Moderator of the 143rd General Assembly
The Rev. Peter Bush, B.A. (Hons.), M.A., M.T.S., M.Div.
Peter Bush, the son of missionary parents, is the teaching elder (minister) at Westwood Church, Winnipeg, having served Knox Church, Mitchell, Ontario (1996–2007), and St. Andrew’s Church, Flin Flon, Manitoba (1989–1996). Peter is passionate about congregations and individuals living the love of Jesus in action and telling the story of Jesus in words.
Peter has a heart for small congregations, having led workshops, coached leadership teams and offered training events to help small congregations thrive in remote, rural, suburban and urban contexts. To this end he has authored two books, In Dying we are Born (Alban, 2008) and with Christine O’Reilly, Where Twenty or Thirty are Gathered (Alban, 2006).
For over 20 years, Peter has written about Presbyterian involvement in residential schools and was a contract researcher with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In the last seven years, the Presbytery of Winnipeg has intentionally sought to plant new congregations among the growing non-Euro-Canadian communities in Winnipeg. Peter, cross-cultural liaison for the presbytery, translates Canadian Presbyterianism to these newly formed worshipping communities and interprets these communities to the Canadian Presbyterian Church.
Peter’s wider church involvement includes being clerk of the Synod of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario (2008-present); and member of the Pension and Benefits Board (2012–present), Committee on Church Doctrine (2005–2011) and, Committee on History (1996–2002, convenor 1999–2002). As editor of Presbyterian History for over 25 years and a contributor to the Record, he has told the stories of the people and congregations of the church. Peter coordinates the Reformation@500 Project, a Committee on History initiative, inviting exploration of the “five watchwords” of the Reformation in our present context. He is The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s representative on Evangelism Connections, a coalition of mainline North American denominations working to highlight evangelism as a mainline Christian practice and to share evangelism resources.
Peter is married to Debbie (Sutherland), the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to Taiwan; they have one son.
Read more about Peter in the Presbyterian Connection newspaper, spring edition.
Documents from the Moderator
Today is the first day and it had twin themes: First, the extraordinarily gracious welcome we have received from the Paiwan people of southern Taiwan. And second, the interplay between the good news of the Gospel and the culture in which people live and the ways culture helps or hinders the telling of the good news.
Before going further, here are some basic facts to give context to this story. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has about 235,000 members of whom 40% (or 90,000) are from one of the sixteen groups of Indigenous people on the island. These 90,000 persons make up 500 of the 1,200 congregations in the denomination.
Today I learned the Paiwan people view the 100-pacer snake as a symbol of protector and as a friend. (The 100-pacer snake gets its name since a person when bitten by the snake will be dead in less than 100 paces.) I did not think much more about this at the time.
Later in the morning in conversation with the Bible translation team working on the completion of the Paiwan Bible, I asked how they translated “sheep” in a culture where there are no sheep. The answer was sometimes translators have no choice but to use awkward explanatory phrases, like “sheep you can cut wool off of.” Which does not read very well, and may not help if people have never seen a sheep or even a picture of a sheep.
Just before lunch we visited a Paiwan artist, Urgga Matilin, in his studio. He is about to be designated a deacon in his Presbyterian church. I asked him about the 100-pacer snake with its distinctive squared head and diamond markings which is prominent in his work. He replied that while some Christians regarded the snake as being from the devil, God told Moses to put up a bronze image of a serpent on a pole so all the Israelites could see it and be healed by looking at it (Numbers 21). “So,” the artist continued, “snakes are not evil but rather were a symbol of protection for the people of Israel in this case.” Jesus referenced Moses’ action of lifting up the snake in the wilderness when he said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) and “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). For the Paiwan people, the symbol of snake as protector fits so well with Jesus’ words it needs almost no cultural translation. The Biblical image works well in their culture in a way that Jesus the Good Shepherd does not. (Photo: Urgga Matilin in conversation with Paul McLean, taken by Debbie Bush.)
The creativity and theological insight of Urgga Matilin deeply impressed me as did his deep desire to see art used to proclaim the gospel and to bring glory to God. I came away honoured to have met him and theologically enriched.
It is Tuesday, July 11, the reason why the moderator’s trip this year is to Taiwan: attending the celebration marking the completion of the translation of the whole Bible into Ngudradrekai. A language spoken by about 13,000 Indigenous people living high in the mountains of southern Taiwan. The 3-hour celebration service included music, prayer, words of thanks and a tri-lingual sermon (Korean, Mandarin and Ngudradrekai).
Having the Bible in their own language has deep meaning for the Ngudragrekai. One elderly woman upon opening the complete Bible in her own language for the first time said to her pastor, “I can now die in peace. The Bible is in my language.” At supper Tuesday night, the restaurant waitress said to members of the translation team, “Thank you for the translation of the Bible. You have saved my language. Thank you.”
