John McCall - September 2018 Update
I got off the train after a four-hour ride along the Pacific Ocean and was met by a pastor from the Bunun Presbytery, an aboriginal presbytery on Taiwan’s east coast. I was on my way to lead the fourth pastors’ retreat in three weeks. We arranged these retreats a year ago, and it has been my joy, since returning to Taiwan, to meet so many of my former students and other pastors who are serving churches throughout Taiwan.
The Bunun tribal pastor (Bunun means “person” and is the name of one of the sixteen tribes among Taiwan’s indigenous people) greeted me and drove to a nearby restaurant where we met four other pastors for lunch. We then left the small town of Yu Li and went up steep mountain roads to the farming hut of one of the church elders. Other pastors were waiting for us there. The view was spectacular, a deep blue sky with white clouds hanging over high mountains. Fresh fruit was on the table and we enjoyed pineapple, papaya, and oranges from nearby fields.
Many of the church gatherings here tend to be a main speaker lecturing and the participants listening. I try to craft a retreat which gives time for small group sharing and a good amount of time to pray, sing, and worship together. I give a few talks but encourage them to respond to the talks in the small group discussions.
Aboriginals love to sing, so we began our time together with one pastor leading us in song. We sang in both Bunun and in Mandarin. These pastors serve churches in villages sprinkled throughout the east coast mountains. Many of their members are farmers, but a good number are also teachers, police officers, or 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 which enjoys doing things together.
After we sang, I shared with them Jesus’ striking words from John 15:15: “I no longer call you servants. . . but now call 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 the hierarchical society in Asia, it is much easier to think of Jesus as the teacher or master, and to see ourselves as the students. While this is certainly true, it is not the whole story. So, for us to be considered Jesus’ friend is a rather radical thought. The second day, we talked about how Jesus also calls us to be friends one to another. Again, this is not easy in a context where there is not always deep trust between pastors or other co-workers in the church. So, in all these retreats, it has been a joy to see the relationships deepen between Christ and his Taiwanese friends and between the pastors themselves.
After dinner the male pastors sang in the unique eight-part harmony of the Bunun tribe. It is almost an otherworldly sound as they put their arms around the person on either side and join in combining the eight parts. One person has described their music as unity in diversity, for you can still clearly hear each voice.
During these retreats, I arrange time for the pastors to find a prayer partner and share their prayer concerns together. It is encouraging to me to hear them share with such honesty and see them praying in pairs and in groups. We know that ministry is too important to do alone, and so we ask the Holy Spirit to guide, encourage, and empower us in our ministries. Many of these pastors have children of various ages, so they also ask for prayers for their families.
The second morning of the retreat, they had asked the oldest pastor in the presbytery 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 fifty years and has a dynamism that is infectious. He said that the church has enough critical people 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, and it could take a day or more to hike to the next village to share the Good News. Pastor Ma was an encouragement to all of us as he is still running the race of God’s call on Taiwan’s east coast.
As I boarded the train back to Taipei, my body was tired, but my spirit was thankful for the opportunity to be with so many of Taiwan’s pastors in the past three weeks. 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. I am grateful to walk with them.
Thank you for your care which allows me to walk with these church leaders in their daily lives.
Read more about John McCall’s ministry HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking $10,000 for support funds for John McCall.