Tag Archives: Advent Church

Congratulations to 鄭喻璘 Yu-Lin and 王三源 San-Yuan on their Wedding Day!

A beautiful day for a beautiful couple! Such a special event, a wedding at Advent Church for 2 very special people, and the sun shone all day to mark the occasion. For us, this was THE wedding of the year, and a pandemic year at that. We give thanks to God that despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, everything went so well.

The wedding service was conducted by our rector, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, with Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang preaching and giving the marriage blessing. As both the bride and groom’s families are Christians, so we also had Holy Communion, celebrated by Bishop Chang. His sermon was particularly moving; he talked about Yu-Lin as if she were his own daughter, having known her since she was a child, and encouraged her all the way through. He made Yu-Lin’s parents stand up as he introduced them to their new son, and the same for San-Yuan’s mother, as he introduced her to her new daughter. There was hardly a dry eye in the church!

Yu-Lin is in her first year as a Taiwan diocesan seminarian, after a year of being a diocesan intern, which involved 6 months at Good Shepherd Church, Taipei and then 6 months at St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi. For the last few months, she has been living at the diocesan office in Taipei, with her weekend placement being at Christ Church, Chungli, Taoyuan. San-Yuan is a sound engineer, long based in Tainan, but a few months ago he moved up to Taipei, and has been attending the morning prayer services with Yu-Lin at the diocesan office, also taking part in some of the seminarian training sessions led by Bishop Chang. A great start to their future church ministry together!

Yu-Lin was our much-loved colleague here at Advent Church and St. John’s University (SJU) for many years, always keeping us on our toes. Life was never boring! She is very friendly, outgoing, extremely creative, multi-talented and highly-skilled in all things technical and practical – from fixing computers to driving her father’s minibus up and down the country. Yu-Lin’s father has long been professor of Electrical Engineering here at SJU and is now also Dean of General Affairs, which means he is in overall charge of the SJU campus and the maintenance of all buildings and equipment. He spends his weekends at SJU instructing courses that lead to license qualifications in everything from plumbing to driving fork-lift trucks, he told me once he has 23 different license qualifications! In between times he is to be found scurrying around the campus, checking the generators, the AC units, driving the workers in his forklift truck to trim some trees or installing lighting to make the campus brighter. Always busy, and in his holidays, he climbs mountains, and takes the family on holidays to interesting places. It was very moving for him, in the pre-wedding event on Saturday, when he and Yu-Lin’s mother placed the veil over their daughter’s head ~ he really struggled to hold back the tears.

Yu-Lin’s mother is the principal of the kindergarten at Jinshan RC Church, having taking over from her older sister. Yu-Lin’s mother has 3 sisters, and all but one of them are in Advent Church, all very lively and very lovely! The older one has now moved to St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung to join her daughter, Si-Yun and husband, Rev. Richard R. C. Lee, who is the rector. Si-Yun came to the wedding this weekend, acting as ‘matchmaker’ – it’s an important role in making sure everything goes to plan! This is Si-Yun, Yu-Lin’s mother and older brother ….

So, with Yu-Lin and her extended family being members of Advent Church, Tamsui, and with San-Yuan’s family home being in Tainan, it was arranged that the wedding service would take place at Advent Church on Saturday October 2 at 1:30 pm, with the official wedding reception being held in Tainan next Saturday, October 9.

Taiwan is currently under Level 2 Pandemic Restrictions, which means facemasks are compulsory and indoor events are limited to 80 people. Because Advent Church is part of St. John’s University, so we are also allowed to use our Advent Church Centre as an overflow for a further 80 people, but because of the distancing rules, we would not be allowed to host any kind of formal reception with food. So after the wedding everyone went home with a box of delicious finger food to enjoy instead.

Yu-Lin’s family

A few months ago, Yu-Lin and San-Yuan announced their wedding event on Facebook with a sign-up form for those who wished to attend, but stressing that the event would also be livestreamed, so feel free to attend online instead of in-person. This is the video…

Then a few weeks ago we had a Covid cluster outbreak in Greater Taipei, and suddenly New Taipei City (which includes St. John’s University) went into enhanced Level 2 Restrictions, and events were suddenly restricted to 50 people. Some of us uninvited ourselves, but it was worrying week, not knowing what was going to happen! Then, as the pandemic situation improved, so restrictions were relaxed and it became 80 again. Relief all round!

