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The Temporary Vegetarian

One of the most difficult challenges we face in Taiwan is reaching working class men. Like most guys anywhere I suppose, it’s not easy to get them to open up their hearts. Tony, a father of twin girls who works as a printer, is different. He sees the value of God’s word and wants to follow Jesus. There is only one thing standing in his way: his mother.

Individual vs. family practices

This may seem strange to some people, but for many Taiwanese families, personal beliefs are not individual decisions. In practice things are not as simple as, “I believe what I want, and you believe what you want.” Tony comes from a typical Taiwanese family, which is to say that they mix Buddhism, Taoism, and folk religion together. His mom forbids Tony to be baptized because they need to worship their ancestors and pray to their temple gods, which won’t be possible if Tony is baptized. It’s especially important for Tony, the firstborn son, to worship their father who recently died of cancer. During that hard time, however, Tony told a few of us that he experienced God’s comfort and provision in such a powerful way that he had decided to truly believe in Jesus and commit to being baptized–as soon as he completed all of the buddhist rituals that needed to be done for his dad. After this, Tony says, he will be ready to become a Christian.

Tony tells me he doesn’t feel quite right going to the temple to recite Buddhist chants, but he can’t go against his mom. He even became a vegetarian for two months after his dad died in order to bring better fortune to his dad in the spirit world, because his mom expected it. He skips church if the service time conflicts with some ritual that has to be done for his dad. He doesn’t really believe in these rituals anymore, but his mom does, so he has to think of her needs first. She is in a fragile mental state, Tony says, and he can’t upset her world again, not after her husband just passed away.

So what is next?

It’s now been six months since Tony said he would be baptized. While his mom has slowly started to move forward with her life, Tony has not been able to do the same with his faith. He still fears his mom’s reaction and hasn’t found the courage to take the final step. Thinking back to six months ago, Tony actually made a keen observation: “It seems like in order to become a Christian, everyone faces this one last obstacle that, if he can get over it, he will finally be free.”

Richard Lu, Wanhua Hope Team

(Taipei, Northern Taiwan)

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