Tag Archives: Faith

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Keelung ~ Tenth Anniversary Celebrations 聖司堤反堂建堂10週年感恩禮拜 Congratulations!

Today we gathered in Keelung at St. Stephen’s Church to celebrate and give thanks to God for these past 10 years ~ 10 years of amazing grace, wonderful blessings and faithful witness!

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This was today’s St. Stephen’s Church Welcome Team all ready!

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And so many clergy, friends and supporters….

And all the clergy together!

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Keelung is unfortunately known in Taiwan as the ‘City of Unhappiness’, and in the outlying Chungshan District, there have long been particularly high levels of unemployment, poverty, alcohol addiction and mental health problems.  In 2007, Rev. Richard R. C. Lee and members of Trinity Church, Keelung had a vision to reach out to the people of Chungshan District, where there were no other churches at the time.  After much prayer, and with the support of Bishop David J. H. Lai and the clergy of the northern deanery of the Taiwan Episcopal Chuch, outreach was started, first in the local community center, then they started to rent a building nearby as a church.  It was that church (at St. Stephen’s first ever worship service) that was consecrated by Bishop Lai on May 18, 2008, exactly 10 years ago today.  In 2010, a timely grant from the United Thank Offering of US$ 50,000 helped towards the purchase of the present building, which is really a ground-floor apartment, converted into a church.  The basement is huge and extends out under the road, and is also owned by the church; it’s used as a classroom for the outreach program to the local community.  Today it was used as overflow seating.  This is the Holy Communion….

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These are 4 of the key people in the development of St. Stephen’s Church: from left, Rev. Richard R. C. Lee, Mr. Yei 葉錦地, the local community leader (li-zhang 里長), Rev. Julia S. H. Lin and Bishop David J. H. Lai….

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St. Stephen’s is a non-stop, very busy, very active, very joyful and happy place.  There are so many activities going on all day long, all part of the community outreach program for children, teenagers, families, women, men and seniors.  It was the community program for children that was so welcomed by the local community leaders when the church was first started.  The community leaders have provided huge support ever since, and many of them came along today!  Without them, it would have been much more difficult to gain the trust of the local people, but with their support, the church has been welcomed, and gained access into people’s lives – and hearts.  Lives are being transformed, step by small step.

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Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin 林淑華牧師 has been assigned to St. Stephen’s since it was established, and is helped by many local people who have made St. Stephen’s their spiritual home.  Ms. Huang Min ‎黃敏 (on the far left in the above photo) moved from Trinity Church to help support St. Stephen’s from the beginning, and is one of the pillars of the church.  These days, St. Stephen’s has a core of committed Christians on the leadership team, and many more helping run the different outreach programs.  One of our diocesan evangelists, Mr. Felix Ming-You Chen (right in the photo below, next to Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu) is also assigned there at weekends.  There is so much really worthwhile ministry going on, thanks be to God!

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Today, being a Friday, meant that most of the participants in the Thanksgiving Service were adults, as the children were all in school.  But we were blessed to welcome a group of children who formed the music group for the service, they came from St. Luke’s Church, Hualien with Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu, they did so well – even if they were squeezed into a corner and difficult to photograph!

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The other group who sang were the St. Stephen’s Church senior group.  Oh, they were so lovely ~ and so expressive!

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The service started at 10:00 am.  All of our clergy from northern Taiwan came along, plus quite a few from the south, and lots of church members too.  It was wonderful to see Rev. Richard Lee returning to visit from St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung, here he is with Rev. Lily Chang.   Why are they laughing?  Because there is such a height difference between them that this is a rare occasion when Lily is taller than Richard!

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Many clergy from other denominations in Keelung came too, plus representatives of the different social welfare organizations who support the outreach ministry at St. Stephen’s.  All the St. Stephen’s people were wearing special new T-shirts commissioned for the occasion, they gave us as gifts when we left.  Plus wooden key rings etc, made by social enterprise foundations locally.

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The readings were Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication of the Temple from 1 Kings 8: 22-30, Psalm 84: 1-12 and 1 Peter 2: 1-5, 9-10 ~ and the Gospel was from Matthew 21: 18-22 about the fig-tree, finishing with, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  Bishop Lai refered to these in his sermon in the context of the history and testimony of St. Stephen’s Church.  All glory be to God!

Photos from the service today….

After the service, we had 2 birthday cakes, one on each floor, the one cut by Bishop Lai was provided by one of the church families, whose child also has a birthday today.   We also had lunch boxes, and lots of fruit and dessert.

And we finished with a presentation from Bishop Lai to Rev. Julia Lin (and St. Stephen’s Church) of one of Bishop Lai’s homemade wooden artworks, saying in Chinese, “God’s mercy endures forever.”

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Today’s Thanksgiving Service was such a great occasion, really special. For me, this is one of THE churches that I always try to take my very special VIP visitors from overseas who may be interested in frontline mission.  St. Stephen’s Church has such a testimony, transformation is happening in that area of Keelung, and real hope is being given to the whole community.  May God continue to bless St. Stephen’s Church and all who serve ~ and are served there.  Thanks be to God!

