John McCall (PCUSA) - October 2014 Update
I've been back in Asia for a couple of months, and it's been wonderful to reconnect with friends here and also catch my stride as I serve with the church in this vast continent.
Earlier in September I flew to Malaysia, about a five-hour flight, to teach with a long-time Taiwanese friend and colleague. Most Christians in Malaysia are ethnic Chinese, so we can teach in Mandarin. Malaysia is a wonderful culturally-rich country with different people groups: Malay (who are almost all Muslim), ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indian, and the aboriginal Malaysians. While there is not perfect harmony among these groups, it is inspiring in our divided world to see these people groups living together and also keeping their ethnic traditions and languages.
We first taught in Johor Bahru, a city right next to Singapore. Each night from the inn in which I was staying, I could see hundreds of Malaysians driving home in cars or on motorcycles after working all day in Singapore. What most impressed me in the Presbyterian Church of Malaysia was the number of first generation Christians. I would often ask folks how long they had been Christians, and so many said that they are the first Christian in their family. There seems to be a real natural evangelism among these Christians. It is against the law to evangelize an ethnic Malay, and it is against the law for them to convert from Islam. But it is legal to share the gospel with both ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians. I was also impressed with the number of youth who came to our classes. They sat on hard pews in the church for hours listening and participating with a real hunger to grow. They are both an ethnic minority and a religious minority, so they want to know how to grow in their faith and how to be the fragrance of Christ with their friends, family, and classmates. The second half of the week we taught in a fairly new church in the capital of Kuala Lumpur.
In addition to my work in larger Asia, most of my time is spent in beautiful Taiwan where every week I am on buses, subways, trains, and in cars traveling around this island. I recently returned from the southeast of Taiwan in Taidong where I lived fourteen years ago. The east coast has mountains which jut into the blue water of the Pacific. Coconut trees blow in the breeze, and tropical fish swim among the coral. An aboriginal presbytery had invited me to speak at a youth event and then meet with the presbytery pastors to talk about my new book on the Holy Spirit. It was great to be back in the villages with the youth who are less jaded than city youth and are also so open. As I used various Asian pictures of Bible stories, their eyes were wide and they laughed easily about Abraham and Sarah who name their son "laughter." There were children as young as six years-old up to high school seniors, so one always needs to use a variety of teaching methods to touch the hearts of such a wide age range.
After sharing about my new book with the aboriginal pastors, we had a lively conversation about the Holy Spirit. Then since we were in a harbor town and the fishing boats had just come in, they took me to a seafood restaurant for the freshest sashimi that I have tasted in a long time.
Sunday morning I preached two renewal services in an Amis tribal church. I preached in Mandarin, and the pastor translated into their Amis language. The pastor and I spent a good amount of time after dinner on Saturday evening going over my two sermons so he would be able to translate naturally. He did a great job, and the translation did not seem to be an obstacle in hearing the gospel. Renewal services here tend to be longer than normal services, so each sermon with translation lasted about an hour. They stayed right with me with no signs of wanting to get home. One woman from Orchid Island, a small island off the coast, now lives in the village where I was preaching. She would affirm my points with a vigorous shaking of her head, and then she would pump her fist. I wish she could be in my congregation each Sunday as I travel around Taiwan! After the service she told me that it seemed as if there was a battery giving her power as she listened.
Often at these renewal services, the pastor invites the worshipers to come forward for laying on of hands and for prayer. This church has a reputation for a more charismatic expression of the faith, so when we invited folks they streamed forward and knelt at the front of the sanctuary. As the pastor and I moved from person to person, we would ask them their prayer concerns. Many of the older folks wept as they asked us to pray for children who had moved to the city and left the church. They had a deep concern that their adult children would return to their faith roots. As I prayed for many of these folks they would weep and rock back and forth. I also heard some folks speaking in tongues as I prayed. Their desire to continue growing in their faith and their deep desire for their own children to stay close to Christ was inspiring. It also reminded me of the important work I do with aboriginal city pastors who are seeking to reach out to the children of these village elders.
After the service the pastor (and his wife and her mother, along with their eight month-old son) drove me about an hour to another town to catch my train back to Taipei. This is a new train called the tilting train because it does not have to slow down on the curves. It jerks back and forth, so I learned early on it is impossible to write or prepare my courses on that train. But I was grateful for the three-hour trip which used to take five to six hours.
As I got on the subway at the Taipei train station, I gave thanks once again to God for the rich opportunities I am given here each week. The wind of the Spirit encourages me and gives me hope and strength. The following day, I would take the train to Hualien, also on the east coast, to teach at the aboriginal seminary. Then I would fly to Japan for meetings and return on Saturday evening, when another pastor would pick me up at the International Airport and take me to his church for another series of renewal services.
May the Spirit's wind encourage and guide you!
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