Category Archives: Christian Living

Practical Christianity

Rayliu1

Pastor Ray’s blog Raykliu is continued in Rayliu1.

Please go to http://rayliu1.wordpress.com/ for future posts.Pastor Ray’s blog

A Man for All Seasons

I love preaching and teaching, even though I’m only so-so at it. I love witnessing and pastoring too, though I’m not very good at that either. But what I like most about missionary life and work is that it takes everything you’ve got, and you out of your comfort zone, to do what God wants you to do. When we went on short-term missions, over 40 years of critical thinking, problem solving, strategic planning, resolving conflicts, exegeting people – everything we learned is made use of when we’re on the front line in the field, nothing is wasted. You need to be a man for all seasons.

1 Co 9:19-23 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

One example. The Dalin church had its opening ceremony on May 3, so all of a sudden the missionary becomes an event planner, organizing many things including designing the program, inviting guests, printing invitation cards, ordering meals, decorating, renting extra chairs to handle the crowd etc. They have to do most things themselves, and must wear many hats at the same time, because as a new church plant they do not have stable church members to share the load. Public relations, for instance, suddenly becomes important, because they need to invite dignitaries and significant people such as mayors and school principals to smooth future relationships.

In mission work, flexibility is most important. I also think versatility is a close second, as a missionary is often a jack of all trades, master of many – a man for all seasons not only to stand strong for the Lord in all occasions, but also adaptable under all circumstances to do what needs to be done. I am not putting missionaries on a pedestal, I know full well how human they are, with their foibles and shortcomings, but God called them to be His ambassadors to a broken world. Many go full-out for God in the midst of their flaws and weaknesses. God bless the missionaries!

Visiting Dalin Township Office to invite the mayor

Visiting Dalin Township Office to invite the mayor

Visiting elementary school to invite the principal

Visiting elementary school to invite the principal

Enjoying tea and calligraphy in principal's office

Enjoying tea and calligraphy in principal’s office

Giving invitation to church's opening ceremony to village mayor

Giving invitation to church’s opening ceremony to village mayor

Appreciation and Encouragement Workshop

If there’s something all of us can use a little bit more, it would be appreciation and encouragement. But too bad both these are in short supply and come few and far in between. No wonder when we gave a workshop on this in our family conference, even though we didn’t have enough time for everyone to do the group exercises, the feedback was still positive. Everyone was hungry for what comes so rarely, so much so that our missionary friend referred us to his pastor to give the same workshop to his church.

This time we learned from our mistake and cut out some of our “lecture”, which was boring, and allotted enough time for the participants to share. They were divided into groups of 4 or 5 people who knew each other. Using an appreciation/encouragement word list we distributed as a reference, each person will receive verbal affirmation from his/her group members. Only positive comments were allowed; no criticisms. The recipients acknowledge the affirmation with a gracious thank you; no deflections were allowed.

The results were amazing. As facilitators we moved from group to group to make sure they did not have any problems. They didn’t. They were excitedly giving affirmation to their group members, something they had not done in the past but were eager to do when asked. Some recipients were genuinely surprised as to how highly their friends thought of them but never told them; others were embarrassed at all the positive comments, believing they did not live up to the praises heaped on them. One man remarked that he did not realize that Chinese have so many words of appreciation and encouragement until he read our list.

Since only a portion of the fellowship came to the Saturday workshop, we handed out cards for the people to write those they want to appreciate but who did not come to the meeting. The next day many cards were passed around after the Sunday morning worship. People were pleasantly surprised when they received a card and broke out in broad smiles. The pastor, an overworked and under-appreciated faithful worker and usually serious, was noticeably relaxed and cheerful as he thanked us in the afternoon service. It changed the atmosphere in the church, if only for a brief time. Pray that this continues as that’s the way it should be.

Appreciation and Encouragement Workshop at Double Blessing Church

Appreciation and Encouragement Workshop at Double Blessing Church

Participants divide into small groups for exercises

Participants divide into small groups for exercises

Short-termer receiving encouragement from the pastor and his wife

Short-termer receiving encouragement from the pastor and his wife

Fellow cell group members receive appreciation from each other

Fellow cell group members receive appreciation from each other

Mother-in-law was all smiles after receiving appreciation from son-in-law

Mother-in-law was all smiles after receiving appreciation from son-in-law

Prayer Walk II

The second prayer walk was totally different from the first, and took us from Xanadu into the heart of darkness. We went to Sibei, where the third most well-known Mazu temple in Taiwan is located, after Fongtian Temple in Singang and Chaotian Temple in Beigang.

