TAIPEI, Taiwan -- On any college campus in the United States, "Vip" Vipperman would fit right in.
There's that constant, easygoing grin; eyes darting around -- looking for eye contact. A flash of recognition is followed by a pointed exclamation of "Aww, brah! What's up?" -- a high-five ready and waiting.
At 6 feet 3 inches, he's one of the tallest guys on the campus of Dongwoo University in Taipei, Taiwan. He stands out. But that's the desired effect.
His appearance is intentional. The bleached, spiked hair of a Japanese rock star. Baggy pants, one leg rolled up. A grin escapes as Vipperman approaches. A short conversation in Chinese ends as both reach for their cell phones and punch each other's numbers in memory.
Vipperman, a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, is excited. "Dude! He invited me to practice with the hip-hop club tonight."
This is what Unbound Student Ministries (USM) is all about, Vipperman explains later. Taiwan, a country with a historical Christian presence, is raising a generation of young people who couldn't care less about God. Disenfranchised from traditional churches, which they describe as boring and irrelevant, students are consumed with identity.
The ministry developed as a vision of Mark and Kandy Persall, Southern Baptist workers who have served in Taiwan for 14 years. Based on the church-planting movement of rapidly reproducing, indigenous churches, the Persalls saw a way to reach Taiwan's sliding generation.
Taken from John 11:44 when Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb, Unbound Student Ministries seeks to do to the hearts of Taiwan's students what Jesus commanded: "Unbind him and let him go" (NASB).
A hundred yards away from Vipperman, fellow UMB journeyman Jenny Matherne, a redheaded former sorority girl from Baylor University in Texas, sits alone with her Bible in the commons area of the university.
Her cell phone begins to chirp and a dozen kids sitting near her dive into their backpacks. Matherne confirms her location and stays on the phone until she sees the two grinning, waving girls approaching across the commons.
The girls make their way to the cafeteria and find a table where they begin to talk. Surrounded by the smoky smell of Chinese noodles and boiled meat dishes, melded with the clatter of conversation and the clipped chatter of chopsticks from the lunch crowd, the conversation turns to the eternal.
No one around them even knows that the girls are having church. This is BodyLife -- USM's model of a rapidly reproducing, student-led church.
Of the 1 million college students in Taiwan, 97 percent are non-Christian. With these kinds of numbers, there is something to be said for wide seed-sowing.
Through a variety of ways such as English clubs utilizing the Bible storying method and the extensive use of volunteers, who, like the USM journeymen spend time on campuses related to students, results are beginning to show. Contact points have been made at universities in three of Taiwan's major cities: Taipei (TIE-bay), T'ai-chung (TIE-joong) and Kao-shiung (GOW-shung).
"We reach out to students who would never set foot in a church and we do it at places where normally they wouldn't have any exposure to the gospel," Vipperman says. "That means going to where they hang out, finding out what they do, and developing relationships."
At Dongwoo, that means getting into the club scene. Students spend nearly all of their free time associating with student clubs based on their interest. For journeymen like Vipperman and Matherne, hanging out with the guitar club, the art club, the drum club, the ping-pong club, and even the hip-hop club allows them to relate to the students.
As soon as a student expresses an interest in meeting, they are plugged into BodyLife, made up of no more than five or six other students.
Under the premise of "all being vital parts of the body of Christ," everyone participates and everyone is taught in BodyLife. Believers are taught through the Word and are equipped to start their own BodyLife, reaching more of their friends.
Many Taiwanese students are caught up in a cycle of performance -- for friends and family, for acceptance, for grades -- and think Christianity involves being qualified.
But once they understand the simplicity of the gospel, change comes fast, despite the persecution that comes with going against culture and family. For most, becoming a Christian means turning their back on their family's Buddhist or Taoist faith.
Sara, a Taiwanese student in T'ai-chung, resisted the gospel for months out of fear of her strong Taoist parents and the belief that she could never qualify for the grace and love she heard Clay Danner, a USM journeyman, describing.
"Clay and the others showed me it's not about qualifications," she says. "I knew my parents would be angry, but then I knew Jesus would help soften my parents' hearts."
After Sara was baptized, the changes in Sara's life were immediately evident, says Danner.
"She knew persecution would come from her family and she leaned on the support of her Christian family. When the persecution started, it led her to dig into the Word and pray even harder for [her family's] salvation," says Danner, a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University.
Jenny, another student in T'ai-chung, says her father has not spoken to her since she became a Christian. Her mother calls her every week to tell her how she has shamed her family and her ancestors.
"God gave me the strength to follow through with baptism, even though my parents opposed it," Jenny says. "I did it because I know I'm not free anymore -- I belong to Jesus Christ."
As more and more students hear the gospel and join BodyLife, the goal is to show them that they can be catalysts for spiritual reproduction.
"They get excited," Vipperman says. "They don't know it's not normal to go home and read through several books of the Bible in a day and share with their friends."
Their fellow students need to know about freedom in Christ, says Sara.
"We have to continue to pray and be active in sharing -- putting into practice what we're learning in BodyLife. A tree branches out when it grows, and that's what will happen [in Taiwan]. It will grow."
By Albert H. Lee