Every afternoon, eleven-year-old Chen* sits quietly in a Dashe church sanctuary and completes his fourth grade homework. The church has become his second home. Chen’s parents were never married and are absent from his life.
His mother, introduced to street drugs by his father, is in jail. No one knows where Chen’s father is, so he lives with his grandmother, a divorced woman who washes dishes in a restaurant to keep a living. Chen first came to this church last winter for Vacation Bible School and starting attending Sunday school soon after. He has a quiet and reserved demeanor, is attentive to learn, and enjoys reading the Bible by himself. Chen also likes helping with the chores around the church. His grades have vastly improved and he seems to be happy, despite the difficult circumstances of his life.
Chen is just one of the many lost children from Taiwan’s “grassroots” or working class families. About 80 percent of the 35,000 residents of Dashe fall into this category. Usually poorly educated and highly superstitious, the grassroots people often get caught up in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and gambling. They belong to the lowest income categories and work as contract laborers, restaurant or factory workers, truck drivers, or market vendors. Unemployment and broken families are prevalent. Most grassroots children such as Chen grow up repeating the poor life decisions of their parents, left struggling at the bottom half of society.
TEAM missionaries Jeremy and Ruth Hsu are pioneering an urban poor outreach in Dashe to help lost children such as Chen, but they face many challenges. There are only five churches in the area, each with an average Sunday attendance of less than 20 people, and three of them without pastors. The recent significant church growth seen in Taiwan is almost entirely limited to upper tier Taiwanese. The grassroots majority is left behind, still deeply entrenched in folk religion and demon worship. The high structure and classroom atmosphere of the church culture are prohibitive to the simple, uneducated folks. Generations of family tradition and ancestor worship also prevent them from changing allegiance to Jesus, a “foreign god.”
With all the spiritual darkness and social problems, there are obviously many felt needs in the Dashe community. Jeremy and Ruth are focusing on the education of grassroots children as a way to reach the whole community with the Gospel. They have come alongside existing church efforts such as children’s camps during summer and winter breaks. They also work with one church that hosts an after-school tutoring program for elementary-aged kids. This daily program is exhausting the resources of its small church host, run by only the pastor and his wife, but it has created open doors to visit the families. Jeremy and Ruth also plan to create sports and English activities in order to build relationships with kids and families. By helping lost children like Chen, they hope that many will become disciples of Christ and serve their own community as future leaders.
-Written by Jeremy Hsu, TEAM missionary in Taiwan
-Photo provided by Jeremy Hsu
*not his real name