Sibei actually has two temples within 50 meters with each other, Zhen Wu, which lost its popularity to its rival neighbor Liou Sing. This is satirical as the temples compete with each other as to who is #1, but then you have this farce in “Christian” cults as well. There is a sect called True Jesus Church in Taiwan, another called True True Jesus Church, and a third called True True True Jesus Church! I was taught if you’re really good you don’t need to loudly proclaim it. So much for vying to be #1!

Zhen Wu Temple

Zhen Wu Temple

Liou Sing Temple

Liou Sing Temple

What makes Liou Sing famous is that it houses the third Mazu statue from the original Tianho temple in Singang, the first temple to worship Mazu in Chiayi but destroyed by floods. The other 2 statues have been moved to Fongtian and Chaotian respectively, hence their fame. The irony is that Mazu is supposed to be the patron goddess that protects seafarers, such as fishermen and sailors from water harm, but unable to protect her own home! The Mazu here is black-faced from all the soot from the burning incense. Ps 115:5-7 is so true,
* They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see;
* They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell;
* They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat.

“Official” Black-faced Mazu

Another irony: worshipers wear statues of demons during parades and move their arms with strings like puppets. Why do these gods need to be carried around? Can’t they move on their own? Aren’t gods and demons supposed to be opposed to each other? Why are they walking side-by-side like buddies?

10 feet tall statues of devils worn by people in idol parades

10 feet tall statues of devils worn by people in idol parades

The temple displayed photos of students with good grades supposedly after they worshiped there. The reality is that these were good students to begin with. It’s only their superstitious parents who burned incense for them before the exams. They would have gotten good marks without the incense. Besides, poor grades are never displayed. The temples would hide bad publicity!

List of students who got good grades supposedly after worshiping idols

List of students who got good grades supposedly after worshiping idols

While we were there, tour buses came in droves dropping off superstitious tourists to burn incense and make a wish. This is sad but understandable for the ignorant, but especially sad to see young and apparently educated folks doing the same. Truly “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Co 4:4)”

Tourists come by busloads to pay homage to the black-faced Mazu

Tourists come by busloads to pay homage to the black-faced Mazu

Serendipity

Our friend took us for a prayer walk in a neighborhood next to hers, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The district is called Triangle Lane (三角里). Unlike other districts in Dalin (大林) which are poorer, this area is very well-kept and even touted as Xanadu (世外桃源) by some bloggers who toured Taiwan on bike. Here are some pictures of what the place looked like. The Lord gave us not only an opportunity to serve Him, but a chance to refresh ourselves while serving. Praise the Lord!

Triangle Lane is in the midst of rice fields, green in the Spring and golden in Autumn.

Triangle Lane is in the midst of rice fields, green in the Spring and golden in Autumn.

Many houses have murals. Some have large yards which are kept very clean.

Many houses have murals. Some have large yards which are kept very clean.

Mango trees. Too bad it's not the right season!

Mango trees. Too bad it’s not the right season!

Taiwan's climate is such that you find beautiful flowers everywhere year round.

Taiwan’s climate is such that you find beautiful flowers everywhere year round.

Fruits are also abundant. Bananas grow along the foot paths.

Fruits are also abundant. Bananas grow along the foot paths.

We came across a quaint "home stay" (文宿), with 3 bedrooms for rent on the ground floor and the owners live upstairs.

We came across a quaint “home stay” (文宿), with 3 bedrooms for rent on the ground floor and the owners live upstairs.

Elaborate artwork on the door leading to the backyard.

Elaborate artwork on the door leading to the backyard.

Backyard of the "home stay".

Backyard of the “home stay”.

Country road at back of "home stay".

Country road at back of “home stay”.

Fish pond in backyard.

Fish pond in backyard.

Japanese style bedroom with modern bathroom.

Japanese style bedroom with modern bathroom.

Bamboo hut in nearby park

Bamboo hut in nearby park

Sugar cane park

Sugar cane park

Home-stays are an economical alternative to hotels. This particular one is a bed-and-breakfast place with clean, modern facilities. The cost is NT$1,600 (C$64) per night for a single person occupying one room, or NT$2,400 (C$96) per night for a couple. Breakfast includes eggs laid by hens in the farm, and fresh vegetables picked from the patch at the end of the backyard. Not bad eh!

Removing Idols II

Our second idol removal service was with a poor single mom, a Grace Meal recipient. Initially she was thankful for the free meals provided by the church program, but did not really know God. Then her grown daughter left her to live with a ne’er-do-well man. She didn’t know what to do, and cried loudly into the early hours of the morning. The disturbed neighbors called the police, who in turn called the pastor since she attends his church. He consoled her by directing her attention to God, as people ultimately are not reliable. Even her daughter, the person closest to her on earth, would abandon her to follow a worthless rogue.

