What does a church for shop workers look like?

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On an unremarkable street, in an unremarkable room of an unremarkable building a short walk from Liuzhangli MRT station, something truly remarkable is happening.

It’s Sunday morning in Taipei, Taiwan. We cross the road outside a 7-Eleven and wait for Irene.

Irene Nicholson has lived and worked in Taiwan for 27 years. Today she is taking us to visit a shopworkers’ church. Whilst there is an established Church in Taiwan, it has mostly reached the middle-class. OMF’s heart is to see the working-class of Taiwan reached with the gospel too. In 1988 Elizabeth, an OMF worker from Germany, saw that shop workers had very little opportunity to go to church or even meet a Christian. But with long working hours, a traditional model of church and evangelism was unlikely to reach them.

So Elizabeth began going from department store to department store, meeting shop workers, getting to know them and studying the Bible with them. When someone came to Christ, Elizabeth discipled them and encouraged them to share Jesus with those who worked around them in the store. Over time this humble grassroots work became a church, and is now a whole series of churches. Today the ministry continues to multiply and grow across Taipei and throughout Taiwan.

When Irene arrives, she takes us through the ground-floor entrance hall of the building into a medium-sized room, perhaps 10 metres by 8 metres, where about 60 chairs are neatly set out. We are greeted by Pastor Kai Yuan (aka Kevin), a Taipei local. His life was transformed by the gospel as a young adult. His sister shared the good news with him at a time when he was struggling with involvement in drugs, alcohol and gangs. Kevin was later met and discipled by Elizabeth and others from the shopworkers church at the Japanese restaurant where he worked as a chef.

Several people have started turning up and children have begun milling around between the rows of chairs.

We find a seat near the front, Irene helpfully provides translation at various points as the service is conducted in Mandarin. The service begins with Kevin’s wife leading the church in a time of prayer for the world and mission, including for migrant workers from Indonesia and Myanmar in Taipei. The room has been filling up since we arrived and appears to now be standing room only.

We stand to sing as a YouTube video starts playing on the small projector screen at the front. Irene explains that this is an alternative to having a worship band since these church members’ lower incomes mean they have few opportunities to learn musical instruments.

One of the congregation’s favourite songs speaks of the difference knowing a God who listens and speaks makes in their lives.

After a couple of songs, around a dozen children and young people gather at the front for prayer before heading out to their groups.

Kevin then preaches, encouraging the church from Ephesians 4. His points are punctuated by dialogue with the congregation. He throws out questions to his listeners and either generously affirms their answers or, when needed, gently corrects their misunderstanding. He knows his congregation well, joking about what individuals are known for and applying the Scriptures to specific areas of life for his hearers.

Irene notes that today’s sermon is a little shorter than normal because there will be three baptisms. It is a joy to witness the testimonies of these local people and see them publicly declare their love for Jesus in this way.

Throughout the service, delicious smells waft through the air and Irene explains that every Sunday the service is followed by a meal together. A few church members are busy in the next room cooking for everyone!

After communion, we sing again, and after a closing prayer, the room is swiftly transformed into what resembles a large family dining room. A long table is set up in the middle of the room while a smaller round table is set off to one side for the younger children. Bowls of rice, pork ribs, tofu, fried greens with garlic, an omelette-style dish, stir-fried sausage and vegetables are brought to the table. The sound of prayer and singing is replaced with conversation and laughter, one of those wonderful experiences of community that only seem to come when we eat together.

After more food and an ‘interesting’ experience of grass jelly drink, our time together, unfortunately, comes to an end. As we make our way through the humid streets back to the MRT station I reflect on the wonderful scenes we have just been a part of. An outworking of God’s grace. His powerful work through humble acts of love and service. To see this vibrant community of local people following Jesus to hear the stories of those baptised, to see young and old praising God together, and to know a similar gathering will occur at 10:30 pm for those who are working today, was a heart-warming joy and a highlight of an exciting trip to East Asia.

Chris Watts OMF (UK) Communications Manager