San-Yuan’s family

Yu-Lin and San-Yuan first met through the Taiwan branch of ANM 萬國敬拜與讚美 ‘All Nations Worship & Praise Ministries’, which started in South Korea in 1987, and sends out mission teams around the world to reach Chinese-speaking people with the Gospel. Yu-Lin studied at university in Tainan, and in 2008, she and San-Yuan vaguely knew of each other through both studying on the ANM training program in Tainan. Then in 2018, they both attended 3-month ANM “Intercultural Community Mission Training” programs in Germany that overlapped by about 6 weeks. That was the start of their relationship. Yu-Lin then spent a further year in Germany with ANM, returning to Taiwan in May 2020 to join the Diocese of Taiwan internship program. Many of the people at the wedding on Saturday were connected with ANM….

ANM friends

This is an abridged version of Yu-Lin’s testimony that she wrote for our diocesan Friendship Magazine in May 2021:

“Not long after I was born, in 1988, my parents discovered I had an abnormal condition, which led them to embark on a day of running around different hospitals with me, unable to find a doctor willing to take the risk of operating on me. My mother was anxious and overwhelmed, and she prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, if you heal my daughter, and find a doctor willing to operate on her, I will dedicate her to you…” Thanks be to God, He heard that prayer, and I was baptized in Advent Church at 7 months old, and at the age of 13, I was confirmed.

Advent Church choir

Although I grew up in the church, I didn’t really know anything about faith, and the word “Christian” was such a special label to me as if I was meant to prove: Why can’t Christians do bad things? So in adolescence I became very rebellious, stealing my parents’ money, running away from home, self-harming, bullying others.

Wedding Certificate

But God’s work is wonderful. In 2006, when I turned 18, a friend invited me to a special gathering of ‘All Nations Worship & Praise School’ (ANM). It was a 4-day event, but at the start I was unable to concentrate and ran away from the gathering until the third day, when my heart really calmed down and I found myself longing to meet the Lord who loved me. That day I met Jesus! My first feeling was being filled with the Holy Spirit, and I will never forget being touched and forgiven deeply by God’s love. He said, “My child, I don’t remember your past,” and in the presence of the Holy Spirit, I was completely set free. Later, the leader announced, “If you are willing to give your life to the Lord, come up to the stage.” I walked onto the stage with a grateful heart and in tears.

So I started to participate in the ANM training every Saturday until now, and that gathering became a turning point in my life. I experienced God’s love and forgiveness firsthand, and found myself changing my character, habits and values, including redefining what I saw as a ‘successful life’. In 2010, God led me to Advent Church as an education officer, and in 2012 I joined St. John’s University Chaplaincy (under the then chaplain, Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang) as a student fellowship counsellor and administrator, including in 2015, taking part in a memorable short-term mission trip to Myanmar.”

SJU Student Fellowship

ANM have the policy that dating couples only make their relationship public when they announce their engagement, and so it is that San-Yuan is known to many of us but has largely kept a low profile until recently. He tells me that while Yu-Lin was assigned to St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi earlier this year, he was confirmed into the Episcopal Church, and he is committed to moving with Yu-Lin around Taiwan depending on where she is assigned by Bishop Chang and the diocesan office. Hopefully he can find a suitable job wherever he finds himself based. San-Yuan is certainly very accommodating and committed! So far in the Taiwan Episcopal Church, as far as I know, he is the first newly-married husband to follow this path. We have several women clergy and seminarians, but all are either single or became seminarians later in life, once their children were grown.

At the wedding, we were delighted to welcome Sheerah and her husband, Yu-Wei. We first met Sheerah some years ago, when she came with a team from the Diocese of West Malaysia to Advent Church to lead some training for our children’s summer camps, a program called Kid’s Games. So she got to know many of our students and church members, including Yu-Lin. Since then, she has relocated to Taiwan, married to Yu-Wei. They have 2 children, Ethan who turned 2 on Saturday, and Eva, aged 4 months. Bishop Chang invites them to attend our monthly birthday lunches at the diocesan office, so they have got to know us all even better. Like San-Yuan, Yu-Wei is also a sound engineer, and he was invited to help with the sound system for the wedding. So with Yu-Wei busy, we all offered to help out with entertaining Ethan and Eva, who proved a big hit with everyone, and appear in lots and lots of photos. As it was Ethan’s birthday that day, it seemed an added bonus!

