Today is the first day and it had twin themes: First, the extraordinarily gracious welcome we have received from the Paiwan people of southern Taiwan. And second, the interplay between the good news of the Gospel and the culture in which people live and the ways culture helps or hinders the telling of the good news.
Before going further, here are some basic facts to give context to this story. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has about 235,000 members of whom 40% (or 90,000) are from one of the sixteen groups of Indigenous people on the island. These 90,000 persons make up 500 of the 1,200 congregations in the denomination.
Today I learned the Paiwan people view the 100-pacer snake as a symbol of protector and as a friend. (The 100-pacer snake gets its name since a person when bitten by the snake will be dead in less than 100 paces.) I did not think much more about this at the time.
Later in the morning in conversation with the Bible translation team working on the completion of the Paiwan Bible, I asked how they translated “sheep” in a culture where there are no sheep. The answer was sometimes translators have no choice but to use awkward explanatory phrases, like “sheep you can cut wool off of.” Which does not read very well, and may not help if people have never seen a sheep or even a picture of a sheep.
Just before lunch we visited a Paiwan artist, Urgga Matilin, in his studio. He is about to be designated a deacon in his Presbyterian church. I asked him about the 100-pacer snake with its distinctive squared head and diamond markings which is prominent in his work. He replied that while some Christians regarded the snake as being from the devil, God told Moses to put up a bronze image of a serpent on a pole so all the Israelites could see it and be healed by looking at it (Numbers 21). “So,” the artist continued, “snakes are not evil but rather were a symbol of protection for the people of Israel in this case.” Jesus referenced Moses’ action of lifting up the snake in the wilderness when he said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) and “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). For the Paiwan people, the symbol of snake as protector fits so well with Jesus’ words it needs almost no cultural translation. The Biblical image works well in their culture in a way that Jesus the Good Shepherd does not. (Photo: Urgga Matilin in conversation with Paul McLean, taken by Debbie Bush.)
The creativity and theological insight of Urgga Matilin deeply impressed me as did his deep desire to see art used to proclaim the gospel and to bring glory to God. I came away honoured to have met him and theologically enriched.
It is Tuesday, July 11, the reason why the moderator’s trip this year is to Taiwan: attending the celebration marking the completion of the translation of the whole Bible into Ngudradrekai. A language spoken by about 13,000 Indigenous people living high in the mountains of southern Taiwan. The 3-hour celebration service included music, prayer, words of thanks and a tri-lingual sermon (Korean, Mandarin and Ngudradrekai).
Having the Bible in their own language has deep meaning for the Ngudragrekai. One elderly woman upon opening the complete Bible in her own language for the first time said to her pastor, “I can now die in peace. The Bible is in my language.” At supper Tuesday night, the restaurant waitress said to members of the translation team, “Thank you for the translation of the Bible. You have saved my language. Thank you.”
But the 24-member worship band singing in four languages – Ngudradrekai, Korean, Mandarin, and English – was the moment that moved me most deeply, because I realized I was witnessing one more example of the arrival of a mature World Christianity.
The Youngnak Presbyterian Church of Korea provided the financial support so the translation team could finish the project; The Presbyterian Church in Canada provided the Rev. Dr. Paul McLean as a translation consultant; the Korean Bible Society provided their printing skills and printing press; while the vision for the project was driven by the Ngudradrekai who were not content to live with having only the New Testament in their language. They wanted the whole Bible. These partnered together as equals – or maybe more accurately, as McLean said of the translation team, “We started as partners working on a project – but now we are brothers and sisters.” This is what mature World Christianity looks like – Christians partnering with Christians across the barriers of ethnicity, culture, language, and nationality. Partnering as equals, all with a role to play in making the body of Christ work. (Photo: Paul McLean with the head of the Ngudredrakai translation team, the Rev. Tanubake, by Debbie Bush)
We often apply the famous passage in I Corinthians 12 to the life of congregations. All the people of the church making up the body of the church have unique but essential roles to play in the working of the church. But Tuesday’s celebrations showed this truth applies to mature World Christianity. No longer do we say some denominations or churches from some countries are lead partners, while other denominations or national churches are junior partners; no longer do we use language implying some denominations or national churches have less importance than others; no longer do the countries where the good news of Jesus has been proclaimed for a longer time get to have the largest say. No, all national churches, all denominations are part of the body and essential to the working of World Christianity.
