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The Seitz Family in Taiwan

A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan

March 2020

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The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)

Dear Friends,

The novel Coronavirus, and COVID-19, the disease it can cause, began to dominate the news in late January as cases in neighboring countries exploded. As an island, Taiwan has an impressive ability to control its borders. Arriving travelers are screened for fever via infrared temperature sensors, and bags are scanned for food that could carry diseases. Because Taiwan was ground zero for SARS almost 20 years ago, it also has a history of carefully regulating these diseases. This means Taiwan has its own disease-fighting culture. When the novel Coronavirus struck, Taiwan immediately ratcheted up its airport security. Schools delayed classes for two or three weeks after the Lunar New Year winter holiday. Stores started adding temperature checks and offering alcohol spray. Designated hospitals began testing. Online memes also spread quickly. In the wake of a shortage of surgical masks in Taiwan, a meme shared widely on Facebook (especially among Christians) displayed a person’s unmasked face. Surrounding the face were the words, “I’m okay—I will leave the masks for the frontline health workers.”

Churches have also struggled with what to do. The General Assembly meeting here has been delayed until the situation is clearer. One of our core Presbyterian churches in Taipei canceled Sunday school and Communion for February and March, and then this month decided to go entirely online until early May. They’ll pre-record services and play them on Sunday mornings. Putting Easter on the internet seems like a strong reaction, but it reflects the fear people feel and the desire to care for members. Attendance has dropped rapidly in most churches. Sermons and talks are peppered with references to the new virus.

Many U.S. friends have shared fears about the racism that spreads with this new virus, and Asian-Americans have faced new aggressions. In Taiwan, anti-Chinese sentiment is stronger now than ever before. In Taiwan, the disease is still largely known as the “Wuhan pneumonia,” named after the city where it spread in China. Theories circulate blaming rogue Chinese installations. I even went to a chapel service where the speaker showed an image of the Chinese flag with five coronavirus microbes replacing the five stars on China’s flag. Taiwan has always been cautious about China, but during panics like this, public sentiment is even fiercer. An early initial debate was whether to allow children living in China who had one Taiwanese parent to return to Taiwan. The answer was “no.” It can feel like the external threat of disease leads to a new kind of tribalism that is more hostile to others.

This month I will preach several times using Psalm 121, which is one of the readings for Lent this year. Known as the “traveler’s psalm,” this psalm was likely prayed, recited, or sung by travelers as they went out or returned. The psalm begins with a question and answer.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills–from where will my help come?” (verse 1)
“My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (verse 2)

The psalm pings back and forth between a traveler’s fears, be it a turned foot, the scorching sun, or nighttime dangers, and a description of God who is our keeper, creator of heaven and earth, and the one who never sleeps. I like the imagery of this psalm and the way that it promises God’s steadfastness in response to the dangers of the road. In life, we face many dangers and worries, but we believe fundamentally that God is with us and for us. In times of high anxiety, we trust that God is with us.

Of course, for us, and for you-all, life continues, and we have other updates to share. We are happy to welcome a new PC(USA) Regional Liaison whose work will include Taiwan, Rev. Jieun Kim. She has worked in PC(USA) World Mission, and we’re excited for her work to begin. This semester I’m guest-teaching a course at our sister seminary in Tainan. This is a first for me and a lot of fun. We spend most of our time in Taipei, so the chance to know another part of Taiwan is a blessing. A few weeks ago, we went down for a long weekend, saw a friend who teaches at Tainan, and got to know the place a little better. The kids are back in school after a couple of weeks off. Because of the earlier break, the twins’ school won’t end until at least mid-July. Emily hopes to travel to the U.S. in June for the PC(USA) General Assembly. We hope that we can enroll Sam in some summer camps since his school ends much earlier. This year we are grateful for Lent, a season of waiting and communal walking together. We remember that God is our creator, our help in every situation, and the one who keeps our going out and our returning home.

We thank you for gifts of prayer, presence, and support.

Blessings, Jonathan, Emily, Samuel, Eva, Eli


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