Before the service…..

The wedding service ……

After the service, the throwing of the bride’s bouquet…

And group photos…..

Please do pray for Yu-Lin and San-Yuan as they begin their married life together. The road ahead is long and challenging, especially during the next few years of training, but we pray for God’s grace to sustain them. Congratulations to them both and their families, and thanks be to Almighty God!

Congratulations to Rev. Stoney Chia-Kuei Wu on his Ordination as Priest 台灣聖公會吳家圭會吏按立會長聖職典禮!

The Rev. Stoney Chia-Kuei Wu 吳家圭 was ordained priest by the Rt. Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, Bishop of Taiwan, at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei on Wednesday September 29, 2021, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas). The service was held at 11:00 am and livestreamed via You Tube…

Chia-Kuei’s ordination as deacon by Bishop Chang took place at St. James’ Church, Taichung on St. James’ Day, Saturday July 25, 2020, in a service that also celebrated the 50th anniversary of St. James’ Church (see that report here). These are the clergy photos from the two ordination services….

Ordination as Deacon, July 2020
Ordination as Priest, September 2021

Chia-Kuei graduated from the seminary at Fu-Jen RC University, Taipei in 2019 and has been serving since then at St. James’ Church, Taichung (under rector Rev. Lily Chang, who preached at the ordination service), having also been on placement there at weekends for his final year of theological college. He and his family live at the Church of the Leading Star, St. James’ daughter church in Taiping, on the outskirts of the city. He will continue serving at the Church of the Leading Star, and this Sunday, October 3, there will be a special service there, at which its official status will be upgraded from mission station to church, with Chia-Kuei in charge. Please do pray for Chia-Kuei, his wife and family and all at Leading Star Church.

Friends from St. James and Leading Star Church

Chia-Kuei was born in 1981, grew up in Taipei, and is the first Christian in his family. He studied at St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT, now St. John’s University, SJU), and became involved with the student fellowship by offering to play the piano for the choir. He later returned to SJU to do his master’s degree, and during that time, in 2006, he was baptized by the then chaplain, Rev Lennon Y. R. Chang, now bishop. Chia-Kuei served as worship group leader and as junior warden at Advent Church while he worked at Siemens as an engineer. He met his wife, Wen-Ting (Wang-Wang) at the student fellowship too, and they were married at Advent Church in 2013. They have a daughter aged 6 and a son almost a year old.

Chia-Kuei and his family

The ordination service on Wednesday was held under Level 2 Pandemic Restrictions, and so 80 people were allowed to attend the service. Facemasks, hand sanitizer and temperature checks were compulsory for all. Social distancing was followed in the seating arrangements. No eating was allowed, so at the end of the service, everyone left with a box of food to take home. In accordance with current diocesan policy, there was no wine offered at Holy Communion, bread only. This is Chia-Kuei serving his daughter….

Apart from all our diocesan clergy and Chia-Kuei’s family members, there were groups of church members in attendance from Advent Church, including Ms. Wang and Ms. Hai, who sang a very moving song during the service, accompanied by Chia-Kuei’s daughter on the tambourine; also St. James’ Church and Leading Star, St. John’s Cathedral, plus friends from Good Shepherd Church. A beautiful service!

Friends from Advent Church
Friends from St. John’s Cathedral

Before the service….

During the service….

After the service, we had photo time!

Many congratulations to the Rev. Stoney Chia-Kuei Wu, and thanks be to Almighty God!

PS: The next big event is the wedding tomorrow of Yu-Lin, our diocesan seminarian and my former colleague in St. John’s University Chaplaincy, and her fiancé San-Yuan here at Advent Church. This is them at the end of the ordination service on Wednesday, being blessed by Chia-Kuei and posing for a photo together. Please do pray for them too!

Cicada Summer: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die” やがてしぬけしきはみえずせみのこゑMatsuo Basho, Japan (1690)

Cicada

What a great attitude to have, and especially in the midst of a pandemic! Follow the way of the cicada. Live life as noisily, joyfully and enthusiastically as possible, even if you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. And even if you hate injections. Don’t look, just keep on pressing that camera shutter, and before y’know it, it’s all over!

