We arrived at the Taipei International Airport after a direct thirteen-hour flight from Paris. From the plane we could see the barren deserts of Iran and Afghanistan. We flew over Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and then across Western China.
This is the fifth time that, along with another Taiwanese colleague, I have taken a group of Taiwanese pastors, seminary students, and university students to Taize in Burgundy in central France. We had pastors of various ages and people groups, women and men, students from the three Presbyterian seminaries where I teach, and college students.
Many of you know of Taize because of its songs and worship, but the experience is so much greater than songs. Taize is a Christian community of reconciliation which brings together Christians from almost every tradition and continent. Each week during the summer, thousands of mostly European youth descend upon this place of prayer in a rural setting in the middle of France. Many of these youth come from non/post Christian backgrounds, and for many, Taize offers them their first encounter with God. Taize is a place of acceptance for all people and as folks worship together three times each day, spend time in prayer and silence, study the Bible together, work together cleaning toilets, dorms, or serving the simple meals, they find a rhythm of life and faith which opens hearts to God's love.
In this day where many folks can spend hours on Facebook or other forms of social media without looking into the eyes of another human being, at Taize these young people do not have internet, so they find themselves using limited English to communicate with Swedes, Germans, French, Poles, Indians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Africans, and North Americans. For some of our seminary students who are used to camps for Christians, which often have very few non-Christians attending, they are at first shocked to see so many nose rings or tattoos or youth smoking. But they slowly come to see these youth who have almost no experience with silence learning to be quiet in order to be attentive to God. Taize doesn't just talk about God's love, it encourages these diverse folks to live a life of love together for a week in community.
One of our Taiwanese college students, pictured above, has almost no English. But he has an amazing ability to communicate with others without language. He is a good athlete and has an infectious smile. The day before we were leaving, I was waiting in line to get the passports for our group which we had stored in a safe place. When the German college student in front of me heard that I was one of the leaders for the Taiwanese group, she said, "In our German group yesterday all of our guys were talking about your Taiwanese college student. They said that they wanted to be like him in his ability to connect so easily with so many people."
There was a wonderful Portuguese grandfather, pictured in the center at left, at Taize this past week. After spending a week rooming with some of our pastors, he said to me, "the hope of the Church is in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Please thank your Taiwanese for being such an encouragement to us."
In a world that is divided by religion, ideology, language, technology, wealth, it was a tremendous joy to taste a little of what heaven will probably be like. In the silence we got in touch with our inner darkness and God's light which illumines that darkness. The silence prepared our hearts to hear God's Word with a freshness which spoke to all of us in deep and life-giving ways. As we washed pots, we sang together the songs that we sang each day in worship. I stayed with our younger guys in the youth dorms, and you could hear youth singing the songs as they washed their faces or took a shower.
Taiwanese are good tourists. They like to take pictures and see the sights. But this trip was a pilgrimage. We sought to meet God on the way, to listen to our own hearts, and to listen to our neighbors who look differently and speak in a different way. In that space of meeting we found grace and acceptance and love. One of the Taize songs says, "A heart filled with love neither tires others nor becomes tired."
This week gave me hope for the Church and hope for the world. The European youth are sophisticated and on the outside look very suave. But as I got to know these youth and as our Taiwanese shared their deep faith with them, I saw hearts which were being softened and opened to the Good News that God wants to bring them and us life in all its fullness.
Taize is a long way from Taiwan. But as we stood in a circle at the baggage carousel in the Taipei Airport singing one of the Taize songs and praying together, we left each other not as tourists, but as pilgrims who join Christ on the way living with joy and a deep trust that we are not alone.
Minimum Goal for 2014
$10,000 for support funds and $5,000 for ministry funds for John McCall