TAIPEI, Taiwan – It started off as a typical Tuesday morning in Taipei for Southern Baptist missionary Erin Pendleton*.
After cooking breakfast for her husband and sons and getting the boys off to school, Pendleton started down her to-do list for the day, which included a trip on her bicycle to buy a Dustbuster. The young mom cycled past familiar neighborhood sights such as vegetable and fruit markets, Starbucks and the modern subway system in Taiwan’s highly developed capital city.
Then she froze – partly because the road was blocked and she had to stop, but mostly because she was shocked by what she saw.
For 45 minutes, she watched a parade of idols, transported on floats, proceed down a main road in Taipei. Blue utility trucks decked in flowers and colorful tissue paper pulled the heavy idols in celebratory fashion.
Worshipers pray before an image of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, at Taipei’s Longshan temple, which was founded in 1738 and now contains images of more than 100 deities. Most Chinese temples blend a variety of religious traditions including Buddhism and Taoism.
The eerie music, loud firecrackers and haze of smoke caused her to shudder. She looked around at the crowd. Some people exuded the kind of enthusiasm she had seen in America at pre-game parades. Others looked bored. She was confused at first by what was happening but then realized she was seeing a manifestation of idol worship.
“Jesus, You are Lord!” she cried out in anguish to God.
“Show them, Lord,” she prayed, only to have her voice drowned out by the fireworks and music so loud that even those closest couldn’t hear her.
She returned home later that day, heartbroken and disturbed at the reminder of how modern Taipei is steeped in traditional idol worship.
The main religions – Buddhism, Daoism and animism – have a stronghold in the city’s urban culture along with secularism and materialism.
Pendleton learned from her Chinese language tutor Chen Li* that the parade was a joint celebration of five temples. The idols were being carried through the streets to raise awareness and promote more visits to the temples.
“That’s the one we worship in my home!” Chen suddenly exclaimed, pointing at one of the photos.
She and her parents have an “earth god” idol statue sitting on an idol shelf at their home, along with the ashes of her ancestors. Chen, a graduate of one of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities, chose this idol for herself. Each morning and evening, the 28-year-old helps her mother make the climb to the third floor where the idol shelf is located. She bows to both the ancestor’s ashes and the idol. She talks daily to the unhearing effigy about her problems.
Although the “earth god” is not considered a powerful idol, Chen likes him because of what she describes as his warm face; because he is here on earth rather than far away in the heavens; and because she believes he once smiled at her.
Chen has heard the gospel many times, and Pendleton* believes the young woman is interested in knowing Christ and is in the process of counting the cost. She’s very close to having the courage to turn from her family’s beliefs and follow Christ.
Pray that Chen will truly make this decision despite her family’s resistance, Pendleton asked, and that she will be a witness in her family so they may all believe in the living God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Stockton is an International Mission Board writer living in East Asia.)