Are Missionaries in Taiwan still needed?
(郝安倫牧師, Alain R. Haudenschild)
The Discussion Issue
Years ago, a well known missionary, Sheldon Sawatzki asked in his article the question: “Is Taiwan still a mission field?” – His contributions were tight to several observations within the local Taiwanese churches and in special in his mission’s developments within its operating framework. Periodically missions should reflect on the purpose of their mission in Taiwan, and critically evaluate in what stage of fulfilling their purpose they are. In his article Sawatzki refers to another article published by Ralph Winter regarding the question when a country should be regarded as a “reached country” meaning this country’s church is going to be able to continue the ministry of evangelizing its country responsively without major assistance by a foreign missionaries. Winter answers the question by asserting that Taiwan is no longer a pioneer mission field. He sees remaining missionaries as "church–tending missionaries, who are deeply burdened in serving the church movements created by 'yesterday's' pioneer mission work." National church leaders should be given "the privilege of reaching their own people." Sheldon Sawatzki understands Winter as saying “in essence, the work of missions in Taiwan is completed, and the task of evangelism must be continued by the mission–established churches. Missions may now begin to withdraw from Taiwan to pioneer and expand in new areas.” By quoting Ralph Winter missionary Sawatzki acknowledges Winter’s far reaching contribution to the global mission world. The question now 15 years later is, where not much more people from the then 80% unreached segments could be reached for Christ, whether Winter really knew about the complexity of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic mission work in Taiwan.
Re-evaluating Ralph Winter’s Statement for Taiwan
What really happen since then seems to justify a re-evaluation. In the meantime new missionaries have arrived and taken up new responsibilities alongside with local ministers in church-planting and outreach. New local pastors have stepped into the places where formerly Chiang Kai-shek soldiers with a good Christian education had filled the pastoral ranks of the country side churches. While Christianity among the Mandarin speaking churches especially in the central and south cities of Taiwan grew slightly, not much change was noted in the traditionally better evangelized northern part of Taiwan. Since this is the case some smart pastors undertook the effort to count differently. How about including the Sunday School kids?
Well, if Christianity is counted this way Taiwans’s Protestant Christianity by the end of 2007 was 4,13%, had 48 churches with more than one thousand worshipers every Sunday and 23 mega churches in Taipei, with eight of them in the Daan District of Taipei only. Also with this way of counting Taipei has 8.95% Protestant Christianity, not including the Catholics, Adventists and the True Jesus Church!
But how about looking where this growth occurred? – The whole growth was in the already better reached Mandarin speaking segments of Taiwan, which makes up about 20% of Taiwan’s 23 million inhabitants today. What happen is that Christianity in the meantime became even more part of the often despised group of solely Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese. – This is probably what Ralph Winter intended to explain as well: Once a people group has 5% Christians it has the force to develop pretty much on its own. This “rule” 15 years ago could only be applied on the Aborigines and the Mandarin speaking segments of Taiwan’s Christianity. And it seems to proof true.
The Unreached Segments
In terms of unreached segments of Taiwan’s multicultural society compared to 15 years ago it has become even more complicated with more than 550,000 mostly Asian expatriates (guest-workers, in-married brides) not included the 200,000 immigrants from mainland China challenging both missionaries and local churches. If this new fact is included in the presentation of Taiwan’s society the numbers look about this way:
Map 1: Division of Major Language Groups in Taiwan Dec. 2008
Mandarin speaking (mother tongue)
Hakka (4,42 mio)
What we quickly realize is the percentage of Hoklo speaking people coming down below 60%. – On the other hand we have a number of new languages in which people are hungry for the Word of God. The big question is whether the 3900 mostly Mandarin speaking churches of Taiwan are going to reach those more than 77% people in the almost entirely unreached segments without support from professionals?
The last 12 years in Taipei and North Taiwan in this account give as a lesson: if left on their own local pastors will choose the easiest way of church growth, which is not to do any cross-cultural work. Otherwise the church will not grow quickly! In a face conscious country like Taiwan this is a work driving reality. Besides, the theological seminaries do not prepare well for cross-cultural ministries, leaving many pastors in the assumption to add some more languages in their church-life would do the job. Usually the result is giving up new ministries in about 2 yrs time. At least they tried. What will they do without help from professionals? Nothing will change.
