In 2018, after 32 years in Taiwan with OMF, Linda McFerran returned home to Northern Ireland. Here she shares how the things she learnt overseas help her share the good news of Jesus in a new context.
‘Let Taiwan touch your heart’ was the theme of a song from Taiwan Tourist Board a few years ago. I can identify so clearly with this: after 32 years in Taiwan, its where I belong. It is where I’ve learned so much of God’s love, grace, strength. And have lived a real, abundant life.
In Taiwan, I worked among those from broken homes: children, young people, and their families. My burden was to see family relationships restored in Christ. Returning to Ireland, however, all was unknown… fear, uncertainty, and a deep sense of grief and loss.
Although I would be helping my parents, I knew I still had energy and strength to serve the Lord, but how? Where? In what capacity?
The Lord led very clearly as I moved back into my home church – yes, I felt I had come ‘home’. Of course, there were many changes, but to see how the Lord was preparing the way has been amazing.
Evangelism, care for the family, reaching out to children from dysfunctional families, compassionate involvement in the community: these were all part of my life in Taiwan. How amazing to return and find the same needs in the area where Woodvale Presbyterian Church is situated: an economically deprived area of urban north Belfast, which suffered terribly during the 30 years of the Troubles. And, it is exciting to see the desire to reach out into these situations in new and creative ways. How this has thrilled my heart!
Working in Taiwan I learned about these five areas, which still apply in Northern Ireland:
The Lord Jesus told us to ‘Lift up your eyes, look at the fields, they are white already to harvest’ (John 4:35). Yes, even in Northern Ireland there are hundreds of people on our doorstep who haven’t heard of Christ. And the nations are here too: Chinese, Polish, Nigerian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Italian, and Spanish.
We must listen to the Lord, to what he is saying, to what he wants to do in this place and follow his leading. Being unafraid to try different things.
Living in another culture means looking at values and beliefs differently. Yet being able to introduce a biblical culture into our community is so important. I am grateful for having lived in Taiwan with eyes open to the culture and seeing God’s heart for the people. It’s the same in Ireland today. While 32 years ago, friends might have come to church with us, now the culture has changed. We need to be out and about where people are in order to share the gospel. Ministry in Taiwan was often late at night, afternoon meetings in the park or taking literature to restaurant workers and shopkeepers. Similar opportunities exist in Belfast. Recently, I challenged our young folk not to just buy Christian literature and pray, but also to go out together and give this to people in our community.
Hudson Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. When others tried to hold on to their British ways, he sought ways to affirm the culture of those he was trying to reach. While the gospel must never be diluted or adjusted, we must be willing to lay aside our traditions, our times, our ways of doing things. People must have the opportunity to hear the news of God’s love, in an understandable way, and at a convenient time.
We need to learn from one another. None of us has all the answers or necessary gift s, but we are part of a team where we seek to strengthen one another and, together, to build God’s kingdom where he has placed us. Building teams was a priority in ministry in Taiwan and it’s exciting now to be part of another team. Learning to pray together in the midst of the spiritual batt le has to be a priority.
It’s not always easy to really love those who think, speak, and act very differently from us and yet we are called to love. Unless we can show Christ’s love, then all we do is as nothing. Remembering that we have experienced God’s love and mercy should motivate us to look at people through his eyes and love with his love.
David Livingstone said, “God, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. And sever any tie in my heart except the tie that binds my heart to Yours.”
Woodvale Presbyterian Church: ‘Linda helps us face gospel opportunities together’
Keith Duddy is Linda’s Minister at Woodvale Presbyterian Church. He reflects on how welcoming Linda has helped the church.
My wife and I came to Woodvale, Belfast, in the middle of 2018, eager to serve the Lord in one more place before retirement. Linda was still in Taiwan.
Although our congregation’s future has been identified as uncertain, we see its physical location is a rich resource. It is right beside a popular park, and our building stands at a busy intersection of major city roads. We are surrounded by hundreds of homes and several commercial premises. People live hard, hurting lives with hearts closed to the gospel.
We started immediately to witness on the street, in the park, and from door to door. And we brought before the Lord the need for other committed believers to help.
My first conversations with Linda took place when she was still in Taipei. A month before she came home, she wrote to me regarding the congregation:
‘Praying that it can be revived again.’ I whispered before the throne of grace,
‘Amen – will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?’ (Psalm 85:6).
O for a revived church ablaze with love for Christ and the Christless!
I was aware that Linda knew our area well and loved its people. More importantly, I sensed that her biblical, tender-hearted evangelistic zeal, honed under the Spirit in Taiwan, could be God’s gift to Woodvale.
It is a delight that finances became available making it possible for our leadership to call Linda as our Family Outreach Worker in June 2019.
Faithfully and joyfully, Linda makes available to us her Taiwan-born insights and experiences. She reminds us of the need to contextualise our work and witness. In Northern Ireland’s fast-moving cultural context, this is an urgent task. She demonstrates unfl inching regard for corporate and personal prayer. And she has proved in Asia that a voice for Christ can be raised softly in any circumstances and with any individual.
There is gospel opportunity in Woodvale. It is a matter of humble thanksgiving to God that we face it together with our sister, Linda.
Pray for Woodvale Presbyterian Church:
- That we, as a church, would be faithful, courageous and diligent in sharing Christ
- For continued opportunities in the community to bring salt and light
- Wisdom and creativity as we seek to bring the gospel in clear, fresh ways that people can understand