Trouble in Taiwan – Jennifer Su McIntyre, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

Last week, China’s foreign minister hammered again on the dispute that has been worrying the West since before Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Only when China is completely reunified can there be enduring peace across the Taiwan Strait,” Wang Yi told the United Nations. “Any scheme to interfere in China’s international affairs is bound to meet a strong opposition of all Chinese, and any move to obstruct China’s reunification is bound to be crushed by the wheels of history.”

China and the United States have been squaring off over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. When the communists won control over the mainland, the vanquished nationalists retreated to Taiwan and set up a government there. As the island country moved farther toward Western values, the U.S. took more and more interest in their success—though the American government still doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan’s independence.

Jennifer Su McIntyre doing evangelism outreach in the park / Courtesy of Jennifer Su McIntyre

“The tension has always been there,” said OMF missionary Jennifer Su McIntyre. But when she first moved there in 2003, she didn’t hear a lot about it. Now, she’s always aware that her family may have to evacuate sometime.

“I live every day as if I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here,” she said. “We need to take every opportunity to share the gospel.”

TGC asked McIntyre about how the church has grown and changed, what it’s like to live within range of Chinese missiles, and what keeps her going on hard days.

You’ve been in Taiwan for 17 years. Are people open to the gospel?

Taiwan is a fairly well-off society—there aren’t a lot of humanitarian needs—and so people don’t often feel the need to change something in their lives to feel fulfilled. They continue on with the traditions they’ve always had.

The Taoist and Buddhist culture is ingrained in their daily lives, in their families, and in their relationships with others in the community. They believe if they worship in the temples or the idols in their homes, their gods will bless them. If the gods aren’t satisfied, they believe something bad will happen to them.

Taiwan is very different from China in that respect. They haven’t gone through the Cultural Revolution that wiped everything clean. Our traditions here go back for hundreds of years, and makes them that much more difficult to change.

On a church retreat / Courtesy of Jennifer Su McIntyre

How have you seen the church change or grow over the years?

In the past, the Taiwanese church has had a hard time reaching working class people. Taiwanese people are rooted in idol worship and traditions that center around ancestor worship. When you introduce them to the idea of one God instead of many gods, it’s a huge worldview change for them. Then if you add a traditional church environment—with ways they have to dress and act to feel proper—that creates additional barriers for working class people to enter.

Even though Taiwan is about three percent Christian, only 0.5 percent of the working class is Christian.

However, in the past 15 years the church has been far more ambitious about trying to evangelize and reach out to working class people. I’ve seen people become more welcoming and more casual, trying to do more outreach, and trying to create fewer barriers.

How have you seen God at work?

You’ll find most of the churches in cities, because that’s where 80 percent of the population is, and because people there are exposed to more Christian ideas and influence.

My husband and I work in a rural area, often with people who have never met a Christian before. It can be hard going, especially when you put so much time and effort into a relationship and you see that person reject Christ time and time again.

Members of the first church plant visiting the McIntyre’s new home to pray for the new church plant / Courtesy of Jennifer Su McIntyre

But we’ve been able to start a church, see it grow to about 25 people, raise up Taiwanese interns, and train a Taiwanese pastor to take over for us. We’re now starting on our second plant in a different area.

It takes faith—knowing that God is working even when we can’t see it, knowing that the church may not look the way we hoped or intended. But he’s still building his church and his kingdom.

If there were to be a war—or something else—God would use any situation for his glory. Perhaps it’s through a big political turmoil that people will have hearts that are softened. Because when everything is stable, there is no need to change. When things are uncertain, people start to ask questions.

China and the U.S. are trading sharp words—and sometimes shows of force—over Taiwan. Is it scary to live under so much military stress?

I don’t think the Taiwanese people are that afraid of what is going on right now, because for them it’s always been a tension.

But I am noticing more preparation. You hear people on the Taiwan news talk about developing good relationships with other Asian countries like Japan. I live near an air base, and after an American politician comes, usually the next day there are a lot more planes flying overhead for the sake of Taiwanese defense.

I am quite concerned about this. But I tend to avoid talking about it with locals, because I don’t want to my anxiety to cause our Taiwanese friends more anxiety.

You’re living in an increasingly unstable situation, far from home, with two small children. On top of that, you’re ministering in the most difficult spiritual soil of a largely unreached country. What keeps you going?

My husband and I are driven by the biblical command to go to all nations. We want to see the gospel spread. We know the importance of building God’s church. We’re driven by that call, and however it happens to lead us.

It’s a matter of obedience.

Also, we love the people here. It’s hard to see such amazing people, who are so kind and generous, have such incorrect ways in which they view themselves and the world. They have no hope of Jesus, and no hope of life after death.

Taiwan needs missionaries. Even though the situation is hard—and uncertain—we need people with grit to pray and to go.

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