April 2020 Prayer Letter

COVID-19 | Updates From Taiwan And China Concerning the Coronavirus

The COVID-19 virus has spread around the world and is causing interruption to “normal life” in every place it reaches. This is an unusual time in our world. We are unfamiliar with this type of pandemic. We are uncertain about what is going to happen. Everyone is dealing with unexpected situations. Governments are taking unprecedented actions. The future is filled with unknowns. But as believers we know that even though we will have tribulation in this world we can set our minds at rest because we know and believe that Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33)

Taiwan: WE ARE STILL ON THE FIELD! The island of Taiwan has had little exposure to the COVID-19 virus and with the early adoption of early prevention measures they have been able to keep the virus from spreading in any major way. Thus, we are not on lockdown but able to go about our normal lives but with caution. Temperature checks, face masks, and hand sanitizer is a common part of life now. Our current concern is that Taiwan has barred entry of “foreign nationals” to keep combating the virus from coming into the island. This includes American citizens. We currently are allowed to stay until mid June before we need to make another visa run. But with the current regulations in place, and if they don’t change by then, we will not be allowed to re-enter and we won’t have a choice but to return to the USA until the ban is lifted. Obviously this in not what we are wanting or hoping for, but we know all is in the Lord’s hands. Please pray for this ban to be lifted or for a way to process our visas.

China: The situation in China is continuing to improve as they slowly open back up after being on lockdown for such a long time. Many of the local churches are still unable to assemble physically, apart from those who live in the same complex as the meeting location, thus they are continuing to host online services with those who can’t assemble. Also, I have started meeting with the churches online every other week to preach to them and try to encourage them through this difficult time.

Stories of God at Work | China: Face Masks and Gospel Tracts

Last month we put out a need on social media for face masks to be sent to the believers in China so they could have them for their personal protection but also so they could give them out to the community and use it as an opportunity to preach the gospel to them. Many of our friends, family and supporters responded to the need and mailed face masks directly to China. The believers there want me to tell you, “Thank you for loving us. May God bless you.” Then I started receiving updates of them hitting the streets and going to houses with face mask and tracts in hand preaching the gospel. Praise the Lord, one lady received Christ so far! Keep praying for their bold witness in mainland China!

New Church Plant Update | Our Church Plant Is One Month Old

We have now completed the first month of our church plant in this unusual time. We had over 15 different individuals visit the church. Around 8 of those 15 have come more than once, with a few coming regularly. Because of our current situation (visa and virus), we have been limited to some of the outreach ideas that we have, but Lord willing, we will be able to do them in the future. The church was also blessed financially this month with two special offerings and the normal offerings in the services. We were blown away. Please keep praying for the salvation and discipleship of those coming. Also, be praying as we seek young men to reach and train for ministry.

Thank you!

We know that we couldn’t do anything without the help of God’s people. Thank you for giving, praying, serving, and being a part of our “China Ministry” team. We are especially fond of you! Let us continue pressing forward and keep fighting the good fight. May we strive every day to know Jesus, to be happy in the Him, and to make Him known!

In His Joyful Service,

Mark

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COVID-19 and the Local Church

Observation from the Middle

Outbreak in China

Over the past several months, I have been an careful observer of what has been going on in our world during the outbreak of COVID-19. In fact, it has been on my radar for a while now because we are living in Taiwan. The outbreak started in China–where we have ministered for 8 years. So we were getting news from within the country. As more information was coming out about the new virus, China started taking unprecedented actions to quarantine people to prevent the spread of the virus. I knew that there was a problem when the President of the communist country called the coronavirus outbreak a “grave situation”.

The pastors there in China were asking what to do about their churches as the fear and panic of the spreading virus reached their cities. One of the pastors asked me if they should keep having services or would it be disobedient to stop. It was a sincere question from a young pastor who was dealing with this situation for the first time (and really, all of us who are in church leadership are dealing with this for the first time). But, understand the context of his question, church services for this pastor were already illegal. So the question has nothing to do with “should or shouldn’t we obey the government in such a time as this”. These pastors and their churches are already illegal and are persecuted for their Christian faith. This was a question of a different nature. One that led me to consult my mentor.

