Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pray for Taiwan

Last Saturday B and I revisited the small town I lived in last year, running a few errands and meeting up with a few friends. When driving back, we found ourselves right in the thick of a large religious parade, causing the bustle and crowds of the already-packed street to become almost unnavigable. It was pretty much all there -- costumed gods, painted faces, gongs and drums, youth dressed up in strange religious garb, sedan chairs carrying idols, and a huge dragon that teenagers lifted high in the air with long poles. That is not even all of the parade. As we drove we prayed for the people we saw right in front of us, for freedom from the deep lies and binding chains with which Satan has held them so powerfully.

Recently I came across some videos that OMF put out that explains the mission field of Taiwan and the great need that is still here. This one in particular expounds on the need, and the work that is being done through TMF. It also shows some footage of a similar god-parade that we found ourselves surrounded in.  Please pray for Taiwan and pray that more laborers will be sent for the great harvest.

Ministry in Taiwan (TMF promotional video) from OMF Taiwan on Vimeo.

Monday, October 22, 2012

floored by the unexpected

The topic for conversation today at the university was "Holidays and Festivals" (as I mentioned last post, I work at a local university as a language coach for conversational English) -- I tried to be prepared to broach as many holidays and festivals as possible that might be celebrated in America, and as our session began I asked the students about which American holidays they already know. Of course, Christmas was the first one mentioned, so I asked them, "What do you think of when you hear 'Christmas'?"

After the expected round of answers such as  "Santa Claus" and "presents," one student piped up.

"Jesus Christ." 

I confess, I was a bit taken aback. I don't expect these students to know much about Christianity. I asked the student if he knew who the One he mentioned is, and he had little to offer in explanation. Whether or not it was owing to the fact that I asked him to do so in English, I'll never know. But his mere mention of the name Jesus Christ provided an open door for me to explain -- albeit briefly and not nearly as in-depth (or clearly) as I would have liked -- the gospel. The glazed-over expression in their eyes befuddled me and I fumbled with my phrases, wondering if it was the language or the subject matter -- or both. Perhaps some of those in the room had never even heard the gospel before. This conception burdens me a great deal.

In the second hour, most of the students were excused to their other classes, leaving me with two other young ladies, one of them the coordinator of the English activities. We chatted with each other, practicing our conversation skills, laughingly wondering out loud to each other what questions to ask while killing the time. Towards the end one of them asked, "So do you believe in any god or gods?", waving her hand in an upward direction, as if conjuring some unknown deity. I told her I am a Christian, and she asked something in Chinese that I didn't understand. My guess is that she meant to ask something like "Are you a fervent Christian, or just nominal, because your family is Christian?" (which can be common amongst Christian families here), because after seeing the look of confusion on my face, she narrowed her question to "Do you pray every day?"

"Yes," I told her.

"Oh! Then pray for us!" Both of them sat forward, eager to receive the blessings of my anticipated prayer.

Again I was aghast. I had heard of unbelieving people being willing to be prayed for here in Taiwan, but seldom do I hear about those who ask for it. So I prayed for them, their futures, that God would reveal Himself to them and they would experience the true power of His love and grace.

I walked away from that awestruck and humbled. How ill-prepared I felt at the time to give a simple, clear message of the gospel, able to be understood by English-language learners. How unworthy I felt to pray for the souls of two young women, who sat there willingly, right in front of me, heads bowed and eyes closed of their own volition. And yet God placed those moments right into my floundering hands, and I had one of those moments of realizing, "Only I could have done that." Only I could have this unique opportunity, to be in this specific position at this specific time, at this specific place, meeting these specific people. One of those moments where you realize that yes, God does have a specific plan for you. Something in store that may be beyond our wildest dreams.

And though challenged and convicted now to be a little more intentional with this reality, the truth is that it is pretty awesome.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

second generation

On the block of the first house I lived in -- so different from Taiwan!

 I've started to teach/tutor again at a local university this semester, helping students with their pronunciation and conversational English. For one of the first sessions, I was called upon to lecture on the topic of "American Culture." While mulling over what exactly I would speak on for one short hour, the irony of it struck me that in a sense, much of my knowledge of American culture has come to me in bits and pieces, blended into an odd mixture with my own parental heritage. I've grown up American, yes, but not quite so in the truest, most authentic sense. I know how Americans celebrate Christmas and New Year, and I know a little of the experiences, values, and traditions that weave the fabric of their lives. I know that when mid-September hits, American mouths crave all things pumpkin and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, but it has only been since college that I've actually experienced the logical connection of such things to the season of Fall, to the changing color of leaves, to apple-picking, and the sweetly sticky, subtly tart taste of apple doughnuts. I have experienced the tree-decorating, light-stringing, carol-listening traditions of Christmas, and yet I've never had a taste of what it's like to visit or be visited by aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents during such homecoming holidays. I know what it is to have turkey in the oven and sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving, but I also find it perfectly natural for us to have 油飯 (fried sticky rice) and 炒米粉 (fried rice noodles) on the side. I know the familiarity of pizza and hot dogs and string cheese, but I also know the sting of young classmates' wide-eyed stares and exclamations of disgust at what my mother packed for my school lunches. Yes, I know a bit of the American culture, but it is through the eyes of one from the second generation, who grew up fluently speaking the language, but endured years of people mispronouncing her name so that she gave up correcting them long ago. This is the reason that, when I got up in front of a room filled with 30-some chattering college students to speak on the culture of the land of my birth, I had to inwardly suppress a chuckle or two.

