Taiwan Missions
September 3rd, 2016

Between writing up update emails, travel journal entries, personal journal entries, texts, and letters, everything is starting to overlap in my mind. To some extent, there is redundancy in this entry to what I’ve written or described in other places. But because each of those outlets are structured differently with a slightly different purpose, I have been able to look at my experience from various perspectives and with slightly different lenses.


Our final team photo at the train station in Hualien!

Where?

After a 1 hour flight from Boston to New York, 3 hour layover, 14 hour flight from New York to Taiwan, 1 hour bus ride to Taipei Station, 3 hours waiting at the train station, 2 hours on the train to Hualien, and finally a 10 minute car ride from the train station to where we were staying, we finally made it to beautiful Hualien, Taiwan.

Staying in a more rural outskirt of Hualien City on the eastern coast of Taiwan, we are sandwiched between a range of lush green mountains to the west and a brilliant blue ocean to the east. The air is heavy with heat, humidity, and the nearly perpetual buzz of cicadas that has become almost like white noise at this point. Surrounded by primarily agricultural fields and small homes and businesses, the skies are very open and the mountains can be seen from almost anywhere.


Basically the view wherever we were in Hualien. Those mountains doh!

There is a certain physical rawness to Taiwan that I admire a lot. I think this aspect resonates a lot with me still from the first time I visited Taiwan in 2013, though that was heavily contrasted against having just been in Japan for several months. The rawness I am trying to describe is how people’s lives appear as they are: genuine. There isn’t a facade created by opulent exteriors with empty innards, but instead almost the opposite, where the outside of a building may look actually pretty old, but the inside is renovated and quite nice. There is also a refreshing simplicity, as buildings are physically pretty boxy and aesthetically clean. Of course this is speaking more to that which is more modern and renovated, as some shabbier looking places are actually still pretty shabby inside, but even in that, there is something subtly appealing about looking at a life that is what it is, rather than an empty shell. This idea carries over to many businesses here as well, which are open fronts, such that the store is open facing on the street. Instead of grandeur store fronts, what you see is what it is.

Almost like finding a pearl in an ordinary looking clam shell, there is a hidden beauty in the aesthetics here. It’s quiet though, and you have to really slow down to notice notice it. Noteworthy, but not overbearing. Bright, but not too loud. There is a lot of color in nearly everything, from buildings to signs. There is a fair share of lit up and neon signs, but it’s dampened by the sun-faded posters and remnants of year-long Christmas decor. The main street might be busy with flashing lights and giant prints, but make any turns and the side streets are immediately quiet. In addition, small squat cars and mopeds abounding make the overall feel of the city and people here less weighted. Of course, the abundance of mountains and open air also contributes to the lightness that this place emanates.

Beyond the feel of Taiwan (or at least, particularly eastern Taiwan), I am spending the majority of my time at the Mennonite Christian Hospital in Hualien, which is one of the two major hospitals in this area of Taiwan. Compared to other hospitals I have been in (Boston’s in particular), there is definitely an air of simplicity. As much as I love the three floor atrium skylit lobby of Brigham and Women’s or the beautiful glass solarium in Dana Farber Cancer Center (both in Boston’s Longwood Medical Center), I appreciate the simplicity of the Mennonite Christian Hospital.


When?

Although my time serving in Taiwan was 5 weeks long, this adventure has been in the works for several months, and I will continue to process through my experience for many more. It all started with a vague interest in missions and an assumption that I would quit my job in the spring and start graduate school in the summer of 2016. With those uncertain plans in mind, I figured this summer would be a perfect time to go abroad on missions.

After many applications, forms, emails, phone interviews, trainings, and fast forward some six months, I found myself in eastern Taiwan for 5 weeks.

God’s timing is perfect. Everything aligned such that I was able to end my job, have a week to myself, go to Taiwan, have another week to myself, and then start graduate school.



Lots of singing around the hospital and playing games with the elders

What?

So what exactly was I doing in Taiwan? Yes, missions, but what does that mean? If you asked me a few weeks before I left, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much. I came with a team from Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), a Christian missions sending organization that serves in various capacities throughout Asia.

My team and I served at Mennonite Christian Hospital (MCH) in Hualien. We volunteered with long term nursing home patients, helping out however we can, but primarily serving elderly patients. Because the majority of the patients we work with have mental or physical handicaps, even something as simple as eating lunch takes a lot of effort, and so our team is mostly helping the hospital staff with feeding patients and making sure everyone is taken care of. However, more than serving, our purpose for being here is to be a witness to the patients, their families, and the hospital staff. We want to reflect God’s love and faithfulness through our actions and our consistent presence at the hospital and in the area.


There are some arm exercises the patients do a few times a week, and one is a circular motion to be a “big watermelon” and a “small watermelon.” I got a kick out of that one to say the least.

First hearing about going on an overseas missions or service trip, the first questions that come to mind are what are we doing and what sort of impact will we make? That definitely was my first inquiry when signing up for this trip.

But after having more or less the same routine and serving the same patients each and every day, I realized that it was not just about what we were objectively doing, but it also encompassed our entire presence and attitude while on the field.

