A letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz serving in Taiwan
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Annual Ministry Update
Jonathan and Emily Seitz, Theological Education, Taipei, TAIWAN
Holy Week 2015 (reflects last 15 months of work)
At the end of 2013 we reported on that year. Now in spring of 2015 we report on 2014 and look forward to the year’s work here in Taiwan.
These weeks I (Jonathan) am doing a small Bible study for a local Presbyterian church—just five minutes’ walk away. They have a seminary student who is working with them this year, and their congregation is without a pastor, although a retired minister fills in sometimes. The group I’ve talked to is made of students from junior high through college (“youth ministry” is very broad here!). The younger students talk in whispers and the older students are more confident, sharing about how God acts in their lives. For me it’s been a nice chance to see one of our seminarians in action and to meet the neighborhood church. The student is doing this ministry as her father is in the ICU and she is in her last semester of seminary. This week she’s preaching at the local church, on a few days’ notice, and also writing for her senior sermon at the seminary. She takes her church ministry seriously, and because there’s no pastor she’ll preach a lot this semester. I admire her fortitude and her hard work. Our students do a lot of good, basic ministry in Taipei. Almost all of them do children’s and youth work and also preach and teach, lead camps, visit the sick, and on and on. Pastors in general are “carers”—they’re people who love to help and want to help others. Our students embody a willingness to serve and to care.
2014 saw the graduation of a group of strong students, and our 2015 class is another great one. Recently our campus minister reported on a survey of our graduates over the last 8 or 10 years. 89 percent are in ministry. Among the other 11 percent, a number are temporarily out of ministry either because of family issues or for further study. It can be hard to see the importance of these numbers, but we hope they demonstrate that we are producing pastors who love the church and offer their lives to it. No seminary I’ve heard of in the U.S. comes even close to this type of placement and retention rate. It’s simply amazing to me. A number of times I’ve said to pastors, more or less, “What is it that helps you stay in ministry so enthusiastically? Why is our rate so high?” Usually they shrug the answer off and say something about God’s help or loving others. I’m inspired by it and hope it’s an inspiration to others. Their faithfulness helps us to be faithful. Our students and alumni are incredible and they always inspire us (see a newsletter about a campus trip).
Our friendship with the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (PCT)
This is the 150th anniversary celebration of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, and I’m often aware that I am a walking symbol of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s mission history. A special blessing is meeting three former mission workers who are returning in the coming week. In addition I’ve started writing to former mission workers in the hope of doing some oral history. These include the Lims (now serving in Korea), the Kennedys, the Longs, the Dudleys, Bob Montgomery, the Gelders, Faith Bradley, Ann Broom, John McCall, and us. Altogether about 90 U.S. Presbyterians have served in Taiwan via the PC(USA) or its predecessor denominations. Their witness makes our witness possible. In 2014 we were also blessed to participate in a special joint gathering between the PCT and the PC(USA) that shared about work in five areas important to us all: evangelism, ministries of compassion, and work with ethnic minorities, youth, and women (see a newsletter about this consultation). There is a committee of four that is working to move our ministry forward in these areas. I am grateful for the friendship between our churches.
What challenges does the Church face?
The Church here faces a mix of challenges. This 150th anniversary for the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan is a pivotal point as the church tries to make sense of where it is and where it is going. Taiwan in general is aging, and there are concerns about population decline, economic stagnation, and changes in families. I’m on a research group that is surveying Christianity in Taiwan and it’s been really interesting to see the challenges the church faces. The church here is a minority group (around 5 percent of the population). It continues to grow, but relatively slowly. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan is currently the largest and most diverse church, with rural and urban churches, the very poor and the quite wealthy, and more than a dozen ethnic groups. It’s a church that has been actively involved in national life and regularly speaks to economic and social problems (see this newsletter on the 2014 Sunflower movement). How do we help the church in its ministry for the next phase?
How has your ministry affected the Church
in the U.S.A.?
In 2014 we spent about 10 weeks back in the States. We visited churches in Ohio, Kentucky, Birmingham, and New Jersey (see this newsletter). This was Emily’s first time preaching, and she enjoyed it. Jonathan was a missionary advisory delegate at General Assembly. It was also an important opportunity to see how living in a different culture impacts our kids’ ability to relate to U.S. culture. Sam attended a VBS camp at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, a church camp run by the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, a zoo camp, and a reading camp. He had a blast and we’re reassured that he’s doing okay socially and in school. We’re hoping part of future interpretation work can be connecting family life in Taiwan with churches in the U.S. We will be back again next year and are looking forward to visiting more churches then.
What are your dreams, hopes, prayers and challenges for the next year, and what would you like your mission support team to pray about?
We feel like we’re entering a phase when there’s more we’re able to do. Our language skills have improved, our kids are older, and we’re closer to the heart of things in Taipei. We have a better sense of local churches and other partners here. Emily hopes to be able to start some more structured work or ministry in the next year. We’re excited about how God is using us!
Please pray for the church in Taiwan, for its continued growth and witness. Pray for those waves of students—past, present, and future—who seek to be good disciples and good pastors. Pray for the children and youth growing up in this church and for their calling to follow God. Please pray also for us, that we’ll grow as teachers and church leaders, as parents and as faithful disciples.
Jonathan and Emily Seitz
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 253
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