Off to Green Island 綠島 Lyudao, Taitung, Taiwan with the Taiwan Episcopal Church 台灣聖公會2018年蒙恩得福家庭生活營!

Ah, Green Island.  What a place it is.  For some in Taiwan it evokes memories of their youth and a taste of freedom as they rode motorcycles around the island enjoying the scenery.  For others, it evokes terrible stories of grim horror and nightmares, of stories told in secret, whispered between family members.  An island of such immense beauty, and yet, also such immense tragedy.

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Ironically, the most immense beauty is so well hidden that you only really get to see it by immersing yourself in the sea and either snorkeling or scuba-diving your way through the coral reefs, or by traveling in a semi-submersible glass-bottomed boat.  The fish and the coral are truly amazing.  We went snorkeling and it was really the highlight of the trip, and indeed of any trip to Green Island.  But my camera doesn’t work underwater, sorry about that, so all I can do is recommend you check out this You Tube video of someone who did go snorkeling in Green Island here, our experience was just like his. Which means we had a really fantastic time watching all sorts of fish of every different colour and size, all swimming so close.  And the really wonderful snorkeling coach turned out to be one of our students here at St. John’s University on a work placement as an intern for his last semester before he graduates next month.  He was great.  And he made the snorkeling so relaxing and enjoyable, even for our group who ranged in age from 13-83!  Here we are getting all dressed up….

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Green Island (綠島: pronounced as ‘Lyudao’ in Chinese) is “a small volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean about 33 km (21 miles) off the eastern coast of Taiwan”, originally inhabited by the Amis people.  The first Chinese arrived about 200 or so years ago and the only traces of Amis habitations these days are some ruined homesteads.  Most of the people live along the northern and north-west coast of the island, and are served by 2 elementary schools and one junior-high school, a small airport, a harbour, a Baptist Church, Jehovah Witnesses Meeting Place, lots of temples, one 7-Eleven, one Family Mart, one big 2-story Duty-Free Shop, restaurants and BBQ places galore, several soft drinks shops, many government buildings and a huge number of hotels and diving / snorkeling centres.  Tourism is the main business of the island. The harbour is lined with motorcycles for rent, ready for the passengers disembarking from the passenger ferries that make the one-hour journey to Taitung maybe 5 times a day in each direction.  Tourism big time!

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Every year, Bishop David J. H. Lai and Mr. Di Yun-Heng from St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung organize a 3-4 day trip for members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church to visit some wonderful scenic places.  In November 2017, we went to Wuling Farm in Taiwan’s central mountain range to see the beautiful autumn colours (see that report here).   This year, we went to Green Island from Tuesday to Thursday, May 8-10.  Sadly Bishop Lai was unable to come with us due to an important meeting, but 33 of us joined Mr. Di to go along.  It was great!  This is the first group photo…

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Church members and friends from our churches in Taipei, Chungli, Taichung and Kaohsiung joined the trip.  The northern group met early on Tuesday morning at Taipei Rail Station, where we had tickets for the 6:50 am train to Taitung. I had stayed overnight at the diocesan office hostel so as to be there on time, and Bishop Lai not only took me to the station, but also came in to meet everyone and pray for us all.  And he gave us some tea, which we were to enjoy drinking together on the trip.

The southern group traveled over from Kaohsiung, and the Taichung group joined them, and we all met at Taitung Train Station soon after 11:00 am ~ off we went for lunch and then to the ferry.  Actually I didn’t eat any lunch, in preparation for the ferry – which is renowned for being a rough ride.  Glad I didn’t, as it was rough, and many people were seasick.  Enough said.  It was only an hour.  I survived, many didn’t!

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The weather forecast was for the plum rains to come on Tuesday night.  In fact they had already come to Taipei on Monday night, but Tuesday was a mostly sunny day on Green Island.  We made the most of it.  The rain was coming.  Actually it didn’t really hit us until Wednesday afternoon when it poured down for several hours.  That cooled the temperatures nicely.  Green Island is famous for its high summer temps.  And for its deer meat.  And for its sea food. We had flying fish!

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We were staying on the northern coast in a hotel just near the sea, and we enjoyed all the views.  It really was so convenient.  Early morning walks around, and a half-day tour meant that we saw most of the island.  Even if it was in the rain!

One of the highlights was the Lyudao Lighthouse, which we managed to visit just before the rains started: “On 11 December 1937 the Dollar Steamship Company luxury ocean liner SS President Hoover ran aground in a typhoon on a reef at Zhongliao Bay. All 503 passengers and 330 crew survived and were safely brought ashore. Over the next few days the cargo liners SS President McKinley and SS President Pierce took the survivors off the island, helped by boats provided by the Japanese cruiser Ashigara and an Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer. Dollar Lines sold President Hoover’s wreck to a Japanese salvage company, which spent the next three years breaking her up in situ. In response to the wreck, members of the US public gave money through the American Red Cross for a lighthouse to be built near Zhongliao village. Lyudao Lighthouse was designed by Japanese engineers, built by local islanders in 1938 and is 33.3 metres (109 ft) high.”  And of course, it’s a great place for photos!