But the 24-member worship band singing in four languages – Ngudradrekai, Korean, Mandarin, and English – was the moment that moved me most deeply, because I realized I was witnessing one more example of the arrival of a mature World Christianity.
The Youngnak Presbyterian Church of Korea provided the financial support so the translation team could finish the project; The Presbyterian Church in Canada provided the Rev. Dr. Paul McLean as a translation consultant; the Korean Bible Society provided their printing skills and printing press; while the vision for the project was driven by the Ngudradrekai who were not content to live with having only the New Testament in their language. They wanted the whole Bible. These partnered together as equals – or maybe more accurately, as McLean said of the translation team, “We started as partners working on a project – but now we are brothers and sisters.” This is what mature World Christianity looks like – Christians partnering with Christians across the barriers of ethnicity, culture, language, and nationality. Partnering as equals, all with a role to play in making the body of Christ work. (Photo: Paul McLean with the head of the Ngudredrakai translation team, the Rev. Tanubake, by Debbie Bush)
We often apply the famous passage in I Corinthians 12 to the life of congregations. All the people of the church making up the body of the church have unique but essential roles to play in the working of the church. But Tuesday’s celebrations showed this truth applies to mature World Christianity. No longer do we say some denominations or churches from some countries are lead partners, while other denominations or national churches are junior partners; no longer do we use language implying some denominations or national churches have less importance than others; no longer do the countries where the good news of Jesus has been proclaimed for a longer time get to have the largest say. No, all national churches, all denominations are part of the body and essential to the working of World Christianity.
The previous paragraph does not express the emotion I was struggling to put into words. Then I realized the choir of Ngudradrekai were modelling what I was trying to say – they were singing our song with us and they were inviting us to sing their song with them. In mature World Christianity, we learn to sing the others’ song with them, just as they are invited to learn our song so that they might sing it with us. May the song of the Ngudradrekai choir become the lived reality of The Presbyterian Church in Canada in relationship with all the followers of the Jesus Christ:
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
ikai ki Yesu wacekecekelreta
In Jesus Christ we are one family
In Jesus Christ we are one family
In Jesus Christ we are one family
From now on until ever more.
Peter Bush with the Ngudradrekai Choir
Wednesday, July 12, began with a train journey from Pingtung (southwest Taiwan) down the island to where the railway turns east to cross to the eastern side of the island and travels up the east coast.
Taiwan’s western plains make up about one-third of the island’s geography, the eastern two-thirds of the island is mountains (up to 12,000 ft (3,900 meters) high) and valleys a few of which are wide enough for farming. Much of the agriculture takes place in terraced fields on the mountainsides, with coffee and tea being grown at elevation. Sweet potato is also common in the terraced fields and the narrower valleys. On the plains and in the wider valleys there is rice culture and from the train we saw rice paddies that had been recently harvested, others where the stubble was being burnt off in preparation for the next planting, and still others where the next rice crop (for harvest in November) was being planted. Rice is harvested twice a year here. Fruit grows in abundance – bananas, mangos, pineapple and the newly introduced dragon fruit. (Photo: Rice paddies following first harvest and being prepared for the second planting in the rift valley on Taiwan’s east coast.)
Many of the Amis people are rooted in the land through agriculture. There are three Amis presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) including 130 congregations. Agricultural Mission, the PCT term for agricultural economic development, is an important part of these presbyteries’ work, including helping farmers make moves towards sustainable agriculture: through good land stewardship, reduction of pesticide use, and encouragement of new products like ready-to-prepare dried soup mixes for lily soup. Through developments like these the Amis presbyteries hope to create a vibrant rural life which will allow young people to stay in rural communities to contribute their vision and skills.
An extraordinarily clear day (Paul joked that he had ordered the weather especially for the Moderator), we were able to see Green Island lying off of Taitung City. The Rev. Kao, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, was a political prisoner on Green Island for four and a half years in the early 1980s for associating with human rights activists. (Debbie had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Kao by phone Friday afternoon. Debbie spent a summer typing Dr. Kao’s English correspondence in the 1970s.) Photo: Green Island where hundreds of political prisoners were held including the Rev. Dr. Kao. He was imprisoned from 1980 to 1985. His seven-year sentence was reduced to four and a half years.
Late afternoon we arrived in Hualien City, the home of Yu Shan Seminary. Yu Shan focuses on training Indigenous people for ministry in the PCT. Not just a Seminary, it also offers undergraduate training for those who plan to go on to pursue an M.Div. or M.Th. The PCC has provided support to Yu Shan in a variety of ways: both Knox College and Vancouver School of Theology have relationships with the Seminary, the PCC provides an annual grant, and the Rev. Murray Garvin taught English here following his retirement. The Principal of Yu Shan, Dr. Pusin Tali, expressed deep thanks for support the PCC provides.
