A letter from John McCall serving in Taiwan
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I am currently teaching a course at Tainan Seminary on “Following the Pilgrim God: A Biblical Journey.” This past weekend, I was a pilgrim taking two planes, two ships, and one train. I had been invited to preach at the church on a small island called the Island of Seven Beauties (Chi Mei), a part of the Penghu chain of islands. These ninety islands belong to Taiwan and are located in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China. Chi Mei is a tropical island, a jewel in the sea.
Friday afternoon, I boarded a flight from the domestic airport in Taipei and flew over beautiful, calm waters to the city of Makong on the largest island. The pastor from Chi Mei and another pastor from Makong, both former students, met me at the airport. They were delighted to take on the role of teacher as they shared their experiences in their new home.
As part of my pilgrimage, we boarded the ferry for Chi Mei. This island, like many places where residents earn their living by the sea, is a superstitious place. The harbor was full of fishing boats, and I saw several temples where Matzu, the goddess of fisher folks is worshipped. The clergy couple at the Chi Mei Presbyterian Church has worked hard in this superstitious environment to reach out to the children of the island. So each Saturday afternoon, they invite the community children to the church to learn Bible stories, sing songs, and learn about Jesus. They now have about 30 community children each Saturday. When they hear their children/grandchildren return home singing “Jesus Loves Me,” some of the non-Christian parents or grandparents refuse to let their children return to the church, but most parents are glad to have their children involved in a wholesome Saturday activity.
I asked the pastor if I could go snorkeling on Saturday, since Chi Mei is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. Some other tourists and I rode motor scooters to a secluded bay where we put on wet suits, masks, and snorkels and dove into the crystal clear water. The brightly colored tropical fish were abundant, as were different colored star fish and all kinds of brilliant coral. I could have stayed in the water for hours in that underwater wonderland. Our snorkeling “coach” was an 18-year-old high school student who comes back to Chi Mei on weekends to lead tourists and then goes back to the city of Makong to attend his senior year of high school. He was on the boat with me on Sunday afternoon and told me that he really likes the local pastor whom he met when he was in junior high school. He will graduate in June. I asked him about his future plans, and he said he didn’t really have any. Many of the young people who live on Penghu don’t have dreams for their future. But I could tell that this young man has gifts of leadership, so I encouraged him to dream big.
Saturday night we had our first service and the folks slowly arrived at the church. Many fish for a living, although the numbers and size of fish are declining. Others are teachers at the local school or run shops. Some are in the tourism trade. As I preached, they listened intently. Christians are a small minority on that island, but the church has been on Chi Mei for over 100 years.
The next morning, we began worship at 9:15. There were folks of all ages, and a number were tourists who were visiting for the weekend. They sang the hymns with joy, and I could tell that they enjoyed being together in God’s house. Their vibrant faith was an encouragement to me.
After worship, we walked over to their newly constructed sanctuary. It is a beautiful building. They hope to move in a few weeks. Half of the cost of the building was given by church members and half by other churches in Taiwan.
The pastors have two young children and stay busy caring for their flock, engaging with the community children, and raising their own family. They have had to adjust to a whole new world. I had good conversations with them, listening to both their joys and challenges. I thanked them for their faithful service and prayed with them. It is always a joy to visit my former students as they serve in so many different contexts around Asia. A large part of my ministry is staying at the homes of pastors and being a safe person with whom they can share. Often they need an outsider to help them see the difference they are making.
Sunday afternoon, I boarded the ferry back to Makong, where I took a plane to the southern city of Kaoshiung. At the Kaoshiung Airport, I took the subway to the train station and bought a ticket for the city of Tainan, where I would be teaching two classes on Monday. As I waited for my train, I started talking to a junior high school student who was seated next to me. I sensed that he had a heavy heart, and he shared that his parents had divorced when he was a first grader. He and his birth father have a rocky relationship. He told me that he wants to become a doctor. I thought about his clear direction for his future compared to the snorkeling coach with whom I was talking earlier in the day.
I got to the Tainan train station after 8 p.m. and walked the 15 minutes to the seminary. I was grateful for a safe and fulfilling journey. God was present along the way.
From late January 2018 until July, I will be on interpretation assignment. I will be based in North Carolina and will be traveling around the U.S. and preaching in churches to share what God is doing in Asia. If you would like me to come to your church, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to being with as many of you as possible. As my schedule fills up, it will be a “first contact, first come basis.”
Thank you so much for your prayers and your generous support that allows me to travel to represent Jesus Christ and you in places like Chi Mei and on ferries, planes, and trains.
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