On our first trip to RT Mart, my daughter asked me, “Why is everyone staring at us?” The only good answer I had was this: “Because we look strange.” With blonde hair and blue eyes, my children stick out like sore thumbs in the hustle and bustle of Hsinchu, Taiwan. We are foreigners fumbling through a new language—at the mercy of Google translate when we don’t quite know what we want to say.
And on the opposite end, Taiwan is strange to us. The sights, smells, and sounds are all very different. There are new fruits that look like they come from another planet. Common sense traffic laws seem not to apply to the speeding mótuōchē (motorbikes). And there is almost no utility bill or parking fine that cannot be paid at the nearest 7/11 convenience store. When the Apostle Peter writes to the Christians of Asia Minor referring to them as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), I suddenly feel like I have a better grasp on what that means.
Many Chinese and Taiwanese consider Christianity to be yang jiao—foreign religion. David Marshall was told by a Taiwanese man that God “wears a foreign face.”1 But is the Triune God foreign to the Taiwanese people? In one sense, not at all. George Mackay was such a beloved missionary that even the hospital in Hsinchu bears his name. And yet maybe God is foreign, because despite years of missionary work, the founding of several Bible colleges and seminaries, and even some very large churches, the number of Christians in Taiwan still hovers at only 6% of the population.
Jesus certainly seems like a foreigner to Taiwan. Are missionaries, like myself, an invasion on Taiwanese culture? Is it worth it to learn a new language and a new culture? Is it worth it to be a foreigner in a land where so many see Jesus as foreign?
Missionaries might be foreigners, but I assure you that Jesus is not. He is the image of the invisible God. By him, and for him, all things were created (Colossians 1:15-16). Our Lord is not foreign to Taiwan, because he created Taiwanese people, he loves them and he died for them. He is not sending his missionaries to any place he is not going and has not gone before them (Luke 10:1; Micah 2:13). Jesus calls his missionary people to go to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It’s not because Jesus has foreign territory yet to be explored. It’s because many residents of his world have yet to be citizens of his Kingdom.
It’s a funny thought that there is more “give and take” in being a missionary than I would have expected. To give Christ to Taiwan, I must first receive the gift of its language and culture. I am a foreigner to Taiwan seeking out those who are foreigners to the Kingdom of God. Yet what is foreign eventually becomes familiar. My prayer is that the same may be said of Jesus in Taiwan.
Rev. Ben Hosch is a 2016 graduate of Lutheran Brethren Seminary. He has served congregations in Minnesota and North Dakota. He and his wife Sara are your newest missionaries to the unreached people of Taiwan.
1. True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture. Kuai Mu Press, 2002.