“If you don’t feed the ghosts of your ancestors, they become hungry and angry and they will haunt you. If this happens you will face misfortune for the rest of this life and you will become a tormented, hungry ghost in your afterlife. Your family will suffer, you will disgrace yourself and your entire line.”
This is the message that Taiwanese mothers and grandmothers pass on to their children. They don’t teach it in a structured way, but the message of worshiping ancestors rules most aspects of life. They offer food, burn money, clean ancestral tombs, and worship the dead all in an effort to keep fortune on their side and prevent misery in the afterlife. They ward off evil spirits and live much of their lives with the fear that they are not doing enough to satisfy their ancestors’ ghosts. Of course the Taiwanese people are also extremely kind, friendly, and social. They have welcomed us and many seek out opportunities to get to know the “meiguoren” (Americans). Yet the live wrapped in chains of fear without any concept of eternal hope.
They remind me of the people in Matthew 9.In that passage Jesus travelled through the villages and cities healing people and telling them that the kingdom of God was near. As he interacted with them he noticed something that broke his heart again. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The people of Taiwan, while respectful, hardworking, and friendly, truly fall into Jesus’ description. They are battered by fear and hopelessness, and I think Jesus’ heart breaks for them, too.
As a culture demonstrates brokenness it also ripens for the gospel.
When we look again at the passage, Jesus response might puzzle us. After all, isn’t he himself the great Shepherd who came to seek and save the lost? Shouldn’t he offer himself to them? When he sees the situation he turns to the disciples and says, “Open your eyes to at all this brokenness. See these people who have no answers.” You can almost see him gesture outward, at the crowds, at the towns, see him open his arms to indicate the people of Israel, of Samaria, of the rest of the world. Notice what he told the disciples: “All those lost people are a ripe field, an orchard full of fruit, ready to pick. Because the field is ripe, pray that God will send workers to bring in the harvest. Beg God to fill the fields with laborers to gather in the people who repent.”
How strange! He says, “The fields are ready, so pray.”
How do we recognize when people are ready? If you look again, Jesus says that an environment of spiritual captivity is a ripe harvest. As a culture demonstrates brokenness it also ripens for the gospel. This was so obvious to Jesus that when he saw the condition of the people he told the disciples to pray that God would send out workers. Hopelessness equaled readiness. Again, we see Him teaching them to pray for something God was going to do already. In Luke, we find this same passage, but immediately after it, Jesus sends 72 of his followers out into the field of lost people.
This, then, seems to be Jesus’ progression. We see that people are lost and that should move us. Out of that compassion we pray, not vaguely, but specifically that God would send workers to bring in the harvest of lost souls. Since this already is God’s plan and commandment to us, the assumption must be that we are the workers tasked to go to the fields. When you pray for workers, you are praying for yourself and your brothers and sisters in this church.
But there is also a sense in which you are praying for laborers around the world. In Colossians 3:4 Paul asks the church to pray for his gospel labor.
So I hope that when you pray for God’s work, you will remember Taiwan. Becky and I feel like we could do at least three full time jobs and not meet the needs we see.
We work at Morrison Academy, a school that serves the missionaries in Taiwan by educating their children. Yet the school also admits students of secular business people. Probably 60-70 percent of the students are not saved and come from non-Christian homes. So we also have a gospel ministry on our campus. In addition to these two things, we are part of an English-speaking branch of a local Taiwanese church.
We love the work we do, but we also echo Jesus’ prayer to send workers into the harvest in Taiwan. Please join us in that prayer. Be careful, though. As you pray for workers, maybe God will call you to join us!