A letter from John McCall in Taiwan
Alang is a member of the high mountain Bunun tribe of Taiwan’s aboriginal people. There are officially 14 different tribes with 14 different languages and cultures. They were the original inhabitants of this beautiful island, which is situated between Japan and the Philippines just 100 miles off of the south coast of China. While scholars used to believe that Taiwan’s aboriginals immigrated from the south Pacific to Taiwan, now they think that they left Taiwan to populate the Pacific. Over 70 percent of Taiwan’s aboriginals are Christian.
Alang’s village sits in the shadow of Mt. Jade, the highest mountain in northeast Asia. It towers 13,000 feet above his home. Underneath his village are bubbling hot springs that have been developed by outsiders. They built resort hotels on these springs and pump the medicinal waters into each room. But these outsiders, while using the gifts of aboriginal land, have not hired the local Bunun folks, and therefore many struggle economically. Many have to leave their villages to find work.
Alang grew up in the church and while studying in college felt called to be a pastor. I had the privilege of teaching Alang at Taiwan Theological Seminary in the capital city of Taipei, where he received his Master of Divinity degree. While he was a student I would say to Alang and his classmates, I accompany you at this point in the journey so that later you will accompany many others on their journeys of faith.
Alang, like many aborigines in this land, has experienced discrimination. For a period in his life he tried to reject his aboriginal heritage and fit in with the dominant culture. But while a seminary student he began to celebrate and identify with his Bunun culture. He began to see that it is a gift sometimes to be marginalized because then you have the freedom to see the world in new ways and get in touch with that which is most important in life.
After graduating from seminary five years ago, Alang was called to be the chaplain to aboriginal students who are studying in the many universities in northern Taiwan. He is now accompanying many young adults on their journeys of faith. Because he has walked the path of discrimination, challenge, and faith and now celebrates that God created him as an aboriginal Christian, he identifies with the challenges that aboriginal university students face as they leave their village homes to come to Taiwan’s high-tech cities to get an education.
Alang helps the students to see God at work in their lives and helps to create space and time for them to ponder what it means to be Christ’s disciple working for justice and reconciliation in a divided world. Occasionally I still hike in the mountains with Alang and am thrilled to hear how he is growing and maturing in his ability to reflect on the opportunities God has given him. And it thrills me to know that God has placed him in a pivotal place to shape aboriginal leaders for the church and for this society.
I preached at Alang’s wedding service two years ago as he and Pei-wen, another member of the Bunun tribe and a nurse at the one of the big hospitals in northern Taiwan, were married in Alang’s village. The pastor of Alang’s church impressed me when he told me about a recent earthquake that had happened in their village. There were many rockslides that blocked the roads into their village. Even though the hotel owners have not helped his people and have actually excluded them from potential jobs, this pastor said, “Our church prayed for these hotel owners because we knew that they were hurting. Guests were unable to reach our village to stay in their hotels, so we prayed that God would help them.” While we continue to work to help Taiwanese aboriginals find sustainable work and protect their land rights, they always amaze me as they seek to be Christ to their neighbors.
I attended a cookout and graduation celebration that Alang hosted for some of the university students with whom he works. The students did a skit about the alienation they often feel in the big cities where they come to study. But they also celebrated the aboriginal identity that God has given them. They learn to trust God and rely on each other as they navigate a new life.
Alang and so many of the pastors with whom I continue to work in pastor support groups are growing in their love for God and love for neighbor. It is a thrill to see them maturing and dreaming God’s dream for their lives and ministries.
Please pray for these church leaders as they seek to be good news in this beautiful land. Thank you for your generous support which allows me to serve with them and encourage them to be people of bold vision.
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 240
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