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Danger and opportunity

Presbyterian Church of Taiwan continues to minister to the body and spirit of its people

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. John McCall is pictured with his former seminary students who are now chaplains at the Presbyterian Hospital in Taipei. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — As the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the world in 2020, a few countries in Asia, including Taiwan, had controlled the virus extremely well and life remained relatively normal.

The Rev. John McCall, who has served with the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan for 25 years, remembers SARS, and so do his fellow residents. So much so, that after SARS, Taiwan created an Epidemic Command Center. In early December 2019, officials sent a team to Wuhan, China, to investigate. McCall believes the Taiwanese were well poised to respond. In April 2020, there were only 250 positive cases in Taiwan and only six deaths, while the U.S. had exceeded 850,000 positive cases and nearly 50,000 deaths.

On an island of 23 million people that’s the size of Delaware and Maryland combined, the Taiwanese “have been very intentional about stopping cross-contamination,” McCall said.

But that was then. This is now.

In a recent letter to supporters, McCall reported that in mid-May of 2021 there was a huge spike in cases. The island went into a Level 3 lockdown. Level 4 is total lockdown. Schools and churches were closed, and restaurants offered only take-out orders. As cases have dropped to just a few each day recently, Taiwan has moved to Level 2. Schools have restarted in-person learning and churches are now allowed to hold in-person worship.

“So, we began to have a slight understanding of what you all have been through” he said. “The word for ‘crisis’ in Mandarin has two characters, danger and opportunity. In my work with pastors here, I have been encouraging them to see the opportunity in this time of lockdown. For the first time, our weekly pastor spiritual formation groups went virtual, and that was our first opportunity.”

Pastors gather for spiritual formation group pre-lockdown. (Photo by John McCall)

McCall said he created these groups about ten years ago with the goal to shape a community of spiritual friends.

He said that over the past few months, the pastors have shared both “the grace and the challenges” they encountered as they worked to care for their own young children who were sequestered at home and also learned how to creatively lead worship and other events online.

“Every time we meet in these pastor groups, in addition to Bible study or discussing a case study which one of the pastors presents, each pastor shares their prayer concerns, and then another pastor prays for them,” he said. “These pastors have moved from being co-workers to true spiritual friends, the opportunity in the crisis.”

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has established about 10 hospitals in Taiwan. According to McCall, during the pandemic — and even through normal daily care — the hospitals, in addition to providing excellent medical care, also share the love of Christ with patients, their families and the hospital staff.

Mission co-worker the Rev. John McCall has his temperature taken as he enters the General Assembly office of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. (Contributed photo)

“Key folks in this Christian hospital ministry are the members of the pastoral care departments of these hospitals. Even though during this lockdown these chaplains have been unable to visit patients and many nurses and doctors caring for COVID patients in person, they have also been seeking the opportunity in the crisis. Many of my former students are chaplains in these hospitals, so I have been calling them to see how they are doing in a stressful time,” he said.

McCall said the hospitals have been creative in adapting to new ways of reaching out to patients and staff. They have produced a small booklet that is distributed around the hospital with encouraging writings and a QR code (which can be scanned with your phone) which immediately allows the chaplain to know that patients, family members, or staff wish to make contact with a chaplain.

Again, opportunity in the crisis.

Each week during this lockdown, McCall has been calling pastors, many of them his former seminary students. He has talked with more than 100 individuals, checking on them, their families and their churches. Many, he said, are eager to talk about their continuing ministry.

McCay Presbyterian Hospital in Taipei. (Photo by John McCall)

“One young pastor shared how he has equipped his church leadership to make contact with every member every week,” McCall said. “This pastor, Yuan-jieh, has a group call with his church elders each week, asking them to share how things are going, and then they have a time of prayer together. These elders then call a group of deacons and share and pray together. The deacons then call some from a committee of folks who are gifted in caring for the members, and they share and pray together. Then these committee members call a group of church members, and they also share and pray together. So, the care is done by the congregation, and everyone is included.”

Again, opportunity in the crisis.

“I have been praying for the church here and for the world church that in the midst of the challenges, that God’s love and promise of being with us will shine through,” McCall said. “It is a joy to see how these Taiwanese church leaders are being Christ’s light in a world of fear. We also must continue to pray for many places in the world where vaccines are sorely limited, and folks are facing these new variants without protection. May God continue to heal the nations.”


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