We spent Wednesday evening having a short service, led by Rev. Lily Chang, using the Ascension Day liturgy, in preparation for the next day which was actually Ascension Day. Lily shared about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ Project, an international and ecumenical global wave of prayer between Ascension Day and Pentecost.  We spent time each thinking of 5 people we were going to commit to praying for over these 10 days, and spent a few minutes praying for them in small groups.

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And then we drank Bishop Lai’s tea.  Here we are making the tea and talking to him on face-time!

Green Island is beautiful.  Green.  Very green.  And very beautiful.  But unfortunately it has also seen a huge amount of tragedy.  And that tragedy cannot be ignored.   Green Island is a prison island.  There are three prisons in total, although only one is in use today.  That prison was within walking distance of our hotel.  The outside walls are decorated in 3D wall paintings, and there is a small field with goats there, plus all sorts of touristy things for people to do on a prison theme.

The other 2 prisons are no longer in use and are open to the public, located near the village of Gongguan on the NE side of the island.  I visited the place on the first afternoon, and also walked past early one morning.  Then we went as a group for a short visit on our afternoon tour – in the pouring rain.

The whole of the bay there is filled with prison buildings and prison property.  It is now known as the ‘Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park’ and is managed by the government department called the ‘Preparatory Office of the National Human Rights Museum‘, who also manage the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park 景美人權文化園區 in Taipei.  I went to Jingmei a few weeks ago, partly in preparation for coming to Green Island (my report about that visit is here).  The Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park is the site of the former Jingmei Military Law Detention Center of the Taiwan Garrison Command (1968-87) where political prisoners were incarcerated, indicted and sentenced during Taiwan’s White Terror Era ~ the suppression of political dissidents following the February 28 Incident in 1947. Martial law in Taiwan lasted from 1949-1987. Many went on to serve their lengthy prison sentences at the prison on Green Island.

The leaflets handed out at the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park give a brief introduction, as follows, “The park was originally home to 2 prisons built to accommodate political prisoners during the time of the White Terror.  First was the New Life Correction Center (1951-65), operated by the Taiwan Security Command, reflecting Taiwan’s isolated position in the global Cold War.  Later came the Ministry of National Defense Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison (1972-87).  It was also the time of the rising tide of the human rights movement, when overseas human rights activists came to the rescue of Taiwan’s political prisoners.  The postwar history of the repression of human rights in Taiwan finds its concrete expression in the relics and exhibition activities of this park.”

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The New Life Correction Center (1951-65) at its peak had 2,000 prisoners, divided into 12 squadrons, and from 1951-54, there were also about 100 women.  With staff included, there were about 3,000 people in total.  Conditions were harsh.  Hard labour involved clearing land, breaking up rocks and coral, constructing walls and buildings.  The authorities made certain that the inmates were kept fully occupied with hard labour and thought-reform instruction so as to tire them out physically and mentally. But every evening, prisoners were allowed an hour of ‘free’ time, and many used that time very constructively.  Today, some of the buildings remain derelict, but in others, the museum has tried to recreate the situation of the inmates.

One exhibit shows the translation of the ‘Life of Jesus’ that one of the prisoners, Mr. Tu Nan-Shan secretly completed, from Japanese into Chinese, with 9 revisions, during his time here.

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Another shows the violin that enterprising prisoners made from wood collected from a shipwreck, with the strings taken from wire from discarded electrical cable.

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Next door to the New Life Correction Center is the ‘Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison’ (1972-87), better known as ‘Oasis Villa’ 綠洲山莊.  The main area of prison cells is in the shape of an ‘X’, for better control from the central area.  Lots of famous prisoners were incarcerated here, and “after their release, many of the prisoners jailed between the late 1940s and the late 1980s went on to establish the Democratic Progressive Party, most notably Shih Ming-teh. Cartoonist Bo Yang also served his prison terms here.”

In a separate heavily-gated section there is the solitary confinement area.  Some have padded cells.  Some are completely dark, others have only one small window at the top.

Finally there is the Human Rights Monument, where the words of Bo Yang are written in Chinese, translated as: “In those times / How many were the mothers / Who, for their sons / Imprisoned on this island / Wept through the long night?”  The names of all those who were incarcerated here are given, along with the dates of their imprisonment or death.

But the tragedy of Green Island is not just restricted to the prison area.  Even street art has appeared all over, some related to the prison.

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On my final morning, I went as far as Swallow Cave, which is at the far end of the bay where the prisons are.  Past the graveyard for the 13th Squadron, ie those who died from sickness or suicide.  Inmates, officers and troops were all buried together.  On the same site.  What irony.

Swallow Cave is dark.  Dark physically and very dark spiritually.  I prayed the whole time I was there.  Local people don’t go there.  It was the place where the prisoners were forced to rehearse and perform their thought-reform plays, paint their backdrops and cremate those who died.  Swallows were flying in and out.  Water was dripping from the roof.   It is a natural cave, but the black volcanic rock makes it even darker.  I hated it.  But I went.  Fortunately there were also many beautiful plants growing nearby.

