Called as Friends

A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan

Spring 2021

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Dear friends,

John 15:14-15: “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…”

Jesus’s famous passage on friendship in John culminates with his command to “love one another.” He gets there in part by offering relationship—friendship—as his goal. Friendship is an expression of God’s love. Lately, I’ve been using the story of four friends to talk about mission for local churches. Friendship is a biblical idea, and part of what Jesus offers his disciples is a relationship built on friendship, love, and reciprocity, and not one that is utilitarian, mercenary, or hierarchical. The friend is the primary focus, not what we can get them to do for us or even what we can do for them. For me, reframing mission through friendship has helped me to see God at work in friends.

The spring for us was one of these times of rekindling and rebuilding friendships. I attended the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan’s 70 anniversary General Assembly in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I was grateful to see former students and friends from 2005 until now. In many ways, our two denominations Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (PCT) are old friends. PCT has been a relatively stable, healthy, autonomous denomination for decades, and it welcomes those of us from abroad as friends. I was happy to see a pastor from the east coast who had taken a class with me years ago, I empathized with a student who was dealing with new twins, I sat next to a former moderator who runs a mission center in Tainan, and I saw a group of students from a few years back who are now helping lead their presbyteries. We have been trying to branch out more in our ministry, and another highlight was attending a Mother’s Day celebration at a former student’s church. It was a fun event. The pastor, Rev. Puyang, has kids around our age, and they were able to play games together. A men’s worship team led the worship.

We’ve been grateful this month for new friends. We checked in with our new regional liaisons and traded stories of COVID, children’s education, and figuring out logistics. The twins are moving to the school our older son, Samuel, has been attending, so we did an online playdate to introduce them to one of their future classmates, the younger sibling of Samuel’s friend. Like many kids living cross-culturally, our children do a lot of transitions, so this month also sees them saying goodbye to old friends and working to build new friendships.

Another source of encouragement is mission workers in different parts of the world. Several of us were part of a panel for Princeton Seminary’s World Christianity Conference in the spring. I worried for another coworker whose husband was hospitalized. Our kids still occasionally use Skype to connect with another mission coworker’s daughter. These small types of encouragement are a lifeline.

In Taiwan, the big news is that our COVID bubble burst in the middle of May. Taiwan had largely avoided community spread, but recently we’ve been registering more than five hundred cases a day and are at level 3 in the language of Taiwan’s CDC (just short of a total lockdown where people may not leave their homes). Schools have gone online, churches don’t meet in person, and restaurants are carry-out only. Seminary classes are held online, and last week I preached in chapel with just five coworkers around me. I was impressed by how the students were able to play music and offer prayers and was grateful for how smoothly everything went. We’ve also tried to learn from U.S. churches. Emily and I hosted a Zoom coffee hour at the congregation we attended and have been trying to stay in touch with people as everyone has suddenly shifted plans.

How are you doing? Who are your partners? Who do you depend on? Who are your old friends, new friends, neighbors, and friends in need? This has been a hard year on those in ministry, and even as we dutifully prepare our lists and budgets and plans, we know that the changes have been coming fast and relentlessly for many people. We pray that summer brings new growth wherever you are, that the play-pause-stop of life eventually returns to a smoother tempo. We pray for you and welcome your prayers.

Jonathan and Emily

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