We were recently asked to participate in a survey of 30 active missionaries for a “Missions and Mental Health” conference. After emailing the research team our answers it occurred to us that all of you might be interested in reading them as well. Our answers go a bit deeper into Taiwan’s church and cultural environment than our usual blog posts.
Feel free to leave comments or questions for us to follow up on!
For the Glory of God,
Erich and Kelley Schindler
What are the two biggest challenges in the mission field where you serve? How could they be approached?
- Having to learn one of the most difficult languages on earth before becoming effective missionaries.
This challenge can only be dealt with if one has adequate time, funding, and willpower to press on through years of daily language school with slow progress.
- The working-class population is virtually unreached and has historically been resistant to the Gospel. One factor is that this population segment mainly speaks Taiwanese, which is more difficult to learn than Mandarin. Because of this, few missionaries even try learning Taiwanese. Also, there is a very tangible cultural divide between the white-collar, predominately Mandarin-speaking population, and the working class population, which makes it difficult for white-collar Taiwanese Christians to effectively share the Gospel with the working class.
The Church could begin to meet this challenge by intentionally focusing on church-planting among the working class. But for this we would have to re-evaluate all of the current church-planting strategies that are effective among the Taiwanese educated class. At the same time there would have to be a real push for missionaries and Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese believers to associate more with the working-class, and make the study of Taiwanese a top priority.
What are two unique features (positive or negative) of your ministry?
- We are taking advantage of the high cultural value placed on English education in Taiwan. Because everyone wants to improve their English, we have found that people are especially open to the Gospel if they encounter it in a bilingual setting. Over time we have adopted the ALPHA Course content, and have developed our own bilingual program built around each evening’s topic. We feel that this window of using English to share the Gospel will only be open for another 10-15 years, as the Taiwanese government is encouraging more quality English education in lower grade levels. Even now young Taiwanese people have a noticeably higher level of English than their parents’ generation.
What are two resources incoming missionaries need to be armed with (intangible/tangible) so they may serve well for their duration in your context?
- The need to understand the nature and reality of spiritual warfare. In our experience, this is not something that is taught much in Western churches. But in Taiwan spiritual warfare is a daily reality, and shows itself in frequent sickness among missionaries, unexplainable spiritual dry spells, conflict with co-workers, and other forms. The sooner our new missionaries understand the plans and methods of the enemy, the sooner they can protect themselves through fellowship and prayer.
- They need to be humble and submissive to their leaders. Especially in a collectivist (church) culture that often operates top-down, this is an important lesson for incoming Western missionaries to learn. If a Western missionary can’t shake off their individualism this can become an obstacle that will most likely prevent them from being effective for the Kingdom in the Taiwanese church context.
- I would add the tangible resource of financial support to the list. Even though we welcome tentmaking missionaries, their time spent teaching English often hinders them from learning the language and integrating well into the culture.
What are some of the models of successful ministry work in your context; what do they have that has helped them?
- The success of English / Bilingual ministries rests on the high cultural value placed on English education.
- The most successful church-plants in Taiwan are ones that connect with existing Taiwanese cultural values, such as community (family feel in cell groups, frequent meals together, visitation of family members part of the regular cell group life), use of current media (video interviews interspersed in the sermons, skits during the service), practicality (preaching heavily application-focused instead of on more abstract doctrine), flexibility (lots of impromptu meetings instead of scheduled ones; the willingness to change course on something that isn’t working), etc…
Identify any one other aspect of your missions experiences that stands out to you that wasn’t addressed in the previous questions.
It’s really important to serve on a team of people who are your friends at the same time. Investing in relationship with co-workers is key for effective ministry later.
Finally, as cliché as it might sound, we have always felt we are being served by the Taiwanese church much more than we are serving it. It’s a true joy to serve our Lord in a cross-cultural context, and the lessons learned are invaluable!