And a Happy New Year 2020!
Wishing you all a good start to the new year! If you’re going to read this blog post all the way through, then I suggest you first stop and brew up, it’s a long read, but hey it covers everything! My own drink of choice for such activity is Vanilla Tea – kindly supplied by our good friend, Alice who arrived recently from Mauritius bearing 2 large packets of it – it’s really good!
Let’s just rewind a little, to the point where I realized that as the termites had eaten all my Christmas decorations a year or so ago, then a new strategy was called for in 2019. Yes, the time had come to move the decorations out of the house ~ and to just wear them all instead. And so it was that I spent much of Advent covered in tinsel, Santa glasses, reindeer antlers, Christmas trees – carrying with me an abundant supply to give out to those who appreciate such things ~ like Bishop Lai and all those in the diocesan office in Taipei…
Professor Mei-Mei Lin had been waiting for me to come on down to the diocesan office to celebrate her birthday on December 7 ~ I got there a week late, but hey, we had a very lively time! Newly-retired from Dong-Hua University, Hualien, Mei-Mei is now dedicating all her time to publishing a book and papers on the history of the Taiwan Episcopal Church; she’s a real character and there is never a dull moment! We will miss Bishop and Mrs. Lai when they retire in a few months time, but they kindly presented us with an artillery shell cross each, and Bishop Lai welcomed all the diocesan office staff to choose one of his own calligraphy carvings – with words from the Bible. Thank you Bishop and Mrs. Lai!
Meanwhile, here at Advent Church, our Advent 2019 celebrations kind of started at the end of November with our ‘Happy Ending Christmas Party’ to mark the end of 10 weeks of English Classes this semester. This is a community outreach of Advent Church – beginner’s English on Tuesday evenings and intermediate English on Monday afternoons – and a combined party on November 26. Yippee! I am very blessed to have some wonderful assistants, Xiao-Chien and Marge, without whom the party and the classes wouldn’t have gone anywhere near so smoothly. Some of the group brought their families, everyone was welcome!
The following day was our annual St. John’s University (SJU) Coming-Of-Age Ceremony for all students turning 18 years old this year, of which there were 290+, all wearing their new school ties. Not really an Advent activity as such, but this year it was held much later than usual, so close to Advent in fact that it felt like it was! This ceremony – with a theme of looking back in thanksgiving and moving forward into all the responsibilities of adulthood – has been highly praised by the Ministry of Education and involves each student drinking a small cup of wine, presentation of gifts to parents and teachers, lighting of candles, prayers and speeches. It’s run by the SJU chaplaincy office, assisted by the student fellowship…
For Advent Sunday, December 1, I was in St. James’ Church, Taichung for the sermon in the English service, but went there early in order to celebrate in advance the 60th birthday of my good friend, A-Guan (4th left, back row, in the photo below), whose birthday is December 20, plus our other good friend, Jhr-Mou (second left), older son of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, who turned 60 on December 22 ~ so we kind of celebrated both birthdays together… 🎉🍰🎈 St. James’ people just love parties!
The official launch of Advent at SJU was on December 3 at 4:45 pm, just as it was getting dark – with a short service and the switching on of the Christmas tree lights by SJU President Ay…
Every Advent, Advent wreaths are distributed to each department and admin office in SJU, and we go on a 3-hour walkabout each week, gathering everyone in each office together, lighting the relevant candle, sharing a reading, praying and singing. This is a selection of photos from Week One, when we prayed by name for each person attached to each office, going through the names of all those working at SJU …
On Thursday December 5, our student fellowship held their Christmas outreach event, and what a great occasion it was! There were games, singing, dancing, drama, testimonies and prizes. The highlight was the drama, long-practiced and really well-performed. I’ve persuaded them to put the drama on YouTube for your benefit, so please check it out…
We had over 70 people there in total, really good numbers and lots of happy students….
On December 6, we invited visitors from this year’s charity, Tszai Education and Nursing Institute, 財團法人天主教會台中教區附設台灣省私立慈愛殘障教養院, to come and share about their work. Every year, SJU and Advent Church work together to raise money for a charity through our Christmas bazaar (held on December 18) and donation-drive. This year we chose a Roman Catholic charity who run a residential centre in Changhua for disabled people ~ they want to upgrade their facilities to provide ceiling fans in each room. Despite the heat, in summer they do not put on the A/C until it reaches 28°C, so these fans will help a lot. Such is the pollution and declining air quality in central and southern Taiwan, that opening the windows becomes a risk to those with sensitive health conditions. Previously upright fans have been used, but they are an obstacle to safe movement in the rooms. Ceiling fans are out of reach, and they also move the air around all over the room rather than just at ground level. The charity’s director, Mr. Chang (in the blue and white checked shirt in the centre) came to share about their work – and we all gathered to listen, and to advertise our fund-raising!
