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Cross-Cultural Christmases

A letter from Jonathan Seitz serving in Taiwan

October 2016

Write to Jonathan Seitz
Write to Emily Seitz

Individuals: Give online to E200383 for Jonathan and Emily Seitz’ sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507519 for Jonathan and Emily Seitz’ sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Recently I read a book on mission and culture in which the author wrote about how faith has always grown up together with popular culture. The author gives the example of how in 350 Julius I fixed Christmas on December 25—the birthday of Mithra, which also fell near the winter equinox and was a time when Saturn was celebrated. He also traces the history of the Christmas tree from Roman family celebration to medieval “paradise tree” to today’s globalized, rainbow-blinking Christmas tree. The author notes that for Western Christians, we have a long history of bending celebrations and festivals toward worship. These seasons of celebration let us grow in faith and connect what we believe with the lives we live.

I’ve often said that I enjoy cross-cultural holidays the most, because they both strip away the cultural detritus that has built up and they also expose meanings we haven’t seen before. I’ve never been so thankful as I was for a dumpling Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. I’ve never had an Easter that reminded me more of the resurrection than the one celebrated by a few Amis Christians on an Easter Sunday. Christmas for me is linked to the fact that it’s the day Eva and Eli were baptized here. At Christmas some hear the Christmas story for the 50th time and some for the first.

Christmas in Taiwan today is a day in most respects like any other. Last year we debated whether to stay home and celebrate as a family or send our kids to school. In the end, we sent Samuel in the morning so he could be part of a performance and exchange presents with friends. Sometimes family members in the U.S. were horrified that we’d send kids to school on Christmas or Thanksgiving, or on the occasional “make-up” Saturday classes they sometimes hold to replace extra holidays in the calendar. The twins attend a Catholic kindergarten and last year we joined a giant celebration, gathering together along with hundreds of students and parents (only a small number of whom are Christian) to watch skits and plays and performances.

At our seminary students do get Christmas week off, but since they all serve in congregations, it is of course really one of the busiest weeks of the semester. During Taipei’s cool, wet December, students fan out to a hundred churches in the Taipei area and organize and run much of the Christmas worship. They plan Christmas parties for students, they host concerts, they organize Christmas Eve banquets as outreach events, and so on. Many of our students are musical and will direct choirs or play hymns. In the background they’ll continue writing term papers and preparing for our last push before things end in January.

For the church here Christmas is famously a chance to introduce Christian faith to family and friends. Usually there’s a banquet. Often it’s a good time to invite guests. Christmas teaches that Jesus was “transformation into flesh” (道成肉身the incarnation). Many of our main images for who God is pile up around this time (the lamb of God, king of kings, God-with-us). For the big downtown church we attend in Taipei, Christmas is one of three times when baptisms take place. There are often 15 or more children, so each one has his or her name pinned on their Christmas finery and the pastor, one by one, baptizes them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christmas sometimes is a day for study or work. It’s a day for celebration. It’s a day for witness.

For many churches and individuals these months are also a time to finalize giving for the year or donate for mission. In this season of celebration we’re grateful for the prayers and generosity of so many people. God’s blessings on you and yours in this season of peace, joy, hope, and love!

Jonathan and Emily

Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)

Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Jonathan and Emily Seitz this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout Taiwan.

Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Jonathan and Emily. Our global church partners greatly value their service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Taiwan.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Jonathan and Emily doing the life-giving work God called them to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,
Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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