Characteristics of the three Unreached Segments of Taiwan:
a) The Taiwanese speaking working class are linguistically (Hoklo/Hokkien) and culturally separated from the majority of evangelical churches which still mainly use Mandarin, although some churches have tried often unsuccessfully to open Hoklo /Hokkien speaking cell-groups and ministries. They realized: This people groups dislikes learning things the way Mandarin- and Hakka speaking people are used to. This people group comprises 56% of the population and there are still only a few churches or workers specifically reaching out to them. Missions and local organizations concentrating their mission efforts on this group of people now are: Village Mission, Overseas Missionary Fellowship International, LCMS, Formosa Christian Mission/Team Expansion, The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), Youth With A Mission (YWAM), SEND International, Grassroot Mission, Evangelical Formosan Church, Southern Baptist Mission). Despite big plans in the nineties, not much was achieved until now. - This group’s folkreligion is called Taiwan folk-religion a mixture of animism and traditional Chinese religions with an emphazis on spiritism to find revelation. It is polytheistic and syncretistic. At times, the boundaries between the belief systems are lost. There is also an openness to incorporating new ideas and thoughts.They can easily incorporate every type of Christian belief and yet don’t see a need to commit their lives to Christ. There is an urgent and critical need for more local church ministries support and missionaries willing to work among Hoklo and learn Min-nan (Hokkien/Taiwanese) as the first language of communication.
b)The Hakka in Taiwan count 4,42 mio people with 13,000 evangelical Christians. The Hakka communities in the north (Taipei 550,000) north-west (Hsinchu 65% of population), central (Miaoli, Taichung, Taichung County, Nantou) and south (Pingtung) and south-east (Taitung). There is now a national group concerned for outreach: 'Christian Hakka Evangelical Association'. Several missions have opened a ministry among them (SEND, WEC, YWAM, Lutheran Brethren World Missions, Presbyterians and Baptists). There are now about 80 Hakka-speaking churches, among them is the largest denomination the Chung Cheng Church Association (42 churches) in Northern Taiwan. They also head the Hakka Theological Seminary training center in Chudung focusing on the training of Hakka Christians for Hakka ministries. The Hakka Church Growth movement was founded in 1998 with the goal to have Hakka churches in all major cities of Taiwan, or at least cell-groups ministries.
The Taiwan Baptist, the Bread of Life Church, as well as Taiwan - and Friendship Presbyterian Churches have opened their doors for such ministries and church-planting efforts in the cities Toufen, Miaoli county (YMAM), Miaoli (YMAM), Touwu, Miaoli county (Taiwan Grassroot Mission) Hsinchu County (SPFC), Chungli (SEND), Hsinfeng (SEND), Hualien (Baptist), Taichung (WEC), Dongshe (SEND w. Central TW Baptists) and in Taipei (four districts). Of the 10 more CCT Hakka churches scheduled to plant within the next years already four were started recently. There is a critical need for Hakka church leaders. Of 13 churches in the Taoyuan/ Hsinchu area only 6 are independent, nevertheless pending God’s provision the movement wants to press on and on every third year plant a new church. Through the initiative of the Chudung Hakka Theological Seminary a Hakka mission agency network was established and first missionaries were sent out to Indonesian Hakka areas for theological teaching/church-planting.
This group’s folkreligion is called Hakka folk-religion a mixture between with Ancestor worship and Vedism/ Brahmanism, which both were in fact the pretext for the Chinese Taoist Yin-Yang and Feng-Shwey belief. With only a few gods the Hakka Folkreligion it is much less polytheistic than Taiwan Folkreligion. To have the right „Feng-shwey“ to be in balance with the Yin-Yang and in peace with the ancestors for a Hakka is much more important than it is for his Hoklo neigbhor. In contrast to him he also seeks to gain insights in the future through magic (geomantic) rituals, rather than by using spritism (a possesed person) like the Hoklos.
