A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
THE INVISIBLE GUESTS
They are present in most developed countries. You may not see them, but they pick the crops, sweep the floors, care for the children and elderly, build infrastructure, labor in factories, cook and serve. They often have to leave their home countries and families in order to find a job. Much of the money they earn they often send back to their families.
I’ve seen them in the fern fields of central Florida. I’ve seen them pushing a stroller with someone else’s baby on the Upper West Side of New York City. I see them in Taipei walking alongside and assisting someone else’s grandmother. I hear them on the subway talking in their mother tongue on a cell phone.
I had the opportunity to travel to Malaysia to speak to leaders and members from 20 churches of the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia. Malaysia is a fascinating country in Southeast Asia with three main people groups: the Malays, who are Muslim; the Chinese, who worship traditional folk gods and a good number who are Christian; and the Indians, who are Hindu, Sikh, or worship other Indian gods. While Malaysians do not necessarily have total racial harmony, it is striking to see all these different folks living together in peace.
But in addition to these three people groups, there are also a number of other Southeast Asians who have come to Malaysia to find work.
I was staying in a simple hotel in the city of Kluang while I was teaching and preaching. During the five days I was there, I didn’t see another Westerner. Located next to the hotel was a BBQ restaurant owned by a Chinese-Malaysian. There are a number of folks from other countries working at this restaurant. Each evening as I returned to the hotel I would talk with these young men and during the week, as they were finishing their jobs of sweeping and mopping and preparing the hot pepper sauce for the next day, they would offer me a glass of tea and tell me of their lives.
I got to know Iman from Indonesia. He is a Muslim and speaks Malay, so has no trouble with communication. He told me how his parents cried when he prepared to leave them to go to Malaysia. He is a bright young man with a light in his eyes. Another young man, Nini, is from Myanmar, a country that is experiencing tremendous change as the government loosens its control. Nini has nine brothers and sisters and told me that when he was growing up there would be three brothers in one bed. He is a Buddhist. A third young man, Raz, is from Nepal. His eyes lit up when I mentioned the Himalaya Mountains in his country. Raz is a Hindu.
Each evening these three young men welcomed me to their place of work. They would put their mops aside and sit with me. Their boss also seemed interested in what we were talking about and several times joined us at the table. They told me of their dreams and lives. One showed me pictures of his Vietnamese girlfriend.
My last night in Kluang I told them that I would be leaving the next day. Iman and Nini asked me what time I would be leaving. They then told me that they had a day off the next day and they wanted to come and say goodbye.
So the next morning as I checked out of the hotel, I went downstairs and saw them standing there. They had dressed up in their finest and Nini brought his Vietnamese girlfriend so that I could meet her. We took pictures and laughed together.
I wanted to bless them in some way, but also wanted to be sensitive to them. They knew that I was a pastor and had been speaking at the church in town. So I asked them if I could offer a prayer of blessing for them. We held hands, and I prayed for each of them. One of the teachers of music from our seminary in Taipei who was also one of the speakers with me at the church gathering joined in the circle. The two of us sang a song of blessing for them. They smiled and clapped. It was a wonderful moment of connection.
As one of the Malaysian pastors picked us up and we waved goodbye from the car, I wondered about the future of these young people. One’s birthplace and family economic situation can affect so much about our futures. I prayed silently for them as we drove away.
In our divided world, it was such a joy to get to know a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Hindu and to share tea together. I felt as if Christ was the unseen guest at that table. I don’t know how God will use our time together, but I know that God was present in our meeting.
Thank you for your prayers and support, which allow me to share tea and good news with friends from around the world.