When I leave the house at 5:30 in the morning, my elderly neighbors are returning from their morning walks. It is a quick stop by 7-11 for a coffee and I then head out to meet up with my friend Nong.
Shortly after my wife & I moved to rural Taiwan, our local co-worker suggested I start a bible study with the father of a child she taught at the local elementary school. The guy was not a Christian and had no previous exposure to the Gospel, let alone the God of the Bible. I pointed out that he didn’t even know who I was so he may feel uncomfortable meeting with a stranger. Before I knew it, we were in our local coworker’s car to go meet Nong. Turns out, Nong is a farmer.
Arriving at a field, we walked out to chat with Nong. Due to the heavy rains that had happened in June, he was having serious problems with flooding in his fields. Our co-worker introduced us, then told him about all the various individuals or groups she had praying for him. He said that the prayers were nice but what he needed was help. I was then asked to pray for that. To be honest, it was an awkward first meeting but it sparked a thought and a prayer, what if I helped? What if I worked on a farm to help this guy out?
I am NOT a farm boy, so this idea was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I also had real health concerns. I don’t do well in prolonged exposure to heat, but I came to Taiwan to serve. So ten days later, after much prayer, my wife & I revisited the farmer. I told him I would be available to help out three mornings a week if he thought it would be helpful. He gladly received me.
Farming in Taiwan is hard. Most everything we do is done by hand. I work from 6am till 9-9:30 Monday, Wednesday, & Friday. I return home and every part of me and my clothes is wet from sweat. It is gross. Sometimes I am sore and achy. A couple of times I didn’t drink enough water which led to dizziness.
My time with Nong is developing into a friendship. We will usually take a small break to have a snack and chat. By chat I mean my broken Mandarin, his even more limited English and the translation app he has on his phone. We laugh a lot. Like when the app translated what he said as, ‘We will plant the saplings at the entrance to the cave for my wives’.
We also have had some deeper discussions. My second day he asked if I brought my God with me when I moved to Taiwan. We also chatted about a Christian Taiwanese family in Kaohsiung that was expecting child number 7 and how Christians value children.
Recently, he tried to give me money in front of a brother who had come to help out for a couple of days and I declined. I was afraid I had caused him to lose face. Later that night I wrote this:
Thank you for being my friend.
Thank you for letting me work in the field.
The Bible has farming stories.
Working with you helps me understand the Word of God better.
My faith growing bigger is better than money.
And it’s true. The similarities between missionary work and farming are incredible. Often in mission circles we focus on the sowing of seeds and the hopeful harvest that will follow but so much has to happen before that. Before seeds can be planted, the field has to be prepared.
The field I am currently working on was first mowed down to remove all the overgrowth, rocks, and leftover items from the previous season. We had to establish where the rows were going to be located. Then we plowed. Then we plowed again. Recently we used rakes and started to level out the rows. Soon we will be adding plastic covers and drip irrigation hoses. Guess what? All this has to be done before any seeds can be planted otherwise the seeds that are planted will not grow and it’s a huge waste of time, money, and resources.
It’s the same when starting a new ministry in rural Taiwan. The spiritual soil here is hard, overgrown, and haggard from years of neglect. There is no Christian presence save our local coworker and a new 2-year church plant with more staff than local attendees, both of which we are partnering with. We are in the stage of preparing the soil. Meeting people where they are at; in the fields, at 7-11, chatting with the neighbors, getting to know our village chief, visiting the same stores and restaurants to build relationships and build trust. Just like farming, this is hard but necessary work.
This opens up opportunities to have conversations and share God’s truth, to share Bible stories, to talk about spiritual matters, just like my time with Farmer Nong.
(From the Taiwan field. Names & location have been edited for privacy)