Finding a place to live in Puxin was quite an adventure! Given the delay in our ministry placement, we had only two and a half weeks to find a new home. So in addition to packing up our house in Taichung, we also spent several days each week down in Puxin searching for available places to rent out.
The first day of searching in Puxin we decided to drive down from Taichung. By car the drive is only 40 minutes but because scooters cannot use the freeways in Taiwan, for us the drive is about an hour and a half. It’s rather beautiful, however, driving up and over a sloping mountainside down into the farming valley on the other side, and with the excitement of finding a new home time passed quickly.
To start off our search, our team leaders had arranged for us to look at a place that had been listed online. It was one of only two listings for all of Puxin! (Remember, Puxin is a small township of around 10,000 people compared to Taichung which has nearly 2.8 million people.) The other listing had recently been rented out, so this one was our only lead.
This house seemed really great on paper: 4 bedrooms (one for us, one as an office and two for guests), 2 living rooms, a kitchen, and 2 bathrooms. More than enough space for us to live and open our home to do ministry.
We pulled up to the alley the house is on and realized that the neighboring buildings were factories. One for large appliance repair and the other for welding and varnishing. As we walked around the home the further in we went, the more our concern grew. The front room was fairly decent by Taiwan standards but the ceiling tiles were stained and drooping from water damage. The kitchen cupboards were scattered with animal droppings. The tub in the downstairs bathroom not only had a hole on the outside of it but a large crack running down the inside. The lock on the door to the outside laundry area was broken so when the door closed, you were locked outside (and with my history that is not a good thing). Upstairs the ceiling tiles suffered from similar issues, but the bedrooms weren’t too bad and had decent closet space.
As we returned to our scooters our team leader asked us our thoughts on the place. Trying to see this place as “a bit of a fixer upper” we listed the pros and cons, but emphasized that we had some serious concerns with the possibility of living there. After hearing us out he said, “Okay good. Because the realtor told me on the way out that the house was illegally built.” Well…check that one off the list!
Our team leader had some things to attend to so we were on our own for the next several hours. I had prepared for this by mapping out all of Puxin Township so that we could go village by village looking for “for rent” signs. It was actually a great way to be introduced to the place of Puxin and get a feel for what life in rural Taiwan is like. We enjoyed scooting village to village through fields of rice, grapes, guava, and mango. We also saw factories sprinkled here and there (zoning laws in Taiwan are interesting to say the least). Many of the villages were composed primarily of older buildings and homes, especially the traditional farm houses called “sanhe yuan” (three-sided courtyard). Every now and then we saw newer buildings thrown in the mix.
After scootering to and from for nearly 7 hours we had only found a grand total of 5 “for rent” signs. Three of which were for homes with shopfront, and therefore out of our budget. One was for renting out a single room with a shared bath and kitchen with several other tenants. The other was actually a home for sale, not rent. Oh, what to do?! The drive back to Taichung was long and exhausting. Our bottoms were sore and our spirits were low.
The next visit to Puxin, we took the train and spent the day looking for places with our team leaders. We started by looking at a place on the outskirts of Puxin that they had found one day as they passed by into a neighboring town. This particular home was a three story townhouse in the shape of a triangle. Each floor had one main room and in the back corner, which was the size of a small walk-in closet, was either a bathroom on two of the floors or a kitchen on the second floor. The floors were connected near the back with a spiral metal staircase clearly made for the average Asian, as Lizzy constantly hit his head while going up and down. As we looked around the house, we realized that there was no way to get large items up or down the stairs, so how would we move our furniture into the house? The landlady said that we could open the windows on the second and third floors and bring the furniture in through there. But when we looked out these windows, within arms length, there were bundles of wires hanging from the nearby electric poles. So now our options expanded from illegally built to electrocution and concussions.
We then drove over to another possibility on the other side of the township. This one had previously been used as a car repair shop on the first floor and a living space on the second floor. The rooms were quite spacious and therefore well-suited to ministry, however other than the kitchen there were no finished floors and the smell of engine oil lingered downstairs. The upstairs bathroom was around and outside the back of the house, through a door which was off kilter and missing panels. After walking outside you then saw the bathroom door had a good foot gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. Perfect for any critter seeking asylum from the outdoors. Illegally built, electrocution and concussions, or now fumigation accompanied by critters. Hmmm….
Having some serious concerns about our options we returned to our team leaders’ home and regrouped. At this point we knew that finding a place to rent wasn’t going to happen because someone was advertising, it was dependent on word of mouth, or as the Taiwanese say “guanxi” (relationships). After all, that’s how the home our team leaders now live in was found. So we all started to get the word out.
At that moment we walked over to the village office and government center to see if anyone knew anyone who was renting. (Quick background note, the cubicles in Taiwan come to about chest high when standing, so you can see across the room when standing.) People quickly looked to one another and asked if they knew of anything. We gave our name and number to them to call us if they heard anything. On our way back to our team leaders’ home a lady came out of the village office to meet us. She knew someone who owned an apartment complex and she wanted to walk us over to meet her. Unfortunately, all of the apartments were already rented out but this lady then referred us to another lady across the street who was helping a friend to rent out a house along the main street through town.