There is only a certain openness to incorporating new ideas and thoughts if the connection to already high regarded Hakka beliefs can be established. They can not easily incorporate elements of Christian belief but usually rather reject than discuss its content. If they agree they commit their life completly to Christ. There is an urgent and critical need for more local church ministries support and missionaries willing to work among Hakka and learn Hakka as the first language of communication.
c) Factory & Construction Guest Workers, Health Care-takers, Foreign Brides
The number of guestworkers and foreign brides immigrating to Taiwan in recent years continue to grow with as many as 550,000 coming from the countries Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, some of them living here without legal papers. Except form the Philippines most are from unreached or mission work prohibited countries.
The Thai. In the last 11 years 6 churches were founded for the Thai. The first was started in Chiayi in 1997, by the Chiayi Christian Hospital. Today there are Thai churches in Taichung, Chungli, Guanin, Shulin (near Taipei), Kaoshiung. There is a need for more pastors; Thais in Taiwan are very receptive to hear the Gospel, get training and succesfully start churches in their home-country. Most Thais in Taiwan are reached by either Thai or German missionaries, the later speaking Thai very well (Taiwan Fellowship Deaconry Mission). - While at least some Thai factory worker can be reached through Camp and Church ministry, the inmarried Thai are completly unreached and except in Chiayi there is no intention from the local churches to do something about it.
The Filipino and local English churches have taken over responsibility for this 85,000 member counting English & Taglog speaking group. They are reached by Radio, garbage evangelism, preaching, bible-studies, correspondence courses and literatur ministry. Involved church denominations are „World for the World Fellowships“, „Jesus is Lord Church“, Joshua „Generation Worldwide Minsitry“, „Life in the Spirit“. Some churches like the „Taipei International Church,“ the Taipei Episcopal Churches the Bread of Life, the House of Christ and a few other churches have opened their doors and rooms for Filipino fellowships. Many Filipinos turn their lifes to Christ during their time in Taiwan and go back with a vision for their homeplace.
The Vietnamese workers, health care-takers and brides (86,000 in Dec. 2008) come with low education from a poor and a non Christian background. In the meantime also students show up for studies in Chungli and Kaoshiung. They are very receptive for the gospel too. In 2008 the frist Vietnamese church was founded (Free Wesleyan Church Taipei), the second Vietnamese church (Chungli) is in preparation for 2009. There is only one Vietanemse pastors couple in Taiwan. Already aprents of those who found the LORD and were baptized in Taiwan are asking to be informed about Jesus too and are getting baptized in Vietnam. This too is a fast growing ministry with too few workers in a white harvest field.
The Indonesian (177,000 in April 2008) are the fastest growing group with some Indonesian churches to go to, but usuall with a Muslim background. Five Indonesian churches (Taipei LLT, Taipei – , Chungli -, Taoyuan Gereja Bethany Indonesia and TIEF Living Water Church) are doing some outreach work. The Taiwan Inudstrial Evangelical Fellowship has one church-planting and one pastoring Indonesian missionary.
In May 2004 ministers amonf expatriates after a workshop decided to built a „Taiwan Expatriate Caring Committee“ (TECC) to better coordinate the trans-lingual and cross-denominatial ministries in Taiwan, as well as its data management. Ever since the awareness for the spritual needs of these expatriates increased among local churches. TECC took responsibility for the organizing for annual conference, the print of 20,000 Gospel of mark in Mandarin/Vietnamese, the print of the 10,000 Gospel of Mark in Thai and for Indonesians, as well as the translation of follow up material for the „Taipei Franklin Graham Festival“ in 2008 in Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese.
The TECC Committee members represent the mission Taiwan Inudstrial Evangelical Fellowship (TIEF), Taiwan Fellowship Deaconry Mission (TFDM), Taipei International Church (TIC), Christina & Missionary Alliance (CMA) and SEND International of Taiwan (SEND). Through the multilingual bimonthly publication „Kaibian“ a publication supported by TIC and TECC thousands of expatriates can be reached today.
In addition there are 200,000 Chinese foreign workers from mainland China, for which the churches can take care by themselves. There is an urgent and critical need for more local church ministries support and missionaries willing to work among these people groups especially from the local churches’ site.
How to turn this development into another direction?
This remains the special task missions have to tackle. They are the professionals to reach those living in the spiritual darkness. As the local Christian leaders are very occupied in increasing their churches worshippers and performance in their society, they have few time to focus on this challenge.
