Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top Books I Read in 2012

Here are the top 10 books I read this past year for the first time which I rated the highest on facebook’s “Booktracker” and “Goodreads” (order is reverse-order from which I read them):

1. Is God a Mathematician?

2. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce

3. Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

4. Why People Get Fat: And What To Do About It

5. Moneyball

6. The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream

7. The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number

8. Columbine

9. I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion

10. Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System

My ratings, as well as reviews, are of course somewhat subjective (The above were rated at above four stars, which another dozen or so right at the four star level, and many more below).

What did you read this past year which tops out your own personal list?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Too Cute to Resist

My good friend Frank-Frank (he says it in the video as Fank-Fank) back in Taiwan soaking up the attention in late July– looking forward to seeing him again in a few months!


The sun rising this overcast morning at Myrtle Beach.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fearless Knight


This pic which my friend Kevin took last Saturday of the knight in front of the Settle Inn reminds me a little of a youtube video for boys back in Taiwan.

Another Answered Prayer

Week before last in Lincoln, NE, I heard the following story from Tim and Cori, pastor and wife of a local Alliance church:

For the last year, Cori had been praying that God would bring another girl her daughter’s age into their neighborhood. Specifically, one from a great Christian family and to a house where they could see each other's front yards since Cori’s daughter is only nine. Cori often felt guilty asking it to be a Christian family rather than a family they could share the love of Christ with but since her daughter goes to public school and is around so many non-believers she was hoping God would bless her in this way. Cori prayed for specific houses whenever she saw one for sale and even started to give up on the "front yard" part of her prayer since God didn't seem to answer.

Some time later, the pastor of a sister church in the same town of the same denomination stopped his car right outside Tim and Cori’s house. Cori, assuming he must have been there to meet with her husband, asked what brought him over. He said that they had recently purchased the empty house just a stone's throw away! The front yard is clearly visible. Their two daughters are within a year of being the same age!

Cori adds that prior to this they didn't know each other very well but the wives would visit and the kids would play together one to two times a year when they would see each other at bi-annual conferences. The girls have become fast friends.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hallam, Nebraska

hallamThe last 3 nights I’ve been staying with new friends Curtis and Joetta in Hallam, Nebraska.

Haven’t heard of Hallam? It’s a small farming town of about 200 southwest of Lincoln. It was also the site of one of the greatest tornados of all time:

In fact, Curtis and Joetta’s fairly new home was destroyed in 2004 by the tornado. The home I’m visiting now was rebuilt from scratch. Our Taiwan Field Forum speaker from 2004 is the pastor of the church not too far from here. He came over to share with us just a few months after the terrible tornado.

On another note, day before yesterday Curtis took me to visit his son Darren’s farm a couple of hundred of yards away. As I observed a few weeks ago over in Iowa, the integration of hi-tech in today’s farming equipment is truly something to behold. Perhaps even more than years past, to be a farmer requires one to be a “jack of all trades”, understanding not just how to plant, irrigate, harvest, repair the machinery, accounting, etc. but also much that is new in electronics.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First Piece of Pizza

Last week I stayed for 3 days with the family of this little boy, who at the moment I snapped this picture was enjoying his first piece of pizza ever in his young life. Why did he have to wait so long?


Teagan and his little sister Amara were born intolerant to absolutely anything having to do with corn (and almost anything has sucrose in it these days), suffering stomach aches and other unpleasant reactions whenever they ingested it. Doctors helplessly stood by doing nothing, going so far as to intimate that the allergies/intolerances were only imagined.

After years of preparing special corn-restricted diets, mom and dad were at the end of their ropes. At the suggestion of the mother’s mother, the parents went to see a faith healer by the name of Randy Clark. He prayed for the two children--- not in any sort of large-scale special meeting but quietly and behind the scenes.

In the last couple of weeks since their visit, the couple has been cautiously optimistic that their two children have been healed!

