What you see here are stories starting at #1300. For the earlier stories, you've got to go to another place: www.rca.org/alexander
Our most recent "dear friends" letter can be found at http://images.rca.org/docs/letters/alexander.pdf
Story 1351 The Light in the Tower (May 6-10)
The tower on the chapel at Tainan Theological College is four stories high, though the chapel is only 2. At the topmost level there are the louvered windows that would properly house the bell (which isn't up there). Below those windows are a couple of round clear glass ones. A few weeks ago Dave climbed the ladder to take a look. Then he made up inserts from poster board and colored cellophane to put onto their inner sides, and hooked up a light that comes on at sunset and turns off automatically a few hours later. Now there's a color display after dark, where there used to be just darkness. Whether anyone notices or not... well, Dave often stands near the chapel and looks up, waiting for someone ask what's up.
Story 1350 Reporting on Music (May 9)
Usually, once a year, Char has asked students in the her two listening/speaking classes at Chang Jung Christian University to make group presentations on popular music. In the past, in order to deal only in English, the groups would find a Western pop song, play or perform it for their classmates, or explain something about it. But a problem developed in that there's so much already in English on the internet about these songs that, to Char's frustration, "copy and paste" writing was often the result.
This term for one class period, Char had them listen and take notes on an article dealing with the history of popular music in Taiwan. Then different decades (60s,70s,80s, etc.) were assigned to groups for them to research and come up with reports about a Taiwanese singer, song, or style of music from that time period. The results were interesting, and since they were dealing with Taiwan music, there was much less in English on the internet about their topics. Gone was the temptation to "cut and paste".
Nowadays, most groups use the classroom computers to make power point presentations with pictures and text, often including YouTube performances of singers or songs. A lot more interesting than the old days of just listening to someone read a report! Char learned alot from the presentations, and this time the work seemed more original.
During the class break, one guy, the only one brave enough to bring his guitar and solo for his group, gathered some classmates and spontaneously started a well-known church youth group song in Chinese. Being familiar with the song, Char joined in, but using Taiwanese instead. It was a light moment of connection through common faith, lived out in front of not-yet-believers.
Story 1349 Offering Prayers (May 9)
What goes into an offering prayer? Dave's class last Thursday began working with a model that says we TELL God something, then THANK God, followed by OFFERING something, and finally ASKING. A example would go, “God you are so wonderful. Thank you for making us your own. We offer our lives, loyalty and substance to you. Accept and sanctify them according to your will. Amen."
Having that as a pattern, we looked at prayers in the service book of Taiwan's Presbyterian Church and found about half of them workable. We were surprised that some didn't work at all as offering prayers, but were quite good as “response to sermon” We also looked at "dos and donts" from a Hong Kong Christian writer. One of his "donts" was a very common phrase used in churches here when someone brings the offering to the front for presentation.
The students in the class all have to write several short prayers for their final project. Dave secured their permission to assemble all that they will have written into a pamphlet for distribution all over Taiwan. After all, the work they've done together shouldn't die just because the semester ended.
Story 1348 Cwm Rhondda (May 9)
It was Ascension Day, but music professor leading morning prayers talked about the hymn, "Guide Me O My Great Redeemer". The original is 19th century Welsh. The professor went on and on about the text and the tune, but ignored the fact that Wales has an indentity in the UK that is separate from England. He located the entire thing in England, and talked about the English people who wrote and popularized the hymn and the tune. Afterwards Dave spoke to him gently about a separate Welsh identity, comparing Wales' separateness from England with Taiwan's separateness from China. Were this a Dutch environment, the difference between Friesland and Holland, both are in the Netherlands, would apply. The phenomenon of a dominant culture (in this case, England's) subsuming a of the smaller neighbor (in this case, Wales), was very much part of how this professor was educated in Taiwan as a child, when much was made of this being FREE CHINA with a mission to set the people of RED CHINA free any day now.
Story 1347 Presentation (May 8)
One of the things we've missed a lot, because we live in a country different from where our children have gone to college, is being present for recitals, programs and presentations that are a natural part of college life. But because Kate is in Taiwan this year, courtesy of the US government's Fulbright Scholarship program, we were able to attend a lecture she was required to give about the research and writing she has done since September.
Thanks to Taiwan's wonderful bullet train, we were able to work most of Wednesday and still make it in time for the evening event. We can say for certain that we were the proudest parents in the audience, watching and listening to our professionally dressed daughter who commands the lectern space and demonstrates that she can present material, make the complex plain, and field questions from an audience. Sometime between now and her late-August departure date she'll make a similar presentation, in Chinese this time, for the Taiwan government's central research institute. We may be the proudest parents in the audience that time, too.
Story 1346 Recitals (May 7 & 10)
As graduation nears, the students who will be getting degrees in church music are giving recitals. A short walk across campus puts us in a concert hall! On Friday night, Ann, who was one of Char's students 4 summers ago, played the piano. She did beautifully, and in her closing remarks gave credit to God and to her teachers. The pastor of her church talked a lot before delivering the closing prayer he was asked to do. As he spoke, Dave discovered that he had known Ann's grandfather, a church elder who played the accordion and in retirement would go to parks, playing, singing hymns and testifying.
Tainan Theological College's music department is quite international. On Tuesday evening we went to hear Anthony Wei give a vocal recital. Anthony is an ethnic Chinese from Indonesia. Like Ann, he was one of Char's students in 2009. Anthony learned about the program here from a music teacher in his homeland who had taken a graduate course in Tainan. When he arrived 4 years ago he spoke very good English and adequate Chinese, but no Taiwanese at all. Now he's trilingual, and an excellent tenor, too. We wish him the best as he returns home to his country, community and church, and to whatever work a trained tenor can find in Jakarta.
Story 1345 Youth Sunday (May 5)
The annual Youth Sunday at churches in Taiwan featured the young people of Dongning Church this year. A woman in her 20s led worship. Though her demeanor was a bit wooden, she showed that the pulpit is not just for the middle and old-aged. The high school youth group was the choir, and the associate pastor,responsible for youth ministry, preached. After the sermon, the presidents of the church's three youth groups introduced their ministries. "Society Youth" is for everyone over university age until they don't feel young enough to belong any more. Their leader mentioned the challenges of young adults with jobs and the struggles to find time for faith. He invited everyone to join with his group's struggles at their bi-weekly meetings on Sunday afternoons. The "youth" group (grade 12 through graduate school) leader testified to the tension that people his age live with... the pull to excell at studies in tension with the sure knowledge that one needs to maintain and even grow in faith. For his part, he had to choose between a Sunday morning class that would help him in an examination needed for overseas study or being part of the church. The middle & high school youth group leader had much the same story. In all, it was a marvelous reminder to a congregation that is aging that there are a significant number of young people in the church, though because youth groups meet on Saturday evenings, we don't always see them on Sunday mornings.
