As I stood at the base of Taipei 101, the world’s second tallest building, I fought a feeling of insignificance. There I was standing in a city of seven million and I felt like an ant below the wonder of a 101-story behemoth of steel and glass. If anybody noticed me, it was only because I was a different skin color than a majority of the rest of the crowd.
I was one of thousands to visit the landmark that day and will be one of hundreds of thousands to visit it this year. I haven’t spent a lot of time in large cities in my life, but I could see how one could lose hope or purpose amid such a sea of people.
At the same time, I thought about the small-town mentality that can defeat a person just as easily. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it’s the idea that because the town is 10,000 people or less it lacks the pizzazz or appeal of a larger community.
I shook off my thoughts when I remembered a conversation I had as we rode the mass rail transit (an above-ground subway) earlier that day. My director, TJ Dickerson, and fellow Young Life Area Director, Luke Feather, talked about how overwhelming a trip like ours could be if one lost perspective. We reminded each other that if the God we were talking to people about in Taiwan really is who he says he is, each of us holds a significance. He loves beyond anything we can imagine or comprehend.
We took that message to a small group of people in Taiwan who care about youth. Our conversations with them weren’t groundbreaking or revolutionary. Judging by their response, it was more of a relief. They wanted to hear that their love for teenagers was shared.
In Taiwan, and other Asian countries, teenagers are given one purpose. They are told that their job is to go to school and excel. At each level of schooling they are tested and according to their aptitude level they are placed in a school that is basically labeled either bad, better or best. Their worth comes from that label.
They go to school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. After school, they are required to attend an after-school program until 9 p.m. The after-school programs are similar in that the “best” ones are reserved for either the best students or the more wealthy students.
At this point, some of you might be thinking this sounds like a good idea. Our country’s students are well behind the rest of the world. Maybe we need more structure or our better students need more ways to get even better. That debate is for another time. What I want to write about is the idea of the abandonment of youth. It happens in Taiwan and it happens in America. The difference is that the Taiwanese culture doesn’t try to sugarcoat it.
One of the youth workers we met with wore a shirt that had the message, “Our youth aren’t a nuisance.” The shirt was born out of the idea in their country that youth shouldn’t been seen nor heard. They need to be at school from dawn till dusk and then at dusk they need to go somewhere else. This allows for their parents to work long hours and not have to be inconvenienced at home.
On one of our return flights, Luke sat by a missionary to Taiwan heading back to the U.S. for a conference. Luke told him about Young Life and our mission to reach kids. The missionary said that we were going to have a hard time in Taiwan because youth only focus on their schoolwork.
It might be difficult, but churches and other Christian organizations have learned that the doorway to reaching youth is to set up their own after-school programs. Regardless if a family is Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, the youth workers know as long as they are helping the student improve at school the families are fine. What they’ve learned along the way is that the kids need to be loved regardless of their achievements.
Although this sounds a lot different than how we treat our youth in America, I think there are still symptoms of abandonment by adults. The book “When Kids Hurt,” by Chap Clark and Steve Rabey, is a study of how the adults of America, “went from being a part of a relatively stable and cohesive community intent on caring for its young to a free-for-all of independent and fragmented people seeking their own pleasure and survival.”
It’s easy to get angry with the way kids act. I struggle with anger in my job everyday, mostly because I forget sometimes that I’m dealing with 16 year olds. I have to remind myself they need mothers and fathers and mentors and teachers and coaches who care.
They also need the reminder they are loved.
People always say when they go on a missions trip they are the ones who were changed for the better. I don’t know if my trip to Taiwan changed me, but it reinforced one thing. That is the idea that kids need to know they are significant, too. And that’s a message that needs to be shared from Taiwan to Craig to Timbuktu.