WHILE STUDYING for a degree in business at Northern Caribbean University (NCU), Venice Brooks had thoughts of a career in Jamaica. Then one day in church, she heard a report of someone who had spent time in Taiwan doing Christian work. She was excited.
She thought then of giving some of her life to work in the foreign mission field. Her hopes were fulfilled as within two months of graduating from NCU in 2000, the 20-year-old found herself in Taiwan working as a missionary.
“Taiwanese,” she said, “are unwilling to have any confrontation whatsoever. They will not fight easily. They are a peaceful set of people, loving and kind. They have low self-esteem. They all think that foreigners are better than they are. I keep on teaching them in my English and Bible classes that it doesn’t matter what you have or what you wear, or who your parents are, or what position you have, we are all equal. And they say in response ‘Oh no, no, no this one is rich so he is better than me’.
This national low self-esteem is reinforced in some of the religious practices, and it fuels the high suicide rate in the society, she said Suicide, she said, accounts for a substantial portion of deaths reported in that country.
“They will kill themselves if their romantic relationships go awry, if they fail an exam, if they end up in bankruptcy. They don’t have hope. If you don’t have hope, you don’t have any reason to go on. I met a lot of people in my life who wanted to kill themselves.
The Taiwanese, she continued, are very superstitious and their main religions, Buddhism and Taoism reinforce that state of being. “They believe in the dead walking around, and touching you. They believe Christianity is the west’s religion,” she said.
The people of Taiwan, she said, place family traditions above all else. The family tradition often means allegiance to Buddhism. “Many of my friends want to accept Jesus but if they accept Jesus it will mean letting go off the family traditions. And if they let go of the family tradition, that is like a curse. They (the family) will cut you off the line, in terms of inheritance and dissociate from you and disown you,” Miss Brooks said.
Taiwanese people are not aggressive. “They are submissive and compliant. They will listen to you willingly (concerning the Christian Gospel). But they won’t confront their parents and say ‘I have chosen to follow Christ’. It takes a long time for them to build the inner strength to face their parents.”
“I have had friends who are 30 years old, and I say ‘Hey, it’s Saturday night, let us go out to a restaurant, and chill’ and they say ‘I have to call my mother first and ask her if I can go.’ And the mother would say ‘Okay you can go but you have to come home by nine o’clock’.” This applies mostly to females, Miss Brooks said.
For the males, she said, family pressure is greater, especially for the firstborn son. She explained that the society places such a high regard on the firstborn son. After the firstborn marries, he and his wife are obligated to live with his parents. “In some cases when I talk and counsel with wives, they tell me that the mother-in-law has a key for every room of their house. The mother-in-law runs the house. It is not a common thing for young couples to move out on their own. They stay under their parents roof. It is not uncommon to find 40-year-old men, still living with their mom and dad,” Miss Brooks explained.
“Every culture is different. Not wrong. They (Taiwanese) are very sensitive about their culture, so if you laugh at them, they will back off. The best way to reach them with the gospel is to get along with them. You let them know that the culture is fine, and that they are fine.
“When I came to Taiwan, I started a friendship ministry. Some person’s approach would be to open the Bible and say ‘learn this’. Some of the Taiwanese don’t know what the Bible is. They have never heard of Jesus. They don’t know who Jesus is. In the friendship ministry, I said ‘Let me know about you,’ ‘Tell me about your life’, ‘What do you want to do’, ‘What are you studying.’ It is like a care group.”
“If they know that I am not going to preach at them, there is no pressure. They will then open their doors and allow foreigners to come so that they can also practise their English.”
Persons who study missionary activity in foreign cultures, are virtually unanimous that in every culture there is a redemptive analogy – something in the culture that has a parallel in the Bible and so it can become the link to communicate the Christian gospel.
Miss Brooks believes there are at least two such redemptive analogies in Taiwanese society. She said much of the early Chinese writings in some way point to God. The way the Chinese write, the strokes, the different characters pointed to different aspects of the Christian God. To illustrate, she said, the word for boat, is a picture that resembles Noah’s ark.
She said too that the way the culture idolises the firstborn is a good nexus to share Christ as the Firstborn of God.
The Jamaican Christian, Miss Brooks believes is highly suitable for the Taiwan mission field. “Jamaicans are very friendly, and most of us are open minded. We will adapt. But you cannot be very direct with Taiwanese – you will push them away.”
She tells stories of how the non-direct, non-confrontational approach has irritated her.
“If you are doing something wrong or not correctly, the boss will not tell you. Because they are non-confrontational.”
She has advice for persons who might be thinking of a career as a missionary especially as a missionary to Taiwan.
Firstly, she said, one should not go with inflated expectations. She explained that when she left Jamaica she thought she was going to baptise thousands. Instead, she has had to be extremely careful how she proclaims the message of the gospel.
Secondly, she said, don’t go on the mission field to push one’s own religious beliefs on them. Rather “Go to make friends, go to understand who they are. And slowly but surely, they will turn around and start to ask you about your religion.
Thirdly, for Taiwan or any country that has a different language “Take the opportunity to grasp the language as soon as possible. The longer you stay there, the eagerness to learn the language diminishes. You will then find it a burden to study the language.”
She told The Gleaner that on her return to Taiwan, she will be enrolling in a class to study Mandarin.
Lastly, “Pray, it is the only thing that can get you through the missionary experience. A missionary experience can make you or break you.”
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