Discipling the Hakka

Ellyn Schellenberg | Taiwan

In Taiwan, the Hakka—a culturally Buddhist group—make up about a fifth of the total 23.5 million population, yet less than .02 per cent are believers. As humanitarian Buddhists, they share many similarities with Christians, including the desire to help others less fortunate and to do good works. They are some of the first to respond to natural disasters, they build temples to Buddha to fellowship together and their identity is closely connected to their family traditions.

“However, for a Hakka to become a Christian, they feel like they are disowning their entire family,” shares Solomon, an OM team member serving in a majority Hakka town in Taiwan. “Hakka believe that the world of the living and the dead are connected and influence each other, so a Christian is seen as not fulfilling their filial duty by not worshipping their ancestors. This causes a lot of tension in families.” He believes that in order to see more people in his community make decisions to follow Jesus, it is important to target key leaders in the family, who “will then lead the rest of their family to follow them towards Christ.”

Solomon and another OM worker, Ken, work at OM’s Community Transformation Centre (CTM) which is a multi-purpose facility used for everything from hosting Bible studies for young adults, to providing a library with Christian resources, to facilitating community outreaches through an indoor climbing wall and an art studio. The small team also partners with some Hakka churches through children’s programmes and by bringing in short term teams.

Ken is the first believer in his family. In junior high, he was bullied by his peers and experienced fear every day. “I tried to tell my parents about what was happening, but they didn’t know how to help me,” Ken shared. “I even considered suicide to escape, but I was afraid of the pain.” By the time he was in university, Ken habitually looked down on himself and isolated himself from anyone around him. “I became addicted to computer games and tried to fill the emptiness with playing online.”

In 2009, after finding work, a colleague from his former job brought Ken to CTM for a visit; soon Ken came most days. “Solomon challenged me to read one chapter [in the Bible] every day at home and would then ask me what I had read. And the more I read, the more I heard God’s voice. I became more confident, had a hope in my future and my negative thoughts began to change,” he reported.

When Ken was baptised, his family did not approve, but through the changes they witnessed in him, they became more open to the idea. They now occasionally join him at church activities, something traditional Hakkas would find challenging because of societal pressure.

“It takes time to explain the gospel in a culturally understandable way,” Pastor Richard Huang, an OM partner, explained. “We need to help people understand that Christians don't just forget their ancestors, but we are able to teach that we have to trace our roots all the way back to our Creator. The Hakka use incense to worship their ancestors, and we can teach that our prayers to God are incense to Him; we have to slowly teach people not to worship ancestors but that we have to honour God as the source of our first ancestor.”

“Success [in ministry] for us means mobilising the Hakka into missions. It’s not just about conversions, but we need to disciple people to a place where they catch the vision for all nations to know God,” Solomon shared. He hopes to see his team grow so that CTM can host more outreach events in the community and be more involved in supporting the existing churches. “We need to create opportunities for the gospel to be brought to the Hakka, and for Hakka to be involved in taking the gospel to the rest of the world.”

Published: Friday, 23 March 2018
Credit: Ellyn Schellenberg
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