A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan
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Our oldest son, Sam, is a teenager now, 13 years old, and starting eighth grade. In my seminary years and after seminary, I did part-time youth ministry for five years, but having a youth of my own (as well as two tweens) has changed my outlook. I’m suddenly aware of how dated my youth experience is—now 20 years ago. I’m learning new slang from my kids: aggro (aggressive), cringe (something that makes you uncomfortable), sus (suspicious or strange), and the ubiquitous bruh (for brother, like bro). In the last year, Sam has grown taller than his mother, staked out his own bedroom in our Taipei apartment, and found a group of friends. My dad jokes are not as funny, and he is showing a newfound embarrassment in his parents. Our time with the kids this past summer during a more severe lockdown was a bit claustrophobic, but also a chance to have a pure quantity of parent-child togetherness that we may not have again for a while.
Many of our seminary students do youth work for their field education. Students are assigned to churches, and the churches usually slot them into work related to children and youth. There’s less of a “youth ministry” tradition in Taiwan, but churches do have elders, parents, or youth advisors who guide and direct youth and young adult ministries, although sometimes there is a distinct worship service for teens and young adults. Seminarians lead Bible studies, shoot hoops, play video games, and go on retreats. There are summer camps, and churches sometimes open their own afterschool programs (most Taiwanese youth attend afterschool “cram schools” to complete homework).
Youth ministry is different in Taiwan from in the U.S. Confirmation (and the Lord’s Supper) are typically not celebrated until age 18. There are no youth elders or youth Sundays. There is less of a mission trip tradition. Whereas U.S. churches often compete with sports competitions and extracurriculars, in Taiwan, the pressure of upcoming entrance exams (especially for high school and college) often pulls youth away from the church. The church here is also struggling to hold onto its youth and to reach out into the community. Taiwan is also watching a demographic shift as we become a “superaged” nation and have lower marriage and birth rates.
My experience of youth ministry was that while there are a lot of plans and methods, the core of youth ministry often comes down to families and relationships. Youth ministry can be challenging, with frequent turnovers and a ministry whose success is difficult to gauge. I admire the family-focused direction of ministry here, which is less programmatic.
This semester I am co-teaching a class on youth ministry with a graduate of our seminary, Yu-Hui Chang. In this class, I often see students in a new light. The last time Dr. Chang and I taught the class our students included a former Boy Scout leader, several moms to teens, gamers, athletes, and many earnest seminarians looking for some handles or approaches on how to work with youth. Some students were taking the class because they love youth ministry and others because they felt really out of their element and wanted to gather ideas for connecting with youth in the church. In the U.S. also, youth ministry classes often pull both those with a deep calling to youth ministry, and also the wide range of volunteers or leaders who may feel ill-equipped or out of touch. Youth ministry often lives out this dual calling in the church – some are especially gifted and called to work with youth, but youth ministry is also a calling of the whole church.
Having a teenager lets me see faith again with new eyes. I have the normal parental mix of love, fear, worry, frustration and hope. Youth change our relationship to the world and the future. I hope for a healthy church, healthy relationships, and a healthy world. I am struck by the truism that every generation remakes the faith. Today’s world church is mostly a younger church, and Christians are worshiping God in more languages and places than they ever have. Here in Taiwan, I hope that we can continue to call youth to know and worship God.
Prayer: Holy God, we pray for the youth of the church, for the parents, teachers, friends, family, coaches, youth leaders, and others who guide them. Give us mutual understanding, compassion, and love. We pray for the witness of the saints across the ages of the church and the ways you call us to translate and retranslate the faith. Amen.
Jonathan and Emily
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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