The 2 Green Island prisons are not easy places to visit.  Nor the cave.  Nor any of the places where terrible things happened to the prisoners.  Even on the beach, where they had to break up the rocks and use them to build things.  It is all horrible.  Man’s inhumanity to man is indescribably awful.  And seen on Green Island in all its grisly reality.  The government is doing a good job of restoring the prisons and opening them to the public with so many helpful notices around the place, plus a lot of research and work on oral and written history of the prisoners.  It needs to be done, the truth needs to be told.  Even if it is uncomfortable and terrible.  If you are sensitive to this kind of thing, make sure you pray before, during and after your visit.  And pray for the people who were imprisoned on Green Island, or those whose family members were imprisoned there.  The evil and suffering experienced on Green Island did not just disappear when a prisoner was released or the prison closed down.  Healing, release, freedom and peace are not just needed physically, but mentally and spiritually too.  For individuals, for families, for the whole of society.  For now, and for generations to come.

May God have mercy on us all.

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And so to Thursday morning, and we went back to the harbour for our return trip to Taitung.  The ferry trip back was much smoother than the one coming, that was good news.

And I met 2 RC sisters at the Green Island harbour.  They turned out to be Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 who had been in Green Island doing some ministry there, and who are the same order as the sisters in Shangwu Village 尚武村, Taitung ~ who St. John’s University annual charity bazaar supported at Christmas 2016.  We had visited the sisters in Shangwu to present the money we raised, and I stayed overnight (my report of that visit is here).  Now these 2 lovely sisters were pleased to report that the work we had donated to, that of transforming their kindergarten into a day care center for the elderly, is now complete and the grand opening is in mid-June.  Wow, thanks be to God!

And so to Taitung, where Fu-Gang Harbour is full of blue fishing boats!

Green Island is an island of such great contrasts.  Well worth visiting.  Well worth snorkeling or seeing the underwater sea life from a glass-bottomed boat.  Well worth visiting the prisons and learning more of Taiwan history.  And well worth walking or biking around the island to take in the beautiful scenery.  Must go, must see!

This was my second trip to Green Island. The first was in July 2003 with friends from St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, including many small children, when we went round on motorcycles.  That was fun.  But a little hot!  This time it was much cooler. Also great fun!  Thanks to Bishop Lai and Mr. Di for all their planning, support and leadership.  To all the group of friends and church members who came along and shared in such a good time, and so many laughs, and to all who took photos and shared them with us.

And thanks be to God for an amazing trip!

Updated May 18, 2018: The Taipei Times is reporting here on yesterday’s official opening of the Human Rights Museum on Green Island by President Tsai Ing-Wen, “The opening of the museum yesterday marked the 67th anniversary since political prisoners were first incarcerated on Green Island on May 17, 1951.”

Started Today! English Service @ St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei

A new English service started today at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei!  Holy Eucharist will be held every Sunday from now onwards, from 9:00 -10:00 am, before the Chinese service at 10:30 am.  Today was a new beginning.  After a gap of many years, the English service has restarted.  The dean, Philip L. F. Lin and newly-ordained deacon, Antony F. W. Liang will be leading each service, Philip taking the Holy Communion, and Antony doing the sermon.  Bishop Lai was also there today and Mrs. Lily Lai, also our beloved Canon Chancellor, Professor Herbert Ma and his wife, Mrs. Aline Ma and their daughter.  Plus lots of church members. And some visitors.  I went specially for the occasion, and gathered everyone together for a group photo afterwards – one of many photos as it turned out, but this is the main one.

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The Taiwan Episcopal Church has such a friendly atmosphere towards taking photos that gathering everyone together at the end of the service for a group photo seemed such a natural thing to do.  Everyone was so happy to come to the front and take part.  Imagine doing that in any UK cathedral – Never In A Million Years.  Y’know, I like Taiwan, yes I do!

Please pray for this new service and for the cathedral outreach ministry.  Today was a great start, and it’s hoped to be able to reach out to welcome students from the nearby universities to come along in the future.  Praying for God’s leading, grace and blessing on all.

Congratulations to Antony F. W. Liang 梁凡偉 on his Ordination as Deacon! 梁凡偉傳道按立會吏聖職聖禮

What a great and joyful day for all in the Taiwan Episcopal Church ~ for Bishop David J. H. Lai ordaining a new deacon ~ and for Antony Fan-Wei Liang and his family, in particular!  Many congratulations to everyone, and thanks be to God!

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This all happened last night, May 1, 2018, at a special ordination service at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei ~ YES!

