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Called to be Jesus’ friends, not his students


Ministry is done together

March 18, 2020


I got off the train after a four-hour ride along the Pacific Ocean and headed to the exit to be met by a pastor from Bunun Presbytery, an aboriginal presbytery on Taiwan’s east coast. I was on my way to lead the fourth pastors’ retreat in three weeks.

The Bunun tribal pastor (Bunun means “person” and is the name of one of the 16 tribes among Taiwan’s indigenous people) greeted me and drove us to a nearby noodle restaurant, where we met four other pastors for lunch. We then left the small town of Yuli and headed up steep mountain roads to the farming hut of one of the church elders. Other pastors were waiting for us there in the middle of a mango grove. The view from the hut was spectacular, a deep blue sky with white clouds hanging over high mountains.

Many of the church gatherings tend to have a main speaker lecturing and the participants passively listening. I try to craft a retreat that gives plenty of time for small group sharing and a good amount of time to pray, sing and worship together. I do give a few talks, but I encourage them to respond to the talks.

Aboriginals love to sing, so we began our time together with one pastor leading us in song. We sang in both the Bunun tongue and in Mandarin. These pastors serve churches in villages sprinkled throughout these eastern coastal mountains. Many of their members are farmers, but a good number are also teachers or police officers or are working at other jobs. It is easy for me to tell the different aboriginal people apart both by their looks and their customs. The Bunun tribe tends to be a communal tribe that enjoys doing things together.

After we sang, I shared with them Jesus’ words from John 15:15: I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends. We spent the rest of the retreat thinking about what it means to be a friend of Jesus and not just a servant. In Asia’s hierarchical society, it’s much easier to think of Jesus as the teacher and to see ourselves as the students. So, for us to be considered Jesus’ friend is a rather radical thought. We also talked about how Jesus calls us to be friends to one another. Again, this is not easy in a context where confidentiality is often not honored, and there is not always deep trust between pastors or other co-workers in the church.

On the second day of the retreat, the oldest pastor in the presbytery had been invited to lead the morning devotions. I had not met Pastor Ma before, but as he began to preach, I could tell that, at age 86, he is a man of great faith, hope and love. He has served in these mountains for 50 years, and he has a dynamism that is infectious. He said that the church has enough critics, and that instead we need to be people of one heart and mind, people of deep and faithful prayer, and people who recognize the power of the gospel to change lives and communities. As I listened to him preach and looked around at the younger pastors, I gave thanks for such a wonderful leadership model. When he began his service, there were no paved roads in the mountains. It could take a day or more to hike to the next village. And yet, he still showed up.

As I boarded the train back to Taipei, my body was tired, but my spirit was thankful for the opportunity to be with Taiwan’s pastors. Their roads are not easy in this non-Christian land, and they need encouragement and someone to speak hope, but they get up every day and seek to live out the love of Christ in their families, churches and communities.

John McCall, a PC(USA) pastor who has been serving in Taiwan for more than 20 years, Presbyterians Today

Today’s Focus:  Working Together in Ministry

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Janna Wofford, Association of Presbyterian Colleges & Universities
Leslie Woods, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Dear God, thank you for giving us partners in ministry. Thank you for helping each of us grow and see the fruit of the Holy Spirit ripen as we pray and do your ministry together. We praise and thank you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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