As pastor of Black Mountain (N.C.) Church, John McCall loved his ministry. Thirty retired missionaries heard his sermons on Sundays. He saw theirs. “(They) were the first to volunteer, always willing to cross cultural boundaries; they had servant hearts,” he observed.
“They were part of the way God turned my attention towards missions.” After years at Black Mountain, he was a commissioner to the GA in Cincinnati when his life changed. As new mission co-workers were commissioned, he watched from “the nosebleed section.” But shouldn’t I be down there? he thought. He began working with the Worldwide Ministries Division office to fulfill that conviction.
He and retired mission co-workers Don and Jessie McCall (no relation) had been praying for more than a year about Taiwan. For his own assignment, he was leaning towards Latin America. But praying about Taiwan for so long kept those needs before him. He accepted an assignment to serve in Taiwan, beginning in 1996.
Leadership training has been the hallmark of his years in Taiwan. After language study, he first went to work training aboriginal leaders on Taiwan’s east coast. There are 12 different tribes, each with its own language. They comprise the original peoples on the island. While three percent of the overall population in Taiwan is Christian, 70 percent of aboriginals are Christians, he explains.
More recently he has been teaching in the areas of preaching, worship and spiritual formation at the seminary in Taipei. He is dean and teacher in the Lay Academy.
Just as mission co-workers challenged him as a pastor, students challenge him as a teacher.
Three hundred students leave their 9-to-5 jobs and come to study at the academy for a further three hours to become better-educated lay church leaders. Others pursue higher degrees to fill church pulpits. Taiwanese seminary graduates serve as evangelists for two or three years before going to a church.
Being a part of their ministries innervates McCall’s enthusiasm and admiration. His students face daunting cultural and familial circumstances.
“Pentecost is new and alive in Taiwan,” he says. “The Taiwan church teaches living in an uncertain place. In spite of challenges such as earthquakes and political tensions with China, they live with faith.”
Traditional religions are not only a subject for seminary study. Many students come from families fearful or suspicious of their Christian faith and plans for Christian ministries. “In Taiwan, the spirit world is right in front of your face; in the west, it is detached from everyday life,” McCall says.
One young person he knows who made the commitment to follow Christ and be baptized had to deal with his parents’ fear for their afterlife. “They had the traditional belief that after they died, they became ghosts dependent on children to give clothes, money, everything for their afterlife. If their child was baptized, no one would make the offerings–a horrifying thought to them,” he says.
When he is back in the States, McCall reconnects with the very different set of circumstances pastors and churches face in the United States.
Presbyterian churches have to balance a lot of demands on their resources, he says, and missions sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. “It is like the church has to respond to religious consumerism,” he says, serving a number of constituencies with demanding expectations. More involvement in missions does not have to adversely affect other important ministries in a church and is a potential help, he says. “As people get excited about missions, they change. It is a great investment in time and resources, helps us and helps the world–here and overseas.”
All churches need to be producing world Christians, those who see and do for more than their own needs, according to McCall. “World churches are a gift. The joy of being in a world church I learned at Black Mountain.”