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Antony and his parents are long-time members of St. James’ Church, Taichung ~ in fact, I’ve known him since he was a teenager.   Antony’s much-loved father is Jerry Liang, lay leader for many years of St. James’ English service.  I go there once a month to do the sermon and I know that whenever Jerry is there, the service proceeds oh so smoothly – but if Jerry is not there for any reason, everyone is noticeably less relaxed and anything can – and often does – happen!  Antony’s very lovely mother, Jean helps too, she is the world’s most amazing singer and oozes elegance, refinement and style.  Both parents are very committed Christians, the first in their respective families, and both are also retired teachers, devoted parents to Antony, and very energetic and supportive grandparents to Antony’s 2 young sons.   Ah, we all love ’em so much!  This is Antony and his family last night with Bishop Lai….

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So, some years ago, when Antony married his beautiful wife, Anita, the wedding too was at St. James’ Church.  And then the 2 boys came along ~ but in-between times, Antony responded to a call to enter full-time ministry.  For his theological college training, he had the unique opportunity, kindly offered to the diocese by Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong – and supported by Bishop Lai – to train at Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong.  He was there was 3 years, while his wife and family stayed in Taiwan, living with Jerry and Jean, who rose to the occasion wonderfully, and provided the family with lots of love and support, as well as a warm and caring home.  Antony finished at Ming Hua last summer, and his graduation in February this year was attended by former and current rectors of St. James, Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and Rev. Lily L. L. Chang, as well as Jerry Liang.

Since then the family have been serving at St. Andrew’s Mission, Jieding, Kaohsiung, and most recently involved at St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung at weekends.

Now, though, starting May 1, Antony has been assigned to St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, to be in charge of a new English service, starting this Sunday – and every Sunday – at 9:00 am.  Many years ago the cathedral had an English service, but in recent years it had stopped.  Now it is being restarted, and Antony is taking up the challenge – along, of course, with the dean, Philip L. F. Lin.

But first to Antony’s ordination last night…

And we welcomed church members and friends from all over Taiwan ~ and an extra blessing was to welcome so many of Antony’s fellow students, faculty, clergy and friends from Hong Kong, and specially Dr. Gareth Jones, principal of Ming Hua, who also represented Archbishop Paul Kwong.   Here he is with Antony… (notice the candle light that looks like it’s on the top of Antony’s head!)

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I counted about 20 visitors in the Hong Kong (and friends) group photo ~ wonderful!

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A coachload also came from St. James’ Church, Taichung – and they sang “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” during the service.  Loved it!  This is their group photo…

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And then we also had all our clergy in attendance, plus many church members, particularly from our churches in northern Taiwan.   These are groups photos from St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, Christ Church, Chungli, and St. Stephen’s Church, Keelung…

And this was the main group photo ~ kindly taken by one of our diocesan staff…

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All our happy clergy…

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Y’know, yesterday, May 1 was not just a special holy day, the Feast of St. Philip and St. James, it was also Labour Day – so quite a few people had a day off work.  In Taiwan the day off is limited to those who qualify for Labour Insurance, which does not include teachers in universities and schools, so the schools were open and students were in classes.  But our church kindergarten teachers and staff do qualify for Labour Insurance, so the kindergartens were closed.  The good thing was that many could therefore come to the ordination, including some of the teachers from St. James’ Kindergarten and Leading Star Kindergarten.  The bad thing was that everyone with a day off was out at restaurants, enjoying the beach, relaxing, and the roads were all full of cars.  Students were trying to get home, and as it was also a full moon festival, so there were temple celebrations and processions all over.  And in Taipei City there were Labour Day marches.  Ah, crowds everywhere!   Praise God we all got to St. John’s Cathedral more or less on time!

The service started at 7:00 pm, led by Bishop Lai, who also preached.  Lessons were read by Samuel Chen, senior warden at St. James – in Chinese, and by Jerry Liang in English. The service was full of meaning, and very moving….

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By tradition, Antony’s wife also gave a short speech after the actual ordination part of the service, she was wonderful – she thanked everyone on behalf of the family, and the whole family were introduced.  Dr. Gareth Jones also gave a short speech.  We had photos galore – and lots of meeting up with old friends!  So, this is the album…

A big thank you to Bishop Lai and all the clergy, staff and church members of St. John’s Cathedral for all their organization – and attention to detail, and the refreshments too.  This is the cathedral group photo, with our beloved Canon Chancellor, Professor Herbert Ma and Mrs. Aline Ma in the front..

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We give thanks to Almighty God for his many blessings to the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and for Antony’s ordination.  Please do pray for Antony and his family as they settle into life at St. John’s Cathedral and of course, as they start the new English service this coming Sunday!

Praying for World Peace….

Where to start with world peace?!

A few weeks ago at St. James’ Church Youth Group in Taichung, we had the challenge of praying for the world.  Challenge accepted!  We prayed for the 16 countries officially listed as being located on the Tropic of Cancer, of which Taiwan is one (see that post here).  This past Saturday was part 2, this time with a focus on world peace.

We prayed for countries where war is a current reality.   Wikipedia’s List of ongoing armed conflicts is very extensive, so we focused on 16 of the worst-affected countries.  Not all are ‘at war’ in the traditional sense – the list includes the Mexico Drug War, as it has one of the highest number of causalities in recent years.  And of course, just because a country is not officially listed as being ‘at war’, does not mean that it is at peace.  Nor does it mean that a country is not involved in wars elsewhere.