Local pastors and church-leaders don’t miss a single chance to attend seminars with related topics to increase their knowledge in order to perform better in that account. In fact they often feel helpless to really contribute in crossing their culture and reaching others in an unfamiliar culture. They will only commit if they are given a job to do within those groups. But with the exception of a few churches they will not start on their own.
Map 2: Overview of (Protestant) Christianity Growth within 10 Years
% Christians 1997
% Christians 2007
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From the missions side and local expatriate churches’ side there are some worth to imitate examples how to face this situation LWCS World Mission, (assigning all their people to Chia-yi County), OMF International with Formosa Christian Mission/Teamexpansion (assigning many people to Hoklo Ministries in Chia-yi City), Taiwan Fellowship Deaconary Mission (inviting Thai pastors to serve the Thai), Taipei International church (establishing a Tagalog ministry thus planting five Filipino churches) etc. Only a few did something among the Hakka and not much was achieved in those 15 yrs either. But the conditions for growth have improved. The 13,000 Hakka believers call an extra Hakka Theological Seminary in Chu-dung their own. They have at least sent out missionaries and started a church-planting movement with high goals.
Even U.S. Chinese missions agencies like the “Grassroot Mission” or the local “Village Mission” are excellent partners in reaching both the Hoklo and the Hakka.
The Relationship to Local Churches
What may help to turn things around for both local churches and missions alike is a more holistic approach in gaining families for Jesus like in Dutch times. In those days Sunday School was the major tool to educate and gain people and tribes for the Kingdom (I know in those days the concept of families was just about introduced, but we still can learn from it). Apparently this is something very “hot” in local Taiwanese churches. When our office planned the Taipei Franklin Graham Festival the North Taipei Sunday school teachers decided to run a “Kids Festival”, bringing 34,000 to the Kids Evangelism. Not less than 3200 of them gave their lives to Jesus. Franklin Graham was not even here yet.
The local churches through the Chinese Christian Evangelistic Association support the Taiwan Expatriate Caring Committee network logistically, making it a common effort to resource mission ministries among expatriates through churches and burdened organizations. But again, this does not mean they learn how to integrate them in their midst.
If we want to aim for the 5% minimum percentage of Christians in an unreached population, missions must put their manpower and efforts in concentrating on those unreached segments like the Hakka, Hoklo and Expatriates without waiting whether local churches are ready to follow them. If it works they will join and learn to teach their people. In other words as far as Taiwan is concerned we have in almost 80% of its population a pioneer work to do within a highly structured and challenging environment but with all the promises of our LORD Jesus on our side. Therefore should not be afraid of the hard work. Taiwan’s churches will only learn to do it better, if we are more certain in our role and in our focus. The gospel was brought to Taiwan by many nations for the nations. Therefore for the multi-cultural Taiwan burdened, skilled and well prepared people are desperately needed, in a broad range of ministries in those above mentioned target groups. Besides, culturally sensitive people are needed in seminary and grassroots mission-theological teaching, music, Old Testament teaching, Christian writing with the ability to educationally prepare local churches for cross-cultural missionary engagements. Sheldon Sawatzki in his paper 14 years ago comes to the conclusion: “A mature church is one that is autonomous, financially independent of foreign subsidy, has sufficient resources and numbers to continue the work of evangelization in its own context, and is itself a missionary–sending church. For many denominational mission–planted churches in Taiwan, this stage is reached in thirty–forty years.” – As we have just seen those denominational mission did not strongly increase their personnel and efforts to work among the then 80% unreached segment of Taiwan.
Mission Work Cycles in Taiwan – only partly and mostly in Mandarin speaking areas accomplished
Let’s also apply the biblical cycle of church planting according to Paul”s life to some mission in Taiwan: Most missions entered the Taiwan field in the late 1940's and early 1950's, they have reached or passed the critical turning point in their life and work in Taiwan. Some joined in the 1960’s like SEND International, Liebenzell and some even in the nineties. Usually the so called “Pauline Cycle” takes about 40 years time. The mission–planted church has traversed through stages of dependence (mission domination, the missionary as master, supervisor, administrator), independence (church domination, property transfer, the missionary as servant co–worker invited by church, financial independence) to the beginning stages of interdependence in which the relationship shifts from mission board–to–church to a church–to–church relationship. The missionary then gradually becomes an inter–church worker and an assistant for the establishment of sending structures. As far as Taiwan is concerned missions have gone through that in one specific area, and only in one or two local languages. But none of those missions planted many churches in the unreached segments of Taiwan.
