In the temple courtyard, a group of musicians and singers perform a loud and bizarre song. Some patron has paid for them to come and entertain the goddess this morning, hoping to influence her for a desired outcome. Two of the worshippers, an old lady and her granddaughter, approach the doorway. The grandmother worries that the music will distract the goddess, Matsu. They make sure to step over the threshold, a long step for the child. They pay their money, arrange their incense, then move on to the main reason they came: the bai-bai. In front of one of the idols, the grandmother cups two small pieces of wood in her hands and rocks back and forth, quietly begging for guidance. She tosses the crescent moon-shaped wood onto the table in front of her. The arrangement of the pieces gives an inconclusive answer. She rocks and tosses two more times: unclear. She takes her granddaughter by the hand and leaves.
“Grandmother, is uncle going to get better? Is that what you were asking?”
“I don’t know.” The grandmother says quietly. “We will pray to the ancestors when we get home.”
“Like we did for grandfather’s ghost?”
“Yes, child. Like that.”
“Grandmother, why would grandfather become an angry ghost?”
“If we don’t pray to the ancestors and send money and food to them and to grandfather, then grandfather’s soul will be tormented. Then our business will fail or we might get sick.”
The child seems lost in thought for a few moments. The smell of incense clings to her skirt and blouse.
“Grandmother, what will happen to me when I die?”
The grandmother shushes her sharply. “Silence, child! We don’t talk about that.” The sound of the music trails them as they walk away.
We know that apart from Christ, all people are lost. Culture was supposed to reflect the goodness and beauty of God in unique ways, and to some degree, that is true now. But the fall is deep and profound and broke more things than we can imagine. And with the eyes of newcomers, Becky and I see the shadow of brokeness in Taiwan. Over the last four years we have come to love the Taiwanese people, and to weep for them. They are kind and laugh quickly. They welcome strangers into their country. They are beautiful and precious and 97% of them are far from God.
“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”
All cultures have their dark spots. In America it is a rampant individualism that makes it difficult to submit to Christ. In Taiwan, it is a deep and enslaving fear. Everything people do has the potential to offend the many gods, or to shame the ancestors. These infractions carry penalties in this life and in the next, both for living and dead family members. Imagine that your failure to provide the proper offering could push your deceased loved ones into spiritual torment rather than into bliss. Now imagine that converting to Christianity would make you responsible when your cousin’s business fails, your aunt’s marriage falls apart, or your grandfather enters the Chinese equivalent of hell. These are the barriers to the gospel in Taiwan. A new Christian often bears the stigma of shaking the house of cards that has sustained whatever prosperity and success a family has enjoyed for generations.
Taiwanese converts to Christianity tell us that the greatest gift that God gives them is peace. Peace from the literal torment of evil spirits. Peace from the need to appease the gods. Peace from the need to keep up a good face so that no one will see weakness and struggle. Ephesians 2:17 says that Christ came and preached peace to those who were far off and to those were near. The key word here is actually ‘and’. Paul’s point is that God came for his own people, and for those who were far off. The peace described in this passage brings people into the body of Christ. Those who were far from God are now in His family. But in an incredible application, Paul connects this new nearness to God with the unity that we should have as members of Christ’s body.
I want to ask you to consider the family connection that you have to the believers in Taiwan. God is doing amazing things there. His gospel is our only strength and the only way that people in Taiwan can find peace. As Taiwanese people turn to Christ the gospel unites us at FBC to them. I hope that you will feel and embrace this unity. Circle, whom I talked about at church last Sunday, is now your sister. Frank is now your brother. You can unite your heart to them by learning about Taiwan with your children or friends. You can read a biography of George Leslie Mackay, the first missionary to Taiwan. You can listen for ways to serve or visit in Taiwan. Last, you can pray. If you don’t receive our updates, you can email me at email@example.com.
Every day we drive past countless temples like the one I described at the beginning of the article. I want to invite you pray this prayer that we pray. “Dear God, please break down the idols. Show the people their need. Open their eyes. Give them Christ’s love.”