There’s 4 of these photos, all slightly different, ha ha! 😂

Anyway, this haiku poem by Matsuo Basho really made me laugh, and it feels like it should end in an exclamation mark, cos it is just so true. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die! The cry of the cicada is truly deafening, and it goes on from dawn to dusk, all summer long. On some nights, in the early hours, a sleepless cicada will call for a few minutes and wake up the whole neighbourhood. It sounds like a continuous loud buzz, and apparently can reach 90 decibels, which is a similar frequency to lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and food blenders spinning at top speed. It is the defining sound of summer, and here in Taiwan people say that summer only really starts when the cicadas appear.

This is 20 seconds of their sound I recorded a few days ago down by the sea below St. John’s University. Just listen….

Now in mid-July, the cicadas are coming to the end of their short adult lives. While the tree tops are still full of their sound, down below at ground level, dead and dying adults are starting to fall.

Otherwise they are very difficult to see, though one of our cherry blossom trees finds itself a gathering place (feeding / egg-laying?) for the cicada adults. They let out strong distress calls and take off if someone approaches too close, so I prefer to view them from a distance…

“Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts 2–5 years. After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig where she deposits her eggs. Both male and female cicadas die within a few weeks after emerging from the soil. Although they have mouthparts and are able to consume some plant liquids for nutrition, the amount eaten is very small and the insects have a natural adult lifespan of less than two months. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Nymphs have strong front legs for digging and excavating chambers in close proximity to roots, where they feed on xylem sap. In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then moult, shedding their skins on a nearby plant for the last time, and emerge as adults. The exuviae or abandoned exoskeletons remain, still clinging to the bark of the tree.”

Their abandoned exoskeletons do indeed remain, clinging to the bark of the tree trunks….

They seem like ghosts of time past, and only when you peer inside through their backs, can you see that each one is split open, empty, the body gone. And all around overhead come the calls of the newly-emerged adults shouting down to us to stop wasting our time looking at their empty shells, and instead to look up and see them buzzing around in the tree tops. We’re not down there, they seem to say, we’re up here. Alive and full of hope. Some say they are symbols of resurrection and immortality, the abandoned exoskeletons perhaps reminding us of the abandoned grave clothes in Jesus’ tomb. There are some similarities. But I prefer to think of them more as symbols of transformation, because the nymph, the body inside that abandoned exoskeleton, was not dead, but rather growing and maturing, changing, transforming into an adult. A bit like the caterpillar in the cocoon emerging as a beautiful butterfly.

Anyway, one thing is for sure, absolutely nothing in the cry of the cicada suggests they are about to die. They have such enthusiasm and passion for life!

It was Gandhi who said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’. That’s our challenge!

In the plant world, it’s also coming to the end of the flowering season, with the lotus flowers fading and the seed pods ready for harvest…

And here in Taiwan, we also hope that we are coming to the end to this recent Covid surge. Our case numbers have been going down each week, and we’re now down to less than 30 cases a day, sometimes less than 20.

Overall statistics are 15,378 confirmed cases, of which 13,931 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 763 deaths, all but 12 of them since May 15 when the current surge began.

As there is still community transmission happening, so the central government has announced that Level 3 alert (of a 4-tier system) continues for a further 2 weeks, but with some restrictions lifted, like the opening of the great outdoors, including parks and mountain hiking trails. Some indoor areas too are opening, like museums, cinemas and some gyms where numbers can be strictly controlled, though with no eating or drinking allowed. The central government also announced the opening up of indoor dining in restaurants, subject to strict guidelines, but all local governments (except for the island chain of Penghu), encouraged by the general public, are treading cautiously and have delayed that decision at the local level for another 2 weeks.

Throughout Taiwan, facemasks are still required outside the home and life continues to be based mostly at home or as local as possible. Facemasks are impossible when swimming, so swimming pools and beaches are still closed. Our local seaside area apparently doesn’t qualify as a beach, so it is spared, and the raised walkway is popular with our local neighbours first thing in the morning for fishing – and exercise. Me too, I’m going every day, usually soon after 5 am, when the sun comes up. Living on the west coast means that we are used to chasing sunsets rather than sunrises, but still, it is possible to get a good view if we get there early enough! These photos are taken from dawn to dusk….

The very good news is that Taiwan’s vaccination program has really moved along in the last few weeks with the arrival of millions of doses donated primarily by Japan and USA, plus some ordered and paid for directly by Taiwan. First dose rounds for the over 65s are more or less complete, and vaccination for the next age group, 50-64 year-olds launched today. I was there, very excited, in Sanzhi Junior High School!