Story 1344 More Student Excuses (May 4)
Between the two of us, we have too many e-mail addresses. We each have one for work, and also a couple of joint ones. Probably some are also forgotten here and there on the world-wide-web and now chock full of spam. Char checked her work account from home on Saturday morning and found an excuse for last week from a guy who has not been in class much during the first half of the term. His situation is serious because, though this is a second-year course, he's a senior and plans to graduate in June. If he doesn't come to class and fails based on Char's strict attendance policy, it's not just one grade that he's missing, it's another semester or year of college.
His excuse, for which he asks special understanding, has very much to do with where he is in life. As a senior, he's deeply involved in looking for a job after graduation, and he misses class to go to job interviews. If he doesn't interview, he can't get hired. But if he doesn't graduate, he won't be eligible.
Char's looking for a way to keep him in class, and to help make sure he passes, but he'll have to be there every time from now to the end of the term to make it.
Story 1343 Two stories in one (May3)
Dave likes to work with his office door open, he believes that this signals availability. A few years ago, though, he learned that to some students it looked as if he was too busy for them, because when they glanced in, he was always in the middle of something. On Friday afternoon he had an appointment with Pei-wen, who has asked him to be the advisor for her Master of Divinity thesis next year. When she arrived (right on time) he was working on an article, so she asked if the appointment had been cancelled. Dave merely saved what he was doing and turned his full attention to her project.
Pei-wen wants to work on Mother Tongue Language Instruction (in her case, Taiwanese) as part of religious education. This fits right into Dave's brief as lecturer in practical theology and his background in education. She'll look at how mother tongues are important in the preservation of cultural identity, which can often be tied to a Christian church's continuance. That's partly true in Taiwan in the case of Aboriginal languages, Hakkanese and Taiwanese. Historically it has been important for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and for observant Jews who strive to preserve Hebrew for scripture reading and study. Dave gave guidance and a few references and sent Pei-wen on her way. She has to turn in her thesis proposal on Monday, and then has a year to write the paper.
The article Dave was working on both before and after the appointment is for the college in an effort to find more students for the undergraduate division. The only college-level program accepting students for September is social work. Theology and Church Music have suspended undergraduate admission until some accreditation issues are worked through. Dave knows that there are students out there, called to pastoral ministry, who may go somewhere else for college because they have no social work inclinations. He and Dr. Lin Chuen-fen, the head of the program, want to demonstrate that the social work program at Tainan Theological College is the ideal preparatory course for those who will be ministers of the gospel. They put together some compelling arguments and chose three ministers who are currently serving churches who had graduated from the social work program before doing ministerial training. Dave phoned those three and learned how highly they value what they learned about society, community and personality as social work students on their way to becoming ministers. The article is mostly written, and about 40% translated into Chinese for distribution. It's due on the 8th!
Story 1342 Don't Get Caught on Videotape (May 2)
The course Dave is teaching on public prayer was rather loosely planned when it was proposed to the theology department. He finds himself now scrambling every week, based on the topic he thought should be covered, to come up with discussion topics and material in time for class on Thursday afternoon. Last Monday, when he sat down to plan, he found that he had listed "analysis of written, recorded and video-taped public prayers". He planned how to get the students to list the criteria for analysis. (Rather than telling them what to look for, he asked them what they thought we ALL should be looking for). Then he went to the library to find some grist for the mill. The next morning he went to the internet to get some video-taped church services in Taiwanese. There are several at one web site, and he chose a few for use in class. Now, when the good people leading worship allowed themselves to be put onto tape, they had no idea that smart-alecky students would be taking their work apart. The class was kind, finding fault mainly with prayers going on too long, or being spoken too quickly. Whatever we came away from class with, one sure lesson may be... don't let yourself get caught on videotape!
Story 1341 Boyfriends (May 2)
Char met with three girls for free talk on Thursday after class at Chang Jung Christian University (CJCU). They are all in the first year of college, and they all have boyfriends whom they first got to know while in high school. Though two of them have been able to be open with their parents about their romantic relationships, the third was still keeping it a secret. She reported that her parents don't even ask her if she has someone special, they just tell her directly that the years one spends in college are NOT for boyfriends.
Not one of these young women had planned to study at CJCU, but all ended up there because their college admission test scores were not high enough to get them into one of the "better" universities (either a government one or something up north near Taipei). Char hopes that, though they have begun their four-years of college disappointed, they can all have a good, safe and productive experiences at a school that ranks in the middle of Taiwan's educational rating system. More importantly though, may they hear and be impacted by the Christian witness of the school during their years of study. Happily for all of them, the boyfriends are also at colleges in or near Tainan. One girl even takes the train to see hers every day. There's a station right next to CJCU, and another right next to the national university where he studies in the city. How convenient!
Story 1340 Angels and Dreams (April 29)
The Bible story group that Dave leads during the lunch hour on alternating Mondays at Chin-li University got into the New Testament on the 29th with Christmas stories of angels and dreams. Dave is happy that he presents the stories with their printed Chinese versions, otherwise it would be pretty hard to describe myrrh. When introducing the virgin birth, Dave said "this is the Christian belief, which I, as a Christian, share." Being matter-of-fact about our faith, perhaps especially about the parts that not-yet-believers might find fantastic, is one way to open conversations. Hail Mary!
Story 1339 Like the Hammer of Thor (April 29)
A few weeks ago when helping to interview applicants to Chin-li University (a Christian school where Dave teaches several hours a week) he inquired if the teenagers who came to participate could live without their cell phones. They all answered "no". At the time, Dave didn't know that he was going to encounter the situation again so soon. Last Monday (the 29th) he was running an activity in class, sitting at the computer to start and stop an audio program, when he looked over the monitor and noticed one student not participating. The guy was looking at the phone he had on the desk in front of him. Dave paused the program, but the guy didn't even look up. So he walked calmly to stand just in front of the student and then let him have it. "TURN THAT OFF'"
The rest of the class went well. The lesson seems to have been learned by this one guy, and by his 13 classmates as well.
Story 1338 The Right Sermon for the Right Crowd (April 28)
Just as worship began on at Dongning Presbyterian Church (which we attend) on April 28, a group of 20 or so people came in and filled every available empty seat. Most were Taiwanese, but several were foreigners, who took advantage of the translation headsets for either Mandarin Chinese or English. They were a class and some friends from the graduate department of religion at a university in Taipei. Their teacher, who brought them to church, was part of this congregation before moving north. The group was on a tour of various religious institutions in Tainan, so came to a church where their teacher was familiar.
Dr. Lin, our pastor, was preaching on exactly the right theme, the Christian promise of salvation to all peoples, not bounded by race, ethnicity, national identity, class or sex. He hit all of these points right on the head, and was very clear about Jesus' invitation for people to believe the good news of salvation.
What could have been an occasion for "preaching to the choir" of people who already knew and believed what the pastor was saying became a powerful occasion for clear gospel presentation to people of several faiths. Some of the guests had been to churches once or twice in the past; for others, it was their first time.