The previous paragraph does not express the emotion I was struggling to put into words. Then I realized the choir of Ngudradrekai were modelling what I was trying to say – they were singing our song with us and they were inviting us to sing their song with them. In mature World Christianity, we learn to sing the others’ song with them, just as they are invited to learn our song so that they might sing it with us. May the song of the Ngudradrekai choir become the lived reality of The Presbyterian Church in Canada in relationship with all the followers of the Jesus Christ:
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
In Jesus Christ we are one family
In Jesus Christ we are one family
In Jesus Christ we are one family
From now on until ever more.
Peter Bush with the Ngudradrekai Choir
Wednesday, July 12, began with a train journey from Pingtung (southwest Taiwan) down the island to where the railway turns east to cross to the eastern side of the island and travels up the east coast.
Taiwan’s western plains make up about one-third of the island’s geography, the eastern two-thirds of the island is mountains (up to 12,000 ft (3,900 meters) high) and valleys a few of which are wide enough for farming. Much of the agriculture takes place in terraced fields on the mountainsides, with coffee and tea being grown at elevation. Sweet potato is also common in the terraced fields and the narrower valleys. On the plains and in the wider valleys there is rice culture and from the train we saw rice paddies that had been recently harvested, others where the stubble was being burnt off in preparation for the next planting, and still others where the next rice crop (for harvest in November) was being planted. Rice is harvested twice a year here. Fruit grows in abundance – bananas, mangos, pineapple and the newly introduced dragon fruit. (Photo: Rice paddies following first harvest and being prepared for the second planting in the rift valley on Taiwan’s east coast.)
Many of the Amis people are rooted in the land through agriculture. There are three Amis presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) including 130 congregations. Agricultural Mission, the PCT term for agricultural economic development, is an important part of these presbyteries’ work, including helping farmers make moves towards sustainable agriculture: through good land stewardship, reduction of pesticide use, and encouragement of new products like ready-to-prepare dried soup mixes for lily soup. Through developments like these the Amis presbyteries hope to create a vibrant rural life which will allow young people to stay in rural communities to contribute their vision and skills.
An extraordinarily clear day (Paul joked that he had ordered the weather especially for the Moderator), we were able to see Green Island lying off of Taitung City. The Rev. Kao, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, was a political prisoner on Green Island for four and a half years in the early 1980s for associating with human rights activists. (Debbie had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Kao by phone Friday afternoon. Debbie spent a summer typing Dr. Kao’s English correspondence in the 1970s.) Photo: Green Island where hundreds of political prisoners were held including the Rev. Dr. Kao. He was imprisoned from 1980 to 1985. His seven-year sentence was reduced to four and a half years.
Late afternoon we arrived in Hualien City, the home of Yu Shan Seminary. Yu Shan focuses on training Indigenous people for ministry in the PCT. Not just a Seminary, it also offers undergraduate training for those who plan to go on to pursue an M.Div. or M.Th. The PCC has provided support to Yu Shan in a variety of ways: both Knox College and Vancouver School of Theology have relationships with the Seminary, the PCC provides an annual grant, and the Rev. Murray Garvin taught English here following his retirement. The Principal of Yu Shan, Dr. Pusin Tali, expressed deep thanks for support the PCC provides.
Over supper there was opportunity to talk with faculty members from Yu Shan. Dr. Chang Hua Ling, church historian, is actively engaged in the researching and teaching of Indigenous History. He himself being of the Kavilan people, a group from the plains who were overwhelmed by the waves of colonizers and have lost their language. Jin Fu Yu, professor of music, is actively engaged in nurturing Indigenous Christians to write music for the church in the musical styles and languages of the Indigenous people. In response to a report in the Taiwan media that Indigenous music in Taiwan was dying, in a recent interview Mr. Yu argued the churches in Taiwan were both preserving and bringing new life to Indigenous music. Dr. Chen, professor of philosophy, is deeply engaged in restorative justice work and is taking a lead among a group of academics seeking to end capital punishment in Taiwan.