Over supper there was opportunity to talk with faculty members from Yu Shan. Dr. Chang Hua Ling, church historian, is actively engaged in the researching and teaching of Indigenous History. He himself being of the Kavilan people, a group from the plains who were overwhelmed by the waves of colonizers and have lost their language. Jin Fu Yu, professor of music, is actively engaged in nurturing Indigenous Christians to write music for the church in the musical styles and languages of the Indigenous people. In response to a report in the Taiwan media that Indigenous music in Taiwan was dying, in a recent interview Mr. Yu argued the churches in Taiwan were both preserving and bringing new life to Indigenous music. Dr. Chen, professor of philosophy, is deeply engaged in restorative justice work and is taking a lead among a group of academics seeking to end capital punishment in Taiwan.
On Thursday, we visited the mother church to the 500 indigenous congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
Prior to World War II the good news of Jesus Christ had made little impact among the indigenous people of Taiwan. In fact, under Japanese colonization (1895-1945) it was forbidden for people – missionaries from overseas or Taiwanese Christians to travel into the hills and mountains to proclaim the good news to Indigenous people. But at the end of the war there were 5,000 Indigenous people awaiting baptism. They had come to faith not because of Western missionaries or even people from Taiwanese churches moving into the hills to preach the gospel. Rather they had come to hear and believe in Jesus as a result of the ripples of the Holy Spirit moving out from the ministry of Chi-Oang.
Born in 1872, Chi-Oang was a Sediq (the tribe’s name meaning “human beings”) living in the mountains of east central Taiwan. The Japanese were unsuccessful in pacifying the Sediq people and the Truku people, in particular. These tribes were effective and persistent in resisting the Japanese. Among those resisting was Chi-Oang. Finally in 1907, the Japanese had had enough and decided to burn down all the trees in the Taroko Hills, and in the process either burn to death or force out everyone in the hills. Chi-Oang hearing of this plan understood further resistance would cause the destruction of her people. She therefore negotiated the coming out of the mountains of the Sediq and Truku people. She was rewarded by the Japanese and became known as Chi-Oang the Reconciler.
Photo: Pastor Hosang and Peter Bush in a cave where Chi-Oang preached. Pastor Hosang described the cave as the first indigenous church “building” on the island of Taiwan. (photo credit: Mary Beth McLean)
Fast forward to 1924, Chi-Oang found herself in a Presbyterian church in Hualien broken and weeping. Exhausted, with her financial security stolen, and called a “savage” by the non-indigenous people, Chi-Oang turned to Jesus Christ and was baptized at the age of 52. Five years later she was encouraged to go the Tamsui Bible School where she studied for two years and in 1931 returned to preach among her own people. She was funded by the Women’s Missionary Society of the PCC. In going to preach, she challenged the authority of the Japanese who tried to stop her preaching.
She preached a simple gospel message of the love of God for all people, inviting her hearers to become loyal followers of Jesus Christ who had died to set them free. The message resounded through the hills as hundreds became followers of Jesus. Chi-Oang’s preaching often took place in caves.
World War II brought new restrictions from the Japanese but Chi-Oang continued to preach to the Sediq, the Truku, and other indigenous people in the hills. The followers of Jesus met and prayed in secret, in caves and on the mountain sides, with sentries posted to warn them of the coming of the Japanese. Chi-Oang was carried on the backs of young men over the mountains, and smuggled down the railway to escape the police.
Those who came to faith in Jesus told others and so the good news spread to the Bunun and the Amis. And from them to the Paiwan and Ngudredrakai. But that was a process that would take another 10 years, and Chi-Oang would not live to see it, for she died in 1946. But she had laid the foundation for the extraordinary growth of the indigenous church, which by 1962 was nearly 70,000 people strong.
Apostles are rare in the history of the church. Their ministries are a gift of God to the church. To stand in the cave where Chi-Oang had preached felt like standing on holy ground. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan is blessed to have had an apostle, and we as Canadian Presbyterians helped support her ministry.
Apostles like Chi-Oang put a fire in the hearts of their hearers, and those who hear their story, to share the good news about Jesus with family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours. May a fire be put in our hearts to share the good news about Jesus with family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours.
Photo: Chi-Oang Memorial Church (Pastor Hosang with Paul and Mary-Beth McLean). The cave is to the left of the church about 50 meters away. The church was built by the people of the congregation gathering stones from the river and bringing them up to be used. (photo credit: Debbie Bush)
On Saturday, it was driven home again just how important, how significant, how life-transforming it is to have the Bible in one’s “mother language.”
