Taiwan Prayer Letter - 10.4
The gray rainy cold of Taiwan winters has finally come to Taipei. We are beginning to feel that longing for a crackling fireplace that the electric replicas at Taipei's Costco just cannot replace. But even as recent as last week, sunny skies prodded temperatures into the low nineties Fahrenheit. Since Judy in her final month of pregnancy had to have the AC running full blast, we frequently had to call down to the building maintenance to turn on the building cooling towers on the roof. They seemed to think the AC was for the summer and should not be used this late in the year, even in the humid nineties . But really Taiwan does not experience crisp autumns, rather only a lingering summer whose presence is abruptly pushed aside by winter weather.
As I enter my 35th year in this world upheld by the Lord Jesus Christ, we are seeing a lot of changes here in Taiwan. God has lovingly blessed our family and all our various labors – from evangelism, training, recruiting and church planting to home schooling and all the myriad side-projects that make up the busy life of a young family.
Judy is doing a great job with home schooling. Our three girls are definitely progressing on the Three R's of Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. The only extra catch is that the reading and writing encompasses learning three languages instead of one: English, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. But you know children, they pick up things fast. I'm also trying to keep up with my Taiwanese-language studies. Since we host a two-language (Taiwanese & Mandarin) home fellowship group, I get to practice a lot. And since we have a bi-lingual (English-Mandarin) worship service, I continue to learn more Mandarin, though I don't actually take Mandarin language classes.
Church Growing in Numbers
These days, I have to use my Taiwanese and Mandarin more and more. The Taipei church plant, New Hope Christian Fellowship, has grown substantially this year. We used to average 40 and in the past month we have had between 60 and 80 people every Sunday for the worship service. There are quite a few non-Christian Taiwanese coming, and I make it a point to speak with these families every Sunday after church. Also, some of Judy's infant care book readers continue to keep a connection with the church and we hope that they will come to faith. Though I already taught an introduction to Christianity class in the Spring, this fall we have enough new people that it is about time to open another class.
The Church's First Elders
The church is taking more responsibility for itself, too. I've gotten a lot of help this year from our Taiwanese pastoral intern, Caleb Tian, as well as many others in the church. This summer, the church elected three ruling elders and I have taken many a Monday night to train them, mainly in Bible, theology, and church government. On October 20th, they met with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Taiwan's presbytery examination committee and I am happy to report that all of them passed their ordination exams. We plan to ordain New Hope's first group of ruling elders on December 14th, and look forward to New Hope flying fully fledged. I certainly look forward to these new elders taking on their shepherding role for the flock. Please pray for them.
And pray especially for my Taiwanese pastoral intern, Caleb Tian. He is growing in his gifts, and has done a good job in leading a home fellowship group, in pastoral care, and in service. Right now I am particularly working with him on his preaching and applying Scripture. If he can master this area well, I think he will make an excellent pastor and really be a strength to the churches in Taiwan. Logical thinking, analysis, interpretation, and application of Scripture is a weak area among most of Taiwan's Christians.
Please also pray for my work in recruiting more Taiwanese church planters as well as more missionaries to come labor in Taiwan. I am praying that God will move the hearts of several specific men with whom I've been keeping in regular contact. As you read this, if you are interested in serving in Taiwan, please do contact me. Without more laborers, especially Taiwanese pastors and missionary church planters, it is really hard to expand the work around Taiwan. My current work keeps me so busy that several projects are on hold awaiting the time when God raises up the right people. Among them are a Taipei 101 area church plant (in an area of with some of the highest real estate prices in Taiwan), as well as several in countryside areas.
Please pray for the Taiwanese people. There are so many things that keep them from hearing and believing the Gospel. On November 1, I attended the Taiwanese funeral of Judy's uncle. What I witnessed just made me feel desperately sad. The immediate family and friends, especially his son, seemed to greatly love this man who had died. They were trying to do all of these rituals to make sure the deceased makes it smoothly to the next world.
At the funeral, you sit down and see arranged in the front a high table filled with rank upon rank of flowers and several idols of the Buddhist goddess Guanyin. In the center fronted with an altar and burning incense sticks is a large picture of the deceased. His corpse in an open casket was placed in a central alcove directly behind the photograph. The funeral consists of worship rituals, where the immediate family comes and bows down and burns incense to their relative who has passed away. Then more extended family and friends come before and bow down before the picture. Over and over again they burn incense and bow. At the end of the funeral service, the family (spouse, children, in-laws and grandchildren) walks behind the table to stand around the corpse while guests come to offer their condolences. I saw the teenage children with eyes and noses raw from crying, and I wondered what was going on in their hearts. Though it is probably not official protocol, I gave a hug to the family members in turn.
So many rites happen at a funeral. At one point, as different prayers and poems are chanted in Taiwanese, the family stays bowed with their faces touching the ground, tears silently streaming out of reddened eyes. They then take their places -- men to the right and women to the left as others come to worship the ghost. The Buddhist TzuChi society sends an entire choir to come sing about Amitofo, the Buddha that they say will help this man's spirit in the afterlife. Many in Taiwan try to carefully follow these rites for the dead out of fear to prevent the ghost from haunting them or bringing them bad luck. But I can tell that this family is trying through their grief to do the right rituals for the sake of their loved one whom they want to make sure is okay and doing well in the afterlife.
You know, in America's world of convenience and sanitized hospitals, we try to ignore death's presence. But you cannot get away from it very easily in Taiwan. People with no hope put their hope in human rites and these Buddhist and Taoist priests and their words of comfort.
For a whole month, there are worship ceremonies every seven days before the funeral and before the body is laid to rest. They serve offerings of their loved-one's favorite foods. They try to send ghost money and gold ingots and spirit houses to take care of their loved ones in the spirit world. They go to temples and practice divination to try to get some message from their dead loved ones - to find out how their spirits are doing and what they need. (The son of Judy's uncle wrote a blog about this time. If you are interested in reading a first hand account, please go to http://www.taiwanchurch.org/facingdeath.html. I pray that God will even use this blog to move the hearts of more Christians to come to Taiwan as missionaries.) They are fervent with fear and yet committed to what they believe. To come to tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and tell them that all their rituals and hopes of the past are all empty and worthless would cause them to have to completely give up everything they thought they knew.
Only the power of the Holy Spirit could bring them to let go of their beliefs because letting go would feel like turning away from their parents and ancestors. But only by letting go of these beliefs will they ever be able to consider Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel. We desperately need you to pray for the Taiwanese people who are without God and without a real hope in the world.
Judy and I really want to thank you for your prayers and support over the years as you partner with us in our labors in Taiwan. In our six years of missionary work here in Taiwan, we have never reached our $60,000 per year budgeted support level. Operating on under $40,000 a year has seemed very low for our family of five (soon to be six), but God has always provided for our every need. Thank you all who have already been faithful contributors. For those who would consider starting to partner with our missionary work financially please take a look below at the support address or follow the link and fill out the commitment card.
More than anything, we need you to uphold us in prayer.
Rev. Joel H. Linton, Missionary to Taiwan, Taiwan Church Planting Partners & Mission to the World
Joel, Judy, Faith, Charis, Ashlyn & Saorsa
Contributions through TCPP
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Taiwan Church Planting Partners
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