Advent Week Two at SJU started with our weekly walkabout….
Then on December 10, our group of 20 international trainees from Haiti had their closing ceremony – in French and Chinese, in the church centre. This is the second group to participate in this project, of 11 weeks of training in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, under a Taiwan ICDF program. This group used French, our previous group used English. The only problem was that the group were then delayed by a whole week due to the strike in France affecting flights!
As part of that ICDF project, Camille and Jun-Hong came to work at SJU, Camille with the French / English / Chinese translation and administration, and Jun-Hong with the engineering classes and as general assistant. Their contracts finished on December 20, and both are much missed, thank you guys! We all wish them well as they move on elsewhere ~ here we are at our farewell lunch!
Saturday December 14 ~ and a trip to St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi for the very joyful wedding of Isaac Chen Wei-Chieh 陳瑋杰 and his beautiful bride, Ya-Hsin 羅雅馨, see that blog post here….
The next day, December 15, I was at St. John’s Cathedral for the sermon in their English service, followed by a lively pre-Christmas potluck celebration, complete with roast ham and all sorts of delicious goodies! Thank you everyone for a really good party!
And so to Advent Week Three at SJU, which started with our weekly walkabout, lighting candles in each office…
At lunchtime on Wednesday December 18, we held our charity bazaar in aid of the ceiling fans at Tszai ~ the bazaar always takes weeks and months of preparation, but it’s all in a good cause. After several weeks of sunshine, the rain started, but it didn’t dampen spirits! Our student fellowship were busy for days beforehand collecting and sorting lots of second-hand goods to sell, while our church members were busy in the kitchen cooking up delicious food for people to buy for lunch. Some of our former colleagues in the university also came back to visit and help, a great reunion for us all. The idea is that everyone can buy their lunch at the bazaar plus a few extra snacks – all yummy!
An added bonus at this year’s bazaar was to welcome Tunshan Elementary School, whose kindergarten class came along with their parents and teachers – they had their own stall selling food, toys and postcards that they had made. They were full of energy and fun, and really brightened us all up on a gloomy day!
On Thursday December 19, the day started with me visiting a very small and remote (but local) elementary school, Xing-Hua, at the foot of the mountains, where the children made their own Christmas cards by recycling my old ones. If you’ve sent me a Christmas card by post in the last few years, chances are it is now recycled into a new Christmas card, all covered in glitter and stickers by the children. Thank you everyone!
In the evening, our student fellowship went carol-singing around the SJU campus in the rain, including to the student dormitories, to our neighbours and to President Ay’s house, where we were warmly welcomed by him and his wife for refreshments…
At 7:30 am the next morning, we gathered at the SJU Chaplaincy to walk to our neighbouring junior high school, Xian-Xiao, to bring them our Christmas greetings at their school assembly, followed by lighting all the candles of the Advent wreath with the principal, staff and some of the parents. Always great to see them all!
In the evening, Advent Church and SJU student fellowship members went to share the good news of Christmas in the local community. We sang ‘Silent Night’ on the doorstep on each home and then wished everyone a Merry Christmas. We started in the Japanese Ramen restaurant above the Carrefour Supermarket, run by Mr. and Mrs. Wu from Advent Church, which was warm and dry…
And then we went in 4 cars, a motorcycle and a minibus northwards up the coast to Baishawan, where we received a wonderfully warm welcome from the Chang sisters, who took us on a tour around their neighbours singing to them all. Whereas the Ramen Restaurant had been very light, very warm and very dry, now it was completely dark, cold, bleak and absolutely pouring with rain. They live right by the sea, in an remote area where many of the houses are either ruins or look like they’re struggling to stay upright, and where the wind and rain make winter a challenge for everyone. But hey, when the going gets tough, the tough get going! Our carol-singing tour – with some of our older church members in their mid-80’s – was full of joy, and we enjoyed soup and red bean tang-yuan dessert along the way. It was too wet for me to take photos, so I have taken these from facebook. Advent Church is certainly an ‘Advent-urous’ Church!
On Saturday December 21, off I went to Shuang-Lien Elderly Home to wish my very lovely friend, Mrs. Hsu a Merry Christmas. We gathered in the coffee shop with some of the other residents, their Filipino helpers and other staff ~ it was very lively! And then we all clapped 91 times in celebration of Mrs. Hsu’s upcoming 91st birthday 👏👏😊 YES!
Fast forward to Christmas Eve ~ and our final walkabout during the afternoon to light all the candles on each Advent wreath and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! We also passed by 2 beautiful displays in the Creative Design dept done by members of our student fellowship….