Each Saturday in Taipei, Hakka speaking Presbyterians gather for worship, inviting their Hakka speaking friends and family to join them. These faithful church goers attend Presbyterian congregations across Taipei on Sundays where the worship is in Taiwanese or Mandarin, but they long to worship in their mother language – which they do on Saturday.
The Hakka people arrived in Taiwan some 400 years ago as they were driven out of mainland China. Hakka means “guest families”, a name given to them by the Han people on the mainland when the Hakka arrived in southern China more than a millennium ago. The Hakka people have had a secondary status in Taiwan throughout their time on the island. There are an estimated 4 million Hakka in Taiwan, with 1 million Hakka in Taipei. In rural areas, Hakka speaking Presbyterians gather for worship in Hakka speaking congregations on Sundays. Their secondary status has made the Hakka into high achievers who are constantly pushing their children to succeed. It is widely acknowledged that the Hakka people are among the most educated people group in Taiwan.
Photo: Elder Salabo reading from Ngudradrekai Bible. (Photo credit: Debbie Bush)
Paul and Mary Beth McLean, our hosts on this trip, lived and served among the Hakka from 1983 to 1995. A significant part of Paul’s work was the translation of the Bible into Hakka. A project that was completed in 2012.
Saturday, before the service started, Paul and Mary Beth were greeted by dozens of people, with warm hand shakes and excited voices. Over the lunch that followed they could hardly eat as so many wanted to speak to them. This deep affection is rooted in Paul’s translation work. In translating the Bible into Hakka the church has said that this group of “guest families” matters, that they are worthy of having the Word of God in their own language. As the Rev. Dr. Lyim, General Secretary of the PCT said, “Mother language translation is the next human rights call for the PCT.”
As Debbie Bush said Friday at the PCT offices, it is an honour to watch and hear people read the Bible in their mother tongue. She said, “On Wednesday, the day after the celebration for the Ngudradrekai Bible, we witnessed a church elder reading the Bible in his own language. And his face shone. On Thursday, when we were at the Chi-Oang Memorial Church the pastor read aloud for us from the Truku Bible, his mother language. And his face shone.”
Bible translation work is justice work and spiritual work, work that touches the heart. It is about human flourishing. To read the Bible in one’s mother language is to be affirmed culturally as a people having value and it is to be called to discipleship following Jesus Christ.
Photo: Pastor Hosang reading from Truku Bible. (Photo credit: Mary Beth McLean)
Through Paul McLean, the PCC remains engaged in the important work of Bible translation. Paul spends one month in three in Taiwan working face-to-face with five teams of translators, the other two months in three are in Canada keeping in touch with the teams via electronic means. Present translation work is ongoing in the languages of the Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Pinuyumyan, and Tayal peoples. The Tayal language project was begun by Clare and Grace McGill, Canadian Presbyterian missionaries, who worked with the Tayal people on the translation of the New Testament.
The Rev. Tanubake, the pastor who headed up the Ngudradrekai translation team, in almost a shout of triumph said to those gathered to celebrate the new Bible, “Now go home and read it.” For that is the point, the work of Bible translation is so each person can read the Bible in their mother language, and can be transformed by reading the Word of God.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #1 James Robertson
James Robertson was called to Knox Winnipeg in 1874 and in 1881 became the Superintendent of Missions for the West. During his 20 years in the role, he started churches, nurtured young clergy, recruited people into the ministry and travelled ceaselessly.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #2 Anna Ross
Ross moved her family to nearby Clinton where she taught school for 10 years. In 1897, she became the first superintendent (principal) of the newly established Ewart Missionary Training Home.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #3 Agnes Maule Machar
Agnes was the daughter of John Machar, minister of St. Andrew’s, Kingston and one time principal of Queen’s University. She was a writer who defended Christianity to make it socially relevant to the times, especially in supporting women’s issues, including elderly women.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #4 The Indigenous Missionaries
A new way of telling the mission story has arisen, a telling recognizing the role of Indigenous Christians in the adoption, adaption and proclamation of the good news of Jesus.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #5 Gillespie and the Indian Residential Schools
Catherine (Kate) Gillespie was born in 1866 and trained as a teacher. In 1901 Gillespie became the first woman in Canada appointed an Indian residential school principal. She was also one of the first lay people appointed a school principal.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #6 John Morton
John Morton had a successful ministry in the 1860s in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. In 1868, with the blessing of the Synod of the Maritimes, Morton and his family became missionaries to the Indian community in Trinidad.
General Assembly 2017 History Moment #7 Biafra
In August 1968, E.H. Johnson visited civil war-torn Biafra and he left on a flight in a daring mission. The focus of Johnson and the Presbyterian Church was to get food into Biafra, which led to the creation of Canairelief in early 1969.