The deadliest typhoon in Taiwan’s history, Typhoon Morakot on August 8, 2009, resulted in the deadliest mudslide ever, in the Pingpu village of Siaolin (Xiaolin) 小林, up in the mountains of southern Taiwan, about 90 minutes drive NE of Kaohsiung City. A stunningly beautiful area – but on that tragic day in 2009, disaster struck and up to 700 people lost their lives when the village was completely buried by the mud, as were the roads, bridges, agricultural land, schools and temples….
Now 7 years later, and a huge amount of reconstruction has been going on. People have been rehoused in several new locations, and a new road and many new bridges of all different colours have been built up the valley. Until last year, St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung had a ministry to those affected by the typhoon in the town of Jiasian 甲仙, just downstream from Siaolin. There were classes to help children with their homework, school visits, children and youth activities at the weekend, and groups for adults. One of those involved in the outreach was our good friend from St. Timothy’s, Mrs. Hsu Pai-Hui, who is also in charge of the women’s ministry in the Diocese of Taiwan.
Last Friday evening I was in St. Peter’s Church, Chia-Yi for their youth Bible Study – and so Pai-Hui had kindly invited Mrs. Grace Chien and I to visit Kaohsiung for the weekend from Chia-Yi. We even had a lift to Kaohsiung with 2 very gracious church members from St. Peter’s. So yesterday afternoon, Pai-Hui took us both up on the road through the Hakka town of Meinung, on and up through Jiasian and beyond to Siaolin. We stopped at the new Siaolin Village Elementary School, opened in 2012 to replace the old one. The new school is beautiful, all in bright colours with stunning views, and full of Pingpu tribal artwork and decoration.
A nice surprise is that the school has a website in English, and includes the quote from Winston Churchill ~ “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts!”
So with that in mind, on we drove, heading further up the valley beyond Siaolin, up on the new road, and over the different coloured bridges…
And finally we landed up in a rather intriguing place called Holy Mt. Zion 錫安山. Worth reading a more objective account in an article published in 2010 on the Religioscope website called “Taiwan: Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot — a new religious movement’s response to a natural disaster” by Paul Farrelly, which opens with the introductory words:
‘On 8 August 2009 Typhoon Morakot blasted across Taiwan, the strongest typhoon to reach the island in recent decades. Floods ravaged much of the island and severe landslides destroyed roads, towns and farmland. The death toll was catastrophic, with 700 lives lost. The village of Hsiao-lin, located in the mountains of southern Taiwan became the focal point of the disaster when it was completely buried by a landslide, killing several hundred people and catalysing public anger towards Taiwan’s ruling Guomindang party (commonly known as the KMT). Approximately 10 kilometres upstream from Hsiao-lin is Mount Zion, the primary holy site of the New Testament Church (NTC) that, the NTC claims, will be the venue for the heavenly descent of Jesus Christ.’
It’s worth reading the whole article to try to understand Holy Mt. Zion, the history, community life, beliefs, calling and witness. It’s a community of 200-300 people of all ages, living a simple life on top of a mountain beyond Siaolin, where they practise organic farming and welcome a lot of visitors all year round. The scenery is amazing, with views of high mountains, lots of fresh air and a strong community spirit. The views and beauty of the place are in complete contrast to the tone of the billboards and signs displayed everywhere, in Chinese and English, with Bible verses, slogans and explanations of what they believe, as well as accounts of their history – which has been fairly dramatic and very tragic. They don’t mince their words, and rail strongly against formal education, the KMT, former President Chiang Ching-Kuo and ‘tyranny’ in general. Not the place to go if you’re about to vote for the KMT in Taiwan’s Presidential and Legislative Elections next weekend. But there was a baptism service going on when we first arrived, so we saw firsthand that they baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Up at the top of the hill is their holy temple, and the whole community gathers there at 4:30am each morning for their worship and prayer services. We were particularly interested in their organic farming, and they also have ostriches, to add to the variety of the place!
Even if they don’t have a page in English on Wikipedia (the Chinese one is here, so you can just translate it), fortunately they do have plenty of brochures in English, and English-speaking people on hand to talk and answer questions….. Our questions to the lady in the holy temple were: do the men do their military service, answer – yes; do they vote, answer – they can if they want to; what about health, answer – if they want to go to the hospital for treatment, there’s nothing stopping them; what about education, answer – it’s all done within the community, no formal outside-schooling….
Hey, with an open mind in tow, it’s definitely worth a visit!