Thanks be to Almighty God, and to everyone who contributed their time, energy, money, enthusiasm and dedication! During this past December, St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church have raised a grand total of NT$ 325,000 (US$ 10,000 / £ 8,200) for the social welfare ministry of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 (known as the Maria Theresia Social Welfare Foundation 財團法人台東縣私立天主教聖十字架瑪利德蘭社會福利基金會) in Shangwu Village 尚武村, located in Dawu Township 大武鄉, Taitung, on Taiwan’s beautiful S. E. coast. Last Friday, we went to visit the sisters in Shangwu ~ and here we all are outside their church, and Sr. Kao (Chair of the Foundation’s Board of the Trustees) presented our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang with a certificate of thanks.
Every year during December, on behalf of St. John’s University and Advent Church, the SJU Chaplaincy organizes a huge lunchtime bazaar and collects donations for charity, a different charity every year. On December 14, 2016, Ms. Sun Yu-Lan, who works for the sisters’ ministry in Taitung City, came to St. John’s University to share with us all about their fundraising project and what the sisters are trying to do in Shangwu Village. Lots of university and church people came along to her talk – and we were inspired into action! (For my blog post about the actual bazaar, held on December 21, 2016, click here). The total amount that the sisters are trying to raise is NT$ 6,000,000 – so we decided to aim for 5% of that and set our sights on trying to raise NT$ 300,000. If they receive any more than NT$ 6,000,000, they plan to give it to those who need it more than they do. This is us on the day Ms Sun came, and our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang sharing about our fundraising vision…
And y’know what? Ms Sun received an honorary lecture fee from St. John’s University that day but donated the money to Advent Church instead, even though she had come all the way from Taitung, starting out at 5:00 am. Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang was so moved by this kind act, that he decided to aim for multiplying her donation 100 times – and thus it was that his fundraising aim then became NT$ 320,000 ~ yes, see what a small seed and an act of faith can do!
Meanwhile down in Taitung, every day hundreds and hundreds of people pass through Shangwu Village and Dawu Township, as they drive or cycle on the main road that runs along Taiwan’s east coast. The southernmost main road that connects Taiwan’s 2 coasts crosses the mountains just south of Shangwu, and the railway cuts through the mountains just north of Shangwu, so Dawu Township is strategically located, and many people stop for a break at the convenience stores, petrol stations and restaurants that line the main road. It’s a famous place – for passing through!
Most of the people living in Dawu Township are from the Paiwan Tribe. Some have been relocated there after their mountain villages were badly affected by recent typhoons. And in Dawu Town, some of the buildings are painted in gorgeous rainbow colours, very distinctive!
There’s a fishing port in Shangwu Village, government offices, a school, road-working crews, tourism and other small businesses, but not a lot of job opportunities otherwise, so many of the younger Paiwan people have left the area and gone to live elsewhere in Taiwan. The challenges for those who remain there are that many are disadvantaged, some have suffered work-related injuries and are unable to work, many families have little or no regular income, and alcohol and betel-nut health problems are widespread. But the people are so friendly, welcoming and cheerful ~ always smiling and laughing!
This is Shangwu and the surrounding area….
The Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross is a Franciscan order, founded in 1856 by Capuchin Father Theodosius Florentini (1808-1865) and Sr. Mary Theresa Scherer (1825-1888), in Ingenbohl, Switzerland. Today there are more than 3,200 sisters working in 20 different countries. There are 22 sisters (and one novice – from Vietnam) in Taiwan, including 4 from Switzerland, 1 from Austria and 17 from Taiwan, most of whom are from indigenous communities ~ we met 2 lovely sisters from the Bunun Tribe and 2 from the A-Mei Tribe. Three of them live in Shangwu. Every sister and all their staff so dedicated and committed to serving God in their various ministries, all so modest, friendly and gracious. Seems they can all speak fluent German too. Amazing people!
The first of the sisters to come to Taiwan arrived in 1955, and the first to come to Shangwu arrived there in 1963. At first they established a nursing home for the elderly, but found that the distance to the hospital in Taitung was too far, and so it moved to Taitung City, and a clinic and kindergarten was opened instead. This is the site today, surrounded by beautiful flower and vegetable gardens….
In 1979, Sr. Miljenka Schnetzer 宋玉潔修女 arrived in Taiwan from Switzerland, and has been here ever since. She came to Shangwu in 1992, so this year, 2017, the kindergarten will celebrate its 50th anniversary and Sr. Miljenka will celebrate her 25th anniversary in Shangwu! We met her on Friday and she took such great care of us all! Here she is posing with some of her good friends, the old people who come to the center!