The mother showed me three books by Paul King her mother had sent her:  Genuine Gold: The Cautiously Charismatic Story of the Early Christian and Missionary Alliance, Nuggets of Genuine Gold: Experiencing the Spirit-Empowered Life, and Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (I read the first title a few years ago and translated a few pages worth of quotes from it into Chinese).

This is the second instance of parents believing God healed one of their children in less than a week. Here’s the first one I heard from another mother last week in Charles City. So that’s the story behind the little boy’s picture above!

Friday, September 28, 2012

New Asian Friends in Lincoln, Nebraska

Last Monday I hopped a ride down to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I’m  visiting and speaking for the next couple of weeks. To my surprise, when I got out of the car in front of the home of my host family, I was greeted by a man with Taiwanese ancestry—the first I’ve met in Iowa or Nebraska.


Kevin is a cancer doctor at an area hospital. His wife Maybelle, a Filipino American, is a PA (physician’s assistant) in another location. Both Kevin and Maybelle are faithfully living out the call to “Be Light” in the marketplace.

Kevin invited me to “job shadow” with him yesterday, visiting  patients and hanging out in his office at the radiology clinic. As you can see, he’s a huge Jeremy Lin fan!


Read more about Kevin and his Taiwanese roots on page 23 of this article about Lincoln’s 20 Under 40.

Also, for anyone interested in leaning more about cancer, Kevin highly recommends the recent bestseller The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Besides church meetings and meals, other activities I enjoyed this week included taking Kevin and Maybelle’s friendly pit-bull Laoban 老闆 (Mandarin Chinese for “boss”) for an hour-long walk while his owners were working. LaoBan pulls very hard on the leash!




IMG_1611Thursday night after basketball with a few men from the church and community, we enjoyed some Vietnamese-style sandwiches, bubble tea, and coffee!IMG_1613

Monday, September 24, 2012

Charles City, Iowa

Last Friday I rode 6 hours from Nebraska to visit friends here in Charles City and Nashua, Iowa. Last year and on several other previous occasions, they  visited us in Taiwan.

Last year back in Taiwan my neighbor and friend Mr. Ding had drawn and presented this picture of a dragon to Sheila. She and her husband  since purchased a box for it and put it on the shelf in their house in Iowa.












Also last night, we passed by the famous country church below.


Tomorrow, westward to Lincoln, Nebraska!

Friday, September 21, 2012

American Beef

Yesterday afternoon my new friend Steve took me around with his brother and son while they moved cattle from one field to another.











Steve Moving Cattle

On the third trip, they moved two bulls.













Back at the farm, these calves had just been weaned from their mothers a few days previously.











Weaned Calves

In the evening I had another chance to share at the church again. People asked lots of good questions.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cabin in the Country

The friendly folks here in Brunswick, Nebraska (population 129) have put me up for my 4 day visit in a lovely cabin by a pond on remote private property…











It’s a little too chilly fo sliding down the sliding board, using the diving board, or for swimming, but I’ve enjoyed walking around.







I woke up Sunday to a dozen or so wild turkeys. There are also deer and blue heron to be admired from the comfort of the front porch, dozens of easily-spotted trout in the creek just behind the cabin, as well as the beautiful starry nighttime sky far clearer than any I’ve observed for several years.
















To top it all off, earlier Monday evening before rushing off for an appointment I enjoyed pulling in three good-size largemouth bass-- 2 of which pulled on the reel’s drag--- all within a half hour!













Early Tuesday morning I caught 4 more nice ones—in just a 20 minute span!










Sunday I had the privilege of sharing three times about Taiwan.  Though there were no meetings Monday, I enjoyed getting together with two couples for good meals and conversations. Meetings are on for both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. A great start to tour so far!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Power of Habit in Societies

habitsignA few days ago I finished listening/reading to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  While overall just an average, common sense read, the chapter about Habits of Societies: How Movements Happen stuck out to me. This chapter first shares the story of Rick Warren planting Saddleback Church. It then traces the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement by telling the story of Rosa Parks, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the recruitment and involvement of Martin Luther King, Jr in all this.