It has taken Taiwan a long time to get to this stage in the vaccination program, and not because Taiwan is a poor country. The money is there to pay for vaccines ordered. But questions about Taiwan’s international status, with possible pressure from Mainland China on governments and on the vaccine companies have resulted in long delays. And with local vaccines now on Phase 3 trials overseas, so we continue to wait for them too. But now, Japan and the USA have each sent Taiwan several million vaccines, and smaller numbers have come from Lithuania and Slovakia, at least partly in response to Taiwan’s generosity last year in sending out donations of facemasks around the world. Astra-Zeneca (AZ) and Moderna are the only 2 kinds that have arrived so far, and for our age group only AZ is available for the next few weeks…

It is true that the USA has not authorized AZ vaccines for public use within the USA, and so is sending them all overseas, and while Japan has approved AZ for the over 60’s, the take up in Japan has been low, so they too are sending many overseas. There are plenty of other countries queuing up with their requests for vaccines, so it is good that Taiwan is high on their list. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, as they say, so most of us are happy to take what Japan and the US don’t want, and people who are worried about the possibility of terrible side-effects are waiting for Moderna in a few weeks’ time. Having waited so long, and watched the rest of the world getting their vaccines months ago, so there is a certain air of excitement as everyone registers online, gets their text message to say to go ahead and book, then choosing the time and place for the appointment – plus show off the obligatory photos, taken before and almost after….

Yes, it’s a great feeling to be finally catching up with the rest of the world in the vaccination program. We have learned from this recent Covid surge that complacency is dangerous, and that we cannot just rely on strict border controls in the future. It is up to us all to do our bit, to work together for the good of society as a whole. Seeing everyone’s enthusiasm to sign up for vaccinations, even AZ vaccine with its famous side-effects, is really quite amazing. Hope is renewed.

Frangipani

It all takes me right back to the cicadas and their enthusiasm to celebrate life, even though they are soon about to die. I guess they don’t worry too much about that. Once they break out of those old exoskeletons and fly off to the tree tops, transformed, so they leave behind all the old stuff that contained and restricted them for so long. For just these few weeks, they are free to fly around and fill the world with their cries as they try and find a mate, and so start the cycle again. For us, the transformation may be less physical. After all, much as we might like to break out from all that contains and limits us under Taiwan’s current Level 3 Restrictions, it is impossible. For one thing, everywhere we go, even in the high humidity and 35°C temps of summer, and even in the remotest place, like the newly-opened-up mountain trails, we still have to wear a facemask. And if people don’t, then we worry about getting too close to them. So, any transformation for us will have to happen in our minds and hearts.

Maybe that’s where faith comes in, as we pray for God to release us from our fears, worries and despair about the pandemic, even as it continues to worsen for our friends in neigbouring countries of Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. May God transform our fears and worries into faith, and our despair into hope and joy. And may we celebrate with the cicadas the joy of just being alive here and now, filled with hope in this present moment!

Advent Church Centre & Labyrinth

Thank you again for your ongoing concern and prayers, all much appreciated ~ and if I have any side-effects from today’s vaccine, I’ll let you know next time. Until then, enjoy this photo of dawn breaking over Advent Church at 5:00 am this morning….. it was such a stunning sight!

(With the exception of the first cicada photo, which I took last year, all photos were taken this month in or around St. John’s University, Taiwan)

PS Updated July 18, 2021: I have since been reminded by my Taiwan friends of the phrase, ‘金蟬脫殼’: 1) lit. the cicada sheds its carapace (idiom); fig. to vanish leaving an empty shell 2) a crafty escape plan. Wikipedia describes it thus: “The cicada symbolises rebirth and immortality in Chinese tradition. In the Chinese essay “Thirty-Six Stratagems“, the phrase “to shed the golden cicada skin” (金蟬脫殼) is the poetic name for using a decoy (leaving the exuviae) to fool enemies.” More food for thought!

