Returning to My Roots

A Letter from John McCall, serving in Taiwan

March 2019

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Dear Friends,

I’m writing this letter on the tilting train headed back to Taipei from Taiwan’s furthest point on the east coast, the county of Taidong. When I lived in this area 18 years ago working with the aboriginal churches, the fastest train was six hours. I took that train every other week in order to teach at the seminary in Taipei. Because the train I am riding on doesn’t have to slow down on the curvy mountain track, it will be only a 3½-hour ride late on this Sunday afternoon. But a few months ago, one of these technologically advanced trains crashed because of excessive speed on a curve.

After arriving in Taiwan, I studied Mandarin for two years and then was sent to work in about 35 aboriginal villages sprinkled along the Pacific coast. It was a wonderful way for me to improve my Mandarin, since I was preaching and speaking four times a week in different settings, and most of the time I was being translated into the aboriginal language. The translator had to understand what I was saying in Mandarin in order to translate, so it was great practice. I also learned so much about aboriginal life through staying in their homes each week.

The Eastern Paiwan Presbytery invited me to return to the east coast to do leadership training this past Saturday during the day, speak at a joint youth event on Saturday evening, and preach at worship on Sunday morning.

When I arrived there 20 years ago, I did a lot of work with the youth of the 30 churches. I baptized many babies and adults in churches that did not have ordained pastors. This weekend I met some of the young adults whom I had baptized as babies, and a number of the teenagers with whom I worked are now married with their own children.

Saturday morning I arrived at the church for leadership training, and I was pleased to see many of the pastors and church elders whom I knew, as well as some young evangelists whom I had taught at the aboriginal seminary. I am always impressed here by the commitment of church leaders and members who turn out in large numbers on a Saturday morning to grow in their faith.

After the training, one of the young pastors took me to his church located on a bluff with a stunning view of the mountains jutting into the Pacific. They run a coffee shop as a means of evangelism. I met his three children and was glad to talk with his parents, who were very good to me when I used to stay in his village.

We then drove to another village where about 100 youth had gathered for a renewal service. These youth had never met a missionary, so the theme of my talk was “A Life Which Responds to God’s Love.” I encouraged them to use their lives to respond to God’s love. They listened intently. After I spoke, I met two of the young adults whom I had baptized as infants. At the beginning of our worship, they were part of the worship band.

I spent Saturday night in a room at a newly constructed aboriginal church that incorporates aboriginal art in its design. I woke this morning and looked out the window at heavy clouds hanging over the Pacific. The pastor of the church, a diminutive woman who is a great leader, is also a longtime friend. Before worship, she led the seven elders in a 40-minute time of prayer for the village, for Taiwan, and for the world. We then entered the sanctuary, where a worship band was beginning to lead singing. One of the worship leaders thanked God for leading and keeping them throughout the past week. I always learn from aboriginal Christians about giving every day to God and then depending on God throughout each day. God’s presence is woven into the fabric of their lives.

Later in the service, I preached. After worship we enjoyed a bountiful lunch on a deck overlooking the Pacific.

As I look out the window of the train at the mist- covered jagged Asian mountains and the fields of rice and bananas, I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to return to my roots. They have invited me to come back many times before, but I have always had other prior preaching and teaching commitments. Aboriginals are not known for planning a year ahead like the non-aboriginal churches do. My schedule fills up, and I have been unable to return to see them. So, it was a great joy this weekend to stay with them and be reminded of their gracious welcome early on in my time in Taiwan. They taught me so much then, and continued teaching me this weekend about faith, community, joy in the face of adversity, and generosity even when you don’t have a lot.

As I was leaving, one of the pastors got me to commit to return to their presbytery next year. I look forward to being with them again.

Gratefully,

John


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