A letter from Emily and Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
My Mandarin textbook tells the story of a ruler during China’s Warring States period. An important official from the state of Qi often received taxes from a vassal land, the state of Xue. One year this leader of Qi asked if anyone would go and collect the debts, and spend it on some precious object on the way back. Feng Xuan, a friend of the ruler, offered to go. Feng Xuan asked the ruler of Qi what thing Qi lacked that he should buy, and the ruler said he lacked for nothing; he had all manner of fine things. Feng Xuan went to the country of Xue, tallied up all of the taxes, and then burned the book of debts in front of the people. The people of Xue were, of course, ecstatic and very grateful. When Feng Xuan returned to Qi, the ruler asked what he had bought. “I saw you lacked only one thing: justice. So that is what I bought you.” The ruler of Qi didn’t understand, but brushed off the matter. Some years later, he himself was deposed, and fled to the land of Xue, where he was greeted warmly, and found refuge among those whose debt he had pardoned.
For some reason, when I read this story in 21st century Taiwan, I thought of the debt that I owe to those who came before me, the dozens and dozens of Presbyterian missionaries who served in Taiwan since the end of World War II, who are often remembered fondly by the Taiwanese people I meet. The last two weeks I’ve been very happy to have Daniel and Carol Chou Adams on campus. Semiretired after five years in Taiwan and then 30 years in Korea, it’s been a blessing to have them here. They got me off the hook for preaching the last two Sundays at the English service for Suanglian Church and also have been able to help Emily and me better understand PC(USA) mission work in East Asia. (Our area director recently finished his position, and there are no other mission workers in northern Taiwan, so it’s great to have someone I can ask about this very particular type of ministry.) I discovered that Daniel and Carol were in the same group of mission workers with the Presbyterian Church as my parents, leaving the States in 1974.
When Daniel preached two weeks ago, he talked a lot about the particular shape of Christianity in Korea and Taiwan. Korea and Taiwan share some similar history. Both were colonized by Japan. Both sit next to sometimes-hostile neighbors. Both have seen a gradual shift toward democracy and rising economies. Both have a fairly positive view of Christianity and missionaries. In both Korea and Taiwan, missionaries were not part of the formal colonial enterprise; instead, their main work was focused on the Taiwanese people. The experience of serving here has no doubt changed over the years, and it’s fun to hear about how Taiwan has shifted from the 1970s to the 2010s. Daniel tells me he was the first Ph.D. to teach at the seminary here. Today I am among the least experienced serving here and I join a faculty with a lot of wisdom. Today it’s a fairly mature school with a clear mission and thousands of graduates serving in churches.
Not many foreigners are left, but we are often aware that we benefit from others’ work for justice or righteousness. On campus there are graves for those who served at this seminary, and I often visit the institutions founded by missionaries: schools, hospitals, universities and churches. I profit from the work of earlier generations who advocated on behalf of the Taiwanese people and served the Taiwanese church. And I enjoy being a neighbor to a nation that often feels isolated or alone. Taiwan is a beautiful land, the original Beautiful Island (Ilha Formosa). We’re grateful for the justice for which others have advocated and thankful for the kindness we receive on their behalf. We did not plant the seeds, but we enjoy the harvest.
God of Justice and Righteousness, we thank you for the debt you have paid, the grace you have shared and the justice you bring. Be with those who are finishing their service and those who are just beginning. We thank you for the kindness of others and for the contribution of generations of Taiwanese and U.S. Americans. Amen.
Jonathan and Emily
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153