On Thursday, we visited the mother church to the 500 indigenous congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
Prior to World War II the good news of Jesus Christ had made little impact among the indigenous people of Taiwan. In fact, under Japanese colonization (1895-1945) it was forbidden for people – missionaries from overseas or Taiwanese Christians to travel into the hills and mountains to proclaim the good news to Indigenous people. But at the end of the war there were 5,000 Indigenous people awaiting baptism. They had come to faith not because of Western missionaries or even people from Taiwanese churches moving into the hills to preach the gospel. Rather they had come to hear and believe in Jesus as a result of the ripples of the Holy Spirit moving out from the ministry of Chi-Oang.
Born in 1872, Chi-Oang was a Sediq (the tribe’s name meaning “human beings”) living in the mountains of east central Taiwan. The Japanese were unsuccessful in pacifying the Sediq people and the Truku people, in particular. These tribes were effective and persistent in resisting the Japanese. Among those resisting was Chi-Oang. Finally in 1907, the Japanese had had enough and decided to burn down all the trees in the Taroko Hills, and in the process either burn to death or force out everyone in the hills. Chi-Oang hearing of this plan understood further resistance would cause the destruction of her people. She therefore negotiated the coming out of the mountains of the Sediq and Truku people. She was rewarded by the Japanese and became known as Chi-Oang the Reconciler.
Photo: Pastor Hosang and Peter Bush in a cave where Chi-Oang preached. Pastor Hosang described the cave as the first indigenous church “building” on the island of Taiwan. (photo credit: Mary Beth McLean)
Fast forward to 1924, Chi-Oang found herself in a Presbyterian church in Hualien broken and weeping. Exhausted, with her financial security stolen, and called a “savage” by the non-indigenous people, Chi-Oang turned to Jesus Christ and was baptized at the age of 52. Five years later she was encouraged to go the Tamsui Bible School where she studied for two years and in 1931 returned to preach among her own people. She was funded by the Women’s Missionary Society of the PCC. In going to preach, she challenged the authority of the Japanese who tried to stop her preaching.
She preached a simple gospel message of the love of God for all people, inviting her hearers to become loyal followers of Jesus Christ who had died to set them free. The message resounded through the hills as hundreds became followers of Jesus. Chi-Oang’s preaching often took place in caves.
World War II brought new restrictions from the Japanese but Chi-Oang continued to preach to the Sediq, the Truku, and other indigenous people in the hills. The followers of Jesus met and prayed in secret, in caves and on the mountain sides, with sentries posted to warn them of the coming of the Japanese. Chi-Oang was carried on the backs of young men over the mountains, and smuggled down the railway to escape the police.
Those who came to faith in Jesus told others and so the good news spread to the Bunun and the Amis. And from them to the Paiwan and Ngudredrakai. But that was a process that would take another 10 years, and Chi-Oang would not live to see it, for she died in 1946. But she had laid the foundation for the extraordinary growth of the indigenous church, which by 1962 was nearly 70,000 people strong.
Apostles are rare in the history of the church. Their ministries are a gift of God to the church. To stand in the cave where Chi-Oang had preached felt like standing on holy ground. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is blessed to have had an apostle, and we as Canadian Presbyterians helped support her ministry.
Apostles like Chi-Oang put a fire in the hearts of their hearers, and those who hear their story, to share the good news about Jesus with family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours. May a fire be put in our hearts to share the good news about Jesus with family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours.
Photo: Chi-Oang Memorial Church (Pastor Hosang with Paul and Mary-Beth McLean). The cave is to the left of the church about 50 meters away. The church was built by the people of the congregation gathering stones from the river and bringing them up to be used. (photo credit: Debbie Bush)
On Saturday, it was driven home again just how important, how significant, how life-transforming it is to have the Bible in one’s “mother language.”
Each Saturday in Taipei, Hakka speaking Presbyterians gather for worship, inviting their Hakka speaking friends and family to join them. These faithful church goers attend Presbyterian congregations across Taipei on Sundays where the worship is in Taiwanese or Mandarin, but they long to worship in their mother language – which they do on Saturday.
The Hakka people arrived in Taiwan some 400 years ago as they were driven out of mainland China. Hakka means “guest families”, a name given to them by the Han people on the mainland when the Hakka arrived in southern China more than a millennium ago. The Hakka people have had a secondary status in Taiwan throughout their time on the island. There are an estimated 4 million Hakka in Taiwan, with 1 million Hakka in Taipei. In rural areas, Hakka speaking Presbyterians gather for worship in Hakka speaking congregations on Sundays. Their secondary status has made the Hakka into high achievers who are constantly pushing their children to succeed. It is widely acknowledged that the Hakka people are among the most educated people group in Taiwan.