She eagerly brought us to the home, which we now refer to as the two-story one bedroom apartment. The location was good, albeit a bit awkward to access. The front of the house was split off and rented out as a shop front. So to access the home you had to go around back into the alley, which neighbored a “sanhe yuan”. It was in great condition! It had a decent size living room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a single bedroom. The kitchen, however, was completely empty. No stove, no sink, no nothing. Just four tiled walls. But our organization is willing to purchase items for us if homes do not come furnished with these items (which isn’t too uncommon in rural areas). We also had access to the roof where we could hang clothes to dry or set up a small canopy and patio furniture. Finally, something a bit more promising.
Meanwhile, our team leaders shared with everyone they came in contact with about their new coworkers who were looking for a home. By the end of the week, we had the village office, government center, a junior high principal, a local church, friends, and neighbors all keeping an ear out for possible leads.
Back up in Taichung we told our small group in Taichung about our house search and several of them offered to come down to help us look around later that weekend. So that Saturday, a group of five of us drove down to Puxin. Before we set out from our team leaders’ home, a lady had stopped by to talk with them. This lady attended the same church as their neighbor. This neighbor was the policeman who the lady from the village office had told them about just days before. So the village office lady told our team leaders about the policeman. After visiting with the policeman, the policeman told his church. After telling his church, this lady stopped by with some news for our team leaders. Did you catch all that?! She said that she had a friend whose current tenants would moving out by the end of the month and may possibly be looking to rent to new people. To top it off, this house was just 2 minutes down the street in the neighboring village.
The lady insisted that we follow her down to the house and meet the landlord, however he was at work at the time. At this point you’d think we’d go on our way, but no. This lady then drove us to the factory where the landlord works and introduced us. After a short chat, we learned that the current tenants would be moving out by the end of the month but the landlord wasn’t sure yet if he wanted to rent out the place again (the previous tenants were known to party a bit too often and a bit too loud). All we could do was give him our number and wait.
We then drove to different villages and walked around looking for homes that looked vacant (IE. no air conditioners), and would then ask neighbors if they thought the owner would be willing to rent or knew of other homes nearby that were available to rent. In one village we met several people, one of which whose family had been there when the village was first settled hundreds of years ago. Another was an old gentleman who slowly shadowed Lizzy on his scooter for nearly a block. When Lizzy went over to talk with him he asked what we were doing (two white folk walking around a rural town in Taiwan is quite an unusual sight). We explained that we were looking for a home to rent out for the next two years. He flashed a giant smile, stained red by years of chewing betel nut and said, “Oh. If you want to find a house in the countryside you need to have a relationship with someone who lives there.” We were finding this to be all too true.
It seemed at this point that the two-story one bedroom apartment was our only hope. Although there was no place for a guest to spend the night and no place to put a dining room table, it was livable and in a good location. And then… it happened.
Three days later our team leaders received a phone call. It was the landlord of house the lady who had stopped by earlier last week (the one who knew the policeman, who knew the village office lady, who we just met one week before) had told us about. The tenants had just moved out that day and he wanted to know if we would like to come look at the house! We quickly scheduled to come down the next day.
4 bedrooms, 1 living room, 3 bathrooms, 1 kitchen (big enough for a dining room table), and a small garage later we were convinced that this was it! Here we could dedicate the whole first floor to ministry, have the second floor to ourselves, and the third floor for guests. It certainly needed a deep clean and a fresh coat of paint, but that was quite doable compared to the previous places we had looked at. And although the house was tucked away in this little village, it was also along a main road running in and out and therefore easy for people to find.
Through this whole process we learned a life lesson and a ministry lesson. We came to understand that God has equipped us with gifts, skills, and relationships. And just like how we drove around for days looking for signs and talking with people, we are to use what he has given us to get out there and serve and minister to people. However, at the same time, we are not to lean on ourselves but on God to open doors, soften hearts, and change lives. These only he can do. There is much of life that is out of our control but God has already been molding and shaping.
It was also very clear to us that ministry in rural Taiwan will likely happen very organically. For example, we will join our teammates in teaching a life skills class to junior high students. But ministry does not start and stop with them. Through this class they have connected with the a handful of parents and have begun meeting regularly to mentor and share Bible stories with them. Connections with these parents have led to connections with other families in other villages and to connections with the local library and to receiving offers to teach other clubs/classes at the junior high. As you can see, Taiwan’s rural communities are very interconnected. Just as the relationship between the lady at the village office and the policeman connected to the lady at church who knew about the landlord considering new tenants who then got connected to us, these relationships lend themselves to a natural spread of the Gospel from one household to the next. So rather than focus on a single people group (youth, grandparents, business leaders, etc.) we can follow the social webbing wherever God opens these doors.
Wow! What and adventure. And it’s only just begun.