Ghost Month

Ghost month. A period of time when the gates of hell are opened, allowing ghosts and spirits to enter our world. It is a time for them to feast on the food and drink offerings made for them.

Ghost Month Offering

At the height of the month, the ghost festival (the 15th day of the seventh lunar month), it is believed deceased ancestors visit the living. Around this time, people will offer food and drink, burn incense, joss paper (paper money), and various other things to the ghosts to alleviate their suffering and hunger. Also, a wash basin is provided for ghosts to wash themselves.

As we watch on from a distance, grandparents invite their grandchildren (toddlers and such) to follow their lead, worshipping their dead ancestors. Store owners pack tables full with various goods in hope of appeasing any mischievous spirits. People stand over a brazier burning mounds of joss paper…

It’s depressingly sad. I wish I could tell them there was another way, there is no reason to be scared…

Culture shock: why don’t you understand?

I’m an Australian-born Cambodian-Chinese (aka ABC). I have thick, black hair; dark brown eyes; and a fairly tanned skin tone. No, this isn’t a dating advert, but it’s a pretty standard description for most South-East Asians.

It’s almost a month since my family and I moved to Taiwan to serve here with OMF International. One of the challenges of living and ministering in Taiwan is my Asian appearance. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, stay with me.

The locals

If I walk down the street on my own, Taiwanese locals will look at me and they don’t think anything of it. I look enough like a local, that is, until I open my mouth. Whether it’s ordering food, trying to open a bank account, or sort out health issues at the hospital, I get this look—Why don’t you understand?

Additionally, even though I grew up in Australia there are elements of Asian culture which I’ve inherited from my parents. As such, I feel an unspoken expectation and pressure to conform to the Taiwanese culture. What are those expectations, I don’t actually know. Still the whisper comes: Why don’t you understand?

It is all too easy to become judgmental and look upon my Australian upbringing. It is all too easy to begin comparing the West and the East. It is all too easy to shut myself and retreat from the world. None of which would be at all helpful. After all, the purpose of coming to Taiwan was to be part of reaching these people with the gospel.

However, it’s not only with the locals where this issue arises.

Co-workers & expats

On the other end of the spectrum, expat co-workers can overlook or forget that Western naturalised Asians are not necessarily equipped with the language and culture of their ethnic origins. While my experience of this is fairly minor, it does happens. Whether there are cultural expectations to act or behave in a certain manner, or language expectations where I completely miss what’s going on. Why don’t you understand?

I remember working back at home in Australia where the office culture was casual and friendly, but in a public setting, the culture was prim and proper. I was completely caught me off guard! And that’s in my “home” culture.

Here in Taiwan, I work with a team of people from different countries with their own language and culture. There are Swiss, Germans, Singaporeans, Americans, Australians, just to name a few. While English is the working language, only a few call the English culture their own.

The cultural expectations from expat co-workers is probably more dangerous than the cultural conflicts with local people. Why? Conflict with co-workers is one of the most common reasons for missionary attrition.1 I don’t expect any major conflicts, but I expect there will be some. Missionaries need your prayers for their relationships with their co-workers.

Biblical identity

So, how do we to respond to culture shock? How do we deal with the ensuing cultural conflict? Where do we define our identity in the midst of all this transition? What keeps us going?

As we undergo these transitions, we can’t define ourselves from our “home” culture, nor can we define ourselves from our new “adopted” culture. If we continuously define ourselves from the changing world around us, we are tossed around like leaves in the wind.

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

— Mark 8:27-30 (ESV)

If you’re familiar with the Gospel of Mark, one of the driving motifs is the identity of Jesus. Mark opens his Gospel, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Peter declares Jesus as the Christ, and the Gospel will climax with a Roman centurion declaring Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

What’s my point? Jesus knew exactly who he was. His life and mission, culminating in his death and resurrection, is driven by a solid knowledge and acceptance of who he is. He is the Christ. He is the Son of God. The opinion of people around him didn’t sway him from his path to redeem humanity from sin.

The Bible sets out our identity in Christ. We are adopted co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), sons and daughters of God. We are saved by grace and we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-10). We are a holy priesthood for the worship of God (1 Peter 2:5). This barely scratches the surface.

