A letter from John McCall serving in Taiwan
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It is early Easter morning and I am on the local train to a city south of Taipei. Many of the overseas workers from southeast Asia are on this train. Today is their day off, and they are headed to meet other friends who work in other cities. There are women in headscarves from Indonesia. A young man from Vietnam is watching and listening to a Vietnamese singer on his cell phone. His hair is dyed blue. His eyes long for home. These are not the Taiwan business people who take the high-speed rail that I will be on later today to the south. Because they can make better salaries here than at home, these young adults have had to leave their homes and come to a strange land where they live in cramped dormitories and work long hours every day.
I am headed to preach at a joint Easter service of aboriginal churches. They are city aboriginals who have left their villages to come and live on Taiwan’s West Coast in order to find work. Their lives are often not easy, and yet today they will worship with real hope and joy. As I look at the tired faces of the other occupants in train car #6, I pray for them that one day they too will know the good news of great joy of this day, that Jesus Christ is risen. And because Christ is risen, that has made all the difference.
Yesterday I visited an elementary school where a good friend is principal. The school basketball courts were packed with young people playing basketball. I saw Stephen Curry’s name on the back of several of their shirts. I played basketball with some of my friend’s students. The nets were low and the students were short, but they played with grit and determination. Jesus also rose for them.
From the train I can see row after row of apartment blocks. Some are old and mildewed and others are new and gleaming. Clothes are hanging on the small balconies in the polluted air. Christ also rose for the thousands of people who live in these apartments.
The woman seated next to me asks me what I am doing in Taiwan. I am often asked this question, and I respond that God led me to Taiwan. She has been reading her Buddhist scriptures while on the train, and she tells me that she is also a woman of faith. I tell her that I am headed to an Easter celebration because this is the day on which Christians celebrate that Christ is risen. She then asked me where I studied Mandarin. I tell her that I studied Mandarin in Taiwan when I arrived here 21 years ago. She then said something very interesting: “In your first life you must have been born in Taiwan, otherwise your Mandarin would not be so good.” Many years ago in seminary when I took a course on comparative religions, they didn’t prepare me to respond to this kind of comment! I told her that it was God who helped me to learn Mandarin. She then said, “That’s right, every day God’s grace helps us.” I then replied that on this Easter day we can see God’s grace in technicolor. I bid her goodbye as I prepared to leave the train and thanked her for the conversation.
When I arrive at my station, I go to the exit to wait for the member of the church who is going to pick me up. As I wait, I start to talk with a group of Indonesian young people who are beginning their day off. They have gathered at the train station from different parts of northern Taiwan so they can spend the day together. Like so many Southeast Asians, they are very open and friendly. We talk about an important election in the city of Jakarta that will happen this week, and they share something of what it has been like for them to work as overseas workers in factories in Taiwan. Two of the women are caregivers for elderly Taiwanese. I ask them about their working conditions caring for these elderly folks, and one of the women says the family is very kind to her. We take a picture together, and then my ride arrives.
Today’s Easter service is a joint service of three different churches from the Amis tribe. Three women pastors of these churches are my former students. The Amis tribe is a matriarchal tribe.
Aboriginal worship is usually full of lively music and often dance. And today’s service does not disappoint me. Each church has its choir or praise band lead music. And then the young adults celebrate the Resurrection with a lively and beautiful aboriginal dance. As I preach and look at the faces of the worshipers, it reminds me why I so enjoy serving in Taiwan. It is a great day both celebrating and remembering the promise of Easter.
I am now on the high-speed train to the south of Taiwan where I will meet some of my students for dinner tonight. Tomorrow I will teach two classes at Tainan Seminary and then head back home tomorrow night.
May the joy of Easter fill your life this week!
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