Taiwan is a beautiful island country, about 110 miles east of the coast of Chinese continent. In 1542, Portuguese sailors saw the island on their way to Japan, amazed by the beauty of the forest-cloaked land, they shouted, “Ilha Formosa” which means “Beautiful Island”.
I traveled to Taiwan often to visit my mother who lives in SLEH, a nursing home at the town of Danshui. During the trip, I frequently visited Dr. MacKay’s historical hospital (now a museum) and the tombs of his family tombs inside Tamkang middle school (my earlier post). One hundred and forty years ago, Dr. MacKay left Canada and came to Taiwan for missionary works. He married a Taiwanese woman, adapted Taiwanese living styles and spent his remaining life in the island. He built the hospital, cared for the wounded during Sino-French war, and ministered the church. Such actions of hospitality and healing showed him as a Jesus’ disciple and encourage us to follow. Indeed, the Mackay memorial hospital is still operating today as a memory of his love to the Taiwanese people.
Now, 140 years later, the Christian population in Taiwan is still less than 5% and is concentrated in Taipei and the other large cities. In the countryside, the Christian population is less than 0.3%. In his article “Are Missionaries in Taiwan still needed?” Alain R. Haudenschild presented a comprehensive analysis of the growth of the Christian populations in the five cultural groups in Taiwan from 1997 through 2012. The major growth is in the Mandarin speaking Christians in the cities, from 2.5% to 6% while the growths of the other groups were flat. There are many causes of this result. Among these, the influence of the Folk religion is a major cause and Alain proposed that the shortage of missionaries that are capable of local language and culture is another cause. I learned that the third cause is the reluctance of the missionaries to come to the remote villages in the countryside.
Alain reported that several missionary groups are coming to the remote villages after realizing the opportunity of evangelizing this population including Village Gospel Mission (VGM), a group of 14 mission centers in Southern Taiwan. In 2009, I met Ruth and her husband in Taipei. They invited me to join their missionary work at Guogou Church, a VGM center Ruth started in the Guogou village, six kilometers north of Budai Township. Since then, I have spent weeks and months every year in Guogou Church; the longest was almost five months.