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days to two months, the  commitment and enthusiasm of the local black community surrounding the young Dr. King began to fade. But one evening a bomb explosion in front of the Kings’ house galvanized the community and its extended web of relationships, transforming it almost overnight into a self-organizing  movement learning and implementing new habits.   They began to take greater ownership of their movement.

According to the author, movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self. (p. 244)

As I reflect on this statement in relation to my work the last five years  as a church planter amongst the traditionally conservative working class peoples living along Taiwan’s western coastal plain in south-central Taiwan I can make the following observations:

1. We have correctly been prioritizing relationships and relation-building. We’ve gotten to know a number of people and while perhaps not all that many are true friends, we do have many acquaintances.

2. We have seen limited success thus far in empowering our small church community take ownership of the work. Like Dr. King who wrote in the days leading up to the pivotal bomb blast: “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.” Likewise, we've been seeing people renege on commitments we thought they had already made to Christ. We have yet to see phenomenal success in helping our friends to establish new habits of faith.

In his book Career-Defining Crises in Mission, Paul Keidel writes of the believers who endured persecution in the early church: “Their faith belonged to them and no one could take it away. Their believe was so real that it fit in the culture through their habits. (italics added).  May God’s Spirit continue to lead and to guide along the western coastal plain of south-central Taiwan.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Visit to Fort Ritchie

This afternoon I drove with my mom and dad and nephew over to Fort Ritchie, Maryland, where my dad served as garrison commander from 1988-1990. The army military installation was decommissioned in 1998 and very little has been done since in terms of redevelopment.

Although I lived in North Carolina and New York the 5 or 6 years my folks were associated with Fort Ritchie, I always enjoyed visiting.  The scenery was and still is gorgeous!

Weeds and vines have overtaken the house, which hasn’t been lived in for at least a decade. The once closely-cut grass is now several feet high, providing cover for neighborhood deer, such as the three we surprised today:

“The Castle” which served as my dad’s office is still around:


Late 80’s:

Web the street up to our quarters









Late 80’s:

Web side porch











Web IMG_0285











Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hanging out in HengChun

I was blessed to have been able to come down a few  days early before our annual Taiwan Team Forum. On Friday, I rode my bicycle around “the loop” from Hengchun to JiaLeShui and back to Hengchun again via Eluanpi and Kenting.  The fifty-something kilometers across hilly terrain with strong winds (not to mention the rain, and an increasing number of reckless drivers the last 10 kilometers) was a bit more difficult bicycle ride than my typical leisurely ride of similar length back home on the western coastal plains in Taiwan! I stopped to rest whenever I felt like it.

On the morning of Day Two, the wind and waves in HengChun were too overwhelming to engage in my preferred activity of skin diving, but I enjoyed another leisurely 52 km on the bicycle, driving from LongQuan Village in Hengchun up to the National Aquarium, and then back down to 7-11 for 2nd breakfast and my morning cup of coffee, with multiple rest stops at HouBiHu, MaoBiTou, and White Sands Beach.

On Day Three, I was only able to bike 20 km. The steady downpour of heavy rain and the high winds dampened any continuing enthusiasm to exercise! Descending Guan Mountain was actually slower than turning around and going up it due to the stiff typhoon-like wind blowing in my face! A few hundred meters later, however, after turning a corner, I felt the full force of the gale-force winds at my side. Turning another corner, I found myself racing down the mountain slope at 52 km/hour. I squeezed the brakes liberally to prevent any quicker an ascent. At this speed over a slipperly surface and with the rain spraying in my face, I felt particularly invigorated, if not a little frightened.

The ocean waves at BaiSha were bigger than I've ever seen them before (To my surprise, the coast guard is now stationing 2 men there to watch for persons swept away by the undertow). 