‘The Meaning is in the Waiting’: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Moments of great calm, / Kneeling before an altar / Of wood in a stone church / In summer, waiting for the God / To speak; the air a staircase / For silence; the sun’s light / Ringing me, as though I acted / A great role. / And the audiences / Still; all that close throng / Of spirits waiting, as I, / For the message. / Prompt me, God; / But not yet. When I speak, / Though it be you who speak / Through me, something is lost. / The meaning is in the waiting.” (‘Kneeling’ by R. S. Thomas)

What a great poem for a pandemic! Though R. S. Thomas was hardly the most cheerful of poets, some of his more melancholic poems, like this one, ‘Kneeling’, seem fitting for a time like this. Like everything else, our church here is closed – so we’re not kneeling in a church as such – but the sentiment remains, many of us searching for meaning as we wait for this pandemic to run its course.

‘The meaning is in the waiting’. Well perhaps, anyway. But really we have little choice but to wait, and so we do just that, wait. And hope. And pray. And wonder about the meaning of life in pandemic times.

Taiwan has now been on Level 3 restrictions since May 15, the day that Taiwan’s recent Covid-19 surge really began. We’ve been more or less grounded in our local areas ever since. The first 3 weeks of the surge were fairly chaotic, but by the beginning of June, things seemed to be calmer, and numbers started to stabilize and then fall. From a height of 535 daily cases on May 17, the general trend in numbers is steadily downwards; we’ve now had several days in a row with less than 100 cases. Today the reported figures are 54 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

Current overall statistics are 14,748 confirmed cases, of which over 13,300 are domestic infections reported since May 15; and 643 deaths, including 631 since May 15. The vast majority of cases continue to be in the Greater Taipei area, and virtually all of the Alpha Variant. So far, the Delta Variant has appeared only in a cluster of 14 confirmed cases in the far south of Taiwan, but fear of it spreading and / or coming into the country with arriving passengers has led to increased travel restrictions on arrivals from 7 countries where Delta is a major problem, including the UK.

Level 3 restrictions are now scheduled to last until July 12. The government has extended it by 2 weeks each time, so we expect another announcement a few days before July 12 as to what will happen next. Vaccines are slowly arriving, donated so far by Japan, USA and Lithuania, with others ordered through COVAX and direct from vaccine companies. Some have been delivered, but the political and logistical problems are immense, so each actual arrival of vaccines is a cause for much rejoicing. The vaccination program has a clear list of priority groups and is strictly administered, currently they are vaccinating frontline workers, care home residents and those over 75 with their first dose. Vaccination Statistics: Total doses given: 1.93 million, people fully vaccinated with 2 doses: 36,700, which is 0.2% of the population. Clearly we have a long way to go. Thankful for progress so far, the rest of us wait for more vaccines to arrive, then another wait for our turn in the line.

In other good news, there’s been lots of heavy rain in the last few weeks in central and southern Taiwan, and reservoirs are being well replenished. Our worst drought for over 50 years may well now be a thing of the past. The typhoon season is already here, so we hope for more rain this summer. We’ve had rain up here in Greater Taipei as well, it’s so refreshing. And there’s been rainbows too, lots of them! It’s also the lotus season. Check out these nearby fields of delicate pink lotus flowers…

With the end of the school year, so our university campus is very quiet. Much is cordoned off, including our basketball nets and footpaths, gates are locked and there are signs all over with instructions for what to do and what not to do. Usually at this time of year, our student fellowship along with Advent Church members would be busy preparing for our annual summer camps for local children, but for the first time ever, they’ve all been cancelled, so it’s even quieter than usual. Our students have now gone off to find summer jobs, but with all the local restaurants closed, many are finding it difficult. For those in financial need, we are providing meal coupons to keep them going over the summer.

St. John’s University Campus

It’s high summer, with temperatures in their 30’s all day, top 20’s all night and high humidity all the time. Today it says it’s ‘32°C, feels like 40’. This comes just after sweltering our way through the hottest month of May since 1947, average temperature 27.8°C. All that sun means our solar panels, which cover almost every flat roof on the campus, are put to good use…

High summer also means we are inundated with cicadas, famously the world’s noisiest insects. From sunrise to sunset they make their presence felt, it is truly deafening! Inside, I have all windows open to let the breeze through, with electric fans blowing in all directions, rather than relying on air-conditioning. With cicadas chirping and fans blowing, a ‘quiet’ campus is definitely a misnomer. Very nice though to see a kingfisher here a few days ago, enjoying a quiet early morning visit to the pond.