As we talked through the situation and possible scenarios, the answer eventually came by force. China went on lockdown and not only were large groups of people no longer allowed to meet together, but many if not most of the “housing complexes” didn’t allow people to enter who didn’t live there. So if you couldn’t prove you lived there, you weren’t allowed entrance at the front gates. Since these churches were meeting in “houses” since they are considered “house churches” they suddenly had no place to meet. Local churches in China were forced to find some other ways of corporate fellowship, Bible study, prayer, worship, and singing. Of course, in todays world, this means they went online. They started hosting prayer meetings and services online with different apps. Thankfully, one of the churches already had online giving setup so they were able to continue receiving offerings. This change of situation even gave rise to some special ministry opportunities because everyone was “quarantined at home” and thus had nothing but time on their hands.

Of course, China doesn’t approve of this “online church” as many have called it, and one province has come out to stop the online streaming of preaching and called for remaining house churches to be eradicated. The goal seems to be to keep believers from gathering together in any form, physically or digitally, (at least those without government permission; note: those with government permission–it could be argued they aren’t legitimate churches biblically). It seems China is using this pandemic also as a means for a “power play” against the church.

But even though the local churches I work with are able to fellowship, study the Bible, pray, worship, sing and even give offerings online, there is still one major thing they can’t do that is essential to being a church: “assemble”. As their spiritual father, this is extremely concerning to me.

Outbreak in the USA

Fast forward several weeks and now America is experiencing a “similar” lockdown. Any kind of gathering outside of what the government deems as “essential” is practically to be stopped. This of course includes churches. Many American churches scrambled to get their services online to continue to minister to their congregations through the internet. Similar to what many churches in China did, and now they do everything online. And they find themselves in the same situation, they can do most things digitally, but they can’t do the one thing that is essential: “assemble”.

What About Taiwan?

Yes, I said I lived in Taiwan. So what about the outbreak here? Well, we haven’t really had one. Taiwan adopted early prevention measures: they tested early on, traced contacts who had the virus and where they went, quarantined people when necessary and delayed school just for a couple weeks from opening back up after the local holidays were over. Public places were to check for temperatures, give out hand sanitizer and people were encouraged and even required to wear face masks. Thus, they were able to get it under control without putting the whole country on lockdown. Now many of the new cases are being imported from people returning to the country. As of writing this, there have only been 5 deaths and 322 confirmed cased in the country. Community spread is practically non-existent here at this time (yes, I know anything can change at any moment).

Also, we are in the midst of a church plant. The first Sunday of March 2020 was the first service of our church plant. And we haven’t been asked to stop services, nor does there seem to be any legitimate concern in our location to do so because of the virus. I am thankful for this! (Although many are still scared to go to places because of the “possibility” of their being a problem.)

So from my perspective, I feel that I am in the middle. The country of my early ministry and where the young men that I am leading is China; and my home country and where our partnering churches are is the USA. Not to mention all the countries around us that are having outbreaks.

The Elephant in the Room: “Assembly”

Observations Not Judgment

All of this is good, in a sense, because it is forcing us to work through issues and realize much of what we have taken for granted. It forces us to ask questions like, “How important is assembling to the local church?” As I mentioned above, one of my main concerns during this outbreak, is the we have more churches than ever, at least that I am aware of, that currently are no longer assembling together indefinitely. As soon I say this, I know there is going to be two quick reactions, but this isn’t a statement of judgement, just a statement of observation and concern. For whatever reason a local church stops assembling for, we should be concerned. But let me quickly address two possible reactions:

  • “We aren’t assembling for good reasons.” Yes, many churches have stopped assembling “temporarily” for the physical safety of their congregation, community and country. They have chosen to obey the God-given governance that is placed over them. Some stopped assembling of their own will taking extra safety precautions before it was necessary and others stopped when they were “forced” to by government because of the laws or requirements during this time of an emergency.
  • “We are assembling digitally.” Digital communication is a huge blessing and I use it to continue the training of the pastors in China. I have also been encouraged by all the churches that have found creative ways to use media to minister to their congregations during this time. Good job! But “digital assembling” doesn’t nor can it replace the nature of assembly that a local church is. Sometimes “Christian talk” can confuse this point as we just encourage people to “go be the church” but there is so much more to a local church than “being a Christian” (see more on what a church is below) which is what I think that phrase is meant to mean “put your faith into action through your works,” but none-the-less it can downplay the need of a local church. Also, there are many within our congregations that aren’t jumping on board digitally or can’t jump on board digitally. They can easily be left behind if we aren’t careful. (Maybe we need to brainstorm on what should be done in this exact scenario of COVID-19 if meeting digitally wasn’t an option for anyone in the local congregation. I know this is a legitimate concern for many places around the world, like in certain places in Africa.)