I waited until mid-afternoon before making my way over to the national aquarium. By this time many of the weekend tourists were heading home already.

When I looked at a large blbluefishue tropical fish sittting on the tank floor in an apparent stupor, I wondered how much of the world around him he was processing, and how.

A moment later, I  had a similar thought regarding my fellow tourists. A group of overly-loud youth strolled through the aquarium tunnel, drowning out the melodic music tuned to the movement of the fish which surrounded us on all sides. The youth seemed completely disconnected from the scene at hand.

There were others who did not pause to experience the moment, mostly responsible parents busily watching over kids. But then there were others restlessly moving this way and that, pointing their cameras and shooting pictures apparently without pausing to appreciate the moment for the sake of its own beauty. For the many Chinese tourists from Hong Kong and the Mainland and for the Taiwanese themselves, being a part of the group they come with (group identity) IS the event they experience. There’s nothing wrong with this; just another way to process reality.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Thank you, Father God, for giving me the opportunity to slow down and experience the wonder of Your creation these past few days. “This is my Father’s World / and to my listening ears/ all nature sings, and round me rings / the music of the spheres.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) Application

Around Chinese New Year it dawned on me that having been in Taiwan 183 days or more consecutively for five straight years without a break in my Taiwan Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), I could avoid the bothersome mafan of applying for an Alien Resident Certificate each year (thus having to renew my scooter and driver licenses annually as well) . The relative alienfreedom of acquiring an Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) sounded attractive!

Others have done an excellent job here and here (and probably other places!) laying out the process step-by-step as to how to obtain Taiwan’s “Green Card.” However, I have found during my 15 years here  in Taiwan that regulations vary slightly with regard to interpretation when it comes to taxes, ARC's etc. depending upon where you live, and perhaps even more importantly, who you know. (In fact, one time a tax office worker assigned to work with foreigners actually recommended to me that I didn’t need to pay taxes because the officials at the airport would most likely never bother to check!)  While my experience may not differ significantly from what is written from a northern Taiwan  perspective, here’s my take from the countryside—the western coastal plain of southcentral Taiwan.

First, as others have written, it really is true that the first step—the criminal background check from your host country-- is far and away the biggest hassle! First, how to pay for it? They don’t accept personal checks.  My local bank located in the nearest small town about 20 minutes away was not able to supply me with either a bank check or money order to send to TECRO  (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States) and the FBI. Neither was the post office or another local bank I checked. When I checked with Citibank in Taichung, I was told they only offered this service to their account holders. Finally I resolved the problem by having my stateside bank send bank checks to a 3rd party in the US, which then sent one check to TECRO and the other along with my fingerprints over to the FBI ($15 and $18 USD respectively).  Even this small first step incurred  a lot of unexpected time and energy…

To get the fingerprints, first I went to the local police station, which then sent me to the larger police station in a township 15 minutes away. This police station then referred me to the County Police Station nearly an hour away. This Police Station then sent me to the Immigration Office in the same city. Thankfully, the buck finally stopped here and for a service fee of 100 NT I was able to get the fingerprints and mail them to the FBI along with my criminal background check application.

After mailing my fingerprints, I waited about five weeks before calling the FBI. One unexpected problem I experienced is that in confirming your identity, the service person will ask you for the address of the party to which you applied to have the results sent. I did not have this information handy, but the gentleman was very patient as I looked TECRO’s DC office up on the web again. To avoid this small setback, make sure  you photocopy your applications before sending them off!

To my surprise I was told that the current waiting time for FBI processing was 9 weeks!  However, thankfully by the 8th week the FBI had already sent the results to TECRO in Washington. TECRO was very quick (their service should be quick, being as all they do is collect your bank check and put a seal on the FBI letter… no translation). To save on their ridiculously high fee for mailing back to Taiwan, I had them sent the results to the third party in the US (just had to include a self-addressed envelope). The results were in my hands in a little less than two weeks.

