The year 2015 is an important anniversary year for the Formosan Presbyterian Church of Orange County – though next year will mark the congregation’s 40th year since its founding. But this year, 2015, marks the 150 year anniversary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, as much a part of FPCOC as its own PCUSA.
In 1865 Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of England came to Taiwan to practice medicine. Seven years later, Dr. George Leslie Mackay, a missionary and physician from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, also came to Taiwan. From these two missionaries and their work came schools, newspapers, and hospitals – but also a focus on the importance of the local Taiwanese language and culture which allowed the Taiwanese identity to survive colonization by Japan and later China.
“The Presbyterian Church always helped us to value the importance of worshipping God in our mother tongue,” explained Wilbur Hu, member of the FPCOC.
Today, 150 years later, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) is the largest protestant denomination in Taiwan, and has been central to the preservation of both the Taiwanese language as well as promoting democracy and aboriginal identity.
Part of the focus of those early missionaries was to the aboriginal people – who are often marginalized, and who have been pushed further and further into the mountains as ‘progress’ has come to Taiwan. “In Taiwan the aboriginal people have one of the highest percentages of Christians in Taiwan today because of that focus,” continued Hu.
Not only has the PCT focused on worship in the mother tongue, but it has also been the impetus for a strong movement toward democracy in Taiwan. “The way of the PCT has been to send representatives from each congregation to the General Assembly – this is a very democratic idea, and it has had an impact on our culture,” explained Hu. This focus on grass roots leadership in the church has helped the PCT be a force for civil rights as well as democracy, and making sure that all elements of society have a voice.
It’s something that has not remained in Taiwan, but traveled along with its people as they founded FPCOC in Garden Grove close to four decades ago.
“We call ourselves the Formosan Presbyterian Church because we want people to know that is what we are, Taiwanese,” explained Hu.
Worship is in Taiwanese – though there is also an English service for the second generation. “It is important to us to be able to use our mother tongue to worship God,” shared Hu.
In order to help their children, born and raised in the United States, to continue to appreciate their heritage, FPCOC has partnered with the PCT to send the second generation as ‘missionaries’ back to Taiwan in the summer. The children from the North America are joined by the second generation Taiwanese growing up in Europe and South America to learn Taiwanese culture, to eat the food, and to participate in a variety of mission work – while learning about their roots and their homeland.
“A lot of people in the younger generation don’t know their history, but when they go to Taiwan they get exposure to it,” said Hu. “Unless the older generation tells them what we have done, how will they know?”
But FPCOC has strong ties not just to Taiwan, but to their own neighborhood of Garden Grove as well. “We are excited to have an outreach program to connect with our neighbors,” explained Hu. This includes ping pong classes, cooking classes, tai chi, shared meals and even an ipad class for seniors.
For FPCOC it is important to have a focus that is not just ‘far away’ in Taiwan, and not just their own congregation, but to also focus on their neighborhood, as well as the neighbor across the border in Mexico, where they have partnered in mission work with other congregations in the presbytery.
“We are a congregation that is 37 years old, and compared to other churches, that is kind of young,” said Hu. “But we are very proud of our tradition and we hope that we can pass that on to the next generation.”