Story 1337 Ukuleles in Church (From the Taiwan Church News, April 15-21)
Hong Shi-chih, an elder at Liuqiu Presbyterian Church on an island about 40 minutes' boat ride from Pingtung County, has started a unique ukulele outreach program. He says that the ukulele is easy to learn, and therefore suitable for young and old people. It is also a current popular fad all around Taiwan.
In mid-April he and several young students took the boat and a bus to visit Tek-seng Presbyterian Church in Kaohsiung to share testimonies and tunes with the congregation. The group had been practicing for a couple of years, and some were becoming bored, so the chance to share their newfound skills at a big city church was a welcome inspiration.
A few years ago Elder Hong had suspended his professional work to get an advanced degree, but just short of an important examination had been diagnosed with cancer. He dropped his studies and underwent successful chemotherapy. That led him to question what he would do with the rest of his life. His choice was to become involved in church outreach and gospel proclamation. It was then, he believes, that God led him to the ukulele. After learning it himself, he began to offer lessons at his own and other churches. The instruments are small, easy to carry, and low-cost (About US$35 each.) A church needs invest only three to six hundred dollars to start an outreach ministry.
At Liuqiu Presbyterian Church, the ukulele band plays at Easter outdoor outreach events. Neighborhood kids not previously associated with the church were brought into the church through music classes during Vacation Bible School. When they continue as part of the band, they have opportunities for hearing the gospel during practice and performances and for attracting family members to church when they are scheduled as part of a program or worship service.
Story 1336 Shine, Jesus, Shine! (April 26)
A few years after he began serving Tainan Theological College, in 2004, Dave noticed that the 3 stained glass windows in the college chapel needed a good wash. At regular intervals he would mention this to the director of General Services. But the windows are high and lifted up, and the college didn't have a ladder that long. The current director of General Services, Liou Fu-an went the extra mile. He borrowed a ladder from the hospital next door and personally examined the film on the windows. It wouldn't come off with a dry cloth, so cleaning was put on hold until someone assured him that clear water wouldn't harm the glass or the putty that holds the windows together.
On Friday morning, Fu-an invited Dave to the chapel to observe while the school's maintenance workers, one holding the ladder and the other atop it with a wet cloth, cleaned and polished the windows, giving Peter, Paul and Jesus the first wash they've had in 50 years. The windows are on the east end of the chapel, so when the sun comes up during prayers on Monday morning, Jesus will shine like he hasn't in that room for a long time.
Story 1335 Order in the Prayers! (April 25)
Thursday's class in public prayer focused on thanksgiving. Dave suggested that prayers flow better when thought has been given to their arrangement before the leader says, "Let us pray." He handed out a list of 9 items and asked each student to suggest which would go first, and then to order the others if leading a congregation in giving thanks. Everyone agreed that "sending the Son into the world that sins might be forgiven" was first. After that, opinions varied. One man said that he would not bother to give thanks for a news report that Taiwan's unemployment rate had dropped because he didn't believe anything he heard on the news. Another man put that item as second, because for him news about Taiwan is right next to God's kingdom in importance. Opinions varied on whether or not to include thanks for the donation of a used air conditioner from a near neighbor of the church who was neither a member nor a believer. Some thought it shameful that a person would foist off his old stuff on the church. Others saw something good, that a neighbor would think of the church, because often those who live nearby are highly indifferent to churches. People were unsure of what to do with an inactive church member's winning the lottery and making a big offering. Opinions also differed on how to give thanks for the life of an elderly church member who had died peacefully. Some thought to exclude this because non-believers might be there, and would be confused by giving thanks for the end of a life. Others thought it should be included because it showed how Christians don't fear death, but look forward to the next stage of their salvation.
What was wonderful about the class is that it has begun to operate more like a seminar than a lecture. We teach each other and learn from each other while we develop church leadership skills.
Story 1334 A Real Guy's Excuse (April 25)
From years of teaching experience in Taiwan, Char knows to expect an attendance drop the week after the midterm exam. She was pleased on Tuesday, though, to see all of her freshmen in class. She thinks they may have been eager to learn their exam results. Her sophomore students on Thursday were more true to form with about 15% of them no-shows.
When someone misses her class, Char asks them to fill out a simple form explaining their absence. Reasons of sickness, motorscooter accidents (unfortunately frequent), unavoidable family business and so on are accepted, but waking up late, missing your train, etc. are not. All absences cost at least a point off the final grade, but unexcused absences cost double. It all depends on the honor system.
At the midterm interview, when Char asked one guy to account for two absences in a row, he immediately remembered that he'd been sick for one but had trouble remembering the other. She asked him to please try. So,Thursday, this guy handed her a note to read, joking that he'd been forced to write a short story to explain. For your amusement, here it is: "I remember that I didn't come to the class two weeks ago because of a stupid reason. I threw all my clothes into a washer in the night before the day. But I forgot to take them off (he no doubt means 'out' -- prepositions are tricky). As a result, all my clothes were wet. I just wore a underpant in my room. That's why I didn't come." Though extremely amused, Char said it was unexcused. Upon further reflection, though the reason is rather ridiculous, she's thinking of giving him back the extra point -- for his honesty and for having the best excuse she's heard in a long time.
Story 1333 Summer Job (April 24)
Having just passed the midpoint of this semester, Char hasn't really been thinking yet about summer. There are others, though, who are already busy making plans.
Dr. Lan, who has been Char's supervisor for much of the past 16 years at Chang Jung Christian University, called Wednesday and asked about Char's availability during the summer. Chang Jung wants to offer a 3-week intensive English course, inviting college and university students from all over southern Taiwan during August. Dr Lan wondered if Char would consider being one of the teachers. After thinking about it for awhile (and being assured the class would meet in an air-conditioned language lab), Char called back and accepted. The hours Char has been asked to teach, at least according to the current plan, would relate to making business telephone calls in English. Nothing that Char has much experience teaching, but there must be plenty of materials out there to use. There's time to worry about specifics later, but this opportunity seems like a good chance to be of service to the school and to meet a group of students she wouldn't normally come into contact with.
Story 1332 Midterm Madness (April 22)
Char gave mid-terms at Chang Jung Christian University between April 16 and 18. Dave had given one at Tainan Theological College on the 16th, and gave mid-term credit to another class of students who had helped him lead morning prayers in the chapel on the 23rd. At Chin-li University, his big exam day was the 22nd. For his class in oral interpretation he had prepared a short talk in English for students to interpret into Chinese. This was done in a language laboratory, where everyone's work was recorded. Set-up to "Bye-bye, see you next week" only took 35 minutes. Then Dave had to listen to everyone's work (hearing each of them 1 time, and his own voice 14 times). Results were mixed. 3 students failed, and a few more got very low passing grades. Translation is hard enough when you can see what you're interpreting, and even worse when you can only rely on your ears.
