The first time I spoke to Yong-yi about spiritual matters, her face showed a distinct lack of interest — a look I had gotten used to since starting ministry as a church planter in southern Taiwan.
‘God? Who’s that?’ she asked curtly, taking a step backward. Calmly, I told her about a mother’s gathering I had started, where we talked about relating to others.
‘Well….maybe I’ll come,’ she said, but, as she turned to leave, I felt certain I would never see her again.
My husband and I had come to Zhong-pu knowing that starting from scratch in a rural unreached area (0.3 per cent Christian) would be slow work. But we had little idea how lonely and discouraging it would feel to plough such hard soil.
We soon realised that we desperately needed local helpers, both to help us to be locally relevant and to encourage each other. After asking our supporters to pray for this, we got to know a Baptist Church in the nearby city of Chiayi.
One day, the pastor unexpectedly asked us if he could come visit our tiny Gospel Centre. He asked questions about our ministry and notable lack of resources; little did we know that he was seeking a rural church plant to partner with. Eventually they chose us because, as the pastor told us, ‘You guys seem so “可憐” (pitiful!)’!
Once our partnership became official, things began to change. We were no longer strange, lone foreigners bringing an obscure religion. People saw us working alongside people like them — those who had come from traditional Taiwanese religious backgrounds but, against all odds, had turned to worship Jesus. One elderly woman, who we thought might be resistant to hearing about Jesus, peppered our new co-workers with questions about their previous beliefs. Through powerful prayers, she became the first baptised believer in the church.
The Baptist Church also helped us with both teaching and evangelism, particularly at a local park where we held a weekly family outreach. This included Bible storytelling, song singing and crafts. Thus from the church plant’s inception, the flavour of local culture was infused into the bubbling group of new Christians —a group that eventually included none other than Yong-yi.
Trying something new
As we held various activities to attract seekers — tea nights, aerobics classes — attendance at the weekly Bible study grew to a point. But then it became stagnant. So our team decided to try something not usually found in the working-class church-planters playbook.
We started a Sunday service. As it turned out, working class Christians found a service to be less intimidating than small group Bible discussion.
‘I like coming to church because there’s such a warmth in the people here,’ said one non-Christian we had first met at the park. ‘My kids love learning about Jesus.’
The service also attracted previously ‘hidden’ Christians in the area.
‘I haven’t been to church since I moved here two years ago,’ said a woman who saw a poster about our new church service. ‘There are no other Chinese speaking churches nearby!’ Before long, she was attending regularly and soon started teaching the children’s Sunday school.
My husband Thomas, an avid preacher, cherished the opportunity to preach after spending more than five years focusing on evangelism. But since he was new to preaching in Chinese, we reached out to our prayer supporters. One supporter knew a woman who volunteered to translate my husband’s sermons. Because of her, Thomas was able to present God’s word clearly— and as she translated, she felt spiritually edified as she pored through the sermons. And she started supporting us financially too.
As the church started to grow, we immediately felt pressure from the enemy on all sides. Several women had husbands who tried to prevent them from coming to church, including by physical violence or the threat of divorce. Yet in many cases, after appealing to our supporters for prayer, this pressure started to decrease. One woman even got permission from her husband to be baptised.
Other signs of spiritual warfare came in the form of illness. After starting our weekly service, each member of our missionary team faced some major health crisis. Yet we all persevered, which had a profound effect on the budding Christian community as well as our partnering church.
‘Look at all the suffering these missionaries have gone through to preach the gospel here,’ one of the Baptist Church leaders commented. ‘It’s time for us to do more outreach too.’
One year and four months have passed since we started our weekly worship service. Attendance varies from six to fifty depending on the season. The Lord has given us a local pastor, and we’ve begun transferring some work to him.
‘How can we get our members to take over more responsibilities in the church?’ asked Yong-yi, who is now one of our key co-workers. She answered her own question: ‘Like in everything, it seems impossible. But we must persevere and trust the Lord.’
Pray for the Zhong-pu church:
- That a continuous stream of seekers will come into the church through their outreach events.
- For God to help members have a greater burden for service as the church transitions to local leadership.
- For the young local pastor: That he would feel increasingly confident in ministry and that the church will be able to financially support him.