A letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz on Interpretation Assignment from Taiwan
June 30, 2014 - Summer Days
The five of us are back on a 10-week Interpretation Assignment, which is midway through our current four-year term in Taiwan. Interpretation Assignment is how the PC(USA) describes the time when mission workers interpret their work to the broader church in the U.S. It’s been a real blessing to us (and hopefully others) and I wanted to share some highlights.
I was a Missionary Advisory Delegate at the recent General Assembly (GA) in Detroit. It was my first ever GA. You have probably heard about the Assembly for decisions on same-sex marriage and divestment, but a lot else happened. I was assigned to the “Peacemaking and International issues” committee. Some highlights of our work were responses or statements to a wide range of international topics: opposition to conflict minerals in Congo, current crises in Iraq and Syria, a memorial for the Armenian genocide, and growing partnerships with Presbyterians in Cuba. We also continued a process that examines responses to violence. A special treat at this year’s General Assembly was the presence of three Presbyterian Church of Taiwan leaders as ecumenical guests: Revs. Lo Jen-Kuei (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan), Sudu Tada (the current Secretary who will be Moderator in two years) and Cheng Yin-Er (Associate General Secretary). They came as observers, to watch how the PC(USA) handles its meetings and how we address conflict or disagreement. They also visited a Taiwanese-American church in Ann Arbor. Rev. Lo gave a prayer for our new mission workers who were commissioned at GA, which I found very moving.
In Detroit I also visited the National Asian Presbyterian Council, which includes representatives and members from PC(USA) Asian-American congregations and fellowships. I saw old friends and was happy to make some new ones. I also got to meet new mission workers going out, to recognize mission workers who are retiring, to see some who were in orientation with us in 2009, and to connect with a number of mission workers I hadn’t met before. Of the six of us serving as missionary advisory delegates two were in Africa, two in the Middle East, one in Mexico, and one in Asia (me). My roommate was the mission worker in Mexico, and I was really impressed by his perseverance (he’s been doing this for more than 15 years), his idealism (his long-term commitment to ministry among the poor) and his kindness (he gave his bed to a pastor friend for two nights and slept on the floor). It’s easy to become cynical or lose a sense of mission, so I found this experience of our larger church and those serving in mission to be very encouraging.
We’re enjoying visiting congregations. Emily is preaching on this trip for the first time. She did a short visit with Sam while I was in Detroit and shared at a church service and Vacation Bible School. She preached yesterday at a local church while I was out of town. For us, this is a chance to reconnect with congregations. A fun part of this trip for us has been watching our kids’ participation in local churches. Sam did his first Vacation Bible School and was disappointed to find that it ended after “only” five days and didn’t go for the whole summer. I also did a three-day sleep-away parent-child camp with him organized by the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. It’s fun to watch them enjoying learning songs, making friends, and hearing about God.
As always, we’re grateful for Taiwanese-American congregations. This time we’ll visit just three of these churches, but each time it’s a blessing. I’m preaching twice at the church in Cincinnati, once in Louisville, and we’re also visiting the church where I was a youth director in New Jersey.
I wrote an article on “mission and immigration” for a book on immigration and theology. While it is common to focus on the work of missionaries in influencing the growth of world Christianity, historically cross-cultural mission almost always followed immigration. In nearly every case, immigrants arrive earlier and have a bigger impact on the shape of the church. Personally I find the relationships between missionaries and immigrants to be fascinating. For us as a family, the Taiwanese-American community also acts as a resource. They give us a hint of how to balance home life and schooling, language learning and study. They offer models of how to celebrate our own traditions and also to join in the larger culture that hosts us.
As a family this has been a summer of “firsts”: first tacos, first days at the pool, first Vacation Bible School, and first summer camp. The car trips are a little easier this time around and we are visiting places that are a bit more familiar. As I write this we’ve finished three Sundays in the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. All in all, it’s been a blessing. We’re also trying to get ready for the fall, which will be busy. Pray for Sam, starting first grade, for the twins, going to a new kindergarten, and for us, as we continue in our ministry at Taiwan Seminary and in the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan.
Summers like this are an opportunity to renew friendships, to gain a picture of the work happening in the larger church, and to interpret our work in Taiwan back to local churches. We’re so grateful for the congregations that support us here. We believe in the work we do, and we’re also very thankful for the work of others in PC(USA) World Mission. We really are surrounded by a vast cloud of witnesses—mission workers who have been doing this for decades, Taiwanese-Americans who share a similar sense of dislocation and relocation, churches who have been supporting mission for decades or centuries. Please join us in prayer, in giving, in fellowship, and in partnership.
Jonathan, Emily, Sam, Eva, and Eli
Cincinnati, Ohio, and Birmingham, Alabama
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