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The Field which Touches Heaven

A Letter from John McCall, serving in Taiwan

November 2020

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Dear friends,

We continue to pray for you, your churches, and the world, that God may bring healing to the nations. So far, life here in Taiwan remains pretty normal as the health authorities here continue to do a good job of containing the spread of the virus. As of today, there have been no domestic transmissions since April.

This semester I am teaching courses at Tainan Seminary in southern Taiwan and at Taiwan Seminary in Taipei where I live on the campus. The course at Taiwan Seminary is in Spiritual Theology called “Pilgrims on the Road with the Pilgrim God.” We are looking at how God creates a way for us to travel and then leads us and joins us on this road of faith and life. During this Advent we are looking at Jesus as “The One Who Comes” into our world and into our lives, accompanying us on the way and giving us strength, hope, and love for the journey. The goal of life’s faith journey is learning to trust God to lead us on the way.

Our seminary is located on Yang Ming Mountain overlooking the huge city of Taipei. Just a twenty-minute drive up the mountain from the seminary is a beautiful national park. One of my favorite places in the park is called “The Field which Touches Heaven.” It is rolling hills covered in grass with water buffalo grazing beside the path. From several vantage points you can see the city of Taipei and the ocean north of Taiwan. I have hiked there in all kinds of weather and it has always been a place of peace for me.

I arranged for my students in Tuesday’s afternoon class to join me on a spiritual journey in this place. But each Monday evening when I checked the weather for the next day to see if we could journey up the mountain, it always said that it would rain. But last week, the student class leader called me and said that Tuesday’s weather looked good. He communicated with the rest of the students to let them know that our journey would happen.

But around lunchtime on Tuesday, the sky turned cloudy. It was cool for Taipei and the wind was blowing. Often the weather up the mountain is much cooler and wetter than the weather at the seminary. So, when we met at the main gate of the seminary to begin our journey, I was concerned that many of the students would not enjoy a blustery, cold walk. So, I told them that they had a choice. We could go up the mountain, or we could go down the mountain to smaller park where it probably wasn’t raining. To my delight, they all voted to go up the mountain.

As we drove, it began to rain, and I began to worry. When we got to the parking lot, the wind was whipping, and the skies looked ominous. I had prepared twelve different scriptures that we would read at twelve different spots. So we began at our first spot under a pagoda, I could tell by their faces that these pilgrims were nervous. We read about God calling Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and venture to a land which they had not seen. We then shared about their experience and how it relates to our experience. We prayed together and sang a song called “The Road of Grace.” We then headed out on the stone path to our next station. The rocks were slippery, and the wind was strong.

At our third station, we read about Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the wilderness. The Hebrew people murmured: “at least in Egypt we could eat three good meals a day instead of this manna.” As we left that station, I had to make a decision, to take them on a longer, more scenic route, or to take them on a short route back to the parking lot. I decided on the longer route, but just as we began on that path, it started to rain. I could hear no murmuring, but, began to identity with Moses in a deep way.

That Tuesday morning, a clergy couple had come to my home to talk, and they brought a cake. I had cut the cake into pieces and brought it with me to the mountain. As we found a wooden bridge over a bubbling creek, I offered the cake to each student, and they wolfed it down gladly. It truly was our manna in the wilderness. Sharing that cake together brought new energy, and I gave thanks for the change of mood among the group.

We continued our pilgrimage reading passages from the New Testament about John the Baptist preparing the Way and the verse which says that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. At each station a few students reflected on the passage and then led us in prayer.

The rain did not continue and there was energy among the pilgrims. As we finished the journey, I found another pagoda which had cement benches. We all sat down, and I asked each student to share their experience. I often remind my students that if we don’t reflect on an experience and just let it pass, we waste the experience. The first student to share said that during the first part of the pilgrimage he had been “complaining in his heart.” But after the nourishment on the bridge, his complaining turned to thanksgiving. Each student had a beautiful reflection to share with the group.

We walked back to the cars and drove to a nearby noodle shop for dinner. We laughed and talked as we ate. God had shaped us into a community of pilgrims which would not have happened in the same way in a classroom.

Jesus’ way of education was “on the way” teaching. He modeled a new life with his disciples as he walked with them and lived with them.

I hope this small experience will help these future pastors to be those who teach on the way, on the busy roads of Taiwan’s teeming cities and on the high mountain roads of indigenous villages. Their openness to meeting God on the road was an encouragement to me. It reminded me to trust even when the wind is strong, and we don’t know what to expect ahead.

May you meet God on the roads of your life.

In these challenging times, I am especially grateful for your interest in and support of God’s work in Taiwan.

Gratefully,

John McCall


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