Sunday, November 01, 2015

Evangelizing Formosa, 1938

A shot of a lacewing larva, which conceals itself by affixing debris to its body.

From the Japan Christian Yearbook for 1938. Interesting for many reasons, from the remark that Hakka is a dialect of Cantonese to the problems missionaries faced in communicating, to the veiled allusions to political issues -- their congregations and meetings were watched by security police, they were forbidden to engage in street preaching, and in certain kinds of gatherings. Many of these missionaries came over from Japan and spoke Japanese and later, learned Hoklo/Taiwanese.


Chapter XXIV
Hugh MacMillan

A missionary in Formosa, visiting a country congregation, was taken by the , minister of the church in that locality for a walk and to call on some of the Christian homes. Before they had gone far they met a farmer, whom after he had curiously eyed the foreigner, they engaged in conversation. "Have you ever heard the gospel?" the minister asked soon after the opening greetings, with apparent evangelistic fervour. "Oh, yes," answered the farmer with much assurance. "Well, to-night at seven-thirty this foreign missionary is going to speak in the church at Market street; come along and you ll hear him preach the gospel in our own language." The farmer grunted the usual assent and passed on his way.

This scene in similar setting and almost identical words could have happened scores of times up to two or three years ago and in a hundred places. Up to the China Incident, or shortly before, this might illustrate several phases of missionary work. For example, the work of the missionary when engaged in country evangelistic activity, the attitude of native ministers toward the missionary and toward the work in general, and the attitude of a large percentage of the population in Formosa who at some time or other could say they had "heard the gospel."


From the beginning of the China Incident or even before, changes have been taking place. With the exception of a very few places, where local conditions make special arrangements possible, street preaching, and evangelistic meetings have almost ceased. In place of this


method of working, cottage prayer-meetings in the homes, and the newly discovered effectiveness of personal evangelism have opened as new ways. Owing to the numbers of papers required to be filled out by missionaries visiting in the country and the hours spent by Christians trying to explain, after their return from the visit, just why they had coma, etc., travel to far-away country places has greatly decreased. A further change still has been the recognition on the part of the native Christians themselves of the importance of their assuming increas ing responsibility for the work of the church. Together with this, the call of the unevangelized with their special need at present, and the challenge of unchristian thought in its wide and threatening sweep, is stimulating new concern among many native Christians.

For the first time Formosans have had a personal touch with the v/ider world Christian organizations. This came through the brief visit of the delegates from Japan to the Madras conference. A Formosan who had attended the welcome dinnsr remarked that he would like to have made a little speech himself. When asked why he hadn t he said the trend of the meeting was to allow the visitors rathsr than the visited to speak, and that perhaps was better anyway. What would he like to have said, he was asked. "Oh, just something like this," he went on.

"Hearing from so many of you that you didn t expect the big ship to call at so small an Island as Formosa, and from others that you thought the port named Kiirun must be on the coast of China, and from others your expression of surprise on seeing such a large group of Christians and such a big welcome at such short notice, I d just like to make a few remarks.
"Christian brothers and sisters, visitors to Formosa for the first time: you may think we Christians of Formosa live in a little out-of-the-way island filled with savages, snakes and mosquitoes, shaken by earth quakes and swept by typhoons, but we hope these

things will not interfere with our Christian fellowship.

"You are now in a land where great Christians came and laid the foundations of our church. You are now in the land of William Campbell, George Leslie MacKay, Thomas Barclay, and William Gauld, of Miss Barnet and Miss Connel. These and others labored for Christ and died and are buried here. I want to tell you that- we are the representatives of about fifty thousand Christians with congregations in about two hundred centres. But this is not boasting. Indeed no. There is only one Christian in a hundred of the population as yet. So this thought of the one is seen against a background of the other ninety-nine. While we have nothing to boast of, we have much to be thankful for and to give us hope and confidence. We need your interest and your prayers."

"Oh, no, Christianity isn t dead yet," remarked one Formosan to another who was feeling blue. "We are not able to do street preaching and have evangelistic meetings of the old type, but people in these days are thinking deeply and there are a score of ways in which preparation is being made for the brighter day when it dawns."

"Could you recommend some book written by a recognized authority on science, a Christian, from whom I could get material to help friends of mine to see as I see?" asked a young woman elder of the church, wife of a medical doctor, in a small town. "You know," she went on, "many people now are troubled about things in their lives that scientific thinking cannot answer for them."

"Now that all our idols have been swept from our homes, (the authorities are carrying out this policy with regard to idols. In their place the symbols of the nation are being set up.) I ll be coming along to join you Christian people and be the same as you are," said a Formosan non-Christian shop-keeper to a deacon in the church.


"Oh, is that so?" commented the deacon who evidently knew the man well. "But if you come with us you will have to worship the unseen "Siong-te" (God) and it isn t such a simple matter as all that. You ll have to change your life too, to worship God." The shop-keeper looked puzzled. Even the removal of his idols evidently hadn't set him thinking as deeply as this reply.

