A letter from Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
World Communion Sunday 2011
It’s a Friday morning here, so in a few hours a student will offer his “graduation sermon.” Students write the sermon over several months, meeting with an advisor, and then they print and distribute it to the entire campus. The student preaches for 20 minutes on a Friday, in their mother language. (Usually this is Taiwanese but sometimes it is instead an aboriginal language, Hakka, or even Mandarin.) After the sermon, teachers and students provide feedback on the form and content of the sermon and usually everyone takes a picture together. It’s probably the main rite of passage for our graduating seminarians, and I always enjoy the excitement and energy that goes into it.
It’s hard to believe we’re already several weeks into the new semester. This semester I’m teaching three courses. On Tuesday I co-teach a course on college ministry with Dr. Shih Shu-ying, one of our theologians. A campus ministry leader, Rev. Chen I-Pei, helps organize the course, and we invite a lot of outside speakers. Students do some service teaching as part of the course and participate in several youth ministry events. It’s a fun class for me because of the years I spent in youth ministry, and also because it touches on cultural questions. In Taiwan delayed adolescence now often stretches into the 30s. Churches are working hard to figure out how to invite and include youth and young adults into church life.
On Wednesday I teach a course on the ecumenical movement. The main focus of the course is on the meaning of Christian unity. What does it mean that Christians say they are “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”? On Wednesday we had an interesting discussion on decision-making. The main academic topic of the week was the early ecumenical councils, but we also discussed how local churches make decisions. What is a good decision? How do we decide together? What is the status or authority of earlier decisions?
The third course, on Thursday, is on mission. This week we are also treating Christian history. I used an image from one of my old teachers, Andrew Walls, about how a space alien visiting the Earth five times over 2,000 years would observe Christianity’s change. Walls imagines the aliens visiting (1) the early Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and its debate over circumcision and the inclusion of Gentiles, (2) the Nicene council with its metaphysical debates over Jesus’ identity, (3) illiterate, ascetic Irish monks living together and praying, (4) Exeter Hall London in 1840, with sermons focusing on revival and mission, and (5) a gathering of contemporary Nigerian Pentecostals, prophesying and praying. Walls wants us to think about the diversity of Christianity across space and time and finds Christian unity in diversity through the incarnation, when God became human, born in flesh to a mother in a specific culture where he lived, died, and rose. Students always enjoy the questions raised, and it helps them to think about what mission means and how they are part of God’s bigger story. I lecture for about half of the class and then use small groups, reports, and special activities to include students.
Other responsibilities include things like advising students on papers or projects. I attend several worship services a week, go to a teacher’s meeting, and will preach some in the months ahead. I’m still working on language, but am very grateful to be part of this community.
Personally, we are coming along also. Our daughter, Eva, who became ill this past summer, is now doing fine. Before cutting her first tooth in July she had stopped eating well, became dehydrated, and lost about two kilograms over a six-week period. Once she was given an IV drip in the hospital, she gained the weight back and is now back to normal. She was initially diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, but we recently received the good news that she does not have that syndrome. It seems her electrolyte imbalance and the weight loss were due only to the dehydration. We still don’t know what happened, and we may never know. Eli had a bout of fever also, which delayed the twins’ baptism to this coming Christmas. Sam is coming along and speaks Chinese nearly as well as your average 3-and-a-half-year-old Taiwanese kid. He is practically an animal kingdom bilingual dictionary (“rhinoceros is xiniu!”). One of his favorite activities is to walk around campus in the morning and look at lizards, bugs, and other assorted critters.
We will be back for interpretation next year from July through January. For three months we’ll have a stable base in Princeton as missionaries-in-residence. The rest of the time we’ll be traveling, primarily in the Midwest and the South. We’d love to connect with your church and we look forward especially to thanking those who are supporting our ministry here.
Blessings to you all!
Jonathan, Emily, Sam, Eva, and Eli
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 205