Photo: Elder Salabo reading from Ngudradrekai Bible. (Photo credit: Debbie Bush)
Paul and Mary Beth McLean, our hosts on this trip, lived and served among the Hakka from 1983 to 1995. A significant part of Paul’s work was the translation of the Bible into Hakka. A project that was completed in 2012.
Saturday, before the service started, Paul and Mary Beth were greeted by dozens of people, with warm hand shakes and excited voices. Over the lunch that followed they could hardly eat as so many wanted to speak to them. This deep affection is rooted in Paul’s translation work. In translating the Bible into Hakka the church has said that this group of “guest families” matters, that they are worthy of having the Word of God in their own language. As the Rev. Dr. Lyim, General Secretary of the PCT said, “Mother language translation is the next human rights call for the PCT.”
As Debbie Bush said Friday at the PCT offices, it is an honour to watch and hear people read the Bible in their mother tongue. She said, “On Wednesday, the day after the celebration for the Ngudradrekai Bible, we witnessed a church elder reading the Bible in his own language. And his face shone. On Thursday, when we were at the Chi-Oang Memorial Church the pastor read aloud for us from the Truku Bible, his mother language. And his face shone.”
Bible translation work is justice work and spiritual work, work that touches the heart. It is about human flourishing. To read the Bible in one’s mother language is to be affirmed culturally as a people having value and it is to be called to discipleship following Jesus Christ.
Photo: Pastor Hosang reading from Truku Bible. (Photo credit: Mary Beth McLean)
Through Paul McLean, the PCC remains engaged in the important work of Bible translation. Paul spends one month in three in Taiwan working face-to-face with five teams of translators, the other two months in three are in Canada keeping in touch with the teams via electronic means. Present translation work is ongoing in the languages of the Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Pinuyumyan, and Tayal peoples. The Tayal language project was begun by Clare and Grace McGill, Canadian Presbyterian missionaries, who worked with the Tayal people on the translation of the New Testament.
The Rev. Tanubake, the pastor who headed up the Ngudradrekai translation team, in almost a shout of triumph said to those gathered to celebrate the new Bible, “Now go home and read it.” For that is the point, the work of Bible translation is so each person can read the Bible in their mother language, and can be transformed by reading the Word of God.
Look at Paul McLean’s blog for detailed accounts of the important work of Bible Translation.
A crash course in recent Taiwanese history is necessary for this next post to make sense.
The Japanese received Taiwan, a province of China, in 1895 in the Treaty of Shimonoseki because of their victory over China in the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese remained the colonizing power until 1945 and the end of the World War. Following the war, Taiwan was given back to China. Many in Taiwan hoped this would mean moves would be made towards democracy. But the Chinese government, led by Chiang Kai-Shek, was fighting the Communists led by Mao Zedong.
On Feb. 27, 1947, on a street in Taipei a dispute arose between three taxation officials and a woman suspected of selling contraband cigarettes. During the ensuing melee a by-stander was shot and killed. The next day, 228 (second month, 28th day) protestors marched to the police station demanding an apology from those officers that had opened fire. There again was violence. The crowd took over the radio station and broadcast a call for people across the island to protest the police action.
Fearful the protests were incited by the Communists, the government ordered the military and the police to stamp out any potential for future protests. Hundreds were rounded up and were disappeared. Among those disappeared were prominent members of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
228 Memorial at Tam-Kang High School, Tamsui, Taiwan (photo credit: Debbie Bush)
On March 8, two students down by the Tamsui river saw a group of soldiers coming towards Tam-Kang School in Tamsui, a Presbyterian high school – as they ran away one was shot to death, the other dove into the river and swam away. (He later became a teacher in the school.) The soldiers entered the school and arrested the principal. When a teacher tried to intervene on the principal’s behalf, the teacher was shot dead. Another teacher who intervened was arrested. The soldiers then headed into Taipei 25 kms away where they arrested the chairperson of the school’s board. The principal, teacher and board chairperson all disappeared. A funeral was eventually held for the principal in which some of his clothes were put in the casket because there was no body.
