A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
The holidays always look different abroad. As an undergrad, I remember celebrating July 4 in Beijing with other study-abroad students, tracking down charcoal and approximating a barbecue. As a grad student, I remember attending Christmas worship in Singapore at Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (imagine, going to worship on Christmas, even if it occurs on a weekday!). Five years ago, I had Thanksgiving dinner with John McCall and an elder friend of his here in Taipei … at a dumpling restaurant. The elder believed that Thanksgiving was about showing gratitude, and I will always remember his kind way of celebrating it. In 2007, I went to an Easter service in Nanjing, where I saw the crucifixion acted out by children during worship and then had lunch with mission worker Don Snow. Last year, in one of our letters, I shared about Easter in Taipei, a tiny service at a local church; since the holiday overlapped with a Taiwanese holiday, most members had returned to their hometowns. No Easter hymns were sung and the service was abbreviated. Still, the simple joy of a dozen people celebrating the resurrection struck us. I’m grateful for these experiences because they reveal something deeper about holidays that can easily lose their meaning.
Christmas this year carries its own surprises. As I write this, I’m up with our new twins, Eva and Eli. They’re asleep now, but are still in the early weeks where they eat every two hours. The seminary, meanwhile, operates at full speed as the semester runs toward the finishing line. Tomorrow morning teachers and students at the seminary will preach throughout Taiwan as part of our fund-raising month. Students are also wrapping up midterms. Christmas is usually not a big holiday here, but students and pastors will soon begin special preparations. Emily’s parents are here to help with the babies and Sam. We’re completing paperwork for the twins’ passports and Social Security cards and then will handle things like visas and insurance forms. I find myself sympathizing with Mary and Joseph, traveling to register for the government census.
We have a lot for which to be grateful. Topping the list is Taiwan Seminary and the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan. At the seminary, we’re grateful for students who come to class eager to learn, excited to discuss and engage materials. Students have different backgrounds and abilities, but they work hard and are very committed to the church. I really admire the seminarians here and am hopeful about the church’s future. The denomination often acts as godparents to us, teaching us about Taiwan, helping us with paperwork and caring for us as a family. It’s a great blessing.
I’m also grateful for the nurses, doctors and others who helped deliver Eli and Eva. They were born at a Buddhist hospital close to where we live, and the staff were very tolerant of our foreign ways and many questions. We’re also very grateful for the institutions that are forming our work. One of these is our language school. Most of our teachers aren’t Christian, but they have a lot of folk wisdom to share. I’m especially grateful for my Taiwanese teacher. She’s about the age of my mother, with sons my age, and she often gives advice, suggestions or thoughts on how to approach life in Taiwan or life in general.
We’re also thankful for those back home, for those of you who write us letters or send words of encouragement. Recently we talked with a youth group in Virginia via Skype and were able to share about the work we do. Moments like these sustain us when we are weary, confused or disheartened. They remind us of God’s mystery. Isaiah describes this mystery well, announcing the advent of a new age and God’s unexpected ways …
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.”
Merry Christmas from Taipei! Grace and Peace to you!
Emily, Jonathan, Samuel, Eva, and Eli
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153