Stories: A Train Ride in Taiwan
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|In February 1959, I conducted conferences in the two Taiwan Districts. I also stopped at each of the Branch locations to meet with the missionaries and do an inspection of facilities. There had been some illness among the missionaries and I felt it necessary to assure myself that everything was being done that could be to avoid such illness.
We had Branches located in Chilung, Taipei, Hsin-Chu, Taichung, Chia-I, Tainan and Kaohsuing. Each of these cities was on the railroad route from North to South. My first visit was in Chilung, and my last visit was in Kaohsuing.
This conference routine had been established as the missionary work expanded from Taipei out to the other cities. I had scheduled so much time for this visit and by 1959, I had the schedule down quite well. I could visit at least two branches each day and sometimes three, depending on the activity. In the District Conference cities of Taipei and Tainan, I would spend a full day at each place. By the end of this trip, I was usually
weary, both physically and spiritually.
I knew from experience that at the end of these trips, I was not very useful to anyone. I planned my schedule so that I could finish my last meeting or interview and have an evening meal before the night passenger train to Taipei. I requested that none of the missionaries travel with me because that always required three hours of conversation, which I did not want.
In February 1959, the schedule was the same. I arrived early at the train station in Kaohsuing. I knew I would be required to stand in line, and defend my place, even if it meant pushing someone else away. When the train doors opened, it was each person for themselves. I had learned the procedure very well. I pushed and crowded myself to the front of the line, and when the doors opened, I made certain I was the first one aboard. I found the seat I had often used, front row, window seat. This way, there would be no one in front of me and I could stretch out my legs. The window was important because I carried a pillow to rest my head. By doing this, I could sleep all the way to Taipei. I could then go to the Airport, catch a plane to either Hong Kong or the Philippines, depending on my next assignment. On this day, I was catching a plane to Manila, in the Philippines to meet with the attorney about getting the Church registered for missionary work.
Once aboard, I placed my pillow on the window and got comfortable for the four hour ride to Taipei. As the train left the station I was quite satisfied that I had accomplished my intent. With my head on the pillow, I was just dozing off to sleep. Suddenly my seat mate jabbed me with his elbow and asked me what my name was? I told him and intended to go back to sleep. Again he poked me and inquired what I was doing in Taiwan. I told him I was a missionary and tried to go back to sleep. He again interrupted my sleep by suggesting that if I was a missionary, I should have a message for him. I did! My message was to leave me alone and let me sleep...but I could not deliver this message. I thought I could give a brief introduction to the Church and still get back to my own schedule.
Because my delivery in Chinese was not very fluent, I was interrupted several times to clarify something that I had said. My tormentor had several good questions, which I tried to answer. From behind me a voice chimed in asking another question. He had been listening to our conversation. So now two seats were involved. A military man, who was standing in the aisle also became involved in the discussion. Two others from across the aisle joined in with comments and questions. By the time we reached Tainan, seven people were involved in a religious discussion. Two of the participants left the train at Tainan, but as we started again, others joined in the conversation, most of which was a question answer type of discussion. How can you really know there is a God? Does God care about everyone? Can God make a change in the affairs of the world? Are you sure there is a God?
Each question led to some discussion of a principle of the Gospel. When pre-existence was introduced, more people joined in the discussion. Is there a relationship between a pre-life and our life now? Who determines when we come to this earth? Can you tell what someone did in the pre-existence?
At Chia-I, some of the participants left the train and others joined the conversation. The conversation was now being conducted mostly in English. They could understand, but had to ask their questions in Chinese.
I became aware of the fact that this was an ongoing conversation. The original inquisitor had left the train in Chia-I, but others were just as insistent that I converse with them. It was also apparent that these men needed more background about the Church. I gave them an extensive "Joseph Smith Story" presentation and testified that I knew this was a message from God. One man, who had been one of the first to join the conversation, observed. "Now I know how you can say there is a God. We have never had this kind of assurance before.".
All during the trip from Kaohsiung to Taipei this discussion went on. I made a note that during the entire trip there was at least ten or more persons involved in the discussion. I also noted that there was about 100 persons on the passenger car I was riding in. During the period of time of this trip, ten percent of the people in that train car had voluntarily come forward to engage in a Gospel discussion. There was no contention. Almost all the discussion was answering questions they would ask. The spirit of truth was also present. Several of the men involved took the opportunity to express their thankfulness that I could assure them that God was interested in them.
We also discussed the family and the role of temple work in honoring our ancestors. This opened up many new questions.
When the conductor announced that the arrival at Taipei, I informed my audience that I had to leave the train. Many of them also were leaving the train at Taipei. Three military men were going on to Chilung, but they got off at Taipei to continue the discussion. I informed them that I had to rush to catch a plane. I gave them the address of the Mission Home at Jen Ai Lu in Taipei and departed by cab for the airport.
I do not know whether any of these men followed up on this event. My schedule became very busy and by the time I returned to Taipei, the matter had passed from my mind. In October, 1959, after being released as Mission President, but remaining in Hong Kong to complete translation work, I reviewed some of my notes taken on various trips. One page of notes was written on the plane as I flew from Taipei to Manila. It is from those notes and that reminder that this article has been written.
Several things are important to me about this event. There are people who are interested in hearing about the Gospel. On this train car, ten percent of the people were interested. It is possible that ten percent of the people walking down the street are also interested in hearing the Gospel? It is true that these people on the train had nothing else to do, but they still were interested and became involved in a religious conversation.
This train ride in Taiwan taught me that there are no circumstances under which we cannot be used by the Lord to deliver the message of the Gospel. In times of discouragement, I now remember this event and look forward to another such experience.
H. Grant Heaton
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