A week later, Professor Chen, acting principal of Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, located in Taipei, went to downtown police station to negotiate with the police for the safety of the students and faculty at the seminary. He never returned. It is assumed he was killed.
On the east coast of the island, at Fung-lin, Chang Chi-lang, a medical doctor, who was a leader in the local Presbyterian Church and in his community, was arrested at his home with his two sons. None were seen again.
These stories are told as examples of hundreds of similar stories. The first two stories remind us that seeking to negotiate with power and intervening on behalf of others, is at times dangerous work.
The story of Prof. Chen, Acting Principal of Taiwan Theological Seminary, who was disappeared to the 228 crackdown. Notice the question mark after 1947 – no one knows when he died or where he is buried (photo credit: Debbie Bush)
Despite this history, ministers and elders of the PCT during the 1970s and 1980s passed statements at General Assembly and marched in protests calling on the government to recognize human rights. In doing so they were showing extraordinary courage, for the government that had ordered the repression of 228 was still in power in the 1970s and 1980s. Those clergy and elders joining protests in those decades were sprayed with water cannon and some were arrested.
In 1995, the government apologized for the actions of 228, and since then memorials have been built throughout the country. As late as 1983 new missionaries were being warned to not discuss 228 in public. The memorials and the fact these stories are being told are steps towards reconciliation in Taiwan.
National 228 Memorial in Taipei in the 228 Peace Park, on the same site of the 228 Memorial Museum (photo credit: Debbie Bush)
The Mackay Memorial Hospital (Taipei) is a 16-storey complex in the heart of Taipei. The 1,250 bed hospital (1,100 in regular wards and 150 in specialized beds like ICU, chemotherapy, etc.) sees 6,500 outpatients daily and 650 Emergency Room patients daily.
The Taipei branch is one of four branches of the hospital which includes a 1,250 bed hospital in Tamsui and two other branches in Hsinchu and Taitung which together have 1,180 beds. The entire operation is owned and operated by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
The range of services provided is breath-taking. The usual departments of surgery and internal medicine, oncology and obstetrics exist. There is also a Suicide Prevention Unit. The first Burn Unit in Taiwan was established here. An island-wide help line provides support to those in need. The island’s leading Palliative Care Team is changing the conversation about death in a society that will not say the number 4 aloud because in Mandarin it sounds very much like the word for death. (The number 4 is spoken as “three plus one”.) The Peace Café, which offers tea, coffee, and pastries, and also sells box lunches, is operated by patients from the psychiatric ward, allowing patients to work and feel they have value, being able to make a contribution to the life of the hospital. A group of blind people have been taught to give massage. Patients wishing to, can receive a massage and those giving the massage are paid for their work.
Mackay has a reputation for quality care. When things are backlogged in the ER and patients are in the hallways because there is no room available for them, they are offered the opportunity to be transported to a less busy hospital. Few patients accept the offer, preferring to stay at Mackay for the care it provides.
The head of the chaplaincy program describes the chaplaincy department at Mackay as the largest in the world. The Taipei Mackay hospital has a chaplaincy team of 11 pastors and 7 counsellors on full-time staff along with 250 pastoral care volunteers. The pastoral care volunteers are all Christians. They visit patients of all faiths in the hospital and offer to pray with patients if the patient wishes, they also ask if the patient would like to see a chaplain.
In addition, there are 800 social work volunteers serving under the auspices of the chaplaincy program. Taiwan’s population is only 5% Christian. Many Taiwanese are Buddhists, as well many practice traditional folk religion. The social work volunteers connect with those patients desiring spiritual care other than Christian pastoral care.
The chaplaincy department is responsible for setting the corporate virtues (values) of the hospital. Mackay has 12 corporate virtues: Thankfulness, Attentiveness, Passion, Humility, Faith, Genuine love, Joy, Sincerity, Innovation, Perseverance, Forgiveness, Sharing. Each virtue is defined in one or two short simple sentences. While the list includes virtues we would expect, some of those included are not common on such lists.
Each month one of the virtues is highlighted throughout the hospital, again it is the chaplaincy department that takes the lead as all chapel services highlight the month’s virtue and the department provides material on the virtue to be included in staff newsletters. The mugs used in the hospital have the twelve virtues written in Chinese characters and English on them. Again it was the chaplaincy department that came up with the idea of the mug and designed it.