Each of us was responsible for praying for one country at war.  More specifically, using paper people, each of us made our paper people into a family of 4, covering 3 generations, and researched how the people in ‘our’ family could be affected by the war.  Then we prayed and sang and committed all families in war-torn countries to God.

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Partly inspired by the Gospel reading for yesterday when Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection (Luke 24), saying, “Peace be with you” ~ and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Repentance and forgiveness.  We need a bit more of that in the world.  A lot more, in fact.  And in countries affected by war, it’s a particularly big challenge.  So, pray on!

WOW! Lanyu 蘭嶼 Orchid Island, Taiwan

Taiwan’s outlying islands are all special, but the crown jewel of them all must surely be Lanyu!  A tiny green dot in the middle of a vast blue ocean, and on a sunny day (or 3) wow, the island glimmers and shines like a little jewel.  Blue sky, blue sea, green mountains, sandy beaches and rugged black volcanic rocks ~ and traditional boats painted in the white, red and black designs of the local Yami / Tao people who use them for catching flying fish, which they then hang up to dry all over everywhere.   A really amazing place!

Lanyu is one of those places that when you first see it, the only word to say is, ‘WOW!‘ Big green mountains completely dominate the view ~ there are 8 mountains over 400 m (1,300 ft) and the highest is 552 m (1,800 ft).  This is the first close-up view we had of the island as we approached it last Wednesday on the boat from Houbihu 後壁湖, near Kenting, on Taiwan’s southern tip.

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The boat trip itself makes you feel you’re setting off on an adventure.   Two boats make the trip together, taking 2½ hours for the approx 60 km / 40 miles trip going directly eastward from Kenting, through waters that are often rough and choppy.  Last Wednesday at 7:30 am, the sun was shining, the sea looked calm, and everyone munched away on their breakfasts as we were leaving port.  An hour later – and most were regretting it!  We stayed outside the whole journey and watched the flying fish ~ and survived in one piece to tell the tale….

When the boats arrive at the Lanyu Port at 10:00 am, it’s like Piccadilly Circus out there. Our boat had 300 people, I guess the other one had about the same, and we all arrived at the same time, with the boats leaving back for Taiwan only minutes later with another huge group of passengers.  Minibuses from all the different guest houses are there to pick up their visitors, boxes of deliveries are also being unloaded and loaded, and, well, it’s all a scene of huge chaotic fun!

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With a total area of only 45 km² (28 sq miles), a round-the-island highway that spans a distance of 37 km (23 miles), and so many steep high mountains, it’s not surprising that everyone in Lanyu lives somewhere along the coast. There are 6 villages, and they share the amenities between them, meaning no one village can claim to be the most important.  The 4 elementary schools are evenly distributed, but the high school, hospital, port, two 7-Eleven convenience stores, airport, post office, the single solitary ATM machine and government offices are not grouped in one village, rather spread out all over.

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Officially Lanyu has a population of about 5,000 people, including about 1,500 from Taiwan, the rest are local Yami / Tao people.  (The old name is Yami, the more recent name is Tao, and different people in Lanyu had different opinions about which name they preferred).  What is interesting is that they are not related to Taiwan’s other indigenous people, but instead to the peoples of the Batan Archipelago in the far north of the Philippines – their 2 languages and cultures have much in common.

The people of Lanyu have very strong cultural traditions and customs.  Visitors and tourists are welcomed, but local people make it clear that Lanyu is different from Taiwan, and they do not welcome people taking photos of them, or visitors going too near their homes or adversely affecting their way of life in any way.  Their many churches and prayer stations around the island are mostly locked.  The barbed wire and fences are to keep the goats out, but the people say they have had many experiences of visitors taking their drinks and snacks into the churches and leaving all their rubbish there.  So they keep the visitors out too.  Apart from the caves, we only found one prayer station that was open, in the far south of the island.

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In Taiwan you can buy meals on the street all day long until late into the night, but in Lanyu, it seems the whole island closes down early afternoon while everyone has a nap.  Every home seems to have a kind of wooden covered platform outside where the people rest during the heat of the day.  And then at about 7:00 pm, many of the stalls and restaurants also close down for the night.  Taiwan people will say that the most important thing about daily life is always ‘Convenience’ with a capital ‘C’, but not so in Lanyu.  Life moves along slowly at its own pace, and not even the attractions of making money out of all these visitors is going to persuade the local people to change their way of life.

And that is of course exactly what we loved about it!  Knowing all this, we found the people were very friendly and happy to talk – but then we also adhered to their customs.

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One such custom is that the traditional fishing boats are regarded as almost sacred – and not to be touched, and permission should be sought even to take photos.  And no swimming in the areas where the boats go fishing during the flying fish season.