His other class had to write sentences in English using a set lists of words,topics, and sentence patterns. THEN lots were drawn and they had to speak (into recorders) four of the sentences that they had written themselves. After that process, Dave packed up and went home, leaving the corrections for later. (When those were scored, the curve was a classic bell shape.)
Both tests, requiring performance rather than reproduction of memorized material, are unusual for many students in Taiwan. In the short run, grades are probably lower than they would had they only needed to memorize things. In the long run, though, when people are required to think and do, the skills they develop are more valuable for work and life.
Story 1331 Farewell Susan, Livya and Ruby, Hello Sunday! (April 21)
1330 stories ago, in August of 2008, we got into a Sunday afternoon bad habit of writing, editing and sending out these stories. In an attempt to get our Sabbath back, last week we wrote stories on Friday and did the rest of the process on Saturday. Our Sunday was saved! We seized the day and, after church, went to visit our friends Susan, Livya and Ruby, who had spent the past 3 months in Taiwan at the National Tainan University of the Arts about 20 miles away. They were packing up to leave the next day, heading home to a very rural part of Wisconsin. On Sunday afternoon they invited Taiwan new friends and acquaintances to a farewell gathering.
Our trip was easy, and we found a very beautiful place which we'd never before visited. The other people we met were friendly. On the trip home we gave a lift to Rev. Ong, the church history professor at Tainan Theological College. The conversations we shared were fun and enlightening. It was just the way you'd want to pass a Sunday afternoon. Having forgotten a few years ago that the Sabbath is for rest, we toiled. May we recover it in the weeks and months to come!
Story 1330 Let the Music Season Begin (April 19)
The Church Music department at Tainan Theological College requires that students present a public recital in order to get their degrees. On Friday night, Ms. Tan Sun-eng, finishing her MA degree in choral conducting, presented hers. She worked with a volunteer choir (of students), like one must do in a church,to present a program of Mozart (Mass in C-major) sung in Latin, and of Taiwanese choral musuc. The chapel was full, demonstrating the support she has among the student body and people from churches where she has directed choirs. Recital season begins in April and runs through late May. Over the next several weeks we'll be attending programs presented by students whom Char taught in 2009. We look forward to a lot of good music.
Story 1329 Local Church’s Graffiti Mural Transforms Lives of Youth (From Taiwan Church News, April 8-14)
Bright and colorful graffiti common to downtowns is seen on a 2-story wall at Tainan's Minzu Road Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Chi Chia-sheng recently invited a few young people to transform the bland wall into something exciting and beautiful. This group, known as property defacers in Tainan, were excited about the win-win situation. The church got a brand new mural while reaching out to local teens, who got a chance to display their artistry.
Minzu Road Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 111th anniversary this year. Pastor Chi wanted to transform the outward appearance of the church. When the grafitti artists asked permission to paint the outer on the wall, there was an instant connection. “We had a need and they wanted to show their stuff,” he said.
The church asked for something based on a biblical theme or evangelistic message. It took a few meetings, but eventually settled on a portrait of Jesus holding a lamb as the centerpiece. Work started pretty soon, and the mural was completed in March.
The work receives positive response from people who live and work nearby. An employee of a nearby hotel gave thanks because a neighboring nightclub and its clientele had brought the hotel a bad reputation and no business. Hotel staff expressed a hope that the Jesus would transform these people’s hearts.
The college students and young professionals who did the mural worked on weekends and attended church while the project was in progress. The pastor notes that though they were often late for church, they came faithfully every week and stayed behind afterwards to mingle with church youth.
When the mural was posted on Facebook, the church began to get calls asking that the group come and do more at other venues. These invitations became opportunities to use a skill to benefit others and earn a little extra cash.
“We want to teach and influence these young people early on so that they don’t become a problem or a burden to society later.” Pastor Chi said that he truly admires their artistic talent and looks forward to seeing this “gospel mural” become a place where faith, society, and the youth sub-culture can intersect.
Story 1328 Early Fruit (April 17 & 19)
Two of the student's in Dave's "Public Prayers" class spoke at college worship on Wednesday. One was the guy who led the service and preached. Dave noted that the prayers he said included some creative phrasing rather than the typical easy cliches. Even better, after leading the congregation to confess our sins, he assured us that those sins had been forgiven. This second step is often forgotten, and Dave had made the point in class (and in evaluation sessions) more than once that it is a worship leader's responsibility to assure those who have come to God with sin on our hearts that we have been heard and forgiven.
The other tudent who spoke will be the worship leader and preacher next week. Her only role this time was to bring the offering box forward and say the offertory prayer. Again, some of the fruit of the class she is taking was seen. She didn't mix her metaphors.
On Friday one of Dave's students led morning prayers. Dave noticed that he addressed God as the light of life, and kept the "light" metaphor pretty constant from the beginning to the end of the prayer.
Maybe this is too simple, like low hanging fruit that is easily grasped and harvested. Nevertheless, it is nourishing Dave's soul.
Story 1327 Animal Intelligence (April 17)
Char's mid-term and final examination interviews for her two sophomore classes at Chang Jung Christian University often yield stories worthy of sharing, if only because of their interesting responses to the list of topics they are asked to choose from. This week one possibility was "Are humans superior to animals?" which related to a lesson they had earlier in the term about animal intelligence. One very articulate young man began his little speech by saying, "According to the Bible......." He went on to speak of how certain animals were created for sacrifice (like lambs) but that all animals, as part of God's creation, needed respect from humans and should not be treated cruelly. This particular question seemed to appeal to some other Christians in the class who offered similar answers. One even used the phrase "created in the image of God", which was quite impressive. It was an interesting way for Char to find out WHO some of the Christians are, since it's not like she can ask people to identify themselves at the beginning of the semester.
On the topic of "examples of unethical treatment of animals", one woman related a story of a former boyfriend who used to keep a cat in his dorm room off campus. One day when she visited, the cat had a broken leg and lots of medicine. The boyfriend claimed he had gotten angry, tried to hit the cat, and the frightened cat had fallen and injured itself. After she successfully encouraged him to give the cat away, he got a kitten which also ended up mysteriously injured. As she grew more uncomfortable and suspicious, one day he lost his temper with her. Thankfully, she ended the relationship then and there. Char praised her for having the good sense to walk away.
Story 1326 Another Death in the Family (April 15 & 18)
Boris Anderson went to China as a missionary from England in 1946. By 1949 he was in Taiwan, teaching New Testament at Tainan Theological College. He eventually became the college's vice president. In 1963 he and his family left Taiwan because of a child's disability for which there was insufficient care here. On Monday, in England, Boris died. This was the second time in the past month that a former vice president of the college has passed away.
On Thursday morning the scheduled prayers leader yielded to Rev. Jonas Chang, who studied here starting in 1951 and left Taiwan in 1962 to become an American. Rev. Chang now lives in Taiwan again. He was invited to reminisce. He told us that the college chapel had been designed by Rev. Anderson, and that John 15:16, inscribed above the platform and before us whenever we sit in the pews, was chosen by Anderson to exemplify the mission of the school and to inspire all who would study here. We were reminded of one who went before, and inspired to follow in his, and Jesus' footsteps.
