From York,SC to Taiwan
A team from Hillcrest Church in York traveled to Taiwan in September for a life-changing trip to spread the Gospel to people living there. After Pastor Brad Vassey participated in a vision casting trip to Taiwan in 2018 he says God revealed it as the country his church had been praying to reach through partnership. The trip proved to be pivotal in the small church’s pursuit of living out the hope of Jesus at home and abroad.
“Population-to-person it’s unreal how many people live in such a small place. There are 23 million people in a country half the size of South Carolina. Only 4.5 percent identify with Christianity, and one thing we didn’t plan for was for how overwhelming that reality would become. Everywhere you look you see the potential that someone is lost and separated from God forever,” Vassey says.
He found the accessibility of Taiwan appealing, describing East Asian countries as relatively easy to travel to and enter. The area the Hillcrest team served in was also highly concentrated with individuals from many other countries who were living and studying there.
“We saw the value of impact in Taiwan. It’s a fluid country, people are in and out on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to reach someone that God sends rather than to try and force something that’s not available,” Vassey explains.
Hillcrest developed a partnership with Chip and Mary Hilton, International Mission Board (IMB) Church Planters living in Kaoshung, Taiwan. The Hiltons have worked to build relationships through a collegiate program, which was a perfect fit for the Hillcrest team. Vassey says the 10-member team mostly consisted of college-aged and young married adults.
“We knew we’d be with college students and that there were eight universities associated with this part of the island, with some 90,000 students in those schools. We didn’t know that Taiwan began an initiative to engage cultural influence in its universities and is asking other countries to send students to Taiwan. This church plant is the worship home to 13-plus countries. Quite literally when we worshipped with them that Sunday morning, 13 different countries were hearing worship and music in English while at the same time the songs were being sung in Taiwanese,” Vassey says.
The Hillcrest team had unique Gospel opportunities in Taiwan. Half of the church’s worship team, including Vassey’s wife Carrie, made up the mission team and were allowed to set up anywhere in a public space at any time to play music. The team also shared the Gospel with a man at a Buddhist temple. Three men on the team used a translation app to communicate and share the Gospel with a music store employee who regularly travels to and from China teaching music. Vassey says the team recognized the employee’s relationships in mainland China and Taiwan are driving him to Christianity.
Sports opened doors for conversations as well. Several of the men were able to share the Gospel in an area with multiple basketball courts where more than 100 youth were playing. God also used a mission team member’s connection to football in an unexpected way.
About a year ago, Jerome Pettiway attended his girlfriend’s baptism service at Hillcrest, prayed to accept Christ the same day and was baptized a few weeks later. The athlete who had dreams of playing professional football was not chosen on his drafting day, which opened up the opportunity to join his girlfriend on Hillcrest’s mission team. Taiwan recently created professional football teams and the Hiltons offered the opportunity for Pettiway to speak to the players. Vassey says Pettiway shared that football had been his identity but, because he’d met Jesus before he knew he wouldn’t be in the NFL, he realized there is more to life than the game.
“I was placed there intentionally by God to be used by God to share my testimony to these men who have never met me but respected me because I knew so much about the sport they were introduced to only a year ago. As a result of my testimony being shared, two of the men began asking questions about the Bible and wanted to know more about God. To know that I played a part in doing God’s work is a feeling I will cherish and seek to find again and again,” Pettiway says.
Zac Lewis’ life group at Hillcrest prayed with him about going on the Taiwan mission trip. He’s working on an undergraduate degree before enrolling in seminary, is passionate about telling others about Jesus and is a self-described “quiet introvert.” According to Vassey, Zac ended up being the most effective team member in sharing the Gospel.
“Zac is called to missions. He immediately fell in love with the culture and people in Taiwan, and you could see in his eyes there that nothing was going to stop him from sharing the Gospel,” Vassey recalls.
“I experienced a major connection while over there and I was unsure of what it was at first. Near the end of our trip my heart became very heavy, almost with a sense of conviction. There was a newfound love in my heart for these people and it was a feeling I had yet to experience in life. Since being back, half of my mind and heart are still in Taiwan. I get caught up in worship thinking of the lost people over there and what God is doing and how He’s using the missionaries,” Lewis shares.
After witnessing Lewis’ transformation, Vassey says discussions have started with the missionaries about what it would like to continue partnering and send Lewis back to serve for a period of time. It’s just one way that God is continuing to work in the hearts of Hillcrest members.
“This experience has opened the flood gates at Hillcrest. We were able to return and share this mission experience with the church and see this transference of joy to a hungry people who want to do the same thing. We have a contagious desire to reach the nations,” says Vassey, adding that the Taiwan team was the first Hillcrest has sent in at least 10 years.
The missions awakening has been building for several years, with the congregation praying over its vision to have a partnership on each continent over the next five years. The Taiwan trip has also opened dialogue at Hillcrest about the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong Offerings. Recognizing that churches may be more aware of mission efforts in this area as a result of the new South Carolina Baptist Convention partnership with East Asia, Vassey notes the importance of always being ready to share the Gospel – at home or abroad.
“It’s important not to be so focused on foreign missions that you’re not effective in sharing the Gospel across the street. There are different languages and different people all over the world who need to hear the Gospel, but if we can’t commit to sharing it right here then it’s not going to carry the weight when we share it over there. It’s not where you go, but that you go. As a pastor we have the responsibility of showing the opportunities to all of God’s people, and international missions is just one part of the big picture,” he says.