Hi everyone! This is Jeffery, and I want to first thank you for reading our updates and praying for us and our missions efforts while we were in Taiwan! Even with our daily preparation and effort, it is God who has been actively at work above all, sustaining us and renewing our strength, directing our thought and deed as we seek to be faithful and loving ambassadors representing His Name, and working powerfully in the hearts of those we minister to, removing their heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, one that can receive the seed of the Gospel and grow and flourish. By prayer, we are all able to better recognize the ways in which God works and render Him the glory He is due, and entreat Him to work still more powerfully to His greater glory! So again, thank you for remembering us in your prayers :)
The following is a brief breakdown of how we spent our time in Taiwan:
Sat 7/23 -- Arrived at, settled into Taipei
Sun 7/24 -- Church; Free time; Dinner with Taipei HOC team
Mon 7/25 -- Prep for VBS
Tue-Fri 7/26-7/29 -- Taipei VBS
Sat 7/30 -- Day trip to Ruifang
Sun 7/31 -- Church; Tamsui
Mon 8/1 -- Travel to Hualien
Tue-Fri 8/2-8/5 -- Hualien VBS
Sat 8/6 -- Water-hiking in Hualien; Return to Taipei
Sun 8/7 -- Church; Free time; Return home!
Though these two weeks in Taiwan passed by so very quickly, reminding me yet again that our time in this life is short and exceedingly precious, God continued to demonstrate to us His faithfulness, by revealing to us more of His character and how we individually and corporately are to reflect it as His image-bearers. Throughout our time on this STM, we have especially seen God as sovereign, personal, and holy.
God as Sovereign
It seems most fitting to begin this sharing by recognizing how we've recognized God's sovereign goodness at work throughout our time in Taiwan. Others on the team may not share my sentiment, but in the days leading up to our arrival here, I felt unprepared in some measure both physically and spiritually for this STM, as I did for the other church events this whole summer (VBS, Fresno World Changers, Summer Retreat). All of these events seemed to arrive so suddenly, catching me by surprise at how fast the summer was progressing. And so it was the same with this trip, with both not feeling the reality of our imminent departure and not knowing much about how our VBS would be put together and run. Yet despite these impressions of unpreparedness, God's sovereignty was manifested in how countless factors contributed to what I would say was the best set of VBS camps we've run among the now three times we have travelled to Taiwan.
A couple of these factors include the timing of the trip and the volunteers from Taiwan who supported us. Since our Taiwan curriculum was based on that of the VBS we led back in the US, having led that VBS early in the summer was an immense help for leading in Taiwan, particularly in regards to already being familiar with the songs as well as the Bible stories for skits and teaching/discussion. It was also helpful that, of the Taipei volunteers who could only support us for one of the two weeks, those who had the best English ability helped with the first week rather than the second, helping us to teach better in Chinese the first week so that we were more practiced and prepared for the second. Furthermore, having Taipei volunteers dedicated for A/V and one who helped us much with skits allowed for smoother execution and presentation of both our VBS camps.
As image-bearers of God, we are created to reflect Him and His glory, or in this case, His sovereignty. As creatures though, we can only recognize that God alone is sovereign and humbly submit to His authority over all things. On this STM, recognizing His sovereignty looked in part like our time of personal devotions and group worship/sharing/prayer, a time to prepare our hearts for a day of ministry, before each day of our VBS camps. Having made a habit of this each morning for the duration of our trip, we cannot help but to recognize that this should be the pattern of our daily lives as well, for our call to ministry has not ended with he end of time in Taiwan—we should be just as faithful in our ambassadorship of Christ and stewardship of God's grace in our daily lives as we have strived to be these past two weeks.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. // Philippians 2:12-13
God as Personal
Short-term missions trips, by their very nature, require the missions team to work with the local church to support its ongoing ministry in the community. This year, we were privileged to work again with 台北基督之家 (Taipei Home of Christ) and 花蓮福音中心 (Hualien Gospel Center). A team, in order to cooperate with one from another church, must first itself be united and functioning smoothly. In this regard, we have been blessed these past few years with teams that have been diligent and servant-minded overall. This year, though, we had a significantly smaller team than previous years (11 vs 17-18), so each member of our team was more essential than they otherwise would have been, purely on a numbers basis. And, praise God, complaint about the responsibilities we each had (including ones we newly discovered we had) was absent, with everyone joyfully serving in each of their capacities. Since we conducted our afternoon activities in three rotations, with each of us assigned to a particular station, we rarely observed how the other stations fared and the exciting things they did, but had no need to worry since we could trust that they were being led faithfully!