Story 1325 David and Goliath (April 15)
The noontime Bible story group that Dave leads at Chin-li University looked at two Old Testament stories: David & Goliath and The Wisdom of Solomon. This class is "pre-evangelistic". It puts some Bible stories into the conversation on the way to THE great story of salvation in Christ. The stories he tells have resonated through Western culture and stand behind many references that people who grew up in the West will understand, whether they believe in Christ or not. After each story, Dave explains how some parts of it have taken root in Western culture. After telling about David and Goliath, he mentioned that the names together are used whenever anyone small and powerless goes up against someone of great strength, like a community group facing down a large corporation (or Taiwan in the face of China). On the paper he gave students this week he had printed a small line-drawing of Michelangelo's statue of David, and pointed to the sling that the marble David holds over his shoulder. The drawing was small and not too detailed, but the young women in the class, familiar with the statue, blushed anyway.
Story 1324 Christian Schools' Day (April 14)
The two of us grew up in churches where most often on Sunday morning, other than the choir and the pastor, we didn't hear other people's voices from the platform. When we came to Taiwan we had to get used to the idea that a layperson would lead worship, leaving only preaching and the benediction to the pastor. Now we enjoy hearing several different voices in worship, and are pleased when we hear it that way while on home assignment in North America, too.
Today there were a couple of young women at Dongning Church. They are seniors at the two nearby Christian high schools (Chang Jung Christian High School and Chang Jung Girls' School) affiliated with Taiwan's Presbyterian Church, the RCA's mission partner in Taiwan. They came to thank the congregation for its support and encouragment, and to ask that members consider their schools when children come of age for secondary school. Taiwan's birth rate has really dropped in recent decades, and all schools are hurting for students. The young women who spoke today, using Taiwanese, did a wonderful job of exemplifying character and poise. The worship leader (one of the deacons) praised them, saying that when he had been their age he would never have dared speak from the pulpit.
Dongning Church has a rather educated congregation, lots of professionals, professors and teachers. Private schools are not considered very high class in Taiwan. State schools are better funded. What we heard this morning is a demonstration of the quality of people formed in the Christian schools. We hope that they continue to minister so well into the future.
Story 1323 Your Favorite Class is English? (April 13)
Most people get into university in Taiwan by getting good scores on a general entrance exam and applying to different schools. It's rather like using one's SAT scores in the USA. But many students are afraid of those exams, so there's another route. They use high school transcripts and put together application files and educational plans. Then they interview for early acceptance in April. Dave helped with the process for the Applied English Department of Chin-li University on the 13th.
Fourteen students came. He learned that many of them are interested in basketball, and all of them feel that English language ability is important for their futures. What he found amusing was that several who mentioned that "English is my favorite subject in high school" had grade averages of D or D- in the subject. What is encouraging, though, is that they are seeking entrance to a Christian university, where they will be exposed to the gospel regularly. The department can only accept a handful of those who interviewed, and some really look good! The rest of next September's entering class will come by the standard examination route.
Story 1322 Musical Interlude (April 12 & 14)
As mid-term exams approach, Char is quite busy with preparations. In the middle of it all, she was happily invited to join the women's fellowship choir at Dongning Presbyterian Church to help sing the anthem on April 14. It required an hour of rehearsal on the 12th. Pleased to have been invited, Char carved out the time.
The anthem was not all that difficult, and the director, the trained musician wife of our new associate pastor, made rehearsal and singing in church (with a choir of about 25 voices) pleasant. It did require getting to church an hour early for robing and extra rehearsal on Sunday, but all went well. Dr. Lin even picked up on what the women sang and included references to it in his sermon.
Story 1321 Two Roses (April 11)
Char went to Chang Jung Christian University (CJCU) on Thursday prepared to teach the regular 4 hours, but there were no free-talk sessions in her appointment book. That didn't last long. She was soon engaged to stay for lunch with a group of students. Four of the students are currently in her clss, but one in the group was a student Char hadn't crossed paths with in awhile.
Rosario (the name she has chosen from her Spanish class) had come to the theological college for a summer intensive English grammar course that Char taught in 2008. The class had been oversold as a great way to spend 5 weeks between terms, so some incoming freshmen from CJCU were enticed to enroll with the incoming theological college students who were required to take the course. The university students, Rosario among them, dropped out about half-way through, not able or needing to deal with the boredom of a grammar intensive or the sauna-like conditions of the non-airconditioned classroom.
A couple of years later they suddenly met again when Rosario appeared in her sophomore class. She had just transferred into the translation department from the program in religion and philosophy where she had been very happy. Turns out her mother had forced the change because religion and philosophy doesn't lead to good jobs (like translation). Rosario was unhappy about the switch, and if memory serves correctly, she may have left school for awhile. Char hadn't seen her again until this week. They exchanged news (they always joke about that terrible summer grammar course and Char always apologises for it), and Rosario now seems at peace with what she is doing. The department switch means she'll spend 5 years in university, but she hopes to graduate in 2014. When Rosario left first to run to class, there was another surprise... she initiated a quick good-bye hug, something that rarely happens in Taiwan.
The other rose in the group is quite a character. This dramatic and loquacious student chose Rose as an English name because he loves the movie "Titanic". The character Jack had a more fitting name for this guy, but because Jack died in the end, the name of the female lead, Rose, was adopted as his own. At least, this is the story he told Char; he could have been totally pulling her leg. He's an engaging guy who talked enough for everyone else in the group. Char came home encouraged from the time with Rosario, and tired from the time with Rose.
Story 1320 Scavenger Hunt (April 9)
This term, Dave is teaching New Testament English at Tainan Theological College. Though it would be easy to read through the Gospel of John, and discuss the words and grammar, he's chosen differently. The students are learning how to use Bible study resources in English from the college library. For six weeks this has involved lots of flash cardsto build vocabulary. This week it meant a scavenger hunt.
The class had run out of lists (New Testament books, characters, places, stories, theological terms, etc.) and was still just using whatever he brought to class, so this time he brought a scavenger hunt list and they all went to the library. They had to find things like Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, theological word books, atlases, concordances, archaeology books and commentaries. Many of them had never even cracked a book of those sorts before. He had ten students going from here to there in the reference room and stacks, finding materials, looking stuff up, and learning what was there. It was fun to watch as they helped each other.
Whether or not this helps when they eventually come to write papers and Master's degree theses, only time will tell. It was a pleasant way, though, to spend about 90 minutes last Tuesday.
Story 1319 Mencius' Mother Moved 3 Times (April 9-12)
Every semester the teachers of Tainan Theological College spend an evening as a college of scholars, sharing what they are personally researching and writing for publication. A broad topic is assigned months ahead, and everyone writes about it from their own academic perspective. We were in the US on home assignment last semester, so Dave missed the topic. He only knew the date and thought to stretch something he had researched and written for New Brunswick Theological Seminary last fall to fit the occasion.
