Church Under the Trees
Breathless from climbing two flights of stairs, Auntie Yao paused to rest. She unlocked her red metal door and ushered the missionary into her tiny, dark apartment. The smell of incense burning on her idol shelf filled the hot, stuffy air – a small idol of Matsu (goddess of the sea) the centerpiece of the large, cluttered shelf.
Now in her seventies, Auntie Yao lives in a small, inner-city government housing community. She did not have much education and can hardly read. But she is proud of her hard work as a dishwasher earlier in life. Though bent over double because of a back injury that never healed, she manages to keep her apartment clean and does her own shopping and cooking. Her daughter lives far away and her son has little to do with her. As a widow, the lack of close relationships with her children causes her much sadness.
A missionary couple met Auntie Yao at a summer English camp run by OMF missionaries and short term workers. She joined the adult English class offered at the camp. The couple invited Auntie Yao to join them under the trees outside her apartment for a time of singing Taiwanese Christian songs. She liked coming because she could visit with neighbors and learn some Chinese characters in the lyrics. Along with six other participants from the English camp, Auntie Yao began meeting with the missionaries on Sunday mornings, forming a “church under the trees”.
The “church under the tree” meets at a busy crossroad, which is a gathering place for the neighborhood. People come and go, stopping a bit to listen to the singing and Bible stories, then moving on. A few have become regulars. The group can include young mothers with children, elderly, the physically or mentally impaired, and drunks. The missionaries visit the community during the week to get to know the people better and offer practical help.
When the missionaries met Auntie Yao, she had no understanding of God and had not heard the gospel. Once she asked if they took Jesus back to their home country when they left Taiwan. Fifty years ago, she had become a follower of Matsu, the most worshipped goddess in Taiwan. On several occasions, she would say wistfully, “If I had heard about Jesus 50 years ago, I may have believed but now I can’t give up my worship of Matsu. I am afraid she will be angry if I do that. Matsu has been good to me and I must keep worshiping her.”
Auntie Yao is one of the many Taiwanese people who are bound by idol worship. Despite her closed heart, Auntie Yao has been coming faithfully to the “church under the trees” for two years, to sing Taiwanese Christian songs and listen to Bible stories. She knows about God now and acknowledges that it is good to believe in Jesus. She is happy for the missionaries to pray for her and her family. When will she trust and follow Jesus?