Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Commin' Round the Mountain

Mountain hiking is a very popular pastime in Taiwan.  I have made a dear friend with a man who's english name is Jack and he loves to climb.  Jack and I have hiked up mountains for two years.  When I moved from his town of Meinung last July, he suggested that we meet each other every week at a mountain in between our two cities.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  In Meinung we climbed ChaSan (tea mountain) and it was nice.  It was steep but maintained most of the way.  The gentle incline got your heart rate up and caused some strain but the 300 meter path was not so bad.

Now we climb up LeeDengSan.  This mountain is a training mountain.  That means that people climb this mountain every day for a week before the tackle the highest mountains in Taiwan.  LeeDengSan is a 900 meter hike up a 45 degree incline of slippery mud and rocks.  It takes Jack and I about an hour now to climb it... but in the beginning it would take us two hours and some change.  I still sweat like a fish the whole way.  (but my blood pressure and heart rate are the best they have EVER been)

LeeDengSan is popular with retired school teachers.  They drive from many cities to this mountain to climb.  Many climb it every day... that is e-v-e-r-y day.  Some of them climb it twice in one day.  Here I am in my $100 hiking boots and $50 climbing sticks with a $25 Camelback... and they are passing me like I am standing still as they wear $2 rubber rainboots or go barefoot with no stick and no water.  They are usually 20 to 30 years older than me.  

The Taiwan openness is so refreshing.  "My, you are fat!  You need to loose that weight."  Yes, thank you, I did not know that.  I am a 38 inch waist with a belly, but hardly obese.  I was a firefighter for 10 years.  But these thin and strong people have all sorts of suggestions on how I might improve my health.  "Drink a glass of water every morning," one man said yesterday, "and then lie down on the floor and pretend to swim for 30 minutes.  Put a pillow under your belly and that will push your intestines back into your abdomen."  Sure, I'll get right on that.

But the fact is that these people are NOT offensive.  They are like extended family.  Their observations and assistance, though blunt by Western standards, is kind hearted and loving.  I take no offense... well... not actively.

At the top of the mountain there is quite a community.  On one's first climb up the path, one is stunned and upset to find that there is a road on the back of the mountain that allows small trucks to deliver water and furniture to the top of the mountain.  Here, there are shelters made of canvas with tables and chairs all over.  Next to the shelters are locked cabinets full of water, food, gas stoves, etc.  On top of the mountain people have lunch parties and drink oolong tea.

Without fail, one or two groups excitedly invite us to join them.  It isn't just because I am Y-gworen (foreigner), they do this for everyone that makes it up the mountain.  Before lone there are a dozen ore more people around the table eating dumplings and rice and all sorts of fruit and drinking gallons of hot tea.  They are laughing and joking and giving all sorts of political and weather reports.  It is a hoot.

Upon leaving, people say their thanks and offer their wisdom until we all meet again.  And as I walk away with Jack, if often say, "Yesu Eye Nee" (Jesus loves you).   Without any hold outs, they all respond, wide eyed and appreciative, "Thank you, we are honored!"

Now these folks are Buddhists, Taoists, and various other "local" religions (mostly idol worship)... and they are VERY appreciative when I simply let them know that Jesus loves them.  Sure, many of these religions are "inclusive" and allow for Jesus to be one of the many God's they worship.  That isn't the point of my blog today.

How many times in the West have you shared the love of Jesus even in so small a greeting as "Jesus loves you," only to be met with sour faces, scoffs or even ridicule.  Here in Taiwan there is resistance to conversion, but there is great respect for other people's faiths.  No one is teased or ridiculed for having a faith, even when it is disagreed with.

Isn't it odd that in the nations where "everyone" says the KNOW that Jesus loves them because grandma beat it into their heads as a kid so please don't unload that crap one me that's offensive and violates civil law yadda yadda yadda... that here in the land of idols and god that DO NOT love their worshippers and have no time to really hear their prayers unless they pay enough money, that they respond favorably to the simple message that Jesus loves them.

Their response is not just a "thank you"... it is a true amazement at the possibility that a god (THE God in this case, but they aren't sure of that yet) would have the time, emotion, and willingness to actually be LOVING toward them.  There is some fear in their voice as well because to have a god notice you in this culture is not always favorable.  They have the kind of respect that is mission in the West, the true knowledge that a powerful God, able to make and destroy all things, LOVES them and caress for them.  They are not always convinced of this fact, but the communication of this fact is treasured and met with gratitude.

Ah, what the "Christians" could learn from the Pagans about the Fear of the Lord.

-The Haggard

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