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A Table of Trust

A letter from John McCall serving in Taiwan

February 2016

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When you meet a Taiwanese friend and ask them how they have been, the most common answer is, “Busy!”  This is a wired culture and being a workaholic is not only tolerated, but encouraged.  Often workers cannot leave before the boss leaves even if their work is done.

So the Lunar New Year holiday is always an anticipated time to relax and enjoy family and friends.  The whole country shuts down for the Lunar New Year break, and almost everyone takes time to eat, chat, and travel to one’s hometown.

I live on the Taiwan Seminary campus, which is located on a mountain overlooking Taipei City.  Our campus has lots of old trees and there is something blooming every month of the year.   During Lunar New Year the cherry trees on campus bloom, so it is a beautiful time.  The faculty housing in which I live is on the second floor and has a dramatic view of the city.  Especially in the evening, the night view is stunning.  I have a big table on a sun porch where folks enjoy lingering and drinking tea or coffee.  We can see crested serpent eagles gliding on the thermals that lift up from the valley below.  We can hear the sound of the five-color bird that is often hidden in the trees, but its reverberating call is distinctive.

Taiwanese who have studied in graduate school in N.C. sharing with an aboriginal pastor

Taiwanese who have studied in graduate school in N.C. sharing with an aboriginal pastor

So during this past Lunar New Year holiday I had six different groups of friends at my house.  I would prepare tea or coffee and my guests would bring different delicacies from around Taiwan.  I see myself as a steward of this beautiful space in which I live.  I open the door and offer space and time for busy folks to slow down and share what God is doing in their lives.

Another important thing my table offers is a safe place.  Unfortunately, confidentiality is not always honored here.  There is no guarantee, even within the church, that what is shared will not be talked about with another.  So trust is often lacking among students, pastors, and church members.   But when different peer group of pastors come to my house each Thursday, we have one rule.  What is shared around my table stays there.

So it is a privilege to open my door and welcome so many different folks and see how God will work.  A student couple comes for premarital counseling.   As they sit around my table they share both the joys and hurts from their families of origin.  They test being open with their future spouse in a context of trust and love.  A student who has lost his wife shares what is like to walk the road of grief.  A newly married couple talk about their honeymoon.  A young pastor drinks tea as he talks about the challenges of serving his first church.  Another seeks spiritual direction, seeking to know how to listen to God.

Aborginal Pastors Dancing at my home

Aborginal Pastors Dancing at my home

But it is often in groups where I see God be very powerfully at work.  The pastor peer groups that I facilitate have been a special delight.  These pastors at first talk only about their successes in ministry.  There is some posturing as each one wants to let the others know that they are doing a good job.  But slowly one of the pastors shares a deep pain, conflict in the church he is serving.  And the others learn to love by listening. The masks begin to come down and truly honest sharing begins.  And over a period of months these pastors move from being solely co-workers to becoming spiritual friends.  It is a beautiful process to watch.

We open the Bible and see what God would say to us.  We are not preparing a sermon or Bible study, but learning to listen together from the richness of God’s Word.  It is a thrill as they begin to listen, not to tell anyone else what is God is saying, but to truly listen to what God is saying to them in a fresh way on this particular day.  Their sharing gets more and more abundant each month, and I see them become surprised at how full and rich God’s Word is.  And then we share prayer concerns.  The pastor often prays with his or her members, but around the table of trust we pray together for these pastors.  One day a pastor shared a particularly challenging and emotional situation.  As we paused to pray for him, I asked one of the other male pastors to offer a closing prayer for our pastor/friend.  He was so moved by his friend’s pain, that he wept as he prayed.  I also wept, both in solidarity with this man’s pain, but also in joy to see that around this table of trust true community had been built.

A newly married couple drinking tea around my table

A newly married couple drinking tea around my table

Once a week I also welcome a group of seminary students around my table.  We study the spiritual disciplines as a way to welcome God’s grace into our lives.  These students are also busy with too many courses, field education work on the weekends, and many also have family responsibilities.  So they come to breathe a little deeper.  They come to give God space in their lives and recognize that all space is really given to them by God.  They laugh and cry, they learn to care for each other.

Younger faculty members also sit at this table of trust.  They have received their Ph.D.’s from  universities or seminaries in the U.S. and have now returned to Taiwan as different people.   They have been shaped by living abroad.  They see things differently and are called to find ways to contextualize that which they have learned.  They are now teachers who are seeking to find creative ways to engage their students.  We share around the table and then pray for each other.

Jesus spent a good amount of time around a table.  And I have found as I serve here that it is also a good place for me to be with others.  It is the Holy Spirit who builds trust as we first trust God who comes to live among us.  And then we build communities of trust in the name of Christ.

Please pray for those with whom I sit at table.  And pray that as they leave my home, they will continue to be a blessing to others throughout this non-Christian land.  Thank you for your prayers and support, which allows me to be at table with these diverse folks.

John McCall

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 253

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