What is a local church?

The base definition I use for a local church is: “A local church is a group of believers who consistently gather together in one place for the common purpose of carrying out the will and work of God and to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, I believe a local church to exists when, at minimum, the following are taking place: “regularly gather for edification in the Word of God desiring to obey it, are willing to baptize new believers as a testimony of their faith in Jesus alone for salvation, and eat the Lord’s Supper together in remembrance of His death, looking forward to His return.” Of course there are many more things that a local church does that makes it healthy, but I am just looking at what the minimum things are required to be considered as a local church. “Therefore, the local church is not a building, nor is it a group of believers who only meet together to study the Bible. A local church is a group of believers who consistently meet together obeying what the Bible has taught about the purpose and work of a church.”

Thus, a “consistent or regularly gathering together in one place” is essential for a local church to be a local church. To answer the question, “How important is assembling to the local church,” the answer is clear: it is of the most fundamental importance.

What is the Answer?

I didn’t write this blog post as an answer for all the problems the church world is facing concerning this issue, but as a warning to not forgot the importance of “assembly” to the local church. We should all be leaning towards “assembling”. And if “for whatever reason” our regular assembly has been interrupted for a season, we should earnestly be desiring to assemble again. It should be the longing of any local church.

Is there ever a legitimate time to not assemble? Of course. I think many are living through one right now. Not the church I am personally leading, but I know many local churches are. But I also think that local churches can have a different application to the same situation:

  • A friend use the term “active love” and I think many churches when faced with the situation at hand, stopped assembling out of “active love” for their congregation, community and country.
  • At the same time I think a church who wants to continue to assemble despite the current situation also wants to do it out of “active love” for shepherding and feeding their flock. They see the church as an “essential” place for the hopeless to receive hope in such dire times. They see church and its doors being open just as essential as the grocery store or hospital.

I sympathize with both sides. So how do we make decisions? Wisdom from the Word, wise counsel (other believers, leaders, and the Holy Spirit) and a willingness to be flexible. And once we make a decision, lets not judge everyone for doing things different than we did, coming to a different conclusion, or not making a decision as quick you did.

Common Sense

We also need to use some common sense and realize that we don’t know everything. Media hype everything up. That is normal. And to make rash decisions based on media reporting is unwise.

  • Don’t be dogmatic. Information and projections about the virus are constantly changing. The stats that we are given about the virus are inadequate because of the nature of testing and the unwillingness of government transparency or government failings around the world. Only time will tell. (Note: Most of the time we usually don’t have all the facts about any certain situation that we aren’t directly involved in, just the information that we have read on the internet and the bent of the author who wrote it.)
  • Listen to the medical experts. Yes, we should as they are on the front line of this pandemic, but they don’t have all the answers or even a common consensus about everything concerning what we should be doing. They only thing they agree on is “wash your hands”. Listen but also think for yourself. If in doubt, follow their sensible advice. (Note: they are medical experts, not experts on everything else in life.)
  • COVID-19 is real but its affects on each person are different. Everyone can point to a case or story to prove their point. Someone had it and it wasn’t bad at all. Thus they declare this is overblown. Another person has it and almost dies or they do die. Thus, people go all in about the virus and the need to be extremely serious about it. What we learn from this is that there isn’t a lot that we know yet. We don’t know why it affects people differently. We don’t know what measures are the best. Everything is still under evaluation.

Judging

Sadly, there is a lot of judgement going on. And it is going in both directions.