In the evening at 7:30 pm was the Advent Church Christmas Eve service, and we welcomed old friends and new, including a group of students who came to church instead of their regular Wednesday evening class, along with their teacher, Dr. Wang, our SJU Vice-President. And our church choir wore their brand new robes for the very first time ~ their first new robes for 20 years!
Christmas Day is a normal work and school day in Taiwan, so at 7:45 am off I went for my early morning English class at Xian-Xiao Junior-High School….
We had a small Christmas Day service at 10:00 am in Advent Church. It was a beautiful sunny day, what a change from a few days ago when it was so wet and cold! The view from Advent Church of the SJU campus on Christmas Day morning…
The service was attended by SJU faculty, staff, students and church members. The rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, presented a cheque for NT$ 100,000 on behalf of Advent Church to SJU President Ay as a donation to cover the costs of repairs, maintenance, utilities and cleaning that are carried out by SJU for Advent Church throughout the year. Another cheque, for NT$ 50,000, was presented by the SJU Alumni Association to the fund run by the SJU chaplaincy that provides meal coupons for students from disadvantaged families, one of whom received the cheque. Thanks be to God!
The service was followed by a light lunch for our students who receive meal coupons, for my group of students who normally meet on Wednesday lunchtimes for an English Bible Study, plus some church members. We had 5 dishes ~ fried noodles, fried rice, 2 vegetable dishes and fizzy juice with fruit, all very good, and a really good way to spend Christmas Day ~ before we went back to work for the afternoon!
On Christmas Day afternoon came the other really good news of the day ~ we had reached our target in the SJU and Advent Church charity fundraising drive 2019 for the Tszai Education and Nursing Institute in Changhua! Thanks be to God! At lunchtime we were still over NT$ 60,000 short, and we had asked people to pray and to give – and then to pray and to give some more! We are deeply grateful to our good friend, Dr. Christopher Chih-Yung Chen, son of Rev, Charles C. T. Chen and professor here at SJU, who came to our rescue by asking all his colleagues to donate, and he came to our chaplaincy office just before 5:00 pm with the money he had collected that day: NT$ 87,000 in cash, which brought our grand total to well over the target. Our deadline was Christmas Day – and so the target was reached just in time! God is good, and we are very grateful! This is us celebrating in the SJU Chaplaincy office with Christopher: 感謝上帝 Thanks be to God!
On Friday December 27, our SJU Chaplain, Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang took a group of us to visit the Tszai Education and Nursing Institute, 財團法人天主教會台中教區附設台灣省私立慈愛殘障教養院 (link here to their website / facebook – their facebook page has lots of good photos of their activities) in order to present our donation and to have a short tour. The drive to Changhua in central Taiwan took 3 hours, and we were warmly welcomed by Mr. Chang, the director and his staff – for coffee, lunch and a tour of the premises. The main building on the compound was built 20+ years ago and houses 124 residents with varying degrees of disability (another 20+ come on a daily basis and return home at night). All residents are recommended for admittance by social services, and families pay a certain amount each month, but for low income families, the government helps out and nobody is turned away. Some come from loving homes, others have little contact with their families. They all find a warm welcome at Tszai!
On the same compound, next to the main building is the original building, which was built many years ago by the Maryknoll Sisters to take care of leprosy patients. As the number of leprosy patients deceased, people were other disabilities were admitted. But space was limited, so the new building was added 20 years ago, and now both are in use. This is the original building in the foreground, the one at the back with the cross is the very famous Changhua Christian Hospital.
The vision of Mr. Chang, the director and his team to install ceiling fans in each of the 60 twin-bedded dormitory rooms, has first been tested by installing fans in 2 of the bedrooms, including this one below. They proved such a success that they decided to fund-raise to fit out the remaining rooms. Each fan costs NT$ 4,800 x 60 = NT$ 288,000….
We thank God that we were able to hand over our donation of NT$ 344,250! It was a great day indeed, and we are grateful for God’s grace and the generosity of all those at SJU and Advent Church😊😊
Sunday December 29 was the nearest Sunday to St. John’s Day (Dec. 27) and tradition has it that the SJU Student Fellowship take leading roles in the Sunday service on that day – leading the singing, readings, offerings, as much as possible. Lots of former student fellowship members also came back to join the celebrations, and in the afternoon they had a great Christmas party ~ here they all are after the service. It was really great to see them – but hey I had no time to stop, we were off the airport to pick up our VIP visitors!
