Reaching Factory Workers

An interview with Daniel Tsai
by Paul Buttrey

Passion, vision, and creativity are needed to reach Taiwan's many factory workers.

 Daniel Tsai was born in Taitung. He has a B.A. degree in Agricultural Engineering from the National Taiwan University, an M.Div. degree from the China Evangelical Seminary, and a D. Miss. Degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul Buftrey is a missionary with OMF in Taiwan and serves on the editorial staff of TMQ.

Daniel Tsai has been the Director of Taiwan Industrial Evangelism Fellowship (TIEF) since it was founded in 1979. TIEF continues to lead the way in evangelizing Taiwan's factory workers.

TMQ: Daniel, from your many years of experience in evangelizing factory workers, how can we missionaries reach them with the gospel?

Daniel Tsai: This question has two aspects. First, why should we preach the gospel to them? The second is how can we preach the gospel to them?

The Bible tells us that God's love has two aspects creation and salvation. Because God created man in His image, He loves all people. Taiwan has 21,800,000 people. There are many sub-cultures within these 21,800,000 people. Factory workers are considered low class. The majority of the population is considered to be below the middle class. This group of people mostly believes in folk religion, Buddhism, and Yi Gwan Dau. Because in the Bible God wants all peoples to repent and be saved, we must take the gospel to the factory workers.

Taiwan has over 3,000,000 factory workers and over 200,000 foreign workers. When you include their families, you have 6,000,000 to 7,000,000 people. That is at least one third of the population. God certainly feels merciful toward them and wants them to be saved.

The church in Taiwan has a history of 130 years, but the number of Christians in Taiwan is very low. According to my personal observations there are two reasons for this. First, the earliest Taiwanese speaking Christians were poor people, low class, illiterate, and all members of the working class. Over the generations, these Christians have moved to a different socioeconomic level. They have moved from being in the poor, working class to the middle or upper class. Today there are many doctors, professors, rich businessmen, and company owners in the church. Most Taiwanese speaking churches are now composed of people in the middle and upper classes. As a result, culturally they are very isolated from the ordinary, common people. A Christian boss will not necessarily care for his employees. A Christian doctor will not necessarily care for the patients who come to see him.

Second, most church members in Mandarin speaking churches are in the skilled occupations. When people came from the Mainland in 1948 most of them were considered middle and high class. So in the Mandarin church the dominant sub-culture consists of government workers, students, intellectuals, and military officers. These people and the Taiwan factory workers are very far apart. The cultural distance is extremely great. Their language, their religious background, their lifestyle, their worldview, and their communication style are very different. These differences are barriers to be crossed in bringing the gospel to factory workers.

Recently I saw research conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Academia Sinica concerning religious change among adherents of Buddhism, folk religion, Yi Guan Dau, Protestant Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in Taiwan. In the last fifteen years some 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 people in Taiwan have changed their religion. The largest religious change was from folk religion to Buddhism and Yi Guan Dau. In this period quite a few people became Christians, but very few of those came out of folk religion. Most converts to Christianity could be called intellectuals. They already have a concept of God, but don't necessarily go to worship at a temple. They consult feng-shwei and have their fortunes read. They usually tell people that they have no religion, but they are not atheists.

The research showed that people had left Buddhism, folk religions, and Christianity, but the mobility out of Christianity was very high. While many people believed in Jesus, many people also left Christianity. The Buddhists had a different experience. Although many people came into Buddhism from folk religion, not so many people left Buddhism. Converts to Christianity from Buddhism and folk religion were a relative minority. This leads me to feel that the Christian church needs to have a time of deep reflection. Christians and the church exist in a Christian sub-culture. We enjoy our faith. We don't go out into the community to meet different social classes and different faiths. Most of the people we have contact with are like ourselves. We do not cross cultural boundaries.

The gospel in Taiwan faces two serious problems. The first problem is that there is no crossing of social boundaries. Middle and high class Christians do not cross cultural boundaries to the lower classes to love them. The second problem is that Christians do not cross the religious sub-cultural boundaries to love those in folk religion, Buddhism, and Yi Guan Dau. Christians have too little understanding of them. They do not sense that the gospel can be a help to them.

