Preserving Indigenous Cultures in Taiwan

Preserving Indigenous Cultures in Taiwan

World Council of Churches Delegation visits ministries among Taiwan indigenous peoples.   Visits to both rural and urban ministries of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) among Indigenous peoples were the highlight on the second day of the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary’s visit to the country.

World Council of Churches Delegation visits ministries among Taiwan indigenous peoples.   Visits to both rural and urban ministries of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) among Indigenous peoples were the highlight on the second day of the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary’s visit to the country.

The laughter of children playing in the courtyard of the Wang-Shiang Presbyterian Church greeted Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia and members of a five-person ecumenical delegation on a 23-26 November visit to Taiwan.

After a four-hour bus journey from Taipei, the group greatly appreciated a meal prepared by women of the Indigenous community in Kalibuan, before receiving an introduction to the life and ministry of the community.

The Kalibuan Presbyterian Church is a congregation of Bunun Aborigines who live in the mountainous Kalibuan region in Southern Taiwan. “All the activities of the community revolve around the church,” PCT evangelist Sai Isqaqavut said.

Sai Isqaqavut and his brother and fellow evangelist Yohanni Isqaqavut minister together to the people of their own Indigenous community. The brothers estimate that some 95 percent of the villagers are Christians.

Recognizing that the Indigenous community’s identity would soon be jeopardized due to the migration of the younger generation to larger cities in search of work, the Isqaqavut brothers created a “glocalization” project, supported by the elders, to ensure that the inter-generational community and their 2000-year-old culture are preserved.

Capitalizing on the natural beauty of their rural, mountainous environment, the community constructed two village homes to provide home-stay “bed and breakfast”-type accommodation for tourists interested in learning more about the cultures of Taiwan’s Indigenous communities and their respect for the integrity of their physical environment.

In the outdoor courtyard just beside the church, members of the WCC delegation enjoyed a performance of traditional dances and met an inter-generational gathering of the community. One community member, a 85-year old elder known as “Bali,” described being forced to leave his ancestral home higher in the mountains at the age of 15, during the period of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, to relocate at the present site of Kalibuan Village.

“I am especially grateful for the way people of this village have preserved the culture of the people here. One of the greatest tragedies in the world today is the disappearance of cultures, especially those of Indigenous peoples,” said the WCC general secretary. He expressed gratitude for the hospitality, and mentioned that the evening had reminded him of the Kenyan rural village in which he grew up.

“Diversity is what makes human life rich. When God created the world, he gave us the great gift of diversity. And we will destroy our own lives if we do not maintain the diversity of life and the integrity of creation. Sustaining your culture is therefore important not only to this village, but to the whole world,” he said.

Urban ministry with Indigenous people in Changhua

The delegation also visited an Indigenous urban community, the Chang-Shan Presbyterian Church in Changhua Presbytery. Its pastor, Rev. Chen Hsin-Liang, ministers to Indigenous people forced to migrate to the city in order to find work.

Some 17 years ago, he initiated a project addressing the issue of Indigenous migrants facing virtual destitution, who appealed to him to assist them not only spiritually, but also with their practical, everyday needs. He asked five elders of the Indigenous community to form a locally registered business corporation in order to employ their own people.

Seventeen years later, thanks to Chen’s leadership as well as to the integrity and hard work of the Indigenous members of his congregation, 300 people are employed by the corporation that now earns $3 million per year.

Forging relationships with the Changhua Christian Hospital, the Mackay Hospital in Taipei and other local businesses, the corporation provides cleaning, moving, fumigation and landscaping services by Indigenous migrants, who are first trained by specialists.

The Indigenous members of the congregation, who were once struggling to survive, are now purchasing homes in close proximity to the church, which serves as their community centre. Because they also tithe their earnings, this congregation which, 17 years ago, was heavily indebted, now enjoys a sound financial situation and is able to make an important contribution to the wider ministries of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.

“We are aiming to provide 1,000 job opportunities and identify and nurture Indigenous people to serve as managers for the company. Seventeen years ago, we were the weakest church in the PCT, but today in terms of finances and membership, we are among the strongest churches in Taiwan,” said Chen.

“This is a story of real faith in action,” Kobia affirmed. “Here you have demonstrated that it is possible for Indigenous people to feel at home in an urban setting. It is so good to see what the PCT is doing in ministry among Indigenous people – and ensuring that these remarkable cultures are preserved for future generations.”

“What I learned myself is that I needed to grow with this church. I didn’t know why God had sent me to work with Indigenous people, for I had no experience with them before I came here. But here I have experienced that God is an abundant God,” Chen reflected.

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The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.