A letter from John McCall, serving in Taiwan
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When many people think of Asia, they have a narrow view of people who eat rice and use chop sticks. But Asia is a vibrant continent with a myriad of people groups, languages, cultures, histories, food, and music. Each country has its own flavor, and most Asian countries are multicultural.
So, it is from this diversity that we invited three pastors each from four countries in Asia (the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan) to a retreat center in Kyoto, Japan to share life together in Christ for a week. The pastors from within each country also represented different denominations and people groups.
The name of our gathering was “Sowing Seeds of Understanding: Ministry in a Global World,” and it was sponsored by Japan Mission, a partner with the Presbyterian Church (USA) on whose board I serve. Our goal was not just to host a meeting where people passively listen to reports, but to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into a community. We studied the Bible together, responding to each passage with the eyes and hearts of the communities from which we came. We became mutual encouragers as we shared both the joys and struggles of serving as pastors in very different contexts. We had prayer partners and prayed together for each other and also committed to continue to pray for our prayer partners when we returned home. We worshiped together with different pastors, men and women leading our morning and evening worship. We prayed in at least 10 different languages and sang songs from each country. It was truly a taste of what we will experience in heaven.
Pastor Veronica and her colleagues from the Philippines shared the challenges that country is facing with continued issues of human rights. In addition to pastoring a church, she is also raising her sister’s three children, since her sister and her husband died suddenly. Pastor Kyung-soo, whose church is just one half-hour from the North Korean border, asked for prayers for peace on the Korean peninsula. Pastor Nao, who is a hospital chaplain, shared how he seeks to bring the beauty of Christ to the bedside of each patient whom he visits in the large Christian hospital where he serves in Japan.
As the week progressed you could see hearts opening and a release of the pressure which these pastors carry each day in their families and places of service. The last night, as we knelt to wash the feet of our new friends, I saw a tender love which had developed, one for the other.
In our small groups we learned a lot about our Asian neighbors and about the challenges of being the church in these four lands. A Taiwanese aboriginal couple who are serving as missionaries from Taiwan to Japan also joined us. It was a beautiful thing to see them interacting with their new Japanese friends and being able to rejoice at the steps they have made in studying both the Japanese language and culture.
One day, I arranged for the pastors to spend an hour in silence in the beautiful surroundings of the retreat center. We walked through a grove of tall cypress trees, and there was a hint of autumn coolness in the air. As the pastors returned to their small groups to share their experiences, their bodies were more relaxed, and sharing in English did not seem so burdensome.
The last morning at breakfast, one of the Japanese pastors from Kyushu, which last year suffered a huge earthquake, shared with me. He has been under tremendous stress for a year as he and his church have worked tirelessly in earthquake relief. Their work has been both physical rebuilding and spiritual healing. He told me that he had caught a cold. I told him that I was sorry to hear that. But what he said next surprised me. “No, don’t be sorry,” he replied. “Catching a cold is good news.” I asked him why it was good news. He said, “My body has been pushing so hard for the past year, that I haven’t been relaxed enough to catch a cold. So the fact that my body has finally relaxed and I have caught a cold is a sign that I am finally able to rest in God.” He then thanked me for our time together.
It was a beautiful week. It was an investment in these Asian pastors as they returned to very different settings to be the fragrance of Christ. In our time together, we came to know God, ourselves, and each other in a deeper way …. I am grateful to be able to share in their lives. I am thankful that now when I hear of news from these different Asian countries, I will think of these pastors and their families and the churches and communities whom they serve.
Thank you for your prayers and support that allow me to journey with Asian pastors. Thank you for your interest in what God is doing in our world.
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