On April 8 a note in his mailbox announced the scholarly evening date, recapitulated the topic and reminded everyone that articles were due on the 16th. Dave realized that if he stretched his pre-existing article, it would break under the strain. The assignment was to choose a social problem in Taiwan and analyze it from one's field of specialty. Dave made a quick choice "Theological Education" would be the problem and his specialty as an educator would provide the angle.
Mencius, an ancient Chinese scholar, is revered in Confucian circles. The legend goes that his father died when he was a child, so his mother raised him in a single-parent home. (There are a LOT of single-parent homes in Taiwan, so this is timely.) First they lived by a cemetery, where he learned to chant like a paid mourner. His mother moved them away from that to a market, where he began to shout like people selling pork and other stuff. In the end, she moved them near to a school, where he learned to be a scholar.
Dave is using the story to discuss the problem of Protestant theological education here, pointing out how it began with a "backward" orientation, and partially moved (in the 70s and 80s) to be past-based and present-oriented. He proposes that it needs another move, so that without losing its foundations, it can focus on the future if it is to serve Taiwan's rapidly changing church and society. On the 18th, we'll see how it is received.
Story 1318 Accreditation Day (April 8)
When Dave arrived at Chin-li University on Monday morning he noticed that everything was freshly mowed, trimmed and swept. There were people stationed at corners to direct traffic and more cars than usual on campus. The accreditation visitation team from the Ministry of Education was coming to evaluate the school's programs and facilities that day.
Students in some departments were dressed in jackets and ties. Classrooms were freshly labeled with helpful signs, and everything looked spiffy. Dave's first class was nothing out of the ordinary. Two hours later, preparing for the next class, he learned that they would meet in another room because the evaluators needed their regular space. The alternate location didn't have computer equipment that was needed to get everything out of his lesson plan, so it looked as if they'd have quit about 30 minutes early. Even the students agreed that early dismissal on "accreditation day" wouldn't look good, so they devised some blackboard work to help everyone prepare for the upcoming mid-term exam. It looked good to anyone who walked by, put the time to a good use, and seemed as if a good time was had by all.
Story 1317 Taiwan Clay and the Gifts of the Spirit (April 7)
This morning at church we had a guest preacher, Susan Philips from Wisconsin. She is on sabbatical from the church she serves there, here with 2 daughters while her husband Simon Levin is a visiting artist at the National Tainan University of the Arts. Susan drew on her husband's experience with clay and with the arts to preach to us about the goodness of the earth that God made blessed and of our responsibility to use the gifts which the Holy Spirit has showered out on all of creation. In contrast to the grey and black typically worn by both men and women ministers here, Susan was clad in a colorful blouse. Her manner in the pulpit is upbeat and engaging. Even though she was preaching in English (and Dr. Lin translating into Taiwanese), people were understanding her before he got the translations done.
Susan and the girls will leave Taiwan before the end of April, and Simon will stay for a few weeks longer. Three decades of life in mission have brought many people like this into our lives for brief periods. We are much richer for it, and hope they are, too. Are you next?
Story 1316 Pot Show (April 4)
Spring Break began on April 3rd, but we were chained to our desks dealing with things past and future for another day. On the 4th we walked to the train station and took to the rails. First we went to a little town in northern Taiwan where our friend, Simon Levin (an American potter and Fullbright Visiting Scholar at a nearby arts university) was having a show. He had built a wood-fired kiln here in 2009 and now was back demonstrating the possibilities for using it to make things from local clay. His stuff is beautiful!
After the show we took other trains (and a couple of subways) to Kate and Gene's place in Taipei to mark Gene's birthday. We met the cats that they are fostering, had a wonderful dinner and some great conversation. The next morning we were back on trains headed home. Thinking about it later we realized that the entire two days we hadn't ridden in a car. Taiwan can be pretty amazing sometimes.
Story 1315 Remembering Dan Beeby (April 2)
At the end of the second world war, Dan and Joyce Beeby, a young English couple, set out for the mission field. Dan's original ambition and intention had been for India, but their church sent them to Amoy (Xiamen) in China. They learned the language and began to serve churches there, only to be pushed out by the Communist revolution. In 1950 they arrived in Tainan and Dan began teaching at a Christian high school. He was soon lured to Tainan Theological College, where he taught Old Testament, eventually going to New York to get a doctorate in it. By the time they had been here 20 years, Dan was the vice principal and had taught a full generation of Taiwanese pastors.
Dan identified deeply with Taiwan and the struggle of people here for basic human rights. He saw the struggle for Taiwan's people to be free in terms from Exodus. He was deeply involved with church leaders who stood up to the martial law dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek when, in 1971, Taiwan's government was expelled from the United Nations. For his participation in the Christian movement to articulate a national appeal, Dan and Joyce were expelled early in 1972. They went to Birmingham in England and spent the rest of their lives training missionaries. Joyce died in the 1980s. The two of us knew them when we were Dan's students for a semester in 1981.
On March 18th, Dan went to his eternal reward. The college gathered with alumni and others who knew Dan on April 2 for a memorial. The college president and others from Taiwan's Presbyterian Church flew to the UK for a memorial service the same day. Dan is remembered for his identification with this land and his sacrifice for it. His memory will live here and in the hearts of the missionaries he trained around the world for generations.
Story 1314 Switching sides of the Road? April Fools (April 1)
Taiwan has two daily English newspapers, each of which has its own political slant. (It helps to buy both of them if you want to know how to interpret events.) A few years ago one ran an April Fool's day story about pandas in the Taipei Zoo. This year the other paper took up the baton and ran something about plans to switch Taiwan's roads from right-hand-side driving to left. This, it was said, would make it possible to import Japanese made cars at a lower price than is currently common. Other outlandish statements followed, each one more ridiculous than the last.
A nation able to make fun of itself is a blessing and a gift from God. In the regional atmosphere, where North Korean broadcasters make noises which are no laughing matter it's refreshing to live in a place where fun can be had. We thank God for Taiwan's democracy, which came so slow and at such a great cost. May it spread all around the world!
Story 1313 People You Sit Near (April 5)
To get home from Pingtung on Easter evening, after the memorial service and a dinner, we were only able to get the slow local train to Tainan. It had been a long day and we were tired, so both buried ourselves in reading material, ignoring others on the crowded train. About halfway through the trip, a friendly-looking young woman sat down next to Char, who continued with her magazine until the young woman said, "Teacher, what are you reading about?" How embarrassing -- it was M., a student from class last year and Char hadn't recognized her. After Char apologized profusely, they spent a pleasant half hour conversing and catching up, while Dave began to banter with a couple of young men sitting on the other side of him. Eventually one guy asked, "Why are you in Taiwan?" Having practiced this answer several times, Dave said, "To share the gospel of Jesus Christ." More than any other answer, whether serving the church, teaching in college or university, or the joy of life here, "gospel sharing" is at the heart of why we're here, and why we do what we do.