July’s virtue is Joy.
The chaplaincy department is the heart of the medical evangelism (the PCT’s phrase) that is the mission of Mackay Hospital. In designing such a corporate structure Mackay has found a clear while winsome way to articulate and maintain the foundation of its Christian identity when only 20% of the staff and only 5% of its patients are Christians.
1. George Leslie Mackay’s first clinic in Tamsui 2. Mosaic outside Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei depicts Mackay extracting a tooth. During his ministry Mackay estimated that he pulled 21,000 teeth 3. Sign indicating the exit out of the subway closest to Mackay Memorial Hospital 4. Part of the mural on subway wall depicting the evolution of Mackay Memorial Hospital, Taipei. Original in foreground – second hospital to right with roofed entrance – then third 9-storey structure with corner of present 16 storey-building visible at back (all photos credit: Debbie Bush)
In August of 2009, Typhoon Morakot devastated the southern part of Taiwan. The torrential rains, over 260 cm (more than 100 inches) of rain fell, created rivers of water and then rivers of mud and rock which tore down mountainsides. Roads were destroyed cutting off villages from the outside world, terraced fields on mountainsides were buried in debris and retaining walls were smashed, and homes and villages were damaged or destroyed in the mountains of southern Taiwan. Among the areas impacted were the territories of the Paiwan and Ngudradrekai people.
What once was a tree-covered mountain side with a road going to the next village is now the site of a landslide that can only be traveled through when accompanied by a guide (all photos credit: Debbie Bush)
The Rev. Ngedrel Tien, a Presbyterian minister and a Paiwan village chief, was serving a congregation in a village damaged in the mud and rock slides. He and other village chiefs (villages can have more than one chief) went from house to house in the village making sure people were out of their homes and to safety. He found a safe place for the inhabitants to gather until they could be flown out by helicopter, for the roads into his remote community had been cut. Pastor Tien was the last person to leave the village.
Having assisted the people of his village to safety, the Rev. Tien sought to find them suitable housing near Pingtung while they waited for the announcement that it was safe to return home. The announcement never came. The village was deemed unsafe to return to. This was the experience of a number of villages among the Paiwan and Ngudradrekai people – villages too damaged to repair or villages which would be threatened by landslides in the next typhoon or heavy rain.
At right: The Rev. Ngedrel Tien – Presbyterian Church in Taiwan pastor and Paiwan chief
Two new challenges faced the Rev. Tien. First, how to keep his congregation supported and encouraged while they waited for their new village to be built in a safe location – a process that took three years. Our driver, Kaynwane, a Ngudradrekai evangelist (name given to ministry interns following theological college and prior to ordination, a period which can run from 3 to 5 years), was 18 when Morakot hit. His village was declared no longer safe. He described the difficulty of the three-year wait, not being settled, not having a place to call home.
At left: Kaynwane, evangelist with the PCT and Ngudradrekai, with Paul and Mary Beth McLean
Second, the new village was in a new location. Farmers would farm fields they had never farmed before. The village would not have the same feel the previous village had had. People would have different neighbours, the layout of the community would be different, it would not have the same physical landmarks. All of this newness and difference only reminded the people that they were not in the place they had called home – they were in a new place. A place often very different than where they had lived.
Pastor Tien understood the church bore a responsibility to create community in the new place, he placed the church as the bearer of community identity. Pastor Tien designed the church building in Rinari incorporating Paiwan cultural symbols and creating community space while at the same time being clearly a church. In a roofed space open to the outside is a place for the community to gather. Just below the roof there are a series of carved panels depicting village life – hunting, wedding practices, Paiwan traditional dancing, and the hundred-pacer snake binding the community together – with the Jesus the Good Shepherd at the centre. Inside the sanctuary Paiwan symbols are also present, in the colours and diamond shapes which imitate the markings of the hundred-pacer.
Pastor Tien is not alone among Paiwan and Ngudradrekai PCT pastors in developing ways to keep community together in the wake of typhoon Morakot.
