Mission of the Month: Showing Love
Angie and I moved to Taiwan nearly 20 years ago in July 1999 and can confirm the accuracy of this information from Operation World: “A decline in numbers of missionaries working in Taiwan has become evident in the last 20 years – more marked than any other country in Asia. This is not due to a finished task, but rather to attrition and the attraction and fruitfulness of other locations.”
The earliest permanent Christian mission work in Taiwan was established by Presbyterian and Roman Catholic missions in the 1860s, but during the time of Japanese control of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 no new Christian missions were allowed and the percentage of Christians in Taiwan hovered around 1%. In the years after World War II, and especially following the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949, mission work expanded rapidly in Taiwan and so did the percentage of Christians, rising to about 5% by 1960 evenly split between Protestants and Catholics. Since the 1960s missionaries have poured into and out of Taiwan and the percentage of Christians among the Taiwanese populations remains at 5% – the same as it was in 1960. Taiwan is a beautiful island and the Taiwanese are wonderful people but when the best news about the church in Taiwan is “at least it hasn’t gotten worse in the last 60 years”, I suppose it could be said that Taiwan is probably a difficult mission field. It is at least understandable why missionaries might move on to other areas.
The 5% plateau vexes me and there are probably too many cultural and sociological reasons behind it to really understand it, much less explain it in a brief blog post. However, it has caused our mission team to consider deeply what we are doing and how we are planting churches. We think it is important to spend the most time doing things that seem to bring the most Taiwanese people into an understanding of how much God loves them and so we ask ourselves this basic question: How do most Taiwanese come to know Jesus?
Typically, Taiwanese come to know Jesus through extravagant love shown to them by a Christian they know personally. Being nice to them isn’t enough. Warning them about eternity isn’t enough. Detached relationships with them aren’t enough. For the Taiwanese, the gospel – the good news – is that they are loved. The more I read the Bible and learn from those who teach it, the more strongly I believe that the core of the gospel is love and it is the single most important expression of grace for the Christian towards a broken world.
This emphasis on love has caused me to wrestle with my own understanding of the gospel and what it means in my own life. In order to share Christ’s love for others, it is good to know how it should feel to receive Christ’s love but it can be hard to be on the receiving end of love – even God’s love! – sometimes. Richard Rohr writes, “Many Christians live with a terrible sense of being rejected, because their religion is basically a worthiness game where no one really wins. That’s precisely not the Good News. It’s bad news.”
Ultimately, we have little control over the percentage of Christians in a nation of over 23 million souls, but we have complete control over how much we allow ourselves to be inspired by and led by Christ as we share the good news of the kingdom of God’s loving kindness with the friends and neighbors God has brought into our life in Taiwan over the years.
Thank you for your prayers as we continue to absorb the gospel in our own lives and share it to make disciples of Christ who make other disciples.