When M. left the train, Char was joined by another passenger,who had heard her speaking English to her student. It was a Filipino man in Taiwan as an industrial laborer. He was on his way home from Kaohsiung where he had gone to meet friends from home and attend Easter Mass. Clearly, after Mass there had been some kind of party,and he had celebrated far too much. He reeked of and reeled from an excess consumption of beer for which he apologized repeatedly. He asked Char if she was a Christian. Her answer made him effusively glad. He is a lonely man, with little Chinese, struggling to adjust far from home, and the faith connection was meaningful to him. Others on the train, seeing how obviously drunk he was, watched the interaction between the two foreigners with great interest, a testimony in itself. Char stuck with him (she didn't have much choice) until our train reached Tainan, when she bid him farewell as kindly as possible.
Story 1312 Rest In Peace, Jonathan Sturtridge (March 31)
Twenty years ago to the day, Jonathan Sturtridge, a young mission volunteer from England, died in a hit and run accident in Pingtung, Taiwan. Jonathan had been in Taiwan for two years and planned to return home and take up theological studies with the aim to becoming a full-time missionary back here in Taiwan. He heard that the Pingtung Presbytery's mission to college students was looking for staff, so he put off his departure to fill that need for one year. On March 31st, that year ended for him, about 3 months shy of plan.
It had been years since a missionary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan had died while "in harness" like that. The local presbytery went into action, taking care of funeral and burial arrangements. Jonathan's parents and sister came from England for the service. Ten years later they were to return for a memorial service, but at that time the disease SARS made Taiwan a risky place for travel, so events were cancelled. On Easter of this year the presbytery held a 20th anniversary memorial service and invited the family back. Jonathan's mother and sister came.
It was our privilege to attend the service, as we had 20 years ago, and Dave's privilege once again to be the translator (so that foreign guests could understand what was being said and so Taiwanese attenders understand when family members gave brief remarks). Seeing how the church here cares about those who come from afar to serve moves us to the bottoms of our hearts.
Story 1311 Christ is Risen! (March 31)
The weather had been gloomy at the end of March, and Easter dawned that way. We considered driving to church, but in the end, carrying umbrellas, we made it on foot. The celebrative mood at Dongning Church was a great relief from the heaviness that surrounded the evening services all week. The choir sang four beautiful anthems, several recorder groups played bits of music through the service, and following the benediction the children passed out Easter eggs at the door. Hallelujah!
Story 1310 Good Friday at Tainan Theological College (March 29)
Because parts of Holy Week fall on week days during term time (instead of on Sundays when students are all at their field work churches or while the college is on vacation), Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are "high holy days" at the school. On Good Friday all classes were cancelled and the college gathered at 9AM in the chapel. Worship was led by the M.Div. students who are studying liturgy and worship. Each year's group tries to do something different than the last. This year we read of Jesus' arrest, saw a brief drama of Peter's denial, and sang some hymns. Then we left the chapel and moved to the quad and some of the classrooms where other things were set up.
We saw displays about past and present suffering in the world, things like war, famine, oppression, and grief. We meditated on these and wrote statements of our will and intention in a makeshift prayer chapel. In the college garden two heavy crosses were available. Everyone who wished got to be Simon of Cyrene, carrying one or the other around. A student costumed as a modern military policeman snapped a whip, beat on the cross with a stick, and verbally abused those who he compelled to bear it. At 11 o'clock we reconvened in the chapel and read the crucifixion story. Everyone had been told to bring a noisemaker. After the verse about the temple curtain being torn in two was read, the pipe organ hit a discordant combination of notes and panedmonium broke loose for a couple of minutes while black curtains were slowly drawn back revealing the chapel cross. Rev. Ong Cheng-bun, who teaches worship, had earlier prepared the congregation to see this as the moment when the world had changed. It was an extremely moving experience.
Beyond having a flower arrangement in church, arts and worship don't often combine in Taiwan. That students can have experiences of worshiping creatively and artfully during their years here, and those going into ministry have responsibility to help plan and conduct such a service at least once, speaks well for the future of Taiwan's Presbyterian Church.
Story 1309 Maundy Thursday at the Theological College (March 28)
Thursday night we went to Dongning Church a bit early for the evening's service, but told Rev. Guo that we'd be slipping out just as he began preaching because we had to be back at the college. Dave was scheduled to help serve communion that night. Events on campus began at 9PM. The pews in the chapel had all been rearranged, and the communion table had been placed in the center of the room. After announcements and the call to worship, the servers processed in and around the hall, setting the table before taking their seats. The service lasted an hour. There was a brief pause and then things moved to a meditative mode: short songs, readings, and silence under subdued light for another 30 minutes. It was a rather somber crowd that left late that night to go home to bed.
Story 1308 Scrambled, Sort of (March 28)
Every phrase in the Lord's Prayer is good stuff. When they're assembled in the order that Jesus taught they constitute "The Lord's Prayer." But they don't have to be used only that order. Don't call it "The Lord's Prayer" and the phrases can be rearranged for alternative worship and meditation uses. Dave sent his students home on March 21 with the phrases from the prayer on individual little pieces of paper. Each also had a blank sheet of paper and a bottle of glue. The homework was to arrange the phrases and glue them down to form new prayers. The only stipulation was that "AMEN" had to come last.
We learned several things. 1) Even though we weren't editing or improving what Jesus had taught, people didn't feel comfortable. 2) It was hard to uncouple "as we forgive our debtors" from "forgive us our debts". Dave urged them to think what it might mean if we said, "Your kingdom come as we forgive our debtors," or "Forgive us our debts on earth as in heaven"?
One guy mentioned a discovery. The most startling and refreshing meanings came when randomness was the rule. He glued "AMEN" at the bottom of the page then pasted down the phrases without even looking at them. When he read the result to us, it was both strange and somehow meaning-filled. Hey, kids, try this one at home!
Story 1307 A Room Full of T-shirts (March 26)
Both classes Dave teaches at Tainan Theological College have 7 students enrolled and 3 more who sit in. Dave often gives them work to do in pairs, teaching each other, then draws them into discussions. While the students were at work on a project last week, he looked around and noticed that many were clad in t-shirts with logos. He took notes.
The woman to his left wore a shirt with the words "Worship and Praise" on it. Apparently she was part of her church's praise team. A guy in his 40s who has left the church newspaper to study theology had a shirt with names of teams from the American League Baseball playoffs from a year or 2 ago. The young fellow to his left had donned his college "class shirt" identifying him as belonging to next year's graduating class. A fourth student was wearing something about a jazz concert where a Miles Davis retrospective was presented. The last of the five, a young and able man, had the best shirt. It was black with a yellow logo, urging "Make Cupcakes, Not War". Next to the worship and praise shirt, this was possibly the deepest theological statement made in class that afternoon.