TMQ: We missionaries have a similar problem to that of the brothers and sisters of the Taiwan church. We are afl educated people. We find it easier to preach the gospel to educated people. How can we have a breakthrough?

Tsai: There is a need for genuine renewal. I myself have been renewed. My renewal has come as a result of thinking about my roots. My grandparents were very poor and illiterate. And today I have experienced socioeconomic lift. I have received a lot of education. God took the initiative to love the people of Taiwan, including me. I thank God that He sent Jesus to take the initiative to find the lost and the sick. He changed and identified with us. The most powerful thing about Jesus is God's love and the testimony of missionaries, especially stories of the early missionaries. When I think about how they followed Jesus, I ask, "What about me today?" Even though I have been lifted socially and economically, their testimony is still an inspiration to me. I ask myself, "Why am I a Christian today? Where have I come from?"

Besides being renewed, I see the pitiful condition of the factory workers. They have no opportunity to hear the gospel. When I think of Taiwan and the factory workers practicing folk religions, I realize how little peace they have. Their families are broken. They face many illnesses and calamities. They are bound by evil spirits. They are a people who have no peace. They have experienced many tragedies. We cannot expect them to come to us. We must go to them. They will not take the initiative to come to the church. Today there is growth taking place in some of Taiwan's churches. But most of the people coming into the church are from the same sub-culture. It is not very possible for factory workers just to walk into the church. We must go out to them. When I hear their cries of grief, when I read the newspaper and see the news on TV, I am very sad. We must have the same perspective as Jesus when he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel to them!

TMQ: Are you saying that Taiwan's churches are not able to absorb factory workers?

Tsai: It is extremely difficult for factory workers to walk into a church. The barriers are just too great. If the church is meant to be in only one certain subculture, then the gospel cannot be spread widely and the majority of factory workers are doomed. To have a breakthrough in this area, we need to consider church planting. Today most lower class churches are new churches. These kinds of churches are increasing in Taiwan today, but very slowly. We can see them in Taipei County, Chungli, Taoyuan, and in the South. But the increase is too slow. The reason for the slow development of lower class churches is that traditional churches plant their own kind of church. New churches imitate the style of the mother church. We must find new ways of doing church.

I would like to encourage missionaries who come to Taiwan to work together with us. Help us lead more factory workers to believe in Jesus and encourage those people to raise up a new kind of church. When I say a new kind of church, I am thinking of a church that emphasizes reaching friends, relatives, adherents of folk religion and Buddhism. Everyone in the church will have a responsibility, a vision, a mission, and will know that he ought to be concerned for the community. These churches should not be isolated churches of factory workers. I do not affirm the idea of a factory workers' church. The Bible doesn't talk about a social class church. 'Me church is an open fellowship, welcoming all people.

TMQ., Going back to a question we asked at the start of this interview, how can we take the gospel to factory workers?

Tsai: If you want to preach the gospel to factory workers in this generation, you will have to take the initiative to go to them. Don't think that they will come to the church. Don't think that the existing churches will reach out to them. You must be willing to live among factory workers, just as Jesus lived among people 2000 years ago as the Word become flesh! If a missionary comes to Taiwan with a burden to preach the gospel to factory workers, he must take an active approach-live among them, seek to understand them-only then will they accept us.

Paul also spoke about an important issue: "I have become all things to all men." A mistake has taken place in mission work in Taiwan; possibly there is a twist in missions thinking worldwide. Some say, "I am a certain kind of person and therefore will preach the gospel to that kind of person." For example, some might say, "I am a student; I will preach the gospel to students." or "I am a literate person; I will preach to literate people." or "I am a boss; I will preach to other bosses." or "I am a teacher and will preach to other teachers." This is not in accordance with the Bible. The Bible says "to all men." If God has placed us in a certain place, we must preach the gospel to the people in that place. The gospel creates an opportunity to mix together all the flavors of the world.