Getting the physical was relatively straightforward, but for me it was nearly a one hour drive each way to the hospital, and I had to make two trips. The day of the physical, they almost gave me the standard physical for English teachers in Taiwan by mistake, so be careful to insist that they double-check it is the physical for APRC. Cost for physical: 1,570 NT.

Getting the Taiwan police report was also a breeze (Except that I no longer have in my possession the passport with which I first arrived in Taiwan—see below). Service Fee: 100 NT (also included 45 minutes of driving each way).

A second hurdle I experienced involved dealing with an Immigration Office which rarely handles APRC applications, and in particular, with an agent who had never handled one. Before sending my fingerprints to the FBI, I had already  verified with the office in Chiayi that I actually qualified within the 5 year period. Once I knew the crime check results were in the mail, I dropped by my local immigration office to make sure the rest of my documents (health check, local crime check, tax and employment records, etc.) were in order. However, in dealing with the agent of the county in which I live in southcentral Taiwan. I had to make 3 additional trips before the application was submitted (about 1 1/2 hours driving time each trip). She was very friendly. However, since she was just as new to the process as I was, it seemed each trip I made resulted in hearing I had to acquire another piece of documentation or authentication.

A third hurdle had to do with the translation of the criminal background check. I was told by the local immigration office to go to the county courthouse. However, at the courthouse, they told me to go to another address (associated with the courthouse but located in a regular office on the other side of town) to have it stamped. All he did was take my personal translation, ask me if I had knowingly lied in my translation, and authenticate it. But of course he also managed to pocket a service fee of 500 NT. In the link above, the person says the translation does not need to be authenticated, so be sure to check on this for your area.

A fourth temporary hurdle I encountered had to do with my earliest passport in Taiwan having been confiscated by AIT after I had pages added to get the words “chuan2jiao4shi4” removed from my passport visa prior to trips into Mainland China. They performed the service, but kept the old passport! The immigration agent wanted all of my passports. However, she took my word for it in the end.

Fifthly, however, when looking up my travel  records in her computer, the Immigration office worker discovered that the airport had apparently typed one digit incorrectly in my earliest passport, meaning there were potentially two of me in Taiwan when I first arrived here back in August, 1997. She had the airport merge the records, but this resulted in another trip on my part. Service Fee for  having the arrival/departure dates printed out: 100 NT.

The same immigration office worker interviewed me and formerly accepted my application materials on May 25. One of the questions in the interview was “did you borrow money” to apply for this application? Thankfully, since I did not not have to submit my bank records for examination (which did indeed include a small loan for a time, but afterward I transferred out more personal monies), I did not need to answer this question—it did not apply since I qualified on the basis of salary requirements alone.

Presently I  find myself desperately hoping the APRC application processing time does not take the 1 month (plus additional 2 weeks after paying out the 10,000 NT dollar fee) others have written about above. I am scheduled to fly back to the United States on July 2, and if for any reason the APRC is not approved, I will still need to apply for the regular ARC (relatively simple procedure, thankfully!).  Stay turned to see how things turn out!

6/18 Update: Hallelujah! I was granted and paid for the APRC. Since I was able to prove I am flying out of the country in two weeks, they are expediting it and It should arrive in the mail in a few more days.

There was still one BIG final scare, however! The immigration officer told me that in order to retain my APRC, I had to be in Taiwan 183 days out of  the year BEGINNING FROM THE DATE WHEN THE APRC WAS ISSUED. Fortunately, after I questioned this twice by telephone, she made an additional phone call and corrected herself. As the web site says:  “The APRC holder, starting in the second year after receiving the APRC (beginning January 1st of the next year), will face APRC revocation if failing to stay in the ROC for more than 183 days in a calendar year.” This gives me several extra months of breathing room. Enough said.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The First-Digit Phenomenon

I just finished a fascinating book by Mario Livio called The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number. In the last chapter “Is God a Mathematician?” one of many surprises Livio offers up makes me want to run over to a local gambling den, or to the local temple (where prayers are believed to be answered by the gods using blocks similar to dice). I would then challenge those present to ask their gods the answer to a question while I consult the “Mathematician” God.

