Grandma Lien, who lives opposite the OMF-run Hope Centre in Wanhua, Taipei, was baptised there recently. It was a significant step in demonstrating her commitment to following Jesus, but there were many steps that led to her decision.
Grandma Lien first came to the Hope Centre in May 2016 desperate to find someone who could help her two year-old granddaughter. The child had been sleeping badly. It wasn’t just because of the noise from the processions and fireworks in the streets for the goddess Matzu at that time of year either. The girl seemed especially sensitive to spiritual things. Most nights she would wake after bad dreams, screaming. Or, sometimes, when no one was around, she would shout ‘go away!’, sensing a spirit was there.
A missionary at the Hope Centre prayed for the girl. Wonderfully, the child went off, lay down and slept soundly in the Centre, despite the noise of children playing in the background! Her sleep improved in general and her unusual sensitivity to spiritual things reduced.
Grandma Lien kept coming to the Hope Centre. Her testimony was that ‘Jesus helped my girl to sleep’ but it wasn’t clear what that meant to her personally. Sometimes, Margret, an OMF worker on the Hope Centre team explains, she would say things that made it sound like she believed. But then other comments suggested she didn’t.
A significant milestone came a year later on Tomb Sweeping Day, a major occasion for offering incense to the dead. Grandma Lien told her family: ‘I don’t take incense sticks anymore, I believe in Jesus.’ She’d never said those last three words to the team at the Hope Centre before.
The team kept praying for Grandma Lien. She still had a god shelf for her idols in her house, though she was no longer using it. One day she declared: ‘I want to get rid of the god shelf.’
Margret shared that before they could clean her house, she would need a ‘house cleaning in her heart’. Was she willing to confess her sins and turn away from the gods she had worshipped in her past?
Grandma Lien said she would turn from those gods and that she was still willing to remove the shelf. The Hope Centre team asked a local pastor to help them take the shelf down. The next step would be baptism. The team asked if she wanted to be baptised. Grandma Lien said she didn’t see that she needed to.
Baptism is the real step of commitment for Christians in Taiwan. If you ask Taiwanese Christians when they decided to follow Jesus, they will often give their baptism date. The step can’t be rushed. People have to come to their own decision.
The next Sunday, Grandma Lien came to the Hope Centre and smilingly told the team she’d been baptised as she had taken the god shelf down. Margret explained that baptism was another step. Margret used the illustration of marriage: ‘when you were young and fell in love with your husband, you dated for a while but one day, you had to make a decision to marry him and make it official in front of everyone.’ Baptism, Marget explained, was like that, saying publically that you were now going to follow Jesus all of your life.
Grandma Lien decided she wanted to do that. She shared her official name with the team. This was a big step. Before she had given them a different name. In temples in Taiwan, people will often use a made-up name because they believe they can ‘cheat’ the gods. It is thought the gods don’t know who is making an offering to them unless they are told. So people have to introduce themselves to the gods, much like you might introduce yourself to someone when you meet for the first time. So when Grandma Lien prayed to Jesus, she began by introducing herself, telling him her real name, address and so on. It showed she was serious, she was being honest with Jesus about who she really was, but Margret stopped her. Marget needed to explain that Grandma Lien didn’t have to introduce herself to Jesus; he knew her completely already.
A few weeks later, Grandma Lien was baptised at a simple service in the Hope Centre. She had committed to following Jesus. A few weeks later at the Matzu temple outings, where people take their gods from their god shelves to the temple, Grandma Lien was invited to join them, as she had done for years previously. This time, Grandma Lien declared ‘I’m not going – I belong to Jesus now.’ Confessing Jesus like this is a major step.
A month later, Grandma Lien came to the Hope Centre with the news that her house, which she had always thought was hers, actually belonged to a distant relative who wanted to sell up. She would have to move out by October. It was an attack from the devil, as if to say, ‘this is what happens if you leave the temple.’ But Grandma Lien has persisted in following Jesus, saying ‘no one can take Jesus away from me.’
What of Grandma Lien’s family? The granddaughter feels the difference in her grandmother but the girl’s family remain committed to traditional Taiwanese religion. The mother is open to the gospel, but while the father does not mind her ‘believing in Jesus’, if she takes the decisive step of baptism, he says he will divorce her.
Please pray for those who have made various levels of commitment to following Jesus to take the step of baptism, declaring publically their commitment to following him wholeheartedly.