A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
We sped along the 12-lane highway from Taipei to the international airport. Above us they are building a new highway and light rail to handle the volume of traffic that clogs the current highway. We were taking 32 Taiwanese pastors, seminary and university students from their fast-pace lives in Taiwan to a place that encourages silence even in the midst of busy days. We were headed to Taize in the middle of France.
Our flight was anything but direct: to Hong Kong, on to Amsterdam, and then finally to Paris, where we took a train and then a bus to Taize. I encouraged the participants to ponder the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim. A tourist may seek escape from everyday life and counts the success of the journey in the number of places visited and photos taken. A pilgrim is more interested in what the journey has to teach and how we are shaped by the new experiences.
Taize is a Christian community that has a mission of welcoming young people, many of whom have had no connection with the church. These youth come with backpacks on buses and trains, and some hitchhike. Most of them are from Europe, but we met African, Latin American, and other Asian youth as well. The goal of Taize is to give 3,000 to 6,000 young people a week a taste of community centered in Christ’s love.
Together we worshiped three times a day sitting on the floor surrounded by folks of many cultures and languages. We sang in Polish, Swedish, German, Latin, French, English, Lithuanian, and Russian. It was amazing to see how these restless youth begin to learn the rhythm of each day. Worship, silence, prayer, working together to serve the thousands of guests, Bible study, and small group sharing made up each day. We live in simple dorms or tents. We had a group of Polish boys on one side and Swedes on the other. They were eager to learn a little Mandarin from our Taiwanese students.
One of the Taiwanese pastors broke his glasses early in our stay. His vision is not terrible, but he couldn’t see that clearly the rest of the journey. When I asked him how he was doing, he said he was learning to trust God more. He was like a sponge, soaking up the worship, the conversations, the silence. We shared our breakfast of French bread each morning, and he talked of his hopes for his rural church in southern Taiwan. I was deeply encouraged by his faith and his openness to what God’s Spirit was teaching him. He radiated joy as he shared his faith with those from all over the world in his small group. His Taiwanese name means “the Lord’s grace,” and I know he will be continue to be grace to those with whom he serves amid the rice fields and pineapple farms which surround his church.
Another Taiwanese participant teaches at our Aboriginal Seminary. Suning is a deeply gifted woman who also was hungry to receive the gift of meeting God in silence. She gladly shared with her new European friends what it is like to be an aboriginal minority in Taiwan. She will take her experience back to the seminary, where she will influence future pastors and church leaders.
It is leaders like “The Lord’s Grace” and Suning who give me deep hope for the future of the church here in Taiwan. The Taiwanese were somewhat surprised to see that many churches in Europe have few young people, but they were thrilled to journey to a place that helps these post-Christian youth “taste and see that the Lord is good.” They returned to Taiwan committed to helping more folks here know God’s amazing love.
My work this time in Taiwan is centered on equipping leaders to help their churches grow in love of God and love of neighbor. As these leaders drink deeply of the living water that Christ offers, they are then able to invite others to also drink and experience the fullness of new life in Christ.
One of the Taize songs we sang throughout the week says, “I am sure I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Yes, I will see the goodness of the Lord, take heart, trust in the Lord.”
Because of what I saw in the faces of our Taiwanese pastors and students and because of what I saw in the lives of so many Polish and Swedish youth, I was encouraged and took heart.
When we got back to the Taipei airport and had collected our baggage, we stood by the carousel and sang one of the Taize prayer songs together. I wanted our group of pilgrims to consciously re-enter their busy lives, not frenetically, but with a depth of quiet and trust that God is at work in them.
Thank you for your generosity and prayers which are helping me to strengthen the faith and vision of Taiwanese church leaders.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 205