When Sr. Miljenka first came to Shangwu, the church-run kindergarten had 60 children. The numbers are falling, today there are less than 20. There are also 30 children studying at 3 local elementary schools who come after their school day ends (for the younger ones, they mostly finish at lunchtime, older ones finish later) for the free after-school program – to do their homework and maybe extra classes in music or English or crafts. Those far away are collected by the sisters’ minibus.
Sr. Miljenka is a nurse by training and together with another nurse, they spend a lot of time visiting old people in their homes. Those visits are special times of contact for the sisters and the local people. One of the things the sisters discovered was that many of the old people tend to stay home all day watching TV, and so they started a day-care ministry for old people. And they love it! Currently the old people come to the center twice a week for all sorts of classes and activities ~ music, dancing, health checks, lunch, outings, and for activities with the children. It’s been such a blessing for the children and old people to be able to see each other on a regular basis and do activities together. The ministry for the old people is expanding, and there is a great need and desire for them to be able to come 5 days a week, rather than just 2. Here’s the old people getting ready for their Christmas Show later that evening, all smiling away!
In June this year, the kindergarten will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and they’ll invite all old pupils, their alumni, to return for the celebration. It will be bittersweet however, as they will be closing the kindergarten doors in July. But rather than being too saddened by it being the end of an old era, they choose to focus on it being the beginning of a new one. The after-school program for elementary school children will continue, and any remaining kindergarten children will transfer to Shangwu Elementary School, which has a good kindergarten ready to welcome them. The small classrooms on the ground floor that are currently being used for the kindergarten are going to be remodeled and transformed into a much larger room where the senior day care center can hold its activities every weekday. There will also be a sleeping room for the old people to be able to take a nap, and other facilities as needed.
That’s why the sisters are fundraising for NT$ 6,000,000. Once the buildings are done, they can apply for registration with the government and then they will be eligible for all sorts of grants to run the ministry. But first they need to step forth in faith and get the buildings converted into a day care center. So that’s where we come in. We’ve spent the whole of December fundraising, and last Friday was our chance to go down to Shangwu to meet the sisters and see for ourselves.
Shangwu is only 10 minutes drive from Dawu Train Station, which is the first station where the train stops after going through the mountain tunnels from Pingtung. Dawu is a 2 hour train ride from Zuoying, in northern Kaohsiung, which conveniently for us happens to be at the end of the High-Speed Rail line from Taipei. That means it was possible for us to get there in time for lunch!
Six of us went from here, our chaplain Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang and his wife Yu-Ru, Yu-Lin from our chaplain’s office – who was the one who has worked tirelessly running the whole fundraising effort and bazaar, and a lovely couple from our church choir ~ Meng-Jen and Ming-Chuan, who took a whole day off to help with the bazaar….
Sr. Miljenka came to meet us at Dawu Station, along with Ms. Deng – who had come with several of the sisters from Taitung. We had a very warm welcome from everyone…. here we are on arrival!
First we enjoyed a very delicious lunch! Sharing and fellowship and photos followed….
And a tour ~ of some of the special sites, their 3 nativity scenes, one outside, and 2 inside, both made by Sr. Miljenka’s sister, including one in Paiwan materials, also a hand sculpture, embroidery and an amazing ‘Last Supper’….
And then it was time for everyone else in our group to say goodbye and off they went to return to Dawu Station for their return or onward journeys…..
I had the honour of staying overnight with the sisters, and I was delighted to learn that my overnight stay coincided with their annual Christmas Show and New Year Celebration on Friday evening ~ involving all the old people from the day center, the women’s group, all the after-school elementary school children and all the children in the kindergarten. Plus all their families and friends who came along to watch! It was wonderful ~ such fun, such talent, such enthusiasm! We had the old people singing and playing percussion instruments, the women’s group leading in the dancing processions, the elementary school children acting out the parts of the Nativity Play and the younger kindergarten children acting as very high class sheep!
We had the different groups singing and dancing separately and also together ~ it was most moving to see all of them performing the Nativity Play together, and singing and playing percussion together. Their ages ranged from 2 (yes, 2!) to 85, but hey, it was fantastic! We had Santa Claus, and at the end, everyone joined in a long line which turned into a huge circle, Paiwan-Style, as they danced around the whole field, and ended with fireworks. Such a great ending!
Then on Saturday morning, I was invited to breakfast with the sisters ~ followed by my final visit to the church ~ it’s beautiful! Their church is one of 8 in a group locally so they usually have mass there every other Sunday. I love all the red!
So a big thank you to all the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross for their warm welcome and gracious hospitality ~ and we wish them well with their ongoing fundraising and remodeling and construction work. May Almighty God bless them and their ministry, serving those most in need in Shangwu Village and Dawu Township. And if you’re ever on that road in a car, on a bike or motorcycle on a round-Taiwan tour, do pray for them as you pass by, and offer them your support!