This would be the challenge: choose any set or sets of random numbers, such as a listing from a table in the World Almanac, a chart listing death tolls from major earthquakes, the population of places in given states exceeding 5,000 or more, the numbers listed out on the front page of your daily newspaper in a week, or any combination of anything like the above. What will be the probability that the first digit of any given number is  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 or 9?

Common sense tells us that the numbers 1-9 should occur with the same frequency among the first digits. Right? Wrong!

Benford’s law states that the probability P that digit D appears in the first place is given by the equation P = log (1 + 1/D).

That means the probability of a 1 would be about 30 percent; 2, about 17.6 percent; 3, about 12.5 percent, all the way down to 9, about 4.6 percent. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Some lists of numbers do not obey this law (for example, numbers in telephone books where the same few digits repeat in any given region).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ethical Reasoning and Mother’s Day

This past Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, a coworker had one of her best plants stolen from in front of her house. Her reasoning is that perhaps some child (or adult?) stole it to give to his/her mother for Mother’s Day.

Amazingly, I had exactly the same thing happen 2 or 3 years ago, also a day or two before Mother’s Day!  Someone heisted my best potted plant (only recently purchased because anything I take care of for any amount of time quickly degenerates into something no one would want to steal). So why all the plant theft prior to Mother’s Day?

In chapter 7 of Richard W. Hartzell’s Harmony in Conflict: Active Adaptation to Life in Present-Day Chinese Society, we read about Comparative Ideals of Obedience: Ethical Reasoning. Hartzell writes: “as a social doctrine which came to prominence in a society of subsistence agriculture, where Social Security, Medicare, retirement pensions, or other types of retirement benefits were unknown, Filial Piety has a basic level of coherent rationale in dictating that the children must provide for the economic support of elderly and/or medically infirm parents, and that consideration of the parents should come first.

He then gives an example: One young boy was visiting a friend, and was treated to eat oranges. As he was leaving, two oranges which he had stolen from the platter rolled out of his sleeve. He told his host “My mother loves oranges very much, and I wanted them for her.”

Pick one alternative:

The host 1) scolded the boy for his stealing and excuse-making, 2) commended the boy for his care and concern for his mother, 3) praised the boy for his devotion to his mother, but criticized the dishonest way in which he went about getting oranges for her.

According to Hartzell, the Chinese answer is #2. In addition, the host gave the boy a large bag of oranges. That’s because when the values “Rule of Law” and “Filial Piety” clash, the latter wins out (this can sometimes have scary implications).

So what’s the lesson of the story? Next year before Mother’s Day, bring your best plants into the house! Or buy a lot of extra plants and leave them intentionally out on your porch.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

VIZIO SV421 Television Disappointing Customer Service and Vizio Remote Control Policy

Last year we bought a Vizio SV421XVT for use in our organization. One feature that was absolutely essential for our needs was  a USB port for thumb drives to view mp4 files in our weekly meetings (we typically only use the television set for an hour or so on Saturday afternoons and again on Sunday mornings). The television itself has not disappointed, but our experience with customer service and Vizio company policy here in Taiwan has been disappointing. Fortunately though, our story has a happy ending.

After we bought the set, almost immediately it became apparent the remote control and the TV were only sporadically talking. Sometimes the remote would work; sometimes it wouldn’t. We called Customer Service: “Have you put in fresh batteries”?  Duh, yes, we tried three sets of batteries in the first week!  In addition to repeatedly calling into doubt our intelligence by asking this question again and again, they refused to send us a replacement remote control at their expense insisting that the problem was on our side. Their instruction was to buy a new remote!