Story 1306 Holy Week at Church (March 25-29)
Holy Week was full of church, and we mean FULL! Our pastor, Dr. Lin, had long wanted to do more than the usual two extra services during the week. This year, with an associate pastor on board, he finally had the resources. Dongning Church gathered to hear preaching Monday through Friday nights.
Dr. Lin is in his 60s. He has a PhD degree and was the president of a Bible college for many years. He draws on this background to deliver sermons of surpassing depth and detail. Rev. Guo, a much younger man, had been Dr. Lin's student many years back. This is his second job since he finished theological seminary. He has a lighter touch and tells more personal stories.
Both pastors did yeoman's jobs of bringing us the word of God to reflect on the events of Holy Week. They turned our hearts and minds to Jesus and kept us there. In a church where Sunday attendance hovers around 250, nearly 75 were present each evening. Different choirs sang on different evenings (Young Adult, Sr. Citizens', Womens', Chancel, etc.) yielding delightful variety and uplifting hearts.
Story 1305 Three out of Three (March 24)
Dave went out of town to preach on Palm Sunday, his final college fund-raising assignment this year. The church was in Kaohsiung, where we lived for 25 years, in a part of the city far from where we had resided. As he drove he reflected on our years of campus and parish ministry there. The church he visited is on the other side of a large industrial park, and many of the members are laborers. The welcome was enthusiastic and worship was spirited. The contrast between the working-class church and the urban professional one where we typically worship was pretty stark. It's good to be shaken up from time to time. Hope you get that too.
Story 1304 On Time (March 24)
Unless it's raining really hard, we walk to church on Sunday mornings. It takes about 20 minutes to get there in time for hymn practice (which preceeds worship). Lately, though, we noticed that we arrive closer and closer to the prelude. By that time our usual place in the pew taken by someone else. Today Dave was preaching out of town, so Char walked to church alone. She purposely left 5 minutes earlier than has been our habit of late, and got to church while there were still available seats to choose from. So, we're wondering... have we become forgetful of when to go out the door, or are we slowing down?
Story 1303 Unexpected Breathing Room (March 23)
A note in Chinese came by e-mail Friday morning promising Char some breathing room in weeks to come. Spring vacation at Chang Jung Christian University has just been expanded from Wednesday April 3 to Friday April 5, to include Tuesday, April 2, a day when she was scheduled to teach. It's a welcome and unexpected bit news that will help her get out from under the pile of quiz and report marking that has built up and help her get a hear start on mid-term examinations coming up next month. The sudden gift of an extra day off makes her wonder, though, whether or not she'll have to pay for it by going to school on an Saturday later in the term as a make-up day. For now, she's waiting for "the other shoe to drop."
Story 1302 Hospitality (March 21 & 23)
Tainan Theological College hosts in-service ministerial training three times a year, bringing lecturers from overseas to speak to students and alumni. This week Dr. Sugitharajah, a Sri Lankan who lives and teaches in the UK, is with us to lecture on March 25 and 26. He arrived well ahead of time, on Wednesday night, to get over jet-lag and be at his best for his job. Dr. Yang, the faculty member responsible for the lectures, asked us to see to his dinner last Thursday night and lunch on Saturday.
Dr. Sugitharajah asked us to call him "Sugi" (we were very grateful). We discovered that when the two of us were living at St. Andrew's Hall Missionary College in England in 1981 he was right next door at Kingsmead Hall. Though we didn't meet back then, during the time we've spent together over meals we've learned about him. We hope that we've helped him learn about Taiwan and the college, and that his lectures help ministers and students here.
Story 1301 Messing with the Name of God (March 21)
About 15 years ago, when visiting New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Dave picked up a magazine and found an article listing something like "a million names for God". He was intrigued. The page had four columns of words. By taking a word from column A, one from column B, one from column C and one from column D, things like "mysterious mender of the world's people" emerged. Since the magazine was on a "free to take away" pile, he tore out the page and put it into a file. Three years ago he translated part of it into Chinese for an academic paper presented to the faculty of Tainan Theological College. He also discovered that the original list has expanded and is published as "25 million names of God."
In the class he teaches on leading public prayer he asked students how they start prayers in a congregational setting. Most responded that they use variations on "Our Father in Heaven" or "Dear Lord". Few had any other ideas (except for one who suggested using 'God's real name', Jehovah). Last week Dave distributed envelopes containing 75 little colored bits of paper (25 each of pink, green, and blue), a large white sheet with spaces in columns, and a tube of glue. Green papers (adjectives) went into the left column, pink ones (more adjectives) into the center, and blue (nouns) into the right column. After pasting things in this fashion, students read out the "new" names for God that emerged.
Some were sceptical, wanting to examine each word before fixing it down to be sure they did the exercise correctly. Others entered into the spirit of the exercise, pasting words randomly and discovering what the Holy Spirit might do. Dave told them that if they did 10 names and only 2 were usable, they would gain a couple new ways to lead churches in prayer. After a few minutes of pasting and reading, there was delight in the room.
The homework assignment, due on the 28th, is to bring to class a set of names suitable for use in worship on four occasions: New Year, Peace and Reconciliation Day, Easter and Women's Day. With 10 students at work on the project, we may find 40 new names to address our God, and a few students might find themselves released from habits and free to lead prayer more creatively.
Story 1300 Doing One's Part for Tainan Theological College (March 17 Editorial from the Taiwan Church News)
The history of Tainan Theological College and Seminary reflects that of the Christian church in Taiwan. The school was founded in 1876 by Rev. Thomas Barclay, a Scot, in response to an earlier missionary's suggestion that “Taiwan really needs to put into place a system capable of educating and nurturing talented and willing youths so that they can be used by God.”
In its first 2 decades, totally dependent on missionary support, the college closed 4 times due to lack of teachers or the outbreak of war. It reopened in 1896 with 13 students. They were tested weekly, and the names of the top scorers were published in the Taiwan Church News. In addition to classroom study, pupils maintained the campus and led evangelistic rallies.
The college first Taiwanese president – Rev. Shoki Coe – began serving in 1949. Under his guidance and with assistance from overseas ecumenical partners the college stabilized and grew. During the 1950s and 60s contextual approaches to theology began to shape instruction. Like a tree planted by a stream, the college sank its roots deeply into Taiwan's land and culture while opening its leaves to breathe in learning from churches around the world.
Today, donations from local churches and parishioners provide 65% of the school's income. Tuition charges make up the rest. Such overseas donations as the college receives come from alumni or Taiwanese churches abroad. This dynamic fosters an especially close relationship with the General Assembly of Taiwan's Presbyterian Church and to college alumni serving in several denominations around the world. The aim promoted to students and faculty is humble service to God while blessing humankind.
Marking Tainan Theological College Sunday this week, the school sends students and teachers to churches nationwide. They ask sisters and brothers to continue support of the mission of theological education, nurturing pastors, musicians and social workers who will: love study, possess good character, evangelize with passion, use Taiwan's languages, identify with this land, support marginalized folks, and serve the Lord and Taiwan in the Reformed spirit of “aflame but not consumed”.