2 typhoons in 2 weeks, and as a result, suddenly there I am on a 40-minute flight from Taipei Sung-Shan Airport to Penghu 澎湖~ wow!
From the air, the islands of Penghu look like a string of pearls scattered across the sea ~ in fact there are 64 small, very small and tiny islands all there as a result of volcanic activity zillions of years ago – so it’s all basalt and coral…. and famous for scenery, sea-foods, shells, surf, water-sports and for being a major holiday destination for Taiwan people..
This long-awaited Penghu trip was rearranged 3 times because of the 2 recent typhoons – and so it was that suddenly I found I had 2 extra days at the start and one extra at the end – meaning, wow, 6 whole wonderful days in Penghu (OK, well it did include 3 days of torrential rain but hey nothing can dampen the spirits in a place like Penghu!)….
My first visit to Penghu was over 10 years ago as part of a group to see the sights and scenery, but this time my purpose was to visit my good friends Feng-Mei and her family in Xiyu 西嶼, the far western island….
Penghu scenes …
Feng-Mei’s husband, Mr. Lai 賴志泓, serves as evangelist at Xiyu (Taiwanese: ‘Sai-Su’) Presbyterian Church in Zhuwan 竹灣 Village (famous for its peanuts, hence the peanut photos above!) – the old church building down in the village is now closed, and the new church is built up above the village – well exposed to the elements, so wind blows in all directions, and the typhoon battered us with heavy rains all day long. But 360° views in all directions are of sea sea and more sea! When the sun comes out, it’s stunning. Of course, the sun hardly did come out (hence all these sun-less photos!) but hey it was nice and cool, and the church and family activities kept us very busy! This is us – busy busy busy!
Outside of the main town, Makung, all the churches in Penghu are Presbyterian, with a history going back to the 1880’s…
This is the notice in Xiyu Church:
“June 12, 1886 missionary William Campbell along with Gao Chang, and Mr. Li Bao were leaving Bai Sha island in a boat on their return journey to Makung, but because of the heavy winds and high waves, they were unable to make their way to Makung. They saw the lights of the village that centered on the Temple at Ju Gao Bay (Zhuwan) and decided to head for the bay to find a haven there. As a result they ended up conducting an evangelistic meeting in the temple square. That night 200 people heard the gospel preached. At the close of the meeting the families of Mr. Xu Ken and Mr. Yang Ju indicated that they would like to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. These two people were the earliest fruit for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in Sai-Su.
After this, the Christian believers were persecuted by the village people. The most serious persecution came three years after the two gentlemen believed. Xu Tung, the son of Xu Ken, was beaten and had three ribs broken. Zhau Wan, a student from the Tainan Bible College (now Tainan Theological Seminary) received serious injuries that later led to his death.
The households of both Xu and Yang took a boat and fled to Makung. Not long after this, the grandson of the ringleader Xu Quan Tai, of those who persecuted the Christians, began suffering from a very strange illness, that they were unable to cure…… Xu then he thought of the curse he had made in front of the temple; that the Christians would die without leaving any descendants. When he recalled this he became alarmed, and his conscience rebuked him, so he sent someone to the Christian Xu family in Makung to ask for their forgiveness.
At that time the Rev Hope Moncrieff and Dr. Taylor, who started Happy Mount Hospital for leprosy suffers in Taipei, were in the Pescadores (Penghu) to conduct evangelistic meetings. Xu Ken asked them to accompany him to heal the grandson of Xu Quan Tai. They went and Xu Ken used his Chinese methods and healed the boy. When the non-Christian villagers saw the miraculous healing of Xu Quan Tai’s grandson, they decided to return the confiscated property to the Christians. From then on the Christian Xus were able to live together in peace with the other Xus in their home village.
Other churches and preaching outposts were started in Sai-Su. In 1986 they decided to combine and meet under the name of Sai-Su Presbyterian Church.”
Even now, many of the church members belong to the Xu and Yang families. This is Feng-Mei and her husband with some of the church members, including the smallest boy, the 6th generation of Xu Ken’s family…
It was wonderful to see whole families in the church, and half the congregation were men – ah, wish every church was like that! Their sense of identity as Christians is strong, and they drive from all over Xiyu to come to church.
Taoist Temples are there in their hundreds, plus thousands of shrines and guardian stones, and all sorts of folk-religion traditions that are well-preserved in Penghu but may have died out elsewhere in Taiwan, except for the fishing villages. Taiwan’s fishing villages are nearly all like that. Plus Ghost Month was ending as I was there and offerings to the ghosts were being made everywhere. Not easy being a Christian in such places…
Most impressive is the amount of government help and resources helping the people of Penghu – virtually all of the tiny fishing villages have their own school, even if there’s hardly any children – and they all have their own class teachers for each year group. Zhuwan School is tiny, Feng-Mei’s daughter in Year 2 is in a class of 7, and with their own class teacher…. austerity fortunately has yet to hit Penghu. Long may it last!
Not surprisingly, it was hard to leave and to get back into the rush and noise of Taipei life. How I could have stayed! But Taiwanese is the language of daily life in Penghu, so I was a bit limited, but hey it did mean that I could conveniently ignore all the announcements of the village loud-speaker system that went off every time a van selling something arrived in the village square to sell their wares, and sometimes the vans arrive very very early, groan! Needless to say, those loud-speakers are the only thing about Penghu that I don’t miss lol!
And the pearls of Penghu may be the islands in the sea, but of course the real pearls are Feng-Mei and her family, and all the people of Sai-Su Presbyterian Church who welcomed me so warmly!
Please do pray for them all and their witness in that beautiful place!