Sunrise from St. John’s University with the solar panels on the library building in the foreground

Just outside the campus on the road to the sea, the abandoned buildings, like this old factory, add to the silence, reminders of times gone by….

while down at the sea, below the campus, the rhythm of the day is decided by the tides as much as by the sun. At one end of the small bay is an abalone farm, where the abalone are kept in tanks of bubbling water under black mesh…

and at low tide, the workers go along to the other end of the bay to collect up the seaweed which they then feed to the abalone.

I had no idea what an abalone even was until I came to Taiwan, but they are served here at banquets for Chinese New Year and wedding receptions. It’s a kind of sea snail, with the most beautiful mother-of-pearl shell, with a row of 9 little holes in the shell…

The small abalone grown in Taiwan are known as Jiu-Kong 九孔 lit. nine holes (Haliotis diversicolor). It takes months for these small abalone to mature, and then it’s all over in about 30 seconds, the time it takes to eat one at a banquet. What a life for a poor abalone.

Also down at the sea are several old pillboxes, part of the original coastal defence system. Now no longer in use, one of them has been painted up. I wonder how those soldiers coped, stationed there all year round on lookout duty, guarding the coast, really just waiting in case something happened, always hoping that it wouldn’t. You really gotta wonder how they found any meaning in all that waiting.

I’m preparing a sermon for this coming Sunday, and I’m struck by Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 12. After appealing to God 3 times in the midst of his suffering, he hears God saying to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Those words gave Paul a completely new perspective on life, and gave him the strength to face all the terrible things he was going through, knowing that ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong’. So relevant for us too today. May God give us grace to endure in this pandemic and beyond.

My second cousin, Kate and her husband have formed Sweet Talk Radio, and just released their latest video. I love it! Written during lockdown in Los Angeles, it kinda fits here so well. Take a listen…

For now though, my focus is on this coming Sunday, when the university has announced a major power cut to last most of the day. Now that’s a challenge. Normally I have a choice of 18 online services to keep me busy on a Sunday morning, and that’s only those of the Taiwan Episcopal Church. But this Sunday, there’ll be limited battery life, no Wi-Fi, no iced coffee from the fridge, no electric fans or AC, and of course no other place to go where it might be a bit cooler, since we’re generally grounded. God give us grace to endure indeed!

And now I’m off for my daily prayer walk round the labyrinth. Walking is more my thing than kneeling. The meaning may be in the waiting, but it’s also in the praying too. Thanks for all your prayers for us, and please continue!

(Photos all taken locally in or around the campus of St. John’s University, Taiwan in the last few weeks)

Easter Joy in Troubled Times

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Right in the middle of our 4-day Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping) weekend, so we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Just as so many in Taiwan were at their family graves and tombs remembering their dead, so we celebrated new life; the joy of Easter filling us with hope once again.

Yet, we are so aware of the pain and suffering all around us. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, isolation, deaths and illness have affected millions worldwide, though here we remain almost sheltered from the worst, in our own Taiwan bubble, as if watching from afar. But sheltered as we are from the pandemic, last Friday’s train crash on Taiwan’s east coast in Hualien County shook us all to the core. Fifty people were killed and over 200 injured when the Taroko Express Train No. 408 from Shulin, Taipei to Taitung crashed into a construction truck that had fallen onto the track from a road above, dragging the truck into a tunnel and derailing, with deadly results. The east coast train line is well-known for its dramatic cliffs, stunning scenery and long tunnels; I myself have done that trip many times. Taiwan’s population of 23 million may seem large, but the island of Taiwan is small and densely populated, so we are all affected. The whole of Taiwan was in shock.

All weekend, we saw nothing but news reports of death, grief and suffering on our TVs and cellphones. We saw people grieving the loss of their children, spouses, relatives and friends. We saw the Taoist priests and wailing mourners calling out to their loved ones to return home. We saw the tragedy of Rev. Chang, a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Indigenous Amis Tribe in Yuli, Hualien, whose 56-year-old son and 2 grandchildren, aged 22 and 20 were killed in the crash. His grief-stricken daughter-in-law survived the crash with only minor injuries, reporting that they had missed an earlier train, for which they had seat tickets, so had bought standing tickets for the next train instead, the ill-fated Taroko Express 408. It’s impossible to imagine losing your husband and 2 adult children all in one terrible tragic moment. We heard everyone around us asking ‘Why?’ Why indeed? How could this happen? Why so much suffering? Why so much pain? For Christians, at our Good Friday services held later that same day as this news was still coming in, we heard again the words of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Words heard on repeat, literally or in essence, throughout the whole weekend. Poignant words of sadness, of desperation and despair, echoing our own sense of shock and grief. It was indeed a sombre weekend in Taiwan.

