Mission co-worker says life is returning to near normal
January 31, 2021
Living relatively close to China with their three young children, Eva, Eli and Samuel, mission co-workers Jonathan and Emily Seitz feel comfortably safe in Taipei, Taiwan.
With only seven deaths in the entire country, Taiwan lifted many of its stringent restrictions on June 7, after the country had gone two straight months without a local transmission. The Seitzes are, however, worried about friends and family in the U.S.
“We see cases spiking in places we hold dear,” said Jonathan Seitz. “We’d mostly recently lived in New Jersey and saw at least three retired theological educators there die from COVID-19.”
Like most people, the Seitz family began hearing about the virus taking hold of Wuhan, China, in late January 2020. They were just returning to Taipei from a mission co-worker gathering in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“When we came back to Taiwan, the airports were already on higher alert — using heat cameras to check temperatures, checking baggage, and doing surveys about travel with contact info. At this point we hadn’t yet learned the words ‘contact tracing,’ but Taiwan was working on it,” he said. “We later learned that when the Taiwanese CDC heard about the new flu in Wuhan, they had sent a team to do initial research at the end of December.”
While the U.S. has struggled significantly with stopping the spread of the virus, Taiwan has become a model for dealing with COVID-19.
“It was an education for us, because in many ways it showcased the best of Taiwan,” he said. “Taiwan is sometimes described as ‘technocratic,’ meaning it gives more credence to professionals and formal expertise. The president, Tsai Ing-Wen, is an economist, and her vice president was an epidemiologist.”
Taiwan was one step ahead because of its experience dealing with the SARS virus in 2003. Officials also were able to learn from preparing responses to subsequent threats like MERS and swine flu. As an island, Taiwan has limited points of entry, which is another advantage, as it has a population that is familiar with the need to increase mask production quickly, check temperatures, spray hands and enact contact tracing. Taiwan has a national health-care system that simplifies and nationalizes treatment for all its citizens.
“For us, all of this unfolded over several weeks,” said Seitz. “By the time our kids returned to school in early March they had been out of session for five weeks. At the time, we felt frustrated by the long break and the challenges of travel, grading, and class prep while the kids were with us. But in retrospect it was a window where Taiwan was able to ramp up its response.”
Churches in Taiwan also implemented specific interventions. Medium and large churches went online. Worshipers in small churches were allowed to continue meeting with masks and social distancing. Sunday schools and meals were generally canceled.
When the PC(USA) asked mission co-workers to return to the U.S., the Seitz family asked to shelter-in-place with the support of the PC(USA)’s global partner, the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, with whom they have served since 2009. They were very concerned about traveling through multiple airports to reach the U.S. and staying with either of their elderly parents was not an option. They did, however, submit an updated emergency plan in case evacuating became necessary.
Jonathan, who teaches at the Taiwan Theological Seminary, did some online teaching briefly for his seminary classes and used Microsoft’s Teams at one school and Google’s Meet at another.
Jonathan teaches classes related to mission, religion and world Christianity. Most of his students are preparing for pastoral ministry. Taiwan Seminary traces its history to 1872. About a quarter of the students are first-generation Christians, while others trace their faith back five or six generations. Students are mostly ethnically Taiwanese, but there is also a mix of indigenous and international students.
Emily Seitz works in team ministry and has done a mix of things in Taiwan, including language study, a stint as a visiting scholar at Alethia University, and a mix of volunteering in libraries and Sunday schools.
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, January 31, 2021, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Taiwan Fighting COVID-19
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Dear God, open our ears, eyes and hearts to sense the possibilities all around us for mission and evangelism. Make us communities that sense needs and do everything in our power to meet them. In the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.