Many Taiwanese think that Christmas is all about Santa and gifts. It might seem odd that Christians would do anything that seems to support this. One Taiwanese friend asked me if “Sheng Dan lau Gong Gong” – the old man of Christmas was God’s younger brother. He certainly looks like one of the Taiwanese gods. However, we discovered from our time living in the Taiping area that having a foreigner dressed in a Santa suit opens the doors to all sorts of evangelistic opportunities.
Over the past ten years I have walked around the wards in two military hospitals handing out tracts and preaching a Christmas message to groups of nurses and doctors. In recent years the supermarket chain, Carrefour has invited me to hand out gifts to children in their stores (they provided the gifts and I gave Christian literature to the parents). I have given short talks and had groups singing and performing drama for the customers in the supermarkets.
With different groups of Christians, I have visited schools, vegetable markets, factories and even temples handing out candies and Christian literature when the groups gathered to give short talks about the meaning of Christmas. Everyone is happy to see Santa and also willing to listen to me explaining how Christmas is not really about him at all.
The only two negative sides of this ministry are:
1) It can be really hot in December in Taiwan and the suit gets hot and speaking in public with a fake beard is very irritating!
2) On occasions riding around Taiping on a tricycle or motorbike in the full Santa suit I have come close to causing traffic accidents as cars slow to a halt or pull across the road suddenly so that the passengers can take photos.
Once in a mountain village in Taiping I was handing out tracts when I heard a child from right across the valley on the other side of the river shout loudly, “Mom, Santa is here in the village!” A loud angry shout came from inside one of the houses “I told you before not to tell lies!”
If only the Gospel message was met with the enthusiasm of the child! Sadly, the reaction is often more like that of the parent.
I will keep sweltering inside the Santa suit each year as long as it gives me new opportunities to talk about the real gift of Christmas to those who would otherwise never listen.
-David Eastwood, Field Director
(Taiping, Central Taiwan)