by Pastor Dennis Brown
Ten years ago, when I announced to my church in Philadelphia that I had accepted a call for a church in Taiwan, a woman approached me afterward. She said she was interested in my announcement. She went on to share that she and her husband had lived in Japan for a number of years. I said, “Well, how was it?” Her response was, “I miss it every day of my life.” As she explained further she mentioned how they lived in a large house in a suburban neighborhood, but that people didn’t know each other well. She also said life in Japan was much simpler.
As I come to the end of ten years in Taiwan, I feel the same: I will miss it every day of my life. And if you ask, “What are the things you will miss the most,” here are a few:
First, the Taiwan people. We have all seen the t-shirt, “Taiwan… it will warm your heart.” I resonate so much with that statement. While I love my own country, every time I would return and land in the Taoyuan airport, I would say to myself, “Thank the Lord, I am back in Taiwan.” A friend of mine said the same thing after traveling to China. The Taiwanese have warmth, gentleness, and respect that I think is unparalleled in all my travels. I have been in so many countries of the world, but Taiwan is unique.
Second, the neighborhoods. I recall someone saying that parts of living in Taiwan were “magical.” I do not think that is an overstatement. When I walk through my neighborhood between the church and the apartment, it is filled with little shops (changing a lot)—coffee, hair-cutteries, boutiques, sneakers, barber shops, electrical, plumbing, hardware, ethnic eateries, and even an Indonesian spice shop. There is a minimum of multinational chain stores so it feels more human, authentic, creative, and alive. That, combined with the young people in the night markets at night gives a feeling of life and energy. There are also moments of humor, like the day you met the young man in the 7-11 in his pajamas. It is never boring.
Third, the geography of Taiwan. I recently took a tour on Highway 11 between Hualien and Taitung. It was stunningly beautiful and serene. You could walk to the ocean and pass a couple of grazing musk ox with hardly a soul around. If you looked to your right, you could see the blue of the mountains, and to the left the spray of the ocean. And if you breathed deeply, you could catch the scent of pineapple or other tropical fruits growing. And then, when we went back up on Highway 9 in the Rift Valley we went to a mountainous area that felt like you were in Switzerland. I must have taken a couple hundred pictures. This is just one of the memories I will always carry with me, and it will doubtless draw me back as much as I am able to in years to come.
Friendship Church. I planned on staying for only three years, but the people, the country, the church grew on me, year after year. I loved the diversity of nationalities, the youthfulness, the teachability, the humor. It got into your bones. So I will carry Friendship in my heart to the end of my days. At the end of Romans, in chapter 16 (where we will be on this home stretch of messages), Paul greets twenty-six people by name. He was not simply the greatest missionary and theologian of the world, he was also a great pastor who loved his people and tried to know them by name. In the Old Testament, the priest carried the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on his breastplate into the presence of the Lord. I hope to do that with you after I have gone. Someday, I will say with Paul in Romans 15:32—“by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”