"I m coming to church now, and hearing the gospel," said a young man recently. "I used to hear about it some times on the streets from preachers who had a gas light and a group of people around them. But then I frequently heard them comparing Christianity with other religions by way of showing up the other religion s weak points. I already knew the other religion s weaknesses, but I wanted to know more about the strong points of Christianity. These, it was always hard to hear about. Now I am getting a much better chance to hear directly the fundamental teachings so I am very happy," he explained with appreciation.

Recently a new Christian, a former Buddhist lay preacher was selling a Christian poster representing the way of salvation from the life of sin and death, up to the way of eternal life through the cross, his own illustration. A former Buddhist friend gave him a liberal contribution, to what this friend considered a "most important religious movement." "What people are yearning for now," this man said in making the contribution, "is light on their greatest of all problems, the problem of religion. The emblems of religion they formerly looked to having been taken away in the idol clearing of last year now have to be replaced by new objects of worship. People need new ideas to help them readjust their religious lives," the Buddhist friend thought.


Formosan Christians are having to make changes in their methods of conducting Sunday Schools. During the past few years, most Sunday Schools have changed from majoring in the Formosan language and the teaching of "Romaji" as a medium for understanding the Bible, to an emphasis on the use of the national language. It is said that this change is attracting more children to the Sun day School, particularly from non-Christian homes. Children accustomed to attendance at day-schools find it not uninteresting to drop in to classes in the Sunday School along with their day-school pals who are from Christian families. Since the Japanese language is the medium of instruction, they fit in as naturally as they do in day school. Furthermore parents accustomed to send ing their children to day-school do not object so much as formerly at the attendance" of their children in Sunday School. Now that idols have been removed from their homes many have become more indifferent to their children keeping up the religious customs of their fathers.

The change to the Japanese language has also, owing to the difficulty of reading the Bible in Japanese, led to more use of the story-telling method, where effective story- tellers are available. Formosans have a gift for story-telling that should mean much for the future of Sunday school work as ths use of Japanese becomes more general.

But the day for complete transfer to Japanese is not here. Until there are Japanese Bible translations more easily read by Formosans than the present, and until there is a supply of Japanese-trained children-loving Sunday school teachers, there is a place for the Romaji Bibles which almost any Formosan can learn to read in a few weeks or less, and for ordinary Formosan-speaking Christians with no more than a gift for leading a little Sunday school class.

Sunday is often a busy day for Sunday school scholars. Day school doings, or patriotic parades, or ceremonies often leave Sunday-school seats empty. Some Christians have expressed concern about the effect of this on the Sunday schools, but that concern is now not so commonly


heard. Children who are away to-day, come again next Sunday and seem to find it easy to begin where they left off last week. A Sunday school teacher expressed himself in words like these recently, "After these times are over our children and young people who have continued through all these trials will bring their experience of silent ceremonies into the church to make it more quiet for prayer, and their ability to use the street-sweeping broom to make more clean the temple of God. They will do this after others without their faith will have drunk a cup of joy to the day ceremonies ended and thrown their broom away."


Leaders in the Formosan church who have not received their education in Japanese are few. Numerous however as are those who speak Japanese fluently, there are few who feel able to preach effectively in Japanese. And the few would find it difficult to find a congregation who would comprehend their sermons if preached in the national language. To preach in Japanese would seem to both congregation and minister like, as one leader ex pressed it, "showing off." "The Japanese language is all-right to use as from head to head but not from heart to heart," he added. The great majority of Formosans are not yet accustomed to speaking of the deep things of the heart in language they have learned from the school books. With the exception of a few congregations who en occasions use Cantonese (the Hakka dialect) the language understood and generally used in Formosa is the Fukien dialect. Through the use of Japanese in Sunday school, the national language comes gradually and naturally into use in the church. Too rapid adoption under pressure, many think, will only produce an undesired effect. Through occasional services at first rather than regular services, people will naturally appreciate Japanese and a healthy desire to grow in its use will be stimulated.


A Formosan leader says the difficulty of reading the Japanese Old Testament results in less use of it in the church than formerly, and that at a time when the voices of its prophets and priests should be heard.

"When I was a boy," said an old saint in the church not long ago, "we used to hear over and ovsr again the stories of Abraham, and how he left his own country to go abroad through his faith; of Moses the Hebrew boy who became prime minister of cultured Egypt; of Gideon who conquered his enemies with a flash of light; of David's simple faith in God and his courage in the face of the striding giant; of Nathan s bravery in bringing to light the adultery that was in life in high places; etc. Why don t we hear more about these things now-a-days? Is it because our ministers and Sunday school teachers can t read the Old Testament as easily as they used to the A. B. C. of Romaji, or are people hesitant about telling these stories in these times or what? Somehow I feel we need these stories to-day more than ever we did? We seem to be living like in Old Testament times."


"Don t you find it difficult to preach in times like these?" one minister was heard to remark to another. "What can one preach anyway? A man in my community ordered me to take down the Ten Commandments scroll from my study wall, or at least to cut out the first commandment, because he says such a statement cannot be made these years. Moreover, in every audience there always seem to be those present with ears tuned in for evidence of a spirit unharmonious with the spirit of the times, and so forth and so forth," he lamented shaking his head. "Of course, you must remember that you live in a country district where people are more exposed to men of smaller minds than in the city. I can t say much because I haven t met with problems of that kind. As for what to preach, my subject is always ready for me, Jesus


Christ and Him crucified, My problem is of getting to know Him well enough to be able to use simple, under standable language and figures of speech for ordinary people to understand. But all the same I do not minimize your difficult problem," the other replied.

