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Christmas Greening

A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan

December 2020

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Dear friends:

2020 has been a strangely rooted year. By this I mean that with COVID we’re stuck in place, like everyone else, and yet we also are realizing that being here for a longer stretch has helped us to put down deeper roots and to connect more closely in communities. Often when we go back to the U.S. our house plants wither or die, but in the spring Emily and I both started buying plants and now we’re up to around 15. The philodendron has taken off and an elephant ear I brought from campus is up to five leaves. Eli wanted a pepper plant, and it has proven to be surprisingly hearty. We have shrubs and little trees and plants that flower. We’ve killed only a few, helped by Taipei’s sunshine and showers.

Some of this rootedness shows in more responsibilities. We’re both leaders in local scouting groups. We’ve been preaching more. Emily preached twice for bilingual services and I’m preaching at one next week. My courses feel stronger and I’m grateful especially for a small class this year where all the students are mid-life laypeople who have given their lives to different types of mission. The kids are all coming along on music and art. A friend’s daughter has been teaching them and Sam was delighted to win his school’s middle and high school art contest. I’ve gathered together a half-dozen other scholars interested in world Christianity and we’re meeting quarterly over zoom. Honestly, this can feel overwhelming, but I’m also really grateful for the chance to settle in.

Eva and Eli during a recent Presbyterian Church in Taiwan retreat on Taiwan’s rural east coast.

Although Christmas is in a sense about Jesus-on-the-go, born on his way to his ancestral home and then rushing to safety in Egypt, it’s also a time when we huddle in and spend time with family. I learned early in our time abroad that Emily responds very poorly to half-hearted holidays. Part of how she handles missing family is to do the holidays and do them right. The twins had multiple celebrations for their 10th birthdays and also managed to get some Halloween fun. Soon our Christmas tree will be covered in ten years of ornaments. We also have some family traditions now: making cookies, going to Thanksgiving at Sam’s school, I’m playing trumpet at my church this year during advent, and we often take the kids out of school on Christmas (which is not a holiday here). In their early years, I often felt like we were just doing our best to throw the holiday together, but this year, stuck or rooted or growing, we’re grateful to find that we’ve evolved some traditions and are part of communities.

I also value our Taiwanese traditions. In past years I’ve written about the Christmas hymn penned by a former general secretary, or the tradition of Christmas banquets and Christmas as evangelism. I’ve delighted at the ways that seeing the familiar made new is one of the deep blessings of cross-cultural life. Sometimes I’ve shared about students, who show Christmas in their own lives (a former student just had a baby). For students, the rush of Christmas and the multiplication of services reminds me of my childhood as a pastors’ kid, attending a month’s worth of church activities. I love the services: sometimes bright and festive, sometimes dark and solemn.

My prayer for our supporting churches this year is that God will root you where you are, and that the sunshine will still find you. I wish you holiday meals that feed you deeply even if you eat them alone or in your quarantined pod. I pray that in staying where you are, God will find you more easily and you will see God more often. I pray that God will bless these last days of 2020 and hope that 2021 will bring you health, and wisdom, and rootedness. Amen.

Jonathan and Emily

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