A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
I just arrived back at the seminary, which is located on a mountain overlooking Taipei city. It is a Sunday in Advent, and I preached at a city church this morning. As I walked to the house on campus where I am staying I saw that the sun was just setting. I hurried down the hill to a viewing point, where I saw spectacular colors spreading across the horizon above a busy city.
I thought about how sometimes we see God at work in the world in big ways: a watercolor painting displayed in an Asian sky or a whole Taiwanese family who decide to leave their folk religion and begin a new life following Christ.
But often God’s ways are small and unnoticed: a student at the seminary whose eyes light up in class as she sees the world in a whole new way. Or a local church pastor in one of our pastor spiritual formation groups shares his struggles in the parish and other pastors rally around him, offering their support in tangible ways.
It is the story of Christmas really. The Son of God coming to earth and after spending nine months in his mother’s womb like any other child is born out of the spotlight, unnoticed except by a few.
Sometimes we see God’s hands in the big things, but more often than not, I see God in this land in small unnoticed places.
And what a privilege it is to join with that God and with God’s people in Taiwan to encourage folks to notice that God has moved into our neighborhood.
Churches here have been preparing for Christmas for weeks. Since the larger culture enjoys Christmas carols and decorations, the church uses this popular holiday to invite others to know the love of a God who was willing to become a human being.
A church in the southern part of Taiwan where I preached last week will rent a local elementary school next Saturday to invite community folks to a Christmas musical. They have found that their neighbors are at first more willing to attend a church-sponsored event at a neutral site. Another city church will host a coffee shop on the sidewalk in front of their church on Christmas Eve and then invite folks to enter the sanctuary to hear Christmas music and the Christmas story. Since Christmas is not a national holiday and Christians must work on December 25, the Christians are thrilled this year that December 25 is on a Sunday. The churches will be packed both Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
It’s inspiring to see the creativity that Taiwanese churches are using to reach out to their neighbors. For just as Christ moved into a neighborhood in Nazareth, so Christ comes to high-rises in Taipei and to high mountain villages in the center of Taiwan.
Recently I have spoken at three different high schools. They all happen to be girls’ schools. At the first school I spoke to about 500 students on chairs set up on the basketball court. They were attentive and engaged. The second school had the youth seated on the floor. I talked about why God called me to Taiwan and said just as God loves this land, so have I grown to love this land. The third school is the second-best girls’ high school in Taiwan. It is a public school and one of my good friends teaches there. Students here have to take a test to enter high school and this test is just as competitive as the university entrance exam. Parents encourage their children to study hard so they can attend a high school like this. All of these girls would have excelled in junior high school.
I encouraged these bright young women not just to excel at taking tests, but also to become a blessing to the people of this land and to the world. Although it is a public school, the principal welcomed me warmly. It was exciting to see the light in these students’ eyes and to think how they might grow up to make a difference in our world.
It amazes me, the doors God opens to allow me to meet folks in so many different settings. Much of my ministry happens in large gatherings, but often it happens in a conversation on the bus or on the way. And that is what makes following Christ so exciting. We never know when a door will open or a chance meeting will become an opportunity to share the love of this God who moved into our neighborhood.
Thank you for your prayers and support which allow me to represent Jesus Christ and you in this busy land.
Wishing you the joy, peace, and amazing freedom that Emmanuel brings to each one of us and to the people of this varied world.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 205