And so to the final big event of 2019, and the long-awaited visit of a group of 22 very lovely family members of the late Bishop James C. L. Wong (1900-1970), the first Chinese Bishop of Taiwan (1965-70). It was an action-packed 30-hour visit, the highlight being a very moving Thanksgiving Service on Monday December 30 in Advent Church, during which Rev. Charles C. T. Chen gave the sermon, sharing many inspirational stories about Bishop Wong. Another highlight was for the group to meet up with Bishop Lai, senior clergy and church members who had personally known Bishop Wong. And in-between were gift presentations, photos and delicious meals galore. Here’s the extended Wong family ~ and you’d never know from their smiles and enthusiasm that it hardly stopped raining the whole time they were here!
Bishop James Wong achieved more in his 5 short years in Taiwan than most of us do in a whole lifetime, including founding this institution, St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT – now St. John’s University), setting up the diocesan office in Taipei and establishing a companion diocese with the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in the USA, thereby raising a huge amount of money which was used to build many of our churches. As Rev. Charles C. T. Chen said in his sermon at the Thanksgiving Service, Bishop Wong inspired a whole generation of clergy through his motto of ‘Transforming Lives through the Life of Christ’, encouraging them to raise funds to build their own churches and to reach out and help the less fortunate ~ the result of which can be seen today, for example in Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and St. James’ Church, Taichung raising money to build 12 churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines from 1998-2012 (for more details of that project see my blog post here) ~ and in Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, rector of Advent Church here at SJU, raising the funds to build our Advent Church Centre, for ministry on the campus and in the local community.
Bishop Wong is buried here, under the altar at Advent Church ~ in fact the church was built around his grave. He had 4 children, and the group of 22 who came to visit included all the direct descendants of Bishop Wong’s oldest son, Francis, who died last year in his 80’s. In fact, Francis was born on December 30, 1929, so it would have been his 90th birthday on the day of our Thanksgiving Service. It’s meaningful to think that on that very day 90 years ago Bishop Wong and his wife became parents for the first time! Francis Wong’s 5 children (standing in the photo below with Bishop Lai, Rev. Charles Chen, Rev. Lennon Chang, Rev. Wu and President Ay) and their families had gathered from Australia, New Zealand, UK and Brazil in Hong Kong for Christmas, and extended their time to come to Taiwan, most visiting Taiwan for the very first time.
The group arrived at Taoyuan Airport on Sunday December 29 early afternoon. We brought them to SJU, where they spent the night, and Advent Church hosted a welcome dinner that evening. Then the Tan family and church members arrived at 6:00 am on Monday to cook them a really fantastic breakfast, all laid out with table-cloths, flowers and even background music….
On Monday December 30, we held the Thanksgiving Service at 10:00 am, all in English, in Advent Church, to remember Bishop Wong ~ and we invited alumni from the first SJSMIT intake from 53 years ago, clergy and church members, as well as SJU President Ay, faculty and staff…
Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, rector, led the service, Rev. Charles C. T. Chen preached and Bishop Lai gave the blessing; the family also gave a speech and presented beautiful books of old photos of Bishop Wong and their family. There were also gift presentations from President Ay on behalf of SJU and from Professor Mei-Mei Lin, who spent most of the past month putting together a special booklet in honour of their visit, all about Bishop Wong’s legacy and significance for the Taiwan Episcopal Church.
In the afternoon, we took the Wong family group to Taipei where we held a sharing time at St. John’s Cathedral, giving the family a chance to listen to our beloved Canon Chancellor Herbert H. P. Ma and Rev. Michael T. H. Liu share their memories of Bishop Wong, and the family also presented them with photo books. Mr. Yang, our diocesan secretary and a group of church members who had been confirmed by Bishop Wong had brought their confirmation certificates to show! Bishop Lai presented each family with an artillery shell cross, and later that evening, Bishop Lai hosted a dinner on behalf of the diocese.
It was really wonderful to welcome Bishop Wong’s family to Taiwan for this short but very significant visit (for the Christian Tribune report of their visit in Chinese, please see the link here). And if their fun way of posing for photos takes off in Taiwan (as in the photo below) it’ll become another part of Bishop Wong’s great legacy – established by the 3rd and 4th generations of his family! 😂🙃😂
Thanks be to God for a very lively and meaningful Advent and Christmas 2019, and thank you all for your Christmas cards, letters, messages and gifts! There was certainly a lot going on, and above is but a small selection of events. We give thanks for God’s mercy, for His light shining in the darkness, for the gift of eternal life. As 2019 draws to a close, may we continue to be thankful for God’s grace throughout this past year, and, under God’s leading, prepare to face the exciting challenges of 2020! Happy New Year to you all!
PS Updated on January 1, 2020: Today Bishop Lai invited all clergy and their families plus diocesan workers who are based in northern Taiwan to St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for a Christmas and New Year Thanksgiving Service, followed by lunch. Here we all are in the cathedral after the service shouting out altogether ‘新年快樂’ ‘Happy New Year’ to you all!
Blessings abound, thanks be to God!