Reflection: Telling Our Stories
Then we your people, the flock of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Last Saturday, the Presbytery of San Gabriel installed Rev. Ming Yuan Hsu as pastor of Good Shepherd Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. It was a joyous occasion, as Taiwanese Presbyterians gathered from all around, to worship and sing in Taiwanese and English—and in one song, in Spanish! And we heard the Word proclaimed by Rev. Hong Tiong Lyim, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. His role is equivalent to J. Herbert Nelson’s role as Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
I love events like this, because I see a glimpse of the strength of the Taiwanese church. When I was growing up, people from the Japanese Presbyterian Conference (JPC) churches would gather like this, but that network has fizzled out. The Taiwanese Presbyterian Church (TPC) is still very active, and as the second-largest Asian church in the PC(USA), their congregations are planted all around the USA. You may recall that our own Presbytery has four Taiwanese congregations, and there is a possibility that we may welcome more.
The Presbyterian Church has played a special role in Taiwanese history, standing in solidarity with the Taiwanese as they have striven for sovereignty, first against Japanese colonialism and now dealing with the rule of mainland China. This is why, I believe, that Taiwanese Presbyterians are especially opposed to worship in Mandarin, even though Mandarin has become mandated in Taiwanese government and schools since the dominance of the “One China” policy that attempts to absorb Taiwan into the jurisdiction of mainland China.
The Taiwanese Presbyterian church reflects this commitment to human rights in a few ways that I have witnessed even through my very slight knowledge of the church. The church has a strong commitment to the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, such that one of the three Associate General Secretaries is always an indigenous person. The church members are called “co-workers,” reflecting the generally egalitarian ethos of the church, even in relationship to the pastor. But the strongest characteristic is the commitment to upholding Taiwanese language and tradition, over and against the worldly dominance of mainland China.
I have discussed this with others at times, because I have been troubled that too often the Christian faith has resulted in the subjugation of majority world (non-Western) people. So I am thankful that in Taiwan, the Presbyterian mission helped the Taiwanese people to retain a stronger sense of their identity and their rights. When I mentioned how the Taiwanese church is one of a very few churches that have aligned with sovereignty and human rights movements, a friend once responded, “oh, like the Church of Scotland.”
In his sermon last Saturday, Rev. Lim reflected on the church name and Ming’s new role as Good Shepherd. But he also gave a little background on the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), and thanks to the very able translation by Elder Henry Liao, I learned that the PCT was founded by Presbyterian missionaries from Canada and Scotland. In my US-centered myopia, I assumed that the church was started by missionaries from the United States!
So it clicked in my mind that from the same root, the Taiwanese inherited the fire for God’s justice for all peoples that we have claimed here in the PC(USA). What an affirmation of the gospel’s work in many nations, and the common roots we have with people all around the world.
One of the greatest blessings of my ministry is the ability to hear the stories of our churches. We have in our midst such wonderful stories of faith, and struggle, and wisdom, and justice, and mercy. Our churches can tell the stories of surviving poverty and war, of raising their children under the specter of ever-changing and increasingly inhumane immigration policies, of showing the love of Christ to their dominant Muslim neighbors, of learning from their own experience of unjust detention and racism to reach out to others facing unjust detention and racism, of reconciling with descendants of a brutal colonial power by sharing the gospel, of tending the faith even in light of abusive churches and finding healing in the justice and mutual respect in Presbyterian polity, of finding connections and shared experience even with people who look nothing like ourselves…and these are stories that I just hear in passing doing Presbytery work.
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, when we traditionally receive the Peace & Global Witness Offering. This special offering is shared three ways:
- 25% can be used by individual congregations to connect with the global witness of Christ’s peace
- 25% is retained by mid councils for joint ministries of peace and reconciliation.
- The remaining 50% is used by Presbyterian World Mission to advocate for peace and justice in cultures of violence, including our own, through collaborative projects of education and Christian witness.
You can find more information on this offering at https://specialofferings.pcusa.org/offering/peace-global-witness/.
As we celebrate Christ’s church around the world, my hope is that we will find ways to hear each other’s stories more, because we all bear stories of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives. All of us have stories to share, and all of us have more to learn about the saving hand of God in every nation in the world, and our prayer that God blesses every family in the world. May we have ears to hear, and voices to speak.
Remembering Christ’s blessings in my life,