A letter from Emily and Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
April 12, 2010
We often joke about how poor we are at anticipating what an event will be like in Taiwan. What is the event? I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s about “God.” When will it end? I don’t think the letter says. Who should participate? I think we can all go. What will we do? Well, I think it’s a lunch, but it might be a concert or a meeting. We’re not alone in this confusion, which often comes from a language gap, but also because of different cultural expectations. Most foreigners struggle to make sense of what is happening. My predecessor told me that once he thought he was going to a baptism (and duly prepared for the baptism), but it turned out that someone had bought a new car and wanted him to bless it. We are trying to learn to go with the flow, and not get too bogged down by our expectations.
We had something of this experience recently when we went for Easter worship last Sunday. The church seasons such as Advent and Lent are not usually followed in the Taiwanese Church. Instead, pastors often follow the old Reformed tradition of preaching through books of the Bible, or organize a series of topical sermons, or simply preach on a passage that they believe God has given to them for that Sunday. So during the Easter season we heard at least two sermons on the end of the world by guest preachers, and not much about Jesus’ path to the cross (don’t worry, this gets preached about throughout the year). To be honest, we missed the Easter traditions, the palm fronds, the colors, the telling and retelling of the central story of Christian faith. Jonathan had missed the last two Easters also (Sam came home from the hospital two years ago, and Jonathan had a terrible stomach virus last year), so he was especially eager for a good Easter. When Easter came, we really had our hopes up. We were looking forward to familiar hymns and flowers and a packed out worship hall. We had visions of singing classics like “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” We hoped we’d get to meet new people and reconnect with those we hadn’t seen for a while.
Instead, when we went to the small church on Sunday, there were only about a dozen worshippers (perhaps a quarter of the normal worship size), no musician, and no Sunday School. Because it was also Tomb Sweeping Day, when Taiwanese honor their dead, most of the members had returned to their hometowns to clean off graves and remember their dead. (On campus, people laid flowers on the tombs of the missionaries buried here.) Since our congregation is an urban tribal congregation, people seized the chance to take a holiday and go home and worship with their extended families. I stayed with Sam downstairs, while Emily worshipped upstairs. She was excited when she realized she could understand some parts of the sermon. (“What is the meaning of Easter?” the pastor asked, and then went on to explain.) Music was a cappella, and not related to Easter per se, but was very nice. We expected a two hour service, but instead our Easter Sunday lasted less than an hour.
Emily also heard something at the end of worship about a trip. Then, someone asked her if we wanted to go. “Today?” “Yes, right after worship. Neither of us remembered hearing about the trip last week, and it did sound like fun. But actually, we couldn’t go. Still, it made us happy that on Easter our friends were going to take such a trip. There was a quiet joy to the simple service, and a genuine kindness among those there. On our way out, one of the women of the church gave us three ears of cooked corn she’d bought for the afternoon trip.
Easter was not the experience we expected, but it also was a good reminder of the core meaning of our celebration. We remember that it was not the many gathered on the morning of the resurrection, but only a few. That morning was the site of a big surprise. Women went to the tomb to remember the dead, but instead encountered the living. On this most recent Sunday, although we understood less of what was said than we wanted, we probably had some deeper understanding of the basic meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection than we usually do amidst the lilies.
Please pray that we will continue to seek comprehension, even as we develop patience for changing circumstances and unexpected surprises. We are especially grateful for our fellow strangers to this city of Taipei, who can only return home a few times a year. They have been a great blessing to us. Remember them also.
May the Grace of our risen Lord be with you now and always,
Emily, Jonathan and Samuel Seitz
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 14.