A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
Friday I was in a car speeding along the north-south expressway. An aboriginal pastor and his seminary-student-wife were taking me to the high mountains of central Taiwan to speak and preach in their church.
As we drove, the pastor shared an experience that had happened that morning. At a meeting of the whole denomination an aboriginal pastor made the suggestion that tribal pastors could also serve on the boards of the church hospitals and schools around Taiwan. They have not had the opportunity to serve in this way. After all, 500 of the more than 1,000 churches of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan are aboriginal. Immediately a non-aboriginal pastor stood to speak. He said that what these boards need are people of skill and wisdom, and he felt that the aboriginals had neither. The many aboriginal pastors who were attending the meeting were hurt and angered by his words. His words reflect the way native peoples around the globe have been and are treated by those at the center of the world’s power.
I listened to the pain of the pastor beside me as he shared how he felt about the way native peoples are often marginalized. I, too, was saddened by what I heard. As we wound up the twisting mountain road into the clouds, I continued to ponder what I had heard.
We arrived at the church in a village nestled on the side of steep mountains. It was raining and huge boulders had fallen on the road. The village dwellers had just planted their fields and while the rain was welcome, they feared that too much rain would ruin their crops. They were at the mercy of the weather and had no control over the rain or the sun. They live on the margins of Taiwan’s high-tech society and often are looked down upon by the city dwellers.
But as I lived among them for three days and heard their stories, I kept asking myself, What is true wisdom? In the many years in which I have lived among the original people of Taiwan, I have learned so much from them about wisdom. I have learned that truth is often not spoken from the centers of power, but often comes from the margins, from those who don’t have a lot of control over their world.
Saturday morning as the rain continued to pour down, we got a call saying that another group from a church six hours away in other high mountains, who were coming to join us for the weekend training and worship, were stuck on the side of the road. The bus they had rented had broken down. Immediately the hosting church leaders mobilized and got in several old vans to go fetch them.
That morning I met with the elders and deacons of the two churches. All together there were about 25 of us. Several had come from the fields in muddy boots. There was dirt under their fingernails, for they live close to the land.
I asked these church leaders to share what they were thankful for about their churches. I allotted about half an hour for their sharing, but an hour had passed and they were still sharing. Many said that they had not had the opportunity for much schooling, but they said that their wisdom had come from God’s Word. They were so thankful for parents and grandparents who had nurtured them in faith.
Saturday evening the sanctuary was full of aboriginal youth. They led us in praise music and were glad to be together. Aboriginals have a deep sense of connectedness with each other. They sit close together, and as I talked with them, they told me of the other young people’s gifts as musicians or as athletes. As I talked their energy gave me energy, and I’m always so thankful for the welcome I receive in their midst.
Sunday morning we gathered again for worship. The women, the guests from the visiting church, and the youth all sang different songs as a part of the service. I talked about the opportunities God has given them to be Christ’s light and salt in a non-Christian culture.
As we bid good-bye to the visiting church members, the host women were cleaning up after cooking meal after meal for all of us. They were sweeping the church since there is no custodian. I thanked them for hosting so many people. And they replied, “When we welcome guests, we welcome Jesus, and that is our privilege.” As I waited for the pastor to take me back down the mountain to the city where I live, I listened to a church elder tell me about God’s grace. He said, “We don’t have a lot of things, but we have land to plant and we have our families and brothers and sisters in the church, and we have the most precious thing, God’s love.” He said, “I have no desire to live in the city with all the lights and trappings. I am thankful that God created me to live in the high mountains in the midst of his beautiful creation.”
Ever since those conversations I have continued to ponder, What is wisdom? And I am so grateful to regularly have the privilege of hearing wise aboriginals share with me the truth. They keep me grounded in God’s wisdom.
From the center of the world’s power, their wisdom appears to be foolishness. But that is the way of the cross. That is the way of Life. That is the wisdom of God, who chose to live among the marginalized in order to show us what is truly important. For all the time we spend building props to hold up our world, the marginalized are depending upon God, who is our strength.
Thank you for your prayers and support which allow me to walk with the wise who live on the margin.
I will be on home assignment from January to July 2014 and will be available to preach and speak in churches. If you would like me to come and share in your church next year, please write me and let me know. World Mission is unable to pay travel expenses and asks the inviting churches, if possible, to help in this way. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with many of you next year.
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 214
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