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Strangers discover their connection as children of God

 

Pastors from three countries find renewal at Montreat

By Kathy Melvin | Mission Crossroads Magazine

Guatemalan, U.S. and Taiwanese pastors sing a hymn in Spanish. John McCall

LOUISVILLE – Sometimes faith renewal happens in ways you would never imagine.

Mission co-worker John McCall, who has served in Taiwan for more than 20 years, works to build the leadership skills of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan. He leads groups of pastors who meet monthly to find encouragement and challenge, but he felt called to do more. He wanted to give the pastors he was mentoring an opportunity to find spiritual renewal.

He was successful, but the ripple effect went much further than anyone expected.

John served as pastor of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Western North Carolina for more than seven years. Black Mountain is next to Montreat Conference Center, a bucolic complex in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Short for “Mountain Retreat,” Montreat encompasses 4,000 acres. The conference center’s permanently protected 2,500 acres are now a dedicated wilderness area listed in the North Carolina Registry of National Heritage Areas. John thought the setting would be the perfect location for busy pastors to be renewed and refreshed. There they would have the time and the space to remember who they were and why God called them.

With the help of Bobbie White, Western North Carolina Presbytery’s executive, the “Sowing the Seeds of Understanding: Ministry in a Global World” retreat was first offered in 2009. Building on the success of that event, the retreat was offered again in 2016. This time organizers invited three Guatemalan pastors, reflecting the presbytery’s long history of mission partnership with Guatemala. Two of those pastors were able to get visas to attend.

“We brought together this diverse group, from city and mountain, from different countries, to live together in community in a big, old house,” John said. “Every day, in everything we did, we used Mandarin, Spanish and English and learned how to trust each other. Among the Taiwanese we had at least five different people groups. And God did a beautiful thing among us. Each day as we shared meals together, worshiped together, studied the Bible together and shared life together, we caught a glimpse of God’s kingdom in our midst.”

They had silent time, “an hour to meet God in nature,” as well as small group discussions. The group also traveled to a Methodist church in Black Mountain, to eat at their Open Table with the elderly, the lonely and the homeless. One pastor washed the feet of a homeless veteran, who told the group, “The last time I was face to face with an Asian, I was shooting at them. Now this Asian man is washing my feet in the name of Jesus.”

Another pastor said, “I had forgotten to enjoy Jesus. When I go back, I’m going to help our members remember how to enjoy the Lord.”

U.S. and Guatemalan pastors are prayer partners. John McCall

John said that in today’s divided world it was a joy to see strangers become friends and to discover their connection as children of God. “One evening I was walking by one of the bedrooms in the old house where we were staying and heard some of the Taiwanese pastors counting in Mandarin as they did calisthenics together. And then I also heard Pastor Hugo from Guatemala counting in Spanish. They were all exercising together in their own languages,” he said.

While staying with the group at Sylvan Lodge, he also interacted with a woman who was cleaning the room, a former prisoner on work release and a Christian. He recalled part of their conversation: ‘When I cleaned each room,’ she said, ‘I prayed for the pastor who would be staying there.’

For two days a group of about 20 U.S. Presbyterian pastors joined the group. Each U.S. pastor had an international prayer partner. “And while not everyone could speak English, they found a way to share prayer concerns and pray together,” he said. “We shared the joys and challenges of doing ministry in this day. And the participants found how much united us. We learned to trust God in the process, and the Holy Spirit led us into deeper understanding of those from at least three diverse cultures. It was wonderful to watch the American pastors be renewed by the faith of these pastors from Guatemala and Taiwan.”

Taiwanese pastors pray for pastors from Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. John McCall

In addition to his work with pastors, John teaches courses on ministry and spiritual formation at the seminaries of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan. He spends a lot of time crisscrossing the country. Taiwan is about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined and has a population just a little smaller than Australia’s. It is located south of Japan, north of the Philippines and just 100 miles from the southern coast of China.

Taiwan has a diverse population with at least 16 indigenous groups. Scholars believe that some of these groups may have been on Taiwan for more than 10,000 years. On any given Sunday in the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, more than 15 languages are spoken in worship. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner church, is the largest Protestant denomination on the island.

John hopes there will be other opportunities for pastors from Taiwan to find spiritual renewal at Montreat. “My hope for them in the North Carolina mountains was that they would have time to breathe deeply of God’s love for them,” he said. “I prayed that this time away from their families and their churches and communities would not be an escape, but instead a gift from God, and that they would return to high mountain villages and teeming cities to continue serving God with new joy, peace and vision. And now the U.S. pastors will have prayer partners halfway across the world they are connected to in Christ’s trust and love.”

Kathy Melvin is director of mission communications with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Encourage church leaders: Support the work of John McCall in Taiwan pcusa.org/donate/e200487

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.


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