Depiction of village wedding celebration (top) and a successful hunt (bottom) in Rinari Paiwan Presbyterian Church
Wu-tai (literally translated “misty plateau”) is a village 800 metres (2,600 ft) above sea level in Ngudradrekai territory. “Plateau” is a bit of misnomer, for the plateau is quite small and much of Wu-tai is built into the side of the mountain. In the centre of town stands the Presbyterian Church. The church building and the church’s life are integrated into the life of the community where 95% of the Wu-tai people are Christians.
The church is built of slate, the primary building material of Wu-tai and most Ngudradrekai villages. The slate was brought out of the surrounding hills by the people of the congregation, who built the church with their own hands. The stairs’ bannister up to the second-floor sanctuary depicts people pulling logs up out of the woods that cover the mountainside around Wu-tai. Entering the sanctuary, one’s eyes are drawn to the pulpit which is made from a single massive tree stump. The outdoor balconies on either side of the sanctuary look out over the valley below Wu-tai and across to mountains opposite. Photos: The Presbyterian Church in Wu-tai and the Pulpit
Atop the bell tower is the statue of a hunter with two white lilies in his headdress. Lilies in Ngudradrekai culture represent skill in the hunt, courage and purity. The colours of yellow, green and red are prominent in his dress – yellow for the land (mountains and fields); green for trees, vegetation, crops; and red for people.
The ground floor of the church has a coffee bar where 12,000 cups of coffee are served annually. The coffee beans are provided by farmers in the congregation who give 10% of their crop to supply the church’s coffee bar. Coffee is served following the worship services to everyone who comes, including the tourists who wander into the worship not knowing what it is. Wu-tai is a tourist draw, as thousands of Taiwanese visit Wu-tai annually, primarily on the weekends. Only 5% of Taiwan’s population is Christian, many Taiwanese have never attended church in their lives. The church in Wu-tai experiences people wandering into worship and hearing a gospel message for the first time in their lives. Some of the visitors want to learn more and the pastor, the Rev. Tanubake, provides them with literature to read, and suggests where in their hometown they might connect with a church. It is not unusual for some visitors to contact the Rev. Tanubake months or a couple of years later, asking if he would baptize them at Wu-tai Church because they have become Christians and want to be baptized where they first heard the gospel.
Across Taiwan Presbyterian congregations participate in the Elders’ University, a two- or three-days-a-week program bringing seniors together for teaching sessions and a meal. At Wu-tai these sessions are held in the coffee bar of the church. Instruction is given by seniors who have expertise in some area of life, to seniors who are eager to learn. Areas covered included spiritual life; current affairs (incl. teaching computer skills and awareness); health and exercise; arts and culture (including field trips); and service to others and the community. The lectures, given by these experts – be they farmers or doctors, discussions of millet farming, cooking or preventing spam on your computer, are written down and published as the recorded knowledge of the community. At Wu-tai participants in the Elders’ University visit shut-ins in the community twice a day and deliver “meals on wheels.” Photo: Part of the village of Wu-tai
During the Christmas season, the church encourages church members to put lighted stars on their houses. On a hill high above the town stands a frame where the church raises a star during Advent. Christmas provides the church an opportunity to tell the story of the birth of Christ. Almost every family in the village is a Christian family and they use the stars as a way to share the Gospel story with visitors and tourists – a further way in which Indigenous people are sharing the Gospel with people from Taiwan’s dominant Han culture which is 95% non-Christian.
While visiting Wu-tai, we were invited to the home of Elder Bau, who had recently returned from hunting. We sat on a raised patio and were served coffee and Reeves’ muntjac (best described as a miniature deer), the results of the hunt, and discussed the ways in which the church is continuing to reach out in word and deed with the good news of Jesus Christ. Elder Bau, a chief, has integrated the culture of living off the land with his Christian faith, the patterns of Indigenous living with being a follower of Jesus Christ. Christian faith and life lived are one, with no division of the spiritual from the rest of life.
The hunter (he carries a knife) on top of the bell tower of Wu-tai church. Each lily in the head dress represents 5 wild boar killed – to be that skilled in the hunt requires courage and purity. (The hunter made me think of Kierkegaard’s statement that “purity of heart is to will one thing.”) The yellow, green and red are symbolic in Ngudradrekai tradition of land, vegetation and people.
