The Waters of Baptism in the High Mountains

A Letter from John McCall, serving in Taiwan

November 2018

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Dear Friends,

I got off the bullet train on a Saturday morning at a sleek station south of Taipei and was met by a former student who is also a friend and a pastor. Pastor Tahus is a member of the Tyral Tribe of aboriginal people who live in the high mountains of northern and central Taiwan. I have known Tahus for many years, officiated at his wedding and baptized his two older sons. That Sunday, after preaching at the church where he serves, I was going to baptize his third son, who was born in May.

Tahus and his wife, Swang Ju, rent an apartment near the station where I was picked up, for many of their church members have had to leave the high mountain village where their church is and find jobs in the city. During the week, Tahus leads family worship in the apartments of different members and also drives the two hours up to the high mountain to care for those church members who still make their living by farming.

We drove to their apartment and picked up Swang Ju and the three boys, went by a bread store to get the bread for the next day’s communion and then began heading up the road to their village of Tiempu. The mountain road is narrow and very curvy, but Tahus drives it several times a week. As we passed different villages, we could see the crosses on the churches in each village.

As we climbed higher and higher, we opened the windows and let the fresh mountain air blow in. Tahus had just officiated at a wedding for one of his church members in the city, so he and Swang Ju told me about the wedding and the couple who had been married. The weekend I was with them was the tenth anniversary of Tahus’ and Swang Ju’s wedding, so I had prepared a framed picture of their wedding service.

We finally drove into the village and first stopped at Tahus’ mother’s home. She is a single parent who raised her son alone but shared with him the deep faith of their family and village. She is a farmer who grows tomatoes and persimmons on the steep fields that cling to the mountainsides. I have taken many guests over the years to stay in her home, and she always welcomes us with warmth and good food.

We then drove to the church where Tahus and Swang Ju have a small one-bedroom apartment. Saturday evening, there was to be a house blessing for a couple in the church who have spent three years building their own home. So, we traveled to another part of the village where all the church elders and deacons and many of the members were talking and waiting for the house blessing service to begin. The house was small, but well built, with a spectacular view of the mountains. Tahus led the service using Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” I knew that the people in that village rely on the Lord to guide them in each part of their lives. Then the husband of the couple stood up and humbly talked about the process of building the house. He said that they couldn’t have built the house without the Lord’s help and the help of the members of the church. Then his wife stood up and said that she had been praying for a home for their family for years. They have three children, and while she and her husband are both farmers and don’t have a lot of money, they were able to finish the house because of God’s grace. It was inspiring for me to participate in this service of blessing and hear the deep belief of this family and the way they rely upon God’s grace.

After the service, we went outside and shared a meal of wild boar, fresh vegetables, chicken, and wonderful fruit. Taiwanese aboriginals love being together, and it is always fun to see their humor and joy.

As we headed back to the church, Pastor Tahus asked if I would be willing to speak at the youth fellowship meeting that was to happen in about half-an-hour. I chuckled, because often in these villages I am asked at the last minute to speak at various events. Thankfully, I have learned how to react quickly to these requests. I always enjoy being with youth, and as we made our way to the church sanctuary where the meeting was being held, we could hear the youth leading the praise band. Most of the youth, even if they work or go to school in the city, come back to their village for the weekend and join in the events at the church. I have discovered that it is vital for them to be reminded each weekend of who they are as God’s children. During the week, they live in a non-aboriginal world, and it is easy for them to get lost. This weekly grounding allows them to continue growing in their faith.

The youth sat close together and listened intently as I shared that we are all missionaries for Christ. After the youth meeting, I went to the guest room in the church where I was staying and prepared for the next day’s sermon. When I put my head on the pillow, I could hear the young adult praise band practicing for the next day’s service. They practiced until after midnight, so I didn’t get to sleep until their last song was over.

The next day, I looked out the window at the soaring mountains that surround Tiempu village. A group of doctors and nurses from one of the Presbyterian hospitals in Taipei stopped at the church on their way to another village where they planned to see patients after worship. We drank tea with them in Tahus’ office.

As the young adult praise band led us in our worship, I knew the songs, for I had heard them the night before. The sanctuary was full of joyful folks worshiping their God. I then stood to preach, and after I preached, Tahus and Swang Ju stood up with their youngest son. After asking the parents and the congregation if they would help this child to grow in love for God and love for neighbor, I took him in my arms and baptized him.

It is always a joy to come alongside these pastors and their families and join with them at times of celebration in their lives. After worship, we joined the church elders for an abundant lunch of meat and vegetables from their fields. Tahus’ mother brought me a large bag of fresh persimmons, one of my favorite fruits in Taiwan. Tahus then drove me back down the mountain to the High Speed Rail station so I could take the bullet train to the city of Tainan in the south of Taiwan. I was to meet several Tainan Seminary students for dinner and then on Monday teach two classes in Spiritual Theology, one class for pastors and one for Master of Divinity students.

Thank you for your interest in what God is doing in this land and for your prayers and support. You help me to be an encourager to many leaders in Asia.

With gratefulness,

John McCall

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