  • Fear of judgement from other believers: Many seem to be afraid of others judging them for the decisions they make concerning their local churches, which is why they make such brash statements when they make their decisions.
  • Judging others: There is this feeling of believers judging and even turning on each other. “Believers” turning against “believers”. Churches who stopped having meetings early on are patting themselves on the back and smugly looking down on others who waited until they were forced to do so. Some may be judging others for giving in and stopping services. Brothers and sisters, no matter how you feel about the situation this shouldn’t be so. How do you reach out to your neighbor with a loving hand while smacking your brother with the other?
  • Fear of judgement from the world: Sometimes a desire to be relevant in the world’s eyes causes churches to quickly pander to the lost because they are scared of being labeled with the cultural stereotype of “Christian” and what the world thinks about them. But the world doesn’t need a pandering church it needs a Christ-like church that is full of compassion and truth, declaring peace and hope in chaos and hopelessness. May we not take a backseat for “reputation” sake, but lead for “redemption” sake.

Concerns For the Long-term

In the short-term many have already made up their mind out of an “active love”, But what about the long-term. Its time to think through some things. The following are concerns that are being offered as reasons not to meet that could be extended to a much long time than you are expecting (especially if there is not immediate vaccine or cure):

  • Fear of infecting others.
  • “Endangering” your congregation.
  • “Health And Safety” is paramount.
  • “Protection of the elderly”.
  • “We know better than you” mindset.

How far or how long does this go? How far does this go and who defines it? Anything that justifies unprecedented actions on the basis of the necessity for our safety will most likely be leading down a wrong path. It could be true and innocent, but it should also cause us to proceed with much caution. Fear is a manipulating tool to control people.

Hard Questions for the Future

If you are reading this, then your local church is most likely not assembling…indefinitely. That word “indefinitely” is hard to swallow, but it is true. When will you start to regularly assemble again?

  • How long are we willing to not “assemble”?
  • Where is that line between “obeying government” and “obeying God” in this situation?
  • When is that line crossed by the government?
  • When should we be willing to pay the price to cross it?
  • What would the long-term effects been on your flock for not assembling?

Going Forward

As I mentioned before, I think we go forward with wisdom from the Word, wise counsel and a willingness to be flexible. We love our fellow believers and our neighbors as we walk through this unprecedented time in our world. But also we need leaders with:

  • Solid convictions towards the local church and the necessity of assembly.
  • A willingness to lovingly lead even if it goes against the grain.
  • A shepherding spirit that looks after the flocks physical and spiritual health.
  • Wisdom to discern the “line of obedience” in relation to their local church.

Closing Remarks

There is probably much more that could have or should have been said. But that is why this is simply a “mind dump” about different things that I have been thinking about as the world faces this pandemic. But we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. We have enough for today. We aren’t called to fear, but we are called to watch and pray! Pray with one eye open.

Thank you to the many churches who have done all they can to keep ministering to their people during such a hard time, whether physically or digitally. Keep up being creative and using the resources at hand to make an impact during “today”. And when “tomorrow” comes, we will decided what to do then!

Cautiously adapt for a season, yet longing to assemble and take action when ready.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Stuck At Home? Free Resources And More From VFC!

The times we are living in can certainly be described as unfamiliar, uncertain and unusual! All around the world people are being quarantined or have orders to “stay home” as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads globally. I know that many who follow this blog and our ministry are affected by the measures that are being taken to try and prevent the spread of this virus. Thus, our Vision For China team wants to take advantage of this extra time that you have at home and be a blessing to you! We have made the following changes to many of our resources so that they can be more easily accessed by you. We pray that these resources will give you a greater heart for missions, China and the God of the mission!


Books

We are offering our ebook for FREE from Wednesday, March 25, 2020, 12:00 AM PDT to Sunday, March 29, 2020, 11:59 PM PDT.

We are also offering a $4.00 discount on our paperback book:


Documentary

If you already have Amazon Prime, you can watch our documentary for free.

Otherwise, we are premiering the documentary on Facebook via our Vision For China Facebook page on Friday, March 27 at 8:00 PM.


Magazine: Activities For Children

We also want the little ones to be learning more about missions and China/Taiwan. You can download our magazine inserts from the “Insights” magazine and allow your children to have fun and learn about China and Taiwan missions at the same time.

Download and print the following activity sheets:

Also, you can also stay updated with new activites for children by visiting our website here.

We hope these different resources will be a blessing to you and yours during this unusual time!