As I wrestle with culture shock, the one thing that keeps me grounded and gives me strength to move forward each day is knowing who I am in Christ. Satan seeks to chip away at this foundation, but he cannot. It is a firm foundation on which I will stand. I belong to Christ. He purchased me with his blood. He gave me life, and he gave it abundantly (John 10:10).

  1. Too Valuable to Lose: exploring the causes and cures of missionary attrition by William Taylor Find it on Amazon 

Culture shock: the early days

Well, it’s Day 4 of our new journey in Taiwan. We arrived safely last Wednesday and we were warmly welcomed by a fellow co-worker.

To date, there are daily communications in the form of personal visits, phone calls, and messages from one or more of our new co-workers here in Taipei. All of them are truly happy to have us as part of the team here, and all of them empathise with our daily struggle as we transition into life here.

However, the culture shock is setting in quicker than I expected. It just hit me in the face. Honestly, it’s probably a good indication of how stressed and tired I am from these last few months of preparing for this current transition.

I could entertain you with the things which frustrate me, but that’s the danger of culture shock, entertaining those frustrations about differences—not failures or mistakes, between my home culture and my current adopted culture—which fuel bitterness and anger, defeating the whole purpose of coming here in the first place.

Rather, my prayer and desire turns to Jesus:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:29 (ESV)

He is the reason we are here. He is my hope and my salvation. He is the hope and salvation for all peoples.

I’ll still have days where I will struggle with the culture, but I know that my Lord and Saviour is able to carry me through.

Words of encouragement: timeless assurance

I love Joseph. He’s now two years old. My greatest concern is how I will equip Him in life and faith. 10 years ago, this was a distant thought; instead I was challenged by the secularist university around me and how I would live out my faith among my friends and peers. The encouragement and assurance I needed to hear then and the encouragement and assurance I need today are quite different.

I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children.
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong.
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

— 1 John 2:12-14 (ESV)

Yet, there are some truths, encouragements and assurances, that remain the same regardless of the state of life we find ourselves. After reminding his readers of the greatest commandment, John writes to encourage and assurance them of their faith.

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The weariness of prayer

I am weary. I am distracted. My spirit is willing, but my mind and body are weak. I am spiritually lethargic. The fellowship of my spiritual brothers and sisters alone carry the passions of my soul, yet alone I find myself dragging my spiritual feet in the dirt of dreariness.

The opening of one of David’s psalms (Psalm 6) reads:

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?

Psalm 6:1~3 (ESV)

As I read this psalm, it does not stir anything in my spirit, but it is my prayer. It is the prayer of my heart to rediscover the amazing grace of God for myself; to find once again the deep and personal love that fan the passions of my heart. May God be ever so gracious with me as I wander through this wilderness searching after Him only by the urging of His loving Spirit.

If you find yourself wandering through a dry time, do not despair. God is faithful, even when we are not. God is gracious, even when we deserve otherwise. God is merciful, even when discipline is needed. I fully expect God to deal with me as I need, if He needs to break me then let it be done for His glory’s sake. Yet, I know He will deliver me for the sake of His steadfast love (see the rest of David’s psalm).

Do you struggle with prayer? I do, but I will yet trust in Him and He will hear my plea. His love is steadfast, His path is firm, and His promises will never fail. No matter how you feel, may you choose to continue walking to Him, whether you crawl or drag your feet, persevere and keep your eyes on Him. May the Spirit continue to urge you, to call you, to woo you deep into the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A holiday message from Peter Luu: Why I’m a Christian

In response to A holiday message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist

“Why do you believe in God?” Unlike the popular comedian, Ricky Gervais, I don’t get asked that a lot. Nor do I have the public forum in which to share my views on my beliefs. Yet, his article only reinforces and articulates the very perspective which people will never understand, including Christians, about why they believe in God. What Mr. Gervais has to say, has all been said before, by atheists from my friends to those in the public eye. It’s nothing new, he just articulates it quite well.

In the end, no argument for faith or atheism, will amount to much. The perspectives are simply too different. Atheism is driven by a logical, rational search for truth where belief is based upon facts proven through solid scientific endeavours (which leaves me wondering, how do you believe in a theory of evolution? Or, for that matter, gravity.) Faith is driven by a search for a solution to humanity’s emptiness and brokenness.
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