 Last week I started reading a book (lent by a friend) called "The Namesake." Having no prior knowledge of this story (or the movie it made), I was slightly misled by the synopsis on its back cover to how moving and profound it would be. It has given me much food for thought as a child born to immigrant parents, and I often wonder myself with what culture my own children will identify the most. As I read about the long, lonely nights the immigrant wife spent preparing home food in her foreign kitchen, thinking her present existence in an alien land only temporary and wondering when she would be able to move back to her true home, I found myself able to relate. At this time in our lives, B and I imagine ourselves heading back to the States after med school if given the opportunity. Our ties from across the ocean pull on our hearts and we naturally gravitate towards what we know best. But I also know that the longer we stay here the more ties we will form on this soil, too, and who knows what may happen once our family starts growing. These are thoughts I often dwell upon these days. Will our children grow up accustomed to eating steaming meals on a greasy aluminum table in a sweaty noodle shop next to the busy road? Will they run around in cramped parks and mildewy playgrounds, and only dream about having the same kinds of adventures Daddy tells them from his own childhood, of exploring great forests with winding creeks? Or will they grow up playing in a lawn with a driveway, a swing on the tree in the backyard?

 I realize that as always, in our humanity we cannot see our futures played out as God will have them, but I do find an appreciation for the voice of people like Jhumpa Lahiri who express the beautifully jumbled, ironically juxtaposed, hauntingly searching perspective of the second generation. I am appreciative of what my parents went through in raising their daughters in a strange country, taking the good from two cultures and mixing them as they knew best. I thank God for the life He's given to me, for this chance to experience life as a foreigner in my parent's birth country. There will be stories to be told, surely, and all the while I only pray that whatever "generation" label my children may fall under, their undying sense of belonging and identity will be in Christ and His Kingdom.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

searching for equilibrium

Last Friday I went on a quest for a place to get books to read. I was happy to discover that the local library is practically down the street from us, so I took the free afternoon to go exploring. I'd never been in a local library in Taiwan before.

I pulled into the street, expecting to find a large building with a welcoming entrance, but instead I found a grungy-looking community swimming pool facing a windowless wall, backing a handful of scooters and bicycles. The wall turned out to be the back of the library, so I parked Little Red and walked to the front.

The entrance was somewhat promising -- a large children's section filled the bottom floor where a few kids milled about, alongside an area for wi-fi. I went upstairs to the sections labeled "Reading Area" and explored the many shelves. I found the foreign literature sections and scanned each shelf for any book that might have English contained therein. In my long, labored search, I found a handful of books that included short story collections, poetry books, and short novels published as language learning tools. I spent most of the afternoon there reading a book called "Daddy Long Legs" which story I knew about from a Chinese children's picture book from my childhood. I don't think I ever really read that book, even though it had 注音. The pictures were drawn by what could have been an anime artist, so they alone told the story enough for me.

Anyhow, the short (or long) span of time spent exploring and delving into a fictional character's life was tantalizing and refreshing. I was very disappointed when the library staff wouldn't let me check out other books because I don't have a Taiwanese ID card...but I figured I could come back and find them to read in a quiet corner on a wooden chair while the HVAC grumbled and the eaves creaked in an invisible breeze. At least they had air conditioning.

Afterwards I found "The Great Gatsby" online at home and finished reading it in two days. Now I'm ready for the movie to come out! :)

That evening B and I went searching for an elementary school with an open track to go running. We found one in the dark that a polite gate guard directed us towards, and the exercise was good for our bodies and our spirits. It feels good to find a balance in the humdrum of daily life, even if it is doing once-familiar activities in an entirely different context.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Into the Fall

Yesterday we visited a church near B's school. A couple that we know now serves there and we went to see how God is working in the community through this body of believers. It is  a small church, which is refreshing after some big churches we attended where the services seemed flashy and the pastor viewed as a sort of celebrity. We were super encouraged at this church to see the vision and heart of the pastor, the way God spoke through him through the Christ-centered message, and the way they desire to reach out to the urban poor of the area. The seeking of a spiritual home for us here is still a matter of prayer, but it makes our hearts glad when we find such pockets of believers who love God and love the Kingdom in such down-to-earth ways.

We celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, which means that the moon is the biggest and brightest to look at, and people usually have BBQ and eat mooncakes, and maybe set off a few fireworks. We didn't have a grill, but we did have mooncakes (thanks to generous parents of one of my students!) and we saw the random but pretty fireworks going off in the streets. This is the first moon festival we've been able to spend together, and it felt so special.

We took a stroll down Love River while the moon shined brightly down on us :)

Us with our mooncake and pomelo
Everyone on their blog is saying it's officially fall. I'll be glad for cooler weather/less humidity, although I still miss pumpkin-y goods, the crispness in the air, and seeing the leaves change color.

 Have a good one!