TMQ: Why do you mention this issue?

Tsai: Many people, after they believe in Jesus, fail to share the gospel with the factory workers they already know. For example, a typical university student believes in Jesus, but his family members are followers of folk religion. His grandparents and relatives are Buddhists. After believing in the Lord, a lot of pressure comes from his family. With a lot of opposition, he feels very afraid. So he goes to the church for protection. He finds that there is no group of people who will accompany him to witness to his relatives. He needs a partner. He needs a friend who can accompany him to go and love his family, to prove to his family that after he believes in Jesus, he will love his family even more than before he believed.

You missionaries come to Taiwan and do personal evangelism. Some intellectuals will believe in Jesus, but do not forget that these intellectuals believe in Jesus one by one. Many of their family members believe in folk religions. If intellectuals believe one by one and leave their families, their families will oppose them. We have to see the family as very important, not just the individual. The individual is the evangelistic base. After we lead an individual to the Lord, we must go with him to his home. Today in TIEF we are making an adjustment from emphasizing the individual to emphasizing the family. We hope that after a person believes in the Lord, we can encourage him to adopt his relatives. He shouldn't see them as something to be afraid of, but as an evangelistic challenge. We are promoting this concept of family evangelism in TIEF.

For example, there is a Christian teacher who has many students from poor families, families of factory workers, believers in folk religion. Is it possible for a team of two teachers to adopt some of these students' families, go to their homes to love and care for them, and understand their life difficulties? They might talk with the parents. The parents may not know how to raise children. Some people might be sick or have legal difficulties. They need the resources of Christians to help them. Their relatives will then say "Oh, these Christians are really different-it is not that they have gotten our children to believe in Jesus, but that they care about us!" In the midst of this we can preach the gospel to them and lead them to the Lord.

TMQ: How can we make the message of the gospel more relevant to factory workers?

Tsai: We need to pay careful attention to our methods of communication. Most factory workers have difficulty with reading books or literature. The kind of language they like is visual language-stories, radio and TV broadcasting, audio tapes, or more simple written material. They like figures of speech, skits, and songs. These methods allow them to understand through the senses. In TIEF we have found that giving them an audio tape to listen to is better than giving them a book. When giving them a gospel tract, the key point should be something that they can understand visually. If you don't do this, factory workers will think, "What you are talking about is something from another world."

The worldview of factory workers is not the same as ours. So in communicating the gospel we need to pay attention to their communication style-the language they use, the symbols they see, the religious background, and what they care about. And if we use written materials, we use simpler ones with simple language, real stories, and practical teaching on how to face life's difficulties. When teaching the Bible, I just use one verse at a time. When quoting a Bible verse, I help them see what relationship the verse has to their lives. After they hear this, they say, "Oh, this gospel has a relationship to me." When they see its relevance they will not only understand it, they will like it.

We also need to pay attention to the folk religion of the factory workers. For example, in their folk religions they are especially concerned about peace and blessing. Their idea of peace and blessing is not the same as Christian peace and blessing. But we can use these words as a point of contact and say to them, "Are you searching for peace? Here is the best peace-the peace of Christ." You can tell him why the peace of Christ is the most perfect peace. Obtaining blessing is the most important purpose of folk religions. We can tell them what Jesus taught us about receiving blessing. The general factory worker lives with many fears, especially about illness. Medical care is very important to them. When we do evangelism, showing concern for them medically is also very important.

Factory workers want religious faith to give them an experience of God. They want their god to be active. They want to worship God and see Him heal their sicknesses or stop their children from crying. So in preaching the gospel to them we need to help them experience God. We express God's love for them in this way. I don't talk about a lot of theories with them. If you give them books on God's love and peace, they will feel that this is too far from them.

As we mention folk religion, I also think of Buddhism, because many factory workers believe in Buddhism. The problem of suffering is very important to the communication of the gospel in the factory. The concern that Buddhism primarily addresses is the problem of suffering. Buddhists think that all people on the earth are suffering. Life is bitter. Work is bitter. The family is bitter. Marriage is bitter. We can tell them that Jesus has overcome suffering.

