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Lessons From Jonah

A letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz serving in Taiwan

March 2015

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For Taiwan, Jonah makes for fun reading. Taiwan is an island nation. It is far and away the “fishiest” place I’ve lived, and daily I pass display tanks with shrimp, lobster, eel, crabs, clams, and other local delicacies. (I’ve heard that the Taiwanese language uses a dozen words to distinguish different types of seaweed.) Taiwan also sits between great empires (Japan, China), so the story of Jonah from little Israel going to the Assyrian capital city fits well. For pastors, Jonah is also a poignant figure. He wants to be faithful to God, and yet he finds that the mission God gives to him is exactly the one he does not want. He regrets not only going, but also succeeding in the work God gives to him.

The Seitz kids check out what's for dinner

The Seitz kids check out what’s for dinner

There are five pastors in a small Doctor of Ministry class I am running this semester. The theme is “Jonah and Mission,” and the class is a mix of Bible, theology, and pastoral ministry. For 10 weeks we will gather on Monday mornings and work through the book of Jonah and a mix of writings about Jonah. The five pastors all have different backgrounds. One serves in Taipei and the rest come from the west coast or center of Taiwan. There’s a pastor who is Atayal (one of Taiwan’s indigenous ethnic groups). Almost all of them began their ministries 10 to 20 years ago, and they have a lot of experience.  Most serve in small congregations, some with just a few dozen members. They all were excited for our first class and I think it will be a really good experience.

seitz_1503-2I have a personal connection to Jonah. “Jonathan” is shortened to “Jonah” in Chinese, so this has become my name. Jonah is also very appropriate for mission. Jonah is the clearest “missionary to the Gentiles” in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there are a lot of good Biblical questions the book raises (about the relationship between the Old and New Testament, Israel and the Church, the nature of God’s calling and mission, Jesus’ use of the “sign of Jonah,” and the meaning of salvation). Jonah is part prophet, part wisdom literature, part psalm. Scholars come to Jonah from a million directions. They write about Jonah and justice, Jonah and the problem of evil, Jonah and mission, Jonah and empire, Jonah and the environment. Jonah is a book that’s closely connected to the natural world (the sea, the big fish, the worm, the animals in Nineveh wearing sackcloth, the worm that devours the plant). It also raises questions about ethnic hatred and God’s love of all. Our heavier reading is theologian Miraslov Volf’s work on ethnic conflict, but we’re also using Eugene Peterson’s book that uses Jonah to discuss the challenges of ministry (Peterson uses Jonah primarily to talk about the struggles pastors face in their callings).

Five pastors log some library time

Five pastors log some library time

We are in Taiwan at the invitation of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan. Seminaries here have often struggled to find and retain teachers, and part of our work is to be faithful in a ministry that is often challenging. Learning the languages, the church structures, and the patterns of life takes years. Presbyterian mission workers from the U.S. have been faithful partners here for nearly a century, so we have good models. Still, we are always working to develop the type of fluency that sustains the church in its mission and grows its leaders. We are grateful for the U.S. church’s investment in us and for its commitment to supporting the church here.

I am hoping that for these five pastors the class will give them some new perspectives on the Bible, on ministry, and on the mission of the Church. Please join me in praying for them as they serve faithfully throughout Taiwan. Pray for their congregations, many of which are small but serve with energy and passion. Pray for their families. Most of these pastors are entering their most fruitful and also most challenging years of ministry. Pray that that they will continue to serve enthusiastically, that they will answer God’s call even when it is a hard calling. Pray that they—and we all—will see God’s great grace in our lives.

Pray also for Emily and me, that we will serve with similar faithfulness. We are so grateful for the church that supports us. Please continue to pray and support the mission of which we are a part.

Let us pray:
We thank you, gracious God, for the ways you work in your church. We thank you for the ways you send from every place to every place. We pray that you will make us more faithful and more willing to serve you. We ask you to be with pastors in Taiwan as they minister throughout this island nation. May their ministry increase your ministry, and may their ministry be an encouragement for all of the work we do in your name. Amen.

Jonathan, Emily, Sam, Eva, and Eli

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 253


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