In terms of working with the other two churches, I thought we all did quite well; though we definitely had differences in our demeanor and approach, we increasingly learned to recognize the blessings that these differences were. Probably the most obvious difference between us and the team from Taipei is our tidiness/organization, which manifested itself on a number of levels. For example, while we are rather okay with loosely organized physical belongings across several rooms (if at all organized), they prefer having all belongings in their respective bags and then stowed away out-of-sight into cabinets in their respective rooms. Additionally, while we feel comfortable operating autonomously with "loose" guidelines as to what is expected of us, they prefer exact instructions and specifications for what they are to accomplish. And, when gathering for a team huddle when playing indoor capture-the-flag, we simply yelled a loud battle-cry, while they actually discussed their strategy (haha). But despite these differences in our temperaments, we were still able to cohesively work as a team, both in the first week in Taipei as well as our second week in Hualien, where we worked with a team from yet another church! Thus, we were quite able to see that we really are one Church and one Body in Christ—all saved by faith alone, through grace alone, by the death and resurrection of Christ alone, for the glory of God alone.
Our learning of how to better communicate and work together, in both within and between our individual teams, to joyously function as one Body with various members of different roles and responsibilities, translates to also learning more of how God too is personal and how He has chosen to share His joy with us by condescending to make Himself known to us. For God has always existed in perfect communion with Himself in three Persons, each joyously serving the other two Persons and being served, and we are now able to share in that joy by bearing His image in also first serving Him and our co-image-bearers before ourselves.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. // Philippians 2:3-4
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know the you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." // John 13:34-35
God as Holy
Throughout our time on this STM, like all the rest of our time in however we choose to utilize it, we recognized how pitiful our attempts at obedience to God's commands and perfect Law are, both when we forget Him and backslide and when we are most watchful and diligent; all our strivings at best appear as dirty rags in comparison to God's radiant and magnificent holiness and glory. One implication of God's holiness is that there is no one and nothing that is like Him in all His fullness. God is self-existing, omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present, and eternal. We are dependent on Him for life, powerless beyond whatever strength and influence we have been given, limited in knowledge and understanding, limited to one physical location, and limited to the present and to the span of our short lives. God is holy; we are not. All that we do cannot earn us salvation or favor with God.
Yet though we cannot merit salvation, we don't have to, for God is gracious and indeed made a way for us to be saved by punishing His Son as a substitute for us! Thus, we are always reminded of this Gospel and will continually need to reminded, to always look back to Christ's substitutionary work for us, to look now to His interceding work for us, and to look forward to His coming return and the renewal and restoration of all creation that will come with it. God as holy points us to this grand redemptive narrative that is outlined in Scripture and extends through all history.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— // Philippians 3:7-9
Ultimately, I am confident that God used our time of ministry in Taiwan to advance His Kingdom—among our primary audience of elementary-school-aged children, but also in the larger community that we impacted composed of the other leaders, the church, the neighborhood, and more! But we as a team have through this trip experienced again the ministry of the Spirit in our own lives, in His revealing to us yet more and more of the glories of Calvary and how marvelous our God and Savior really is! All praise and glory be to God, then, for He indeed is worthy and He is always—yesterday, today, and forever—faithful!
The verses highlighted by our missions t-shirts this year put nicely our calling:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founded and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. // Hebrews 12:1-2