Pray With Us: Taiwan, Visas, Virus

3/21/2020 Update: Thank you for praying! They just announced: “Automatic 30-day extension for foreigners entering Taiwan on or before March 21 with visa waiver, visitor visa, or landing visa (no application is required) (overstayers excepted)” which means we now have until June 14, 2020! Lord willing, the rules will change by then! The Lord is answering prayers and keep praying!

Before today, Taiwan allowed American citizens to enter Taiwan and stay for 90 days at a time. Thus, this is what our family has been doing as we have been in the process of applying for our official paperwork. But as of today, Taiwan is barring entry of “foreign nationals” to combat the virus. This includes American citizens. The last time we entered Taiwan was on February 15, 2020 and we get a 90 day stay from that date before we have to make another visa run out of the country. But with this new regulation once we leave the country, we will not be allowed to re-enter.

Thus, if things don’t change by May 15, 2020 we won’t have a choice but to return to the USA until the ban is lifted. Obviously this in not what we are wanting or hoping for, but we know all is in the Lord’s hands.

Pray for wisdom in the days ahead. I know everyone is dealing with many unexpected things at this moment. I just want to be transparent about our situation and ask for your prayers when you think of us.

March 2020 Prayer Letter

Stories of God at Work  | Three “Graces” From The Lord

Last month I reported about the work in China and the struggles they were having due to the Wuhan Coronavirus—mainly the inability to meet together for church services because of the different housing complexes being quarantined—meaning they only allow you to enter the area if you live there. But this didn’t stop them from hosting prayer meetings and services via the internet. This month I want to report on three “graces” that the Lord gave Charles, the Chinese pastor leading Grace Baptist Church in Dalian, China. First, he and his wife were able to teach more than 20 families through 3 different groups via the internet on WeChat about marriage and family. It was a mix of unbelievers and believers all who were “self-quarantining” at their own houses because of the virus outbreak. Speaking about this, he said, “I hope they can believe in Jesus through this and glorify God in their marriage. I hope China can have many Christian families and more people to be saved.” Second, his father recently believed in Jesus after being witnessed to for around 26 years. When he heard the news, he said, “I couldn’t stop crying. I especially thanked the Lord, I know that the Lord heard our prayers.” Third, even though the Chinese believers haven’t been able to meet together physically, many of them were still faithful in their tithes and offerings over this past month through online giving.

New Church Plant Update | First Service: Sunday, March 1st, 2020

By the end of last month, we completed the following: the glass door on the store front was installed; all the chairs were purchased and delivered; our signs and banners were designed and installed; Bibles were purchased; songbooks, tracts, invitations, flyers, etc, were all printed and ready; around one-thousand invitations were distributed and we sent invites out through social media and different internet websites.  Thus, on Sunday March 1st, we had the first service of Victory Baptist Church, New Taipei City, Taiwan at 10:30 AM. We had two Taiwanese visitors who were both unbelievers and a missionary friend show up. Sunday evening at 7:00 we had our second service and we had a family of four attend, who also were all unbelievers. Praise the Lord I was given liberty to preach the gospel at both services. Pray for the salvation of these six Taiwanese souls! This soft launch of the church plant means that we are starting regular services three times a week. We are excited about seeing many souls reached with the gospel and many churches planted here in Taiwan. We can’t wait to lead our first soul to the Lord here in Taiwan. Please be praying as we are giving the gospel out!

Prayer Requests & Praises | Five Special Requests, Visa Run To South Korea

  • Please continue to pray for the five prayer request mentioned last month: Family—to stay unified in the Lord and health; Evangelism—for boldness, for hearts to be prepared and for Holy Ghost conviction; Language—clarity in the language as we teach the Word of God in the Chinese language; Men—a harvest of young men who are willing to be trained up in the Lord and serve Him full-time; Glory—that in all things we will glorify God.
  • Praise the Lord for a safe trip to and from Seoul, South Korea last month for a visa run. Also, while we were there, we were able to get more answers about our missionary visas and residence at the Taipei Mission in Korea. We still have some more paperwork we need to gather and authenticate before we can officially apply. Please keep praying that we can finish and be approved quickly.

We know that we couldn’t do anything without the help of God’s people. Thank you for giving, praying, serving, and being a part of our “China Ministry” team. We are especially fond of you! Let us continue pressing forward and keep fighting the good fight. May we strive every day to know Jesus, to be happy in the Him, and to make Him known!