Although difficult, she gradually learned to trust God and was baptized this past Easter. Usually our missionary friends would drive her and other Grace Meal recipients to church and treat them to dinner before taking them home, but recently she showed her appreciation by buying dinner for everyone instead.

What is the best way to reach people for Christ? By action and word. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you cared. Find a need and fill it. 1 Co 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

Shrine of our sister's deceased landlord

Shrine of our sister’s deceased landlord

Praising God and praying for cleansing

Praising God and praying for cleansing

Removing pagan door guardian gods

Removing pagan door guardian gods

Removing Idols I

Idolatry is a serious obstacle to faith in Christ in Taiwan. Sometimes pressure from family and neighbors are so great that even after a person confesses Christ as Savior, he/she does not feel free to stop participating in idol/ancestor worship, let alone go to church. So when families remove idols and ancestor altars from their homes, it showed their faith is genuine and is a big thing that doesn’t happen often enough. We were privileged to assist in two idol removal ceremonies during our short stay, the fruit of our hosts’ hard work in leading the families to faith in Christ. Here is the order of service and some photos:

* Call to worship
* Hymn e.g. This is My Father’s World
* Prayer
* Scripture Reading e.g. Ex 20:3-6, Ps 115:1-18 etc.
* Message
* Hymn e.g. Jesus Loves Me
* Cleansing Prayer
* Dismantle idols
* Testimony
* Prayer for the family
* Announcements
* Hymn of Blessing
* Prayer of Blessing

Our sister in Christ used to be a devout Buddhist-Taoist, spending thousands of dollars on I Ching (易經) literature which she studied laboriously. She would kowtow 70 times each day, chanting, praying and burning incense. For all her devotion to false gods, what she got was constant complaints from neighbors who sued her for disturbing the peace and polluting the environment. So when our hosts shared with her the gospel, she gladly accepted because her dedication to idols brought her nothing but trouble. She and her children were baptized this Easter, gloriously delivered from the bondage of idolatry. Not all troubles are bad. Some may be allowed by God to bring people to Him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Large idol shrine to be removed

Large idol shrine to be removed

Cleansing Prayer

Cleansing Prayer

Praying for the family

Praying for the family

Removing idols and paraphernalia, including books and incantations

Removing idols and paraphernalia, including books and incantations

Idols replaced by the Cross

Idols replaced by the Cross

Family rejoicing after the idols were removed

Family rejoicing after the idols were removed

Icons were smashed at the city dump

Icons were smashed at the city dump

Campus Ministry

campus ministry 1

It’s a small world after all! Our friend wanted to introduce us to an associate professor of life sciences at National Chung Cheng University, who had been instrumental in organizing the Fellowship of Evangelical Students on campus. He was born in Hong Kong, went to Taiwan for university, then to the US for his graduate studies.

As we’re also from Hong Kong, we hit it off right away and chatted using a mixture of Cantonese, English and Mandarin. Since he went to Cleveland, Ohio for his doctorate, he asked us whether we knew a Chinese pastor in that city. We didn’t know anyone from Cleveland, but decided to inquire his name anyway. He said, “Pastor H.M. Yeung, he was also my chaplain when I was in high school.” E. jumped with surprise when she heard the name. “H.M. Yeung! Of course I know him; we went to the same fellowship when we were in high school!”

It turned out the professor attended the same Methodist middle school in Hong Kong as E., only years later. That started an exciting exchange as E. queried whether he knew various people, including her former classmates, teachers and the principal of the school. What’s amazing is that he “happened” to be the nephew of one of E’s friends at the high school fellowship, who knew E. and her siblings well. He quickly asked a grad student to take a group photo of us all and forwarded it to his aunt. E. reconnected with her after having not seen each other for decades, as she immigrated to Australia while we went to Canada.

All our missionary friend wanted was to refer us to her network, but by providence we have a deeper connection than just a casual acquaintance. It’s a small world because our great God is in control. Our new friend quickly gave me an invitation to give a lecture to his “Jewish Customs and Life Sciences” class, which is as close as you can get to teaching the Bible in a secular university. He is a Ph.D. in biology and has been using the Old Testament to teach this elective for the past six years. The enrolment is limited to 60 students each year and the class is always full. Quite a few became believers after the course, as the students encountered the Creator instead of the usual idols so prevalent in Taiwan. Since we would have left Taiwan already, we passed the referral to our colleague. He will speak on marriage from a biblical perspective, as cohabitation is becoming widely accepted in Taiwan.