So what were we doing in Lanyu?  Well, last week was Taiwan’s spring break of 3 days – a day for Children’s Day, a day for Tomb-Sweeping Festival and an extra day on Friday to make it a long weekend, and which everyone else had worked the previous Saturday to make up for.  Our university also had the Tuesday off to give the students a chance to get home before the rush of people on the Tuesday night.

A week before Chinese New Year, knowing we had a 5-day spring break in April, I had asked Miao-Shia, my good friend at St. James’ Church, Taichung if she’d be interested in a trip to Lanyu, seeing as I’ve been in Taiwan all these long years and never been there. She’d never been either, and before we knew it we had a group of 6 of us (Miao-Shia, Shu-Miao, Chung-Pung, Ah-Guan, I-Chen and me), all first-timers, all friends, and what’s more, our wonderful Miao-Shia agreed to organize everything!

And so it was that we set off on Tuesday, arriving at the Houbihu Port late that night, where we stayed in a nearby guest house ~ all ready for the boat to Lanyu next morning.

We had booked a small guest house in Lanyu, with mixed dormitory-style rooms (each bed curtained off for privacy) in the village of Yayo / Jiayo / Yeyou 椰油 which is nearest to the port.  We had also booked 3 motorcycles for the first 24 hours – turned out that there were so many people on Lanyu at the same time as us that all motorcycles and bicycles were fully booked after that.  But it didn’t matter.  We saw everything we needed to see, and more.  I spent the time taking photos from the back seat with I-Chen driving – the roads are not easy to drive, some parts are unpaved, some covered in sand and some of the hills are very steep, especially coming down!   This was Miao-Shia and Ah-Guan behind me…

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Our 3 motorcycle drivers did a great job, and we spent a happy day riding around, trying not to get sunburnt, avoiding the goats and pigs, and always stopping for every photo op – ha ha!  Everyone else was doing the same.  There’s plenty of room on those Lanyu roads!  Lanyu is full of visitors on motorcycles and most of them are from Taiwan.  Some western foreigners also visit, but most are Taiwan-based.  Ah, it’s a great place!

Lanyu has an interesting history.  During Taiwan’s Japanese era, 1895-1945, Lanyu was completely closed to all visitors, and designated as an ethnological research area, so even now, the tribal customs and culture are considered to be the best preserved of all Taiwan’s indigenous people.  Old photos from that time can be seen here.  Then in 1947, the Chinese started to arrive and the KMT government used Lanyu as a garrison and military prison, also a collective farm for old soldiers.   They deforested many areas, cleared others, built Taoist shrines, and from the start were in conflict with the local people.  In the late 1970’s the soldiers left, and their shrines were destroyed by the Lanyu people.  We passed the ruins of the garrison on the northern coast of Lanyu.

What did we notice in Lanyu?  Well, for a start, despite it’s English name of Orchid Island, there aren’t any actual orchids to be seen.  Long ago picked almost to extinction. And what else?  Well, a massive absence of temples of any kind.  Taiwan is full of temples, Buddhist and Taoist, but we did not see any in Lanyu.  We saw a few shrines in shops of business people who have come over from Taiwan ~ but actual temples?  No.  And we didn’t see any graveyards either.  Local people said the graveyards are in the forest, and secret.  There is a special owl endemic to Lanyu, the ‘Do Do Wu’ Horned Owl which we went to see.  Traditionally seen as the embodiment of evil spirits by local people, and associated with graveyards and death.  Not easy to take a photo, but their eyes glitter in the dark!

What did we see lots of? Well, stars at night, for one.  From the east coast, the night sky view is spectacular.  And what else?  Well, crosses – in every home we passed.  And churches in every village.  In fact, churches everywhere of every denomination.  We saw RC, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist, True Jesus Church, and more – and often all next to each other.  Lanyu declares itself to be a Christian island.  On arrival at the port, the welcome notice is a mosaic, saying in Chinese 歡迎蒞臨蘭嶼 基督之島 “Welcome to Lanyu, Christ’s Island.”

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We were staying right next to the Yayo Presbyterian Church – isn’t it beautiful?!

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One morning we also climbed up to the Prayer Station on the hill above Yayo ~ and came down in high spirits, hence the smiles!

This was the view of Yayo Village from up above…

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Other village scenes of Yayo…

We visited the Lanyu High School in Yayo to watch a bit of the island’s softball (similar to rounders) championship, a 2-day event with teams from all the villages.

And we went to the local elementary school, beautifully decorated in Yami / Tao symbols and designs….

The school is open to the public outside of school hours, and is a famous place to see the sunset over Mantou Rock – yes, it really does look like a Taiwan mantou (traditional steamed bun)..

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And we also went to the old lighthouse at the small port, with stunning views all round, and watched the swimmers and divers in the waters below.

The small harbour is full of colourful boats….

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And we ate in most of the local restaurants.  One was called ‘En-Bao’, which happens to be the name of the cell-group that Miao-Shia and my friends belong to at St. James – hence this photo!  The restaurant produced some really delicious ‘flying fish baked rice’.

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And on other days and nights we ate elsewhere, trying out the local flying fish delicacies.