There are too many people to thank, all who made our trip to Taiwan the memorable one that it was. At the risk of missing some people – we (Debbie and I) want to thank the following:
Paul and Mary Beth McLean who were our guides, interpreters and supports during the entire trip. Without them we would not have seen or experienced half of what we saw and experienced. Paul’s willingness to take time away from important translation work is deeply appreciated. Please look at Paul’s blog for detailed accounts of the important work of Bible Translation.
The gracious invitation from the General Assembly Office of the PCT and their warm welcome was much appreciated. The Rev. Lyim Hong-Tiong, General Secretary of the PCT, was generous with his time and the time of the Associate Secretaries and Programme Secretaries. In particular, I want to mention Associate Gen. Sec. for Indigenous Ministries, the Rev. ’Eleng Tjaljimaraw Kao Tien-huei, Evangelist Joshua Lian Chin-Siong (the newly appointed Programme Secretary for Ecumenical Relations), and Associate Gen. Sec. for IT and Institutions, the Rev. Tan Gi-Beng who spent extra time answering my questions and engaged in conversation about the life of church on the two sides of the Pacific. Carys Humphreys and Joyce Shih, both members of the General Assembly staff, went above and beyond the call of duty to make our trip smooth and memorable. They were wonderful hosts. (An aside: the office complex that houses the PCT staff is called the “Mission Center”.)
The warm welcome from the Paiwan Presbytery (the Rev. Ljegean, and the Rev. Tien) and the opportunity to meet with the translation team were wonderful. Thank you to artist Erga Matilin for spending time with us after we arrived unannounced.
The welcome from Ngudradrekai Presbytery at the celebration service and afterwards in visiting Wu-tai was extraordinary. Thank you to the Rev. Tanubake and Elder Bau for their generosity and their willingness to share of themselves and their heart for their ministry. The Elders Salabo hosted us in their bed-and-breakfast in Shenshan, thank you to them.
At Yu Shan Theological College and Seminary, Principal Rev. Dr. Pusin Tali and the faculty and staff showed great hospitality. The conversation was engaged and interesting. It was good as well to meet Vice Clerk of the PCT General Assembly, the Rev. Abus Takisvilainan. (That means three years from now she will be Moderator.)
The welcome by the Rev. Sing ’Olam and the other Amis friends was great. The conversation over supper was animated and yet one more sign of what it means to be part of World Christianity.
The Hakka Fellowship through the Rev. Phang Tet-kui extended a kind invitation to me to preach at their Saturday service. The fellowship was a warm and welcoming place to preach. (An aside, the Hakka hymnbook has artwork printed along with the hymns.)
The Vice-Moderator of PCT General Assembly (that means next year’s moderator), the Rev. David Hsieh Pao-Tsan invited me to preach at South Gate (Taipei Lam-Mng) Presbyterian Church. Again the welcome was warm and the hospitality gracious. It was an honour to have Rev. Hsieh translate for me.
Chaplain Rev. Ging-Song Abraham Chen was welcoming and amazingly efficient, in an hour and a half we had an extraordinary tour of Mackay Memorial Hospital, including the out-patient clinic, Peace Café, ER and the state-of-the-art chemotherapy ward. Along the way we stopped in ophthalmology to have a sty in my eye looked at. Thank you to Abraham and the staff of Mackay Hospital.
Dr. Hung-Chuan Lai was a gracious host on behalf of the Taiwan Theological College and Seminary. Thank you to him and the seminary for allowing us to wander the campus and for Debbie to see again the houses she lived in on the campus and the old familiar places. Constantine was a gracious host in the archives. The banner displays are amazing.
At Tam-kang High School, James Chen Kuan-chou was a wonderful guide through the History Project he and Louise Gamble are involved in. The conversation with the Principal Szu Hsien Ko, was useful in understanding how the PCC can be helpful to the school. The opportunity to wander the Aletheia University (the old Oxford College) campus adjacent to Tam-kang was again an opportunity for Debbie to remember.
The conversation with the Rev. Daniel Cheng Cheng-ren of the Bible Society in Taiwan was interesting. Daniel is a businessman-turned-minister, revealing one more aspect of what spiritual entrepreneurism looks like.
Thank you as well to our numerous and patient drivers. We were hosted at more meals than I can count, and had a range of cuisine that was breath-taking.
Thank you to The Presbyterian Church in Canada for making this trip possible.