Today is the birthday of the god of the local temple here, so the streets were full of celebrants feasting together in front of houses. Just as a westerner might invite a friend over to enjoy Christmas dinner, regardless of how seriously he or she might take the spiritual meaning of Christmas, so also several friends and neighbors invited me to dine with them.
On two previous recent occasions -- once here and once in another community-- I felt at peace joining the locals for their birthday feasts (and on one of them God even opened the door for me to talk about Jesus and teach someone how to pray to Him). On neither of these occasions was the “reason for the season” even mentioned. I had a great time with my friends.
But on this occasion with the intensity and roar of the enthusiastic celebration roaring all around me (I love quiet), and having been familiar from personal experience with Gwangung even prior to coming to Taiwan, I just didn’t feel comfortable accepting any invitations. So several times the past few days I politely declined them or even evaded those good people who I thought might invite me… which I really felt discouraged doing. And went swimming instead.
Anyway, that was the main source of discouragement I felt today. Add two other sources of discouragement: 1) major snags in procuring a visa for an all-expense paid trip to Shanghai to join two friends for the Shanghai portion of their 30th anniversary Asian tour—I’ll probably have to cancel on them. 2) Receiving a 3,000 NT fine in the mail for speeding on the highway a few weeks ago when I was nearly falling asleep. My mood went from bad to worse.
God encouraged my spirits with something else strange and unexpected which I also received in the mail: a very belated Christmas present! A stateside church member had intended to mail me a gift last year, but it lay forgotten in the car and the kindly person in question kept forgetting and procrastinating through the year all the way until mid-August!
Anyway, God couldn’t have arranged for the generous and thoughtful gifts to come at a more appropriate time… just when I was feeling most isolated and detached from the local community. Now, celebrating Jesus’ birthday on Gwangung’s birthday, I feel encouraged again. Tomorrow I’ll be out making the rounds chatting with friends and acquaintances in the community again to make up for lost time.