In addition to serving at the hospital, we had opportunities to interact with some of the physicians that work at MCH, learning more about the culture of the hospital and of Taiwan, as well meeting other missionaries who have been serving in Taiwan long term.

Interacting with physicians there was not only been interesting to see what sort of medical work they are doing, but it was also hugely encouraging to learn about how they integrate their faith and their life mission into their profession. Whether that means leaving the comforts of a big city to come to serve in rural Hualien, going on short term medical missions to train locals, or making long commutes to bring medical care to remote villages, it was inspiring and refreshing to see how the MCH doctors are being witnesses to God’s faithfulness within their careers.


Mobile clinic in rural Zhuo-Si on the left, and then nightmarkets on the right

Who?

My team consisted of 11 teammates and our field host. The 12 of us all embarked from the US to Taiwan and lived under one roof for 5 weeks, sleeping, eating, and working alongside each other. We all came from different places and from different places in our lives. It was a good experience, getting to know new people and interacting with people of different backgrounds and perspectives. It was also a good challenge, to be working so extensively with others who are very different from me, in terms of personality, temperaments, experience, and general background. Everyone brought something different to the table.



Don’t worry, we know how to play too! And eat. Well :)

While about half of my experience in Taiwan was committed to my team, the remaining half was split between relationships with local Taiwanese we were working alongside, and the elders we were serving at the hospital.

We had the fortunate opportunity to get to know and build friendships with some of the hospital staff who we saw daily. We not only wanted to witness to them through our volunteer service, but we also wanted to build genuine relationships. From celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks and BBQ together, to hanging out at nightmarkets and playing games together, it was a lot of fun just getting to know them and play a small part in their lives during our time in Taiwan.


Pork-chop-o’clock. We ate a lot of lunchboxes at the hospital, and hence a lot of pork chop

The elders we served at the hospital were one of our primary focuses for our entire trip. Many of our patients were severely disabled, both physically and/or mentally, but we wanted to serve them and show them just a tiny glimpse of who God is. Because we volunteered everyday during the week for 5 weeks, we got to know the patients decently well. From their habits and behaviors, to their general likes and day-to-day moods, it was a privilege to have our lives cross paths and to be a part of their stories.

Why?

So why go spend my time and money to volunteer in a foreign country when there is so much work that still needs to be done right here at home? I have a few brief thoughts in response to this.

The first I think is the most superficial, but in all honesty is a significant reason in itself, but to experience and witness another culture. Although the world is more interconnected than ever before through modern technology and transportation, there are still huge differences in culture and perspective that really need to be experienced first hand to even scratch the surface of understanding. To read about a culture or see it on television, and then to experience it day to day are totally different. Maybe the obvious or explicit differences won’t seem that shocking, but there are a lot of subtle nuances in culture and communication that need to be seen first hand. For that reason, I love traveling and going to new places. I love catching glimpses into what someone else’s every day can look like.

Another reason to go overseas for missions is the Great Commission, to go out and make disciples of all nations. For those who have never heard of who Jesus is, or for those who have heard but not really experienced who he is, we are called to reach out to them. We cannot ignore them and be content amongst ourselves. We need to go out.

Finally, I think the last reason, though maybe more self-focused, is to be changed. Especially for short term missions. There is only so much that we can do on a short term trip. A few weeks of serving is not necessarily sustainable, and although externally the work that is being done may be small, the internal growth can be enormous, even for short term. The power of personal growth is not only for the individual either, but also in how those individual changes can subsequently change others.The illustration we were given that I have loved immensely.

We each are represented by a cylinder of water, each water droplet an experience or memory. Then adding a single droplet of colored dye, which represents our individual mission experience. That droplet is no larger or smaller than all the others, and yet the color permeates through all the water and the previously clear water column is now permanently changed. The rest of the water droplets are affected by the dye. In a similar fashion, an intentional mission experience can be like that single droplet of dye: it can permeate and change an individual. But the power of that dye or experience doesn’t stop there. That dyed water can then be shared with others, and the dye will affect their water columns as well. The color won’t be as deep, since others can only hear about our experience second hand, but it can affect them nonetheless. There is power in our experiences because beyond changing and (ideally) bettering ourselves, we can also bring our experiences back home to friends and family and have them share in it, even if they didn’t physically go, they can still be a part of it.

I think I experienced this in my own trip, as I was in contact with friends and family while I was abroad. Sharing in my experience along the way, it was as if I was taking them along with me.

Our purpose of going all the way to Taiwan was so much more than doing a good deed and serving the hospital. We went to be reflections of Christ and His love and compassion. We went to have our hearts broken and built up again. We went to plough, sow, water, and reap the harvest that God is growing.


Outside Holiness Church, an Amis aboriginal local church

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A little bit of an intro...

This is my personal site to post some stuff – stuff that is so random I can’t really be any more specific. But if you care for photos of food, panoramas, my day, or just the thoughts that go on in my head, please stay!

I love to travel, bake, burn time on tumblr, read, cafe questing, and run around pretending to be a photographer. I also have a thing for Japanese, classical music, and food. Wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I hope to do it with a smile, see new things, do everything, and just experience and take it all in.