Besides suffering, there is the bondage of sin. Buddhists feel the pain of this because they want to do good, but cannot. And they do the things that they don't want to do. They think that today's suffering is determined by the bad things they did in their previous incarnation.

When you are sharing the gospel with a Buddhist factory worker, you can show him that he can be made free, forgiven for his sin, and become a new, free person. If we study the important questions of his faith, we can use the gospel to touch those questions.

TMQ: How do you follow up with factory workers who believe?

Tsai: Discipleship training is important. We can't say in evangelism that once a factory worker has believed, that's it. He needs nurture. Without nurture he will become a person who is a Christian on the surface, but a follower of folk religion on the inside. A disciple is a person whose life has changed. He must see a Christian lifestyle lived out. When a factory worker's life is changed, he will have an effect on many others, like the Samaritan woman in the Bible. In the Bible, when lower class people believed they influenced many others. That is true for factory workers in today's Taiwan, as well. We might preach the gospel to many, but among those, we will spend time to care for a smaller number. Those will become disciples. After their lives change, they will influence many people around them. If a factory worker believes in Jesus, but does not have a changed life, others will ridicule him and say "You believed in Jesus, but your life is the same as before." He then becomes a stumbling block. If he does not have a goo testimony, people will think that Jesus is a fake.

In every church where there is evangelism, there should be training-seekers' classes, new believers' classes, spiritual growth classes, and discipleship training classes. But the relationship between these classes and factory workers should be in the lifestyle. They should learn from the Bible how to experience change in interpersonal relationships, marriage relationships, work relationships, view of money, and life habits. Besides this, when a factory worker believes in Jesus, the church should encourage the brothers and sisters to adopt and care for his family.

Now in TIEF we have found that our methods need to be creative. Because the factory workers are different from us, we have to use things like stories, figures of speech, skits, diagrams, movies, videotapes, and tracts. Don't depend on only one method. We need missionaries to come and help us in this area. Missionaries can use other kinds of methods to attract them.

Beside this, there is a spiritual dynamic. In a factory or in a community, not a lot of people will believe, only some cell groups or a few families. We can gather them together and help them form a team. They can become a very dynamic unit, which can be a witness in a factory, in a company, or in the community. Factory workers don't come to believe in Jesus one by one. They need a group of people to worship together with, to share with, and to pray with when facing difficulties. If we lead people in different areas to Jesus one by one, when there are about fifteen, we can gather them together for prayer, sharing, and evangelism. Because of the Taiwan cultural background, factory workers are group oriented. They are not so much individually oriented. So when a worker believes in Jesus, his family would like to know several other families. They can all come together in a home, sing hymns, and care for one another. When someone gets sick, they all pray for him. That is very powerful.

TMQ: From your experience, when we foreign missionaries come to bring the gospel to factory workers, what kinds of resources do we bring?

Tsai: First, you love Taiwan's people. Taiwan's people feel very moved by this. I think of the missionaries I have known. They have come as young adults. Their concern is a long-term concern. They maybe came in their twenties and now are forty-five years old. These missionaries have really moved me. Taiwan's society is in the middle of major socio-political instability. There are many people who are nervous about Taiwan's relationship with the Mainland. Some people feel insecure and emigrate to the USA. But you missionaries have come to Taiwan to live among Taiwan's people because of Jesus' love. Your action expresses a great deal of love. So I call those who have the burden of reaching factory workers to make a long-term investment. This is not for the short term. It is not for three months or a year, but for fifteen or twenty years. It is through that investment that factory workers will be moved by the witness of your life.

Second, missionaries give local people vision. It was because of a mission's vision that TIEF was born. Without this vision, we would not exist today. It is through vision that results are produced.

Third, missionaries bring creativity with them. I say this because of the style of Taiwan's education. It trains us to memorize. You missionaries have various spiritual gifts and different ideas in preaching the gospel.