If you want to reach the class who has a significant influence in Taiwan, you need to be involved in campus ministry. In America most church goers became Christians before the age of 18. This may not apply in Taiwan, as many parents are bound by tradition to ancestor worship and folk religion, and may not encourage their children to go to church. However, when the youth leave home for university, they found a new freedom to explore everything, including faith. Many young people found Christ when they attend university, so campus ministry is an important strategy in reaching Taiwan. What’s your strategy to reach your community? Of course you need the Holy Spirit, but you need a method too. What’s yours?

God’s “Angel”

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Our sister in Christ could have been very bitter, but instead she is full of joy and thankful for what the Lord allowed to happen in her life. She is number 6 in a family of 7 siblings. When she was one year old, she contracted polio which was misdiagnosed as a high fever. As a result, she was confined to a wheel chair at a very tender age.

Her brothers and sisters attended public school, but because of her condition she attended special education and heard Bible stories when young, although she did not understand them at that time. As she grew up, she felt her parents did not love her because of her handicap. The physical challenge increased her isolation and loneliness, and as a teenager she often contemplated suicide to end it all. The only thing that held her back was her fear of pain, so she hung on.

When she was 19, she “happened” to meet our hostess in a park. Instead of the usual apathy she expected, she was very warm and friendly towards her, showering her with care and concern. For the first time in her life she felt loved and accepted, and she thought our friend was an angel sent by God to encourage her. She hoped to see her again, but for the next 6 months they did not run into each other again, even though they lived in the same neighborhood.

Then one day they “accidentally” bumped into each other. It turned out both had been thinking about the other, so they agreed to meet daily, which they continued for half a year. Although our friend is an excellent evangelist, she never applied any pressure on her, but waited patiently for her to ask about spiritual things. One day she could not contain herself anymore, so she asked, “What are you doing in Taiwan?” This opened the dialogue towards the gospel, and six months later she was ready to be baptized. She grew in the Lord and even earned 24 credit hours at a bible school. Today she is a strong and cheerful Christian, more joyful than many we know.

Circumstances do not define us, God does. How well we relate to challenges in life depend on who we are inside. If you are God’s child, strengthen yourself in the Lord (1 Sam 30:6). If you are God’s servant, be an encourager. Your action speaks louder than your words.

God’s Guidance

God's guidance 1

Sometimes things are so remarkable that you just know God must be directing everything behind the scenes. When our missionary friends returned to Taiwan after a year of home service (furlough), they started looking for a place to plant a church among the Hakka people. The Hakka is an unreached people group (0.6% Christian) concentrated in several counties where there are few or no churches, so it wasn’t hard to identify the towns with the needs. However, receptivity and finding a specific, suitable site is.

They had three objectives:
1. Find a place to live, which doubles up as the home base for a church;
2. Find ministry partners, as there is no way one couple can do everything themselves;
3. Find a means to reach out to the community.

Mission policy does not allow missionaries to purchase their home on the field. However, there are few rental properties on the market as generally Hakka folks prefer home ownership rather than renting. Furthermore, they prefer word-of-mouth publicity over advertising. The few houses that are listed are usually those that are so dilapidated that the owners have to resort to their least preferred method to lease them out. For several months our friends looked at what’s available. Some have worn electrical wiring that is like “live” wire dangling from the ceiling. Another has only one bathroom in the entire building, an “out-house” on a balcony, without heating! They just couldn’t bring themselves to sign a lease.

Re volunteer workers, they have to train local believers to help with the ministry, and to pick up the baton from them. A colleague referred them to a Taiwanese pastor who has a heart for reaching the Hakka like they do. He had gathered the few Christians he could find and started a bible study/prayer group with them. One couple is in restaurant workers ministry. Several are retired teachers. Our friends linked up with this group and soon many became their core volunteers.

With respect to community outreach, teaching English is a proven method for foreign missionaries to connect with the local people. But instead of a traditional ESL (English as a Second Language) class, they started a class to train the teachers to teach English. And suddenly everything fell into place.

At the first English class, a security guard for a school showed up. He “happened” to be a former student of one of our friend’s retired teacher volunteers. Hakkas respect teachers highly. Since our friend teaches the teachers English, she is held in even higher regard. He also “happened” to own a rental house that was available. It sits right next to a tomb, which might explain why it’s vacant, as superstitious Chinese would find it “unlucky”. But to our friends, it meant only that they have a neighbor who never complains. When the owner heard that his former teacher’s teacher was looking for a house, he offered to repaint the interior and lease them the house, at one-third discount!

In one move they have a home, ministry partners, and a bridge to reach the community. The work started well and in one year they have 3 people baptized, plus 3 who came to faith in Christ when they attended the baptism ceremony. Coincidence? No, Providence! When God moves, things happen. But you have to be involved to be a part of it.