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There’s pork available too.  Pigs roam around everywhere, they are so full of character….

And though there’s lots of goats all over Lanyu, we never saw any restaurant offer goat as a dish ~ apparently they are kept for extra-special festival days.

And fruit?  Apart from a few banana trees, the only other fruit we saw being grown was a local fruit that doesn’t have an English name, in Chinese it is lintou 林投果 (Pandanus tectorius), a member of the pineapple family – native to Lanyu and not found in Taiwan.  Members of the same species are found in the Philippines.  We drank it as juice and as a smoothie. I liked it.

The basic root crop is taro, grown in shallow water in fields along the roadsides, also sweet potato and green vegetables.

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And betel nut trees…

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And so to our round-the-island tour, which we did over the Wednesday late morning and afternoon, and then Thursday morning.  We basically drove round the island clockwise, starting with the hilly road up to the Lanyu Lighthouse high up on the northern tip of the island…

This is the view from the northern end of Lanyu looking back down the west coast….  Scenic is the word!

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Then round the NW coast, through the rocks.

And onwards to Five-Hole Cave… we also went to these caves one night to see the rock formations and patterns on the rocks.

Our first village to stop at was  Iraraley / Jiraralay / Langdao (朗島), famous for its semi-underground houses.  The northern and eastern coasts of Lanyu are very susceptible to terrible typhoons in summer, and building these low houses means they can escape the worst.  But it was 1:00 pm – and everyone was resting!

Then on round down to the east coast and to the village of Iranmeylek / Jiranmilek / Dongqing (東清) which is at the middle of a huge and beautiful bay.  Definitely a sunrise spot.  We determined to return early the next morning.  Dongqing has a 7-Eleven – and coffee is what we needed after a short night’s sleep, a morning on the boat, and then straight onto the roads on the back of a motorbike in the hot sun.  Ah yes, coffee and air-conditioning. And lots of flying fish being dried in the sun.

We carried on to the other east coast village of  Ivalino / Jivalino / Yeyin (野銀) but once there we took the mountain road to ride up to the weather station.  This is a very steep road and we walked the last part. The views from the weather station are glorious, seems the whole of southern Lanyu lay below us.  There’s also the original weather station building, built by the Japanese in 1940 but bombed during World War II.

What a spectacular view from the top, looking south…

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We just had time to get down back to the west coast for the sunset with the goats – and over the sea…

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Next day, Thursday, we left from our guest house on our motorbikes at 4:30 am.  Yes, 4:30 am!  How did we do it?!  But we were heading for 7-Eleven coffee and the sunrise viewing spot at Dongqing.  We saw the dawn, had our coffee and waited for sunrise…

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And then we continued on our tour of the island, heading south on the east coast.

And first to that far distant village of  Ivalino / Jivalino / Yeyin (野銀) to see their old subterranean houses, similar to the ones at Langdao.  We were not allowed too near them as the people live there, but we saw enough from the road…. really amazing.

We went on southwards, past zillions of goats….

And eventually, on Lanyu’s southernmost point, the most remote part of Lanyu, far from any habitation, and right opposite Xiao Lanyu 小蘭嶼 Lesser Orchid Island (a smaller, uninhabited volcanic islet, which is also the southernmost point of Taitung County so primarily used for military purposes, and is the place to find the famous endangered orchids) we came to the place that is sadly what Lanyu is most well-known for:

“The Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility 蘭嶼貯存場 was built in 1982 without prior consultation with the island’s Tao natives.  The plant receives nuclear waste from Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants operated by state utility Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). About 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste from the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants have been stored at the Lanyu complex”.  Apparently the nuclear waste stopped arriving in 1996, though that is not clear from this Wikipedia quote.  Anyway, the site is open to the public and we watched a video and looked at the nuclear waste storage site.  All those green concrete bunkers are where it’s at.

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Local opposition is strong and ongoing, and Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen has promised to remove the nuclear waste, but it’s not obvious how this situation is going to be resolved.  Nobody wants nuclear waste stored in their back yard anyway anyhow anytime anywhere.  Of course, the way it was built under the guise of being a fish cannery was clearly deceitful, and the original plan to eventually put it all in a nearby deep sea trench was also illegal under international law.  But what to do with it all now is a major headache for the current government, and will continue to be so for a long time to come.

The site employs about 50 people, 12 of whom are from Taipower in Taiwan, the rest are local people, some whose job is purely public relations.  Thus it was that we each got a free set of postcards, including scenes of, well, the nuclear waste site.   Not surprisingly, I can’t possibly think who to send them to.

Anyway outside there are some steps made of plastic bottles and cans and other recycled materials.  As the notice there says, Lanyu is drowning in waste – from tourists, from locals and from nuclear waste.

The Dragon’s Head Rock is right there too…

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We continued on towards the west coast and the famous grasslands ~ completely different in vegetation from the rest of the island….

And so through the remaining villages of  Imourod / Jimowrod / Hongtou (紅頭), seat of the local government HQ, and Iratay / Jiratay / Yuren (漁