A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
It’s an amazing story, really. The Lord of the universe comes to earth and is born on the fringes. He begins his earthly life on the margins. As he grows and begins his ministry, he continues to relate most closely to those who live on the margins. He engages with those at the center of the world’s power, but he knows that those on the fringes are often most open to the liberating news of the gospel.
As Christ’s body, the Church is also called to live with those on the margins. We are called to listen to the word of truth spoken from the margins. Two churches in Taiwan are investing their talents in the marginalized people of this society.
One church, Jang Shan Presbyterian Church, is located in a large city in the center part of Taiwan. Its mission is to reach out to aboriginal folks who have had to leave their mountain homes to find work in the city. Pastor Chen was called to be their pastor 18 years ago right out of seminary. He quickly realized that stable jobs were hard to find for his city aboriginal church members. This lack of security caused many of the families to constantly be on the move looking for new jobs. Their children had no stability moving from school to school.
So Pastor Chen approached the local Presbyterian Hospital and asked if they would be willing to hire his church members as their cleaning crew. The hospital graciously, and somewhat courageously, agreed. Pastor Chen had no experience in cleaning a large hospital and neither did his church members. At first they polished the floors so well that they became very slippery. Several of the nurses encouraged them not to use so much wax on the floors. They didn’t need more patients! But slowly they became proficient, and a company was started. Then the hospital needed a company to help with the plants on the hospital grounds. They asked Pastor Chen if his church members could do landscaping work. Pastor Chen immediately said, “Yes.” After first cutting the trees so they had no leaves, the church members begin to study landscaping. Then they were asked to paint the 3,000-bed hospital. Pastor Chen again said, “Yes.” The members had to learn how to start a painting company.
Now the members of Jang Shan Church have stable jobs. They began to purchase apartments around the church building in the city. The area around the church now feels more like a mountain village where families care for each other. When they come home from work, the youth play basketball next to the church and the adults sit out under the trees they planted and talk together. The children of the members come to the church every afternoon after school to do their homework. They are maturing in their knowledge and in their faith.
The second church is located amidst rice and pineapple fields. The clergy couple who serve the Bamboo Lake Presbyterian Church arrived there 24 years ago, also right out of seminary. They made a commitment to stay. And in those 24 years they continued to dream of how God wants their congregation to change the community. When they discovered that many of their neighbors with physical disabilities had no place to attend worship and also had difficulty finding steady jobs, they built a ramp to make their church accessible. They tore down the wall surrounding the church as a statement that all are welcome. Then they started a printing factory to employ the folks with physical handicaps. This printing company employs many folks with physical disabilities as managers and workers. When I recently visited the factory there was a palpable joy on the factory floor as they worked together for a common purpose.
Now the church members also work with the county government to teach high school dropouts on whom the school system had given up. Each day you can hear the sounds of high school students studying and learning a craft so when they graduate from this special school they will have a skill, but even more important, they will know that they are loved and treasured by God. The girls who enter this program come from the margins and often lack self-confidence. But at Bamboo Lake Church they discover that they also have much to give.
The Word became flesh and lived among us. This Christmas as we celebrate God who was willing to leave heaven and come to the margins of our society, we know that we still meet Christ on the margins.
I am thankful for these two churches and so many other churches in Taiwan and around the world that are seeking to be Christ’s light and salt in often difficult places.
I am also grateful to you for allowing me to serve and know Christ in the margins of this society.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 205
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 214