A letter from Jonathan Seitz on home assignment from Taiwan
Many churches in Taiwan have vigils or special prayer services to welcome in the New Year. It’s a tradition I admire and it evokes many of the old Reformed traditions of prayer in which one reviews the day or the year, seeking to see God at work in our lives. As I write this, we’re finishing out our time in the States and thinking of friends as they prepare for the lunar New Year. We’re ending the year of the dragon (Emily and I are both dragons) and beginning the year of the snake.
For the last months I’ve been preaching at local churches. I’ll have preached at or visited nine churches since early December. A joy has been the opportunity to talk with congregations about the mission they are doing and what their hopes or dreams are. I've been especially grateful for New Brunswick Presbytery, where I was able to share at a Presbyterian Women's Epiphany Breakfast and to teach two small classes at a leadership training event. I hope hearing about the church in Taiwan can be an inspiration for these congregations, and we pray that some will consider sponsoring our work. I told someone recently that I can tell this is a challenging season in ministry—no one is coasting. At the same time, it is particularly during challenging times that God’s calling and sending becomes apparent.
With congregations I’ve been sharing a story of what I call “the four friends”: the old friend, the new friend, the friend next door, and the friend in need. Many congregations struggle to know which mission programs to emphasize or how to decide who or what to support. I encourage them to think of their commitments more as friendships than simply as budget lines. It’s easy for mission to reflect proximity (the friend next door) or the most urgent voice (the friend in need), but it’s important that we also remember those who have been dear to us for many years and are easily overlooked. Mission grows stale if it is reduced to a list of obligations. However, if mission is seen as tending and growing friendships, then it looks much more appealing.
In Taiwan friendship is very important. I’ve often been amazed by the ability of people to cultivate a large number of strong friendships over the years. It’s not uncommon for senior citizens to reunite regularly with classmates from childhood. A major part of a pastor’s work is tanfang, or visitation. Often when I’ve been on a trip, my host has taken us to visit some friends. At first the unexpected visits surprised me, but in time I’ve come to really value them. (Jesus’ visits to friends and strangers looks a lot like this.)
How is your congregation making and encouraging friends cross-culturally? What does it mean to see our mission work as structured around friendships? Who is your friend?
In reading about the New Year I came across a description of the famous New Year poem/song "Auld Lang Syne," written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. In Chinese the poem is translated something like “Long live friendship.” The song famously begins with these words:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.
On this travel, I've often been grateful for those who have tended to cross-cultural friendships over many decades. I've met retirees who played in the building where we live when they first came to the States with their missionary parents 80 years ago. I've heard about work in the old hospital in Congo where I was born but have never returned to. I've met friends of Taiwan whose friendships date back many years.
As we remember the old and plan for the new, as we evaluate how to be good neighbors and how to help those in need, let us offer thanksgiving for friendship. May God bless and keep you in the coming year.
Jonathan, Emily, Sam, Eva, and Eli
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 214
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