Back in those days Ralph Winter’s article caused some mission leaders to make a decision. Mennonite Mission director Sheldon Sawatzki, in those days decided for his denominational mission to transfer mission to the locals on Taiwan. He was finished with the Pauline Cycle’s last step in his churches of the Mennoite’s social segment of operation. To him for the locals Mennonites to reach out to the unreached segments did not seem a big challenge. Others did not have so much trust in the locals or were not yet at the point of the Pauline cycle where this had become an issue. In fact for those mission-leaders who rather saw the millions in the unreached segments Winter’s article the discussion about this helped to more concentrate on the pioneer work among the still largely unreached segments in Taiwan.
As resources from traditionally sending countries are dwindling missions must be able to justify their further engagement in Taiwan. A trend in evangelical mission thinking during the last decades is an emphasis on identifying and reaching the remaining unreached people groups in the world. Missionary strategists must discern where the job of missions is finished and in which “hsiangs”  the missionary force needs to be deployed. With a clear cut vision for much pioneer kind of work in Taiwan, recruiting and preparing new and more people could be easier. Finishing the evangelization in Taiwan might still take its time - as long as there are people who do not recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But it is not all to foreign missions to accomplish.
However, part of mission’s responsibility is to pass down a good example how to implement cross-cultural mission as the last part of the Pauline cycle to a maturing local mainly Mandarin speaking church and at the same time focusing on the unfinished task within the unreached 77+ % unreached population with a long-term and “die hard” commitment.
This task will engage missions in Taiwan for at least another 20-40 yrs. time to accomplish, but it can be done and be completed. Yes, in Taiwan missionaries are still much needed, the more the better. But they need to be well prepared for their specific task.
 Sheldon Sawatzki, „Is Taiwan still a Mission Field?“, TMF Quarterly, 1993.
 Medical Mission, denominational church-planting. In this article he came to the conclusion that his missions job was finished.
 Ralph Winter believes, if a country has about 5% Christianity, it does not need pioneer missionaries anymore.
 Sheldon Sawatzki, „Is Taiwan still a Mission Field?“, TMF Quarterly, 1993.
 George McFall, Church Statistics of Taiwan 1995-2006.
 Peter Wen, „The Hakka of Taiwan Today“,English-Chinese CD: Slide-Presentation (Taichung: 基督教客家宣教神學院, 2008).
 „200,000 mainland-born residents ineligible to vote in Taiwan“, http://www.iht.com/
 This list may no be complete, but shows how few in fact are concerned about this people group. http://www.ccea.org.tw/missionworld//functioncode/publish/articleshow.asp?sn=807&type=0
 Marku Tsering, Sharing Christ in the Tibetan Buddhist World (Upper Darby: Tibet Press, 1998), 35.
 According to number taken from: „1990 Church Growth Trends. Status of the Church in Taiwan,” July, 1992 Report by OC International, p. 1.
 The Dutch through Sunday School managed within 20 years to have 20% of the island aboriginee believing Christians, 25% of them baptized. Samuel Hugh Moffett, History of Christianity in Asia: Vol. II:1500-1900 (Maryknoll,[New York]: Orbis Books, 1987,2005 2nd Ed), 119.
 CCEA was founded in 1989. During the nineties it became more known under the name „Year 2000 Movement“, but today functions as Taiwan’s umbrella organization of evangelical churches, assisting the local churches in developing focused church-growth, grassroot (white and blue collar) evangelism,family counseling,church statistics, the development of mission ministries and the development of social Christian ministries (under CCRA: since 2002: 1919 Self Help Centers). http://www.ccea.org.tw & http://www.ccra.org.tw
 Sheldon Sawatzki, „Is Taiwan still a Mission Field,“ (Taichung: TMF Quarterly,1993),6.
 A "hsiang" is defined as "a rural administrative district which includes several villages and which is one of two basic units which combined form a county" (A Dictionary of Southern Min) 86.