A letter from Emily and Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
On the last Friday afternoon of every semester at Taiwan Seminary, all of the teachers gather with the campus minister and the dean of students. Together, they review the status of all of our students. Which students are struggling academically? Who is often late to class? Who has been sick or has physical problems? Who has had a family crisis or is expecting a major life change (marriage, children, etc.)? Who slept through an exam, came back to the dorm too late or is refusing to speak to his roommate?
To us foreigners, this can sometimes seem like gossip. Do we really need to know who is late to class? Who broke up with his girlfriend? Whose mother has been sick? Participating in the student evaluation for the first time, I expected to be put off a bit by the whole process. After all, in the States, most college teachers can’t even discuss these questions, and are certainly discouraged from looking into students’ personal lives as long as whatever is going on doesn’t affect students’ academic work. (Often we are legally prohibited from relating such information to others.) But at the seminary, I was also struck by the way that this type of discussion is part of true community life. Being a teacher here includes not only the jobs of instruction or evaluation, but also includes pastoral care and moral and spiritual responsibilities. Students are known by name, and teachers care about their progress both as students and human beings.
In some cases, our discussions provoked conflict among the teachers. We regularly have students with mental illnesses, and it can be hard for us to parse the nature or severity of such problems. One teacher asks whether we should be admitting such students at all. Another teacher says that it is precisely communities like this that can help people struggling with severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, giving them a safe community and place to grow. A third teacher asks what our mission as a school is. Should we be training students, even if we aren’t certain that they will be able to take pastoral calls? For me, it provided a new insight into what it means to be a teacher. I’ve often seen that “teacher” here is among the highest of callings, but I had never really thought about what this meant for theological education.
Other questions were more mundane: one student missed several classes and then told his teacher that he was too busy preparing for another class to attend. The teacher reenacted chewing him out. In each case where a problem is recounted, a teacher or the campus minister is asked to intervene and help improve things. The nature of the intervention varies; in some cases it is to encourage, in others to warn or chastise. I am struck by some of the parallels to Paul’s pastoral letters, where he often engages in such interventions, aimed at the improvement of the community. We Presbyterians address this scriptural concept of oversight through the shared community of called leaders. I think the teachers’ meetings at the seminary reflect this tradition.
At a recent meeting, we looked at several different groups of students, and I invite you to pray for them. Our seminary now has 156 students and 15 teachers. There are 76 students studying for the Master of Divinity degree, the primary degree for ministry. There are also almost 50 students in other master’s programs, including those for music, counseling or theology. We also have a small cadre of research students who are working on Ph.D.s. Our on-campus student body is almost evenly split between women (83) and men (71). In addition to these students, we also have a robust lay academy and advanced programs, including a doctorate, for pastors. Pray for all of our students. Some are facing mundane problems, while others are struggling with exceptional challenges. They are all here because they want to serve God through the church. May God guide them, and their teachers, as they seek to participate in this mission.
Emily and Jonathan Seitz
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153