, I was feeling frustrated at my limited ability to communicate and my lack of familiarity with where things were. So I walked down the sidewalk thinking of how I didn’t want any Taiwanese food. I just wanted something American. Something comforting. I knew there was a western restaurant near my MRT station, so I decided to wait even longer for lunch. But by the time I got to the station and didn’t see the way to the restaurant right away, I just headed to the apartment where I was staying and ate a granola bar on the way.

The contrast of these two experiences lends some healthy realism to my eager anticipation for moving to Taiwan. There will be a lot of really interesting, fun experiences. Some really sunny, comfortable days when I revel in everything new. But we’ll also have our share of days when the newness feels threatening rather than fun, and dealing with life seems discouragingly hard. Now I have a first-hand reminder of some ways we’ll need God’s grace
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One wrong turn deserves another…

This past weekend we had an experience that captures one of the challenging facets of deputation. Since we’re traveling to different churches to talk about our calling to Taiwan, we find ourselves in a new place almost every week.

After checking in at our hotel, getting some Wendy’s, and playing at a park, we realized we needed some things from a grocery store. Now in situations like this, a GPS is a very helpful tool. Usually.

Since the GPS already knows we’re in a small town in Tennessee, we just need to tell it to look for grocery stores nearby. There’s one .2 miles away. Great! We should be able to see it from here.

A short drive later, we’re sitting in an empty parking lot, looking at an empty building. Not discouraged, I located the next grocery store, which I’d correctly remembered was .4 miles away from our hotel. As we approach the address, I experience déjà vu. The GPS is telling me to drive to a half-empty parking lot at a large shopping center. The empty half is in front of an empty building, the (former) Food Lion, according to the GPS.

Next stop? There’s a Kroger .7 miles away, and it looks like we’re already headed the right direction.

Oops. This neighborhood doesn’t look like there’s a big grocery store in it. I should have checked the map before I started driving, so now I check it on a side road while someone behind me waits to get to her mailbox. Hmm. Kroger is on the other side of the river, so we have to drive almost 2 miles to a bridge, then almost 2 miles back.

On the beautiful drive to Kroger, we laugh about how hard it is to find the most basic things in a new place, and talk about how glad we are that we’re still doing it in English.

One day (hopefully not too far in the future) we’ll have to do all this in Mandarin Chinese. The bright side is that we’ll get to settle down and not be in a new town every week. We’re really looking forward to learning our neighborhood: knowing where the post office is, where the grocery stores are, and which intersections don’t offer good openings for left turns. We even more excited about getting to know neighbors, vendors, and clerks as we look for opportunities to build relationships and speak the truth.

Religion in the 21st Century

The other day, a news site illustrated an interesting feature of life in Taiwan. Culture and religion there present an interesting blend of technology and tradition. Many Taiwanese people participate in spirit worship and are, in varying degrees, superstitious.

19th-century missionary George Mackay described divination in Taiwan during his day: you stopped at a shrine to ask direction and help from the spirit with a yes or no question. Then you drop two pieces of bamboo root. Each was flat on one side, rounded on the other. Depending on how they landed, the answer was yes, no, or silence. In practice, if you don’t like the answer, you can keep dropping them until you get the answer you want!

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A Taiwanese woman prays to the spirits in a temple.

Prosperity and technology haven’t changed Taiwan’s religions much. According to the article, a Taoist temple plans to expand its divination services. They already have a web feature that allows people to ask questions of the spirits. Within the next year they’ll add a mobile app, so people will be able to access divination services anywhere they can use a smartphone. This makes it easier for spirits to dispense favors in return for gifts (even virtual ones). But our God looks for those who will worship Him in spirit and truth – not to extract favors, but to show gratitude for grace.

Several things came to mind after I read the article. But here’s something that occurs to me now that I’ve thought about it for a while. Would it be nice to be able to text God a question about what to do and get an answer right back? Sometimes it seems like that would be great. There are so many choices we have to make where the answer isn’t specified in the Bible. Or maybe our church should offer this kind of service: answers to all your spiritual questions at the touch of a few buttons.

But would it really be good for us? God seems to be very interested not just in providing answers to our questions, but in shaping our thinking as we spend time with Him in His Word. I’d sympathize with a church that wanted to offer something like this as a way to reach out to people. The critical weakness of that kind of ministry is found in the huge difference between being told what to do and learning to think biblically.

A Taste of Miscommunication

I looked across the counter, through the pane of glass, trying to decide whether to look encouraging or confused. Encouraging, since I could tell she was searching for the right word. Or confused, because I could tell that she knew I wasn’t getting it.

We’d come to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in NYC to ask about the application process for missionary visas. I’d talked with missionaries about this, but didn’t remember much. So a really nice official was talking me through the list (in Chinese script – she couldn’t find one in English at the time), explaining each document I’d have to submit. She’d gotten through them and we were reviewing. I’d assumed that when she said something about papers establishing “fatherhood” (I forget exactly how she was saying it), she meant birth certificates for our children. But she clearly wasn’t satisfied.

After she tried several times and I was still thinking birth certificate, she consulted another official, then tried again with a word he suggested. Then it clicked. They were trying to tell me I needed a certificate of ordination. Apparently their frame of reference was Roman Catholicism or another group with orders of priesthood.

It’s always tempting – when I can’t understand – to just nod yes or say “OK” and move on, avoiding embarrassment for both of us. Hopefully, it’s nothing really important, right? But that’s not a very good strategy. We’ll be facing this kind of communication challenge for a long time, and about really significant issues. We don’t want to just assume or guess when it comes to what someone believes about the Bible!

Senior Saints

We can look forward to getting old. That’s my conclusion from Saturday’s monthly seniors lunch at our church. At one point during the meal, the man on my right handed me a small muffin and told me to pass it along. The circulating muffin got lots of laughs. I thought that kind of funny thing happened only in junior high.

Our children loved the attention from all those grandparents. And they especially liked seeing their nursery SS teachers who also had helped in their classes at GFA conference. I was really happy to see them sitting still while I talked about deputation andTaiwan– we’d been invited to visit so they could get to know us better and know how to pray for us more specifically. (Good job, kids!) It was great to talk with people who remember a lot of Taiwan’s post-WW2 history.

It was our first time to meet some of the older members of our church, and a happy time to talk with others we don’t cross paths with often. They were full of smiles and encouraging words. Many of them told us how they’re already praying for us in ways that are so appropriate to what the Lord has for us right now. And others thanked us for filling them in so they’ll know how to pray. We’ll value their prayers, and remember their great example of joyful, mature faith! Although we joke about being grumpy old people that scare neighborhood children, we really hope we turn out more like the people we at lunch with on Saturday.