And yet on Easter Eve, when we lit the Easter fire on the steps below Advent Church at the start of the Easter Vigil, we saw again that light has conquered darkness, love has conquered death, hope has once again come into our world. We had a baptism too, a sign of light, hope and courage. Our faith is not meaningless, void and empty, even if we do question ‘why’ in the dark times. But we were challenged afresh on Easter Day, when we heard in the sermon about how many of us still seem to approach our faith as if we are going Tomb-Sweeping rather than meeting with the risen Christ. For Christians, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen; yet so often we cling to the past, to our memories, rituals and traditions, instead of to the risen Christ and the new life and hope he brings.

Tomb-Sweeping Festival is a busy time for many families, paying their respects to the dead, often to both sets of parents and grandparents, and involving several trips to graveyards or to the huge columbariums up in the mountains where the urns of ashes are stored. It’s always the same date every year, April 4-5 with a weekend attached. Usually I go away with friends, and this year yes, I had originally planned to do something else for the long weekend – but then we discovered it coincided with Easter, so we all rearranged our plans to be here instead. In Taipei it was foggy, smoggy, muggy and overcast all last week, which added to the sombre atmosphere of Holy Week. Up in the mountains, lots of people were out hiking, but mostly there were no views, just the odd peak struggling to appear out of the swirling fog. Relief came early on Sunday, with rain and wind all morning, blowing away the fog and clearing the air.

Monday was bright and sunny, and I went round the northern coast to Jinguashi to climb the Teapot Mountain Trail and Mt. Keelung. Essential for this is good weather – and gloves for the ropes. In the Japanese era, 1895-1945, Jinguashi 金瓜石 had one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, with over 600 km of tunnels running deep into the mountains. Those mountains certainly conceal a whole array of terrible secrets, not least the remains of the old Kinkaseki Prisoner of War Camp down in the village, of which only one original gatepost and wall remains. The rest is a memorial garden, with plaques detailing the history of how the prisoners (many from the USA, UK and Commonwealth countries, captured in Malaya and Singapore during World War II) were put to work in the most dangerous parts of the mine, mistreated and starved. Death was never far away, the suffering unimaginable. So much tragedy.

These days, Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park is a museum and a popular place for a day out from Taipei. Hundreds go up to the Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 (580m). It’s fun ~ and from certain places the Teapot really does look like a teapot!

The trail goes up into the actual teapot, and out the other side. Then up to Mt. Banping 半平山 (713m) and along the ridge to Mt. Canguangliao 燦光寮山 (739m).

The views are across to Mt. Keelung (588m) ….

There are steps up Mt. Keelung, also a popular hike with lots of people. The most exciting part of the whole trip is to walk along the top of the ridge to the East Peak. It’s steep, and those ropes are something else, but the views were amazing.

Jiufen 九份 is the nearby town where most of the miners back in the day spent all their money – in its heyday, Jiufen was known as Little Shanghai. From a distance it looks like a large town, perched on the side of the mountain, but closer up, it’s clear that a whole section of what look like houses are actually graves. They do look like small houses, that’s for sure.

And 40 minutes down the mountain at Keelung Harbour, a cruise ship was setting sail – off for a tour of Taiwan’s islands. Amazing really that Taiwan still has cruises going on, while the rest of the world is at a standstill.

And there was a display of children’s art work called ‘Keelung Rain’ – these are all supposed to be raindrops. Keelung is famous for its terrible weather – it’s all wind and rain, so it’s kind of appropriate. Sadly, this year there’s been nowhere near enough rain down in central and southern Taiwan, and water rationing has already started in Taichung, along with the closure of all public swimming pools as they try to conserve water. With no typhoons last summer, and not much rain since, so the reservoirs are very dry. It’s a worrying situation.

Just to add to the events of this last weekend, it was also Children’s Day on Sunday (with free entry for children to many attractions), and my 60th birthday was on Easter Eve. Thanks to those who sent me birthday wishes, there were lots! Celebrations are delayed until next weekend in Taichung and even later, though we had a celebration for April birthdays in Advent Church on Easter Day….

And we’ll have one at the diocesan office next week, along with Bishop Chang whose birthday was the day before mine. One of our students did take a birthday photo on Saturday after the Easter