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Yesterday I headed to the Second Crematorium south of Taipei to participate in the funeral of a wonderful friend and mentor. I met Dr. Samuel Jang, an elder at the East Gate Presbyterian Church in Taipei twenty-three years ago when we worked together leading an English Bible Study for that congregation. I was studying Mandarin at the time, so it was a gift to me to be able to lead a Bible Study in English.
Dr. Jang was a man who had a contagious joy. He became a Christian in China when he was very young. He went through a lot when China and Japan were at war and then managed to come to Taiwan where he continued his medical studies. He became a dentist. He married a Taiwanese and they had four children who all continue to walk in Christ’s way. Dr. Jang always shared his faith with his patients. He enjoyed teaching children in Sunday School and always told the other teachers that if they had a problem student to let that student join his class. He would then make that student the head of the class. The student was so busy helping Dr. Jang, he or she had no time to make trouble. Many of these students, now adults, are the elders and deacons of East Gate Church. Dr. Jang’s wife had a stroke and was bedridden for fourteen years. He cared for her with love and never complained.
The Second Crematorium in Taipei is huge. It is where the majority of cremations are done in the city. There are at least 15 chapels which cater to Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians. The staff at the crematorium are adept at quickly changing these chapels with the symbols of each religion.
I arrived a little early for the service for Dr. Jang and noticed about 60 young men all dressed in black T-shirts. Dr. Jang’s service was to be in the Number 1 Chapel on the third floor and these youth were all congregating at the Number 4 Chapel on the same floor. I asked one of the funeral directors who they were, and he told me that they were part of a Gang. Gangs in Taiwan are called the Dark Way. He shook his head as he looked down the hall at all them gathered and said most of these young men have come from broken families and are vulnerable to being recruited by these gangs. He then said, “once they are in , it is impossible for them to leave except if they leave the country.”
I decided to walk down the hall and meet some of these young gang members. I rarely wear a clerical collar, but had one on yesterday for Dr. Jang’s service. When I walked up to this group of youth, they seemed surprised (understandably!). I asked a few of them how old they were, and most of them were in their late teens. I surmised that most of them had dropped out of school. When I asked whose funeral they were attending, they didn’t answer, as if they were not supposed to answer. But a few of them opened up and told me a little about themselves.
I thought back to two weeks before, when I was speaking at a joint aboriginal youth service. The youth there were about the same age as these young men. And yet the road they are walking is so dramatically different. Gang life here involves drugs and violence. These young men are being used by others. Their future will not be bright.
I then walked back down the hall to participate in a service giving thanks for Dr. Jang and the life he lived and to witness to our hope in the resurrection. I thought about Dr. Jang’s willingness to come alongside troubled students, and so wished that these young men had positive role models in their lives.
As I stood to talk at the service, I couldn’t help but compare what was happening in those two chapels. A dark road and a road of light. And I shared that Dr. Jang’s life is a challenge to all of us, to come alongside those who lead difficult lives. We can accept them and not judge. We can share the love of Christ who knows their situations so much better than we do.
Two roads. I ask you to pray for these young men and so many around the world who are lured into a life which does not bring life. May we find ways to help them find life.
A vigil honoring the victims the New Zealand mosque shooting
MORTON GROVE, Ill. — Hundreds gathered at a Morton Grove vigil Saturday in a showing of solidarity for victims of two New Zealand mosque shootings that left 50 dead and scores more wounded.
Local leaders, community members, and others gathered to denounce hate and honor the lives of those lost.
The center has increased security after Friday’s attacks. Morton Grove police have beefed up patrols in the area.