"I don t go to church very often, I am sorry to say," said a shop-keeper recently, "but the fact is, I don t know enough about theology to know what our minister is talking about most of the time," he added complainingly. How much was truth in this statement it is hard to say, for sermons in the Formosan church are not as a rule difficult to understand. Nevertheless, the tendency to use theological terminology, and abstract unrelated-to-life language is not unknown. "Would you please tell us more about the life and example, and love and suffering of Jesus, and less about the fine points of creed or theology," requested an enthusiastic church member of a little group of ministers not long ago. The ministers turned over in their memories their recent sermons and recalled that their texts had been chosen too often with theology in mind rather than Jesus Christ. For example, of fifty sermons recalled, only four were preached on texts taken from the gospels, while forty six were from the epistles of St. Paul, References to the life of Jesus were of course frequent, but references nevertheless rather than direct subject material.

Sermons are usually well constructed and amply illustrated. Illustrations are usually drawn from a surprisingly wide range of countries, the whole world in fact, and a great variety of back-grounds of human interest and anecdote. Formosan sermon-makers have keen ears and eyes for stories with lessons in them. The readiness with which apt illustrations are brought out indicates constant gleaning from many sources. Doubtless the difficulty of keeping the congregation s interest through ever-present distractions has developed this technique to a level unknown in Western lands. Strangers express


amazement at the unflinching calm with which a Formosan congregation can sit through a long sermon though babies fret or hawkers shriek their sale calls through the front door.


The number of young people, the great majority from non-Christian homes who have had contact with Christianity through the mission schools is not a few. Travelling-through Formosa the experiences of meeting such people are frequent. "It is now I realize what a great opportunity it was to have had three years in a mission middle school," said one of them not long ago. "I did not realize it at that time, but after leaving to attend a government school in Japan proper, and particularly since going out into present-day society, I look back to those days when I got a glimpse into the wider world and the beginning for me of a philosophy of life, which I feel now I should, pursue further." He went on to say how difficult it is to keep on the track he believed during his middle school days, and still believes to be the right one. He ended the conversation by expressing the wish to know the minister of the Christian church in his home town better so he could get something from him to help his spiritual needs.

He promised to look the minister up on his return home.


Through hospitals also those who have learned something of the Christian way of life are numerous. The Formosan Christian hospitals, one in the North, one in the Middle and one in the South of the Island report a few thousands of surgical operations every year besides tens of thousands of out-patient visits. These go back to homes, shops, and fields even to the remotest country places.

Not long ago on the train two Formosan farmers were heard talking. One complained of bad health. The other


advised him to go at once to the hospital in the centre of the Island. "The doctor there is a foreigner but he is extremely clever. He is a Christ man. I d go along to him right away if I were you. You ll be better in no time," his friend enthusiastically assured him. The mission doctor referred to retired from the work two years ago after forty years of service, but the work goes on under Formosan Christian doctors. And the common people refer to it in the missionary s name and Christ s.

Even through the midst of the difficulties of these times the work of evangelism goes on. Changes in method and a decrease in the volume of previous types of activity may indicate outwardly a weakening of Christian in ifluence, but usually when such a thought arises, some interesting evidence of new evangelistic power shows up.

Recently, one Wednesday forenoon, a Formosan woman came up to the door of a church, looking for "the church teacher." She was holding a good-sizsd parcel in her hands; something wrapped up in newspapers and a "furoshiki." A member of the church who happened to be there asked if she meant by "church teacher" the pastor. He thought the pastor was out, but wasn t quite sure. Was it important? She indicated that it was most important. She must see the pastor to give him this parcel. The pastor was found and the woman proceeded to unwrap several ancestral tablets and a little idol. "I just went and told, them, so I did; I just TOLD them "she kept repeating as she loosened the furoshiki and the strings. "They re my neighbors. . . . and this tablet is for his wife; she died last year. She might have lived had I known about "the gospel" and told them sooner. Indeed he might have lived. So I have come, pastor, to ask if yon would be kind enough to come and have a cottage prayer-meeting in their house, and to find out when you can come. Come as soon as you can, for they need you much," she pleaded. So Thursday evening at eight o clock was the time decided.


This incident followed a series of "Bible Study Meetings" held recently. A fore^n missionary with long experience was one of the chief speakers. Many in the audience (of more than two hundred) were hearing for the first time a foreigner speaking in Formosan. Their first reaction was interest in the novelty of the experience, interest which would likely cease in a few moments. But ths passing minutes proved otherwise. They forgot the novelty and settled down to listen intently for a whole hour to a practical talk exposition of a chapter in Romans.

While evangelistic work in Formosa cannot be carried on just as in the past, yet when better times return, theso very years through which Christians are passing, may indeed be looked back to as a valuable foundation-strengthening period for the Church in the Island.
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