In His Joyful Service,

Mark

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Vision For His Harvest: China

NEW DOCUMENTARY! As much of the world is focused on China now, there isn’t a better time to be encouraged about what God is doing there and see the need through the lens of the Vision For China team. Here is a documentary that shows firsthand what is happening in the ministry there and the need for laborers!

Watch The Video In Different Formats: The documentary is available as a standard DVD or in digital format. The prices for each are as follows: DVD $8.95; Rent HD $2.99; Buy HD $9.99; or watch on Amazon Prime for Free.

More Info

Buy DVD on Amazon

Rent HD or Buy HD on Amazon

Watch on Amazon Prime for Free

February 2020 Prayer Letter

Stories of God at Work  | A Church on Its Knees in the Midst of an Outbreak

The Wuhan Coronavirus has wreaked havoc in China. At this point it is reported that over 1,000 people have already died from the virus. Many places in China are under quarantine or they are told not to go in public places nor can they assemble in large groups. One pastor told me he was told he couldn’t have more than 3 people at his location at one time. Another pastor told me that since they can’t meet together physically, that “the church set up a prayer meeting because of the virus. Every day at 9 AM and 7 PM, at these two prayer times, the church prays together.” He then went on to describe it, “The prayer meetings have lasted for almost two weeks now. Family members of brothers and sisters in the church also attend the prayer meetings. The youngest is 8 years old. Together we read God’s Word, sing praises, encourage one another, and believe in God’s promises and will. We also pray for the world to repent…” How encouraging is it to know that in the midst of such a trial, the believers there are standing strong…on their knees! Lets join them in prayer as we #prayforchina together!

New Church Plant | Victory Baptist Church, New Taipei City, Taiwan

As we finish our setup and make the final preparations for our upcoming church plant, we are excited about what the Lord is going to do. We have rented a building, paid the deposit, one month’s rent and the realtor’s fee. We won’t be able to use the building for services until the 20th of this month, but we are excited to hopefully be holding regular services by the end of this month or the beginning of next month. Our flyers and tracts are done being designed and are now being printed. Our next immediate material needs for this church plant are: (1) Door—the location is a new store-front and we have to install the glass door; (2) Chairs—we need 30-50 chairs or stools; (3) Signage—we have two signs above the location that we can use for church advertisement.

Spiritually, we need you to pray for the following: (1) Family—our church planting team consists of the Lord and my family of seven. Pray that we can stay unified in the Lord as we enter this stage of spiritual warfare. Pray for the health of our family. (2) Evangelism—Lord willing, I will be spending a lot of time out inviting people and trying to share the gospel with the local people. Pray for boldness and for hearts to be prepared and Holy Ghost conviction as the gospel is spread forth. We can do nothing without the Lord. It is His church. (3) Language—pray for clarity in the language as I preach, my wife teaches and as we share the Word of God in the Chinese language. (4) Men—our goal is to train young men for the ministry, thus pray that God will give us a harvest of young men who are willing to be trained up in the Lord and serve Him full-time. (5) God’s Glory—pray with us that in all things we will glorify God and that the planting of this church will give God more glory as lost sinners turn from their wicked ways to saving-faith in Him through Jesus.

Prayer Requests & Praises | Finished Setup Debt Free, Visas and Residence

  • Praise! Special Need Update: The Lord answered our prayers and by the end of last month, we were setup with the necessities and debt free! All of our expenses since leaving America, landing in China and then our unexpected relocation to Taiwan has been paid for. Thank you for your sacrificial, generous, and joyful giving. We can truly say, “Where God guides, He provides!”
  • Continue to pray for our missionary visas and residence to get approved here in Taiwan. The process is a lot more cumbersome than I thought at first. We will be taking a visa run this week to South Korea and seeing about taking the next step towards in this process.

We know that we couldn’t do anything without the help of God’s people. Thank you for giving, praying, serving, and being a part of our “China Ministry” team. We are especially fond of you! Let us continue pressing forward and keep fighting the good fight. May we strive every day to know Jesus, to be happy in the Him, and to make Him known!

In His Joyful Service,

Mark

DOWNLOAD THIS PRAYER LETTER AS A PRINTABLE PDF