Friday, March 7, 2008

Missiological Implications of the Pizza Disaster

I just had one of those "this activity certainly isn't turning out the way I had planned, but will maybe make for an interesting blog entry " moments. Earlier this evening I brought back a Hawaiian pizza from the city to share as an expression of friendship with two neighboring families. I called ahead so they knew the pizza was coming, although I encouraged them to eat something first as I'd be coming a little later and there might not be enough to fill everybody up.

The reason I thought of pizza is because of my neighbors has a brother who briefly had a pizza business years ago. By way of background, pizza long has been readily available at urban outlets such as Dominos and Pizza Hut here in Taiwan, at least longer than the 10 years I've been here.  But like movie theaters, pizza just hasn't trickled out to the countryside. Speaking of movies, last fall I tried to start a movie night, thinking that showing quality family-friendly movies might be a practical way of serving the community and gradually introducing Christ, since the closest movie theater is 45 minutes from here. Well, the movie idea didn't get anywhere with my immediate neighbors. One acquaintance from not too far away in his early 30's told me this past week he's only been to a handful of movies in his life.

Well, as you might be able to guess by now, the few who came over for pizza politely ate a few bites, but when pressed to eat more, insisted they were already full. Colloquial English translation: "Yuck! We're not used to eating this!" Just like I occasionally observe back in the States, I'm reminded again that not anyone is able or willing to step across cultural boundaries to live in a manner foreign to their upbringing. On a far more amazing level, nor were any of us able to cross the divide into the infinite magnitude of God's presence. So Christ voluntarily stepped out of time and into our world of limitation, bearing our suffering and shame.

With regard to the pending missiological question of how to most effectively share about what this God has done in Christ to my non-pizza eating, movie-going friends, tonight's debacle bears at least two conclusions worth noting:

1) Beyond simple open-houses to let people see what a foreigner's house looks like from time to time, it's probably not a good idea to attempt many more activities based upon western, urban activities, holidays, or interests (this is a bit of a no-brainer). These are most likely doomed to fail!

2) Some have recently re-emphasized the connection between idol worship, particularly that of the goddess Matsu, and spiritual opposition to Christianity in this area, one of the least-reached areas in all of Taiwan. I agree somewhat there is a spiritual connection and so was moved myself two years ago to stump for  the town with the famous "Matsu" temple here to be the hub for our new church planting efforts. HOWEVER, it's possible to overstate this. Perhaps just as significant is the anthropological observation that, being agriculturally-based, this area is very, very conservative and resistant to any change or outward influence of ANY kind, NOT just with regard to spiritual things. To make a long story short, in this traditional society, the same neighbors who don't go for pizza or watching movies aren't going to fall for what they perceive to be a foreign religion. Christ must be experienced in forms and activities which are entirely comfortable and indigenous for the working-class farmers and others who call this place home. May God's Spirit show the way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Two Instances of Divine Protection

Rarely a day goes by when I don't thank the Lord for protection while driving either a car or scooter here. Monday afternoon I was just a pedestrian though.

After the conclusion of Taiwanese 2nd language study, I wait at the intersection in front of the crosswalk for the light to turn red. I make my way across the street. A delivery truck madly makes a  left turn and comes bounding toward me. In a split section I jump out the way, missing being hit by the absolute narrowest of margins! Had I been slower due to age or infirmity, a mother with a stroller, or been looking the other way, it would have been over. Looking back in anger, amazement, and relief, I see the driver only has one hand on the steering wheel.

An hour later, I'm driving myself. Making a left in town as absolutely no cars are coming from the other direction (there is no light here), a vehicle suddenly and rapidly accelerates from the curb diagonally across. He obviously hasn't looked for oncoming traffic. I narrowly miss him as I slam on the brakes. It's one of those slow-motion moments when I feel that God in his amazing design of the human body has sharpened and intensified our reflexes.This near-incident, though probably not life-threatening, would surely have decimated the mission vehicle I was driving.

In both instances, I initially feel a fleeting moment of anger at the way so many people seem to drive here with utter disregard for the safety or lives of others. During a recent lesson on driving in my Taiwanese textbook written 30 some years ago, my instructor comments that things are actually better now! However, within milliseconds anger quickly melts into a feeling gratitude and a prayer of thanksgiving:

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. Psalm 121