We then called 3C, the chain store from which we purchased the set  the previous week. They quickly dispatched a worker out to visit us, who confirmed with his instruments that indeed there was a problem with the brand new remote that came with the set, and that it was shipped this way with delivery. Armed with this authentication, Vizio had no choice but to reluctantly send us a new remote control at their expense.

For the next 8 months we got by using the set in our weekly meetings. But from the start for perhaps as many as 1 in 4 or 5 meetings, we would suddenly discover that the remote was not communicating with the TV. This usually resulted in us panicking to change the batteries, rubbing the contacts, or resort to hooking up a computer to the TV and inserting our thumb drive into the computer since the USB functions are not available from the TV buttons (reflecting, incidentally, a very poor design).

We called the company once or twice during this period but they did not offer any helpful insight or assistance. Finally, this past week, we had enough and decided to do whatever it might take. After hearing the repeated “have you put in fresh batteries?” a few more times, we were then told we should buy a new remote (They cost $NT1,200)  Huh? Two remotes with the same problem, and we need to buy another one? Our secretary asked if they were intentionally selling flawed devices. She also somewhat jokingly but firmly asked if forcing customers to buy extra remotes was a scheme for making extra money?

Vizio finally relented by sending out a repairman to check on the TV’s 感應器  and told us if the problem was with the remote, then we would need to pay a $500 NT service fee, an arrangement to which we agreed. The friendly and helpful repairman was able to verify that the set was fine, and that the problem was indeed with the remote. However, he told us it was against company policy for repairmen to repair the remotes. They are not even allowed to carry extra parts to fix TVs or even sell remotes. Policy required us to buy a new one directly from the main company. Furthermore, when we told him the customer service representative on the phone had told us it was possible to control USB functions from the buttons on the set, and asked him to show us, he confirmed our earlier conclusion from reading the manual that it was indeed not possible.

Fortunately a well-connected friend who shall remain unnamed was able to re-solder a few of the connections inside the remote for us for free in just a few minutes. He told us of someone who had encountered a similar problem with their Vizio set. Following company instruction, they bought a 2nd remote. When even the 2nd remote did not work, the company finally relented by sending a repairman who fixed the set. When the customer then asked what they should do with the second unneeded remote for which they had paid good money, the repairman simply shrugged… Certainly a scheme for the company to make money! 賺錢的手段!Let the prospective Vizio customer beware.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Solitary Soldier

Yesterday afternoon I drove my scooter over to the local park. I brought along my pet cockatoo as a conversation starter. Before I even got off my scooter, I was greeted by two sets of parents whose kids we teach every Saturday at our Children’s English Club. I exchanged small talk with them for 45 minutes or so as their kids spoke with the cockatoo.

Then an elderly gentleman approached and sat down next to me. We exchanged greetings and a few words of casual conversation. The two couples moved away 5 yards or so almost immediately and continued their conversation with each other in the middle of the courtyard. Why did the parents  gradually move  away?

In the town where I live there is a man who – as far as I know -- lives isolated emotionally and socially from almost everyone in the community. I first met him 6 years ago. We were checking out the viability of this area for a church plant, and I wanted to pay a visit to the old Presbyterian church which was founded here 60+ years ago (It’s housed in a tiny house and has never had more than 7 or 8 adherents—Presbyterian leadership welcomed and encouraged us to come here as they had no leader and no plan for the church at the time).

On that day 6 years ago I knocked on the door and met a kind elderly brother. However, I could hardly understand a word he said. Since then I came to know that he was a soldier in the Kuomintang army which retreated from China after having lost the Chinese Civil War which ended in 1949. His dialect of the Chinese language is very different from those which are spoken here. As far as I know, he has never had any family – other than his own church family in this community.

On an earlier occasion last summer in the same park, we were playing football and frisbee with some other kids we know from the English Club and elementary school. When this elderly brother approached, the kids confided in me they could not understand a word he was saying. So apparently lots of people keep their distance from him. Although I saw no one being rude to him, the situation seemed sad and perhaps a little cruel.

As an international worker with only a high-intermediate level of proficiency in Mandarin, and a low-intermediate grasp of the Taiwanese Hoklo language, I can certainly relate to this gentleman’s situation. I often feel similar feelings of emotional and social isolation, largely due to the cultural and linguistic barriers. Oftentimes people don’t have a clue what I am trying to communicate, or they assume they cannot communicate with me and do not even try. One man even used this language barrier as an excuse to try to steal our church people.

On the other hand, I am fortunate here in that there are a few other foreigners around I can communicate with, as well as a small but growing family of believers we are working with. Furthermore, because we are the only westerners here in this town (and I’m taller than the average Taiwanese) most people are generally friendly to us. We tend to stick out in the crowd! It’s not easy… In summary, let me just say I admire this gentleman’s continuing perseverance and reliance upon His God these 60+ years.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Relationship Between Prayer And Action

One of the core values of the Christian organization I work for which has based me here in Taiwan is that “PRAYER IS THE PRIMARY WORK OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.” Here are some reflections on that core value and how it relates to another important topic, namely, ACTION (Most of the thoughts reflected here are not original!)

Prayer without action can be like never putting a vehicle into gear. The engine will keep on running without the car actually going anywhere.  On the other hand, action without prayer is like trying to drive a car without adding any fuel. The car will likewise not go anywhere. A balance has to be struck because prayer and action go hand in hand.

A web article asks if Christians promote prayer over action. Some people have the impression that Christianity tells people to pray for those who are sick or in need at the expense of doing something practical about their needs. This impression is incorrect in two ways: its substance is incorrect, for the Bible teaches us to act as well as to pray, but it also mistakenly assumes that prayer is ineffective. The Bible emphasizes in several places that one must put faith into action by deeds, not just praying or thinking nice thoughts or saying nice things (eg. 1 Jn 3:17-18; James 2:15-17).

Similarly, Jesus' life included both prayer and action. If God meant for us to spend all of our time praying, Jesus would have spent all his time praying for people instead of going out to help and teach them. Although Jesus devoted plenty of time to prayer, it was not the only thing he did. In fact, he taught that we should not pray long redundant prayers (Mt 6:7-8, Lk 20:47).

Why then does the Bible emphasize prayer? When we pray, God is interacting with us and teaching us about Himself, that He loves us and cares for our needs, that He is faithful and will respond when we ask him for what is good (Matt 7:7; Mark 11:24).

Prayer, however, requires action. What do we do after we have prayed? Sit around and wait on God by doing nothing? Sometimes perhaps, but prayer most often demands some kind of action on our part. Is God able to answer our prayers supernaturally? Of course! But since we pray out of faith, true Biblical faith requires action.

If you are praying for God to heal your body, pray, but then do something about it. Go see the doctors and specialists that are out there to help you heal. If you are praying for God to help your church to grow, pray but then do something about it. Similarly if you are praying for God to meet your financial needs, pray, but then do something about it! Seek out successful men and women and get their wise counsel. Sit down and put a financial game plan together. Don’t bide time by doing nothing! Engage in those actions which you believe God would use for His glory. If you are praying for your marriage or for a relationship, pray, but then act! Seek out Godly counsel from your pastor or some other qualified Christian counselor.

To summarize, we are not just praying out of dependence upon God, but out of faith in God. If you really believe something, you will act in faith after you have prayed. That is because God honors our faith. God blesses our faith. We pray in faith, therefore, our prayers require action.

Never forget that prayer is not a passive exercise but an active one. We are active participants in God answering our prayers. It is God who is answering our prayers, but our faith almost always requires us to be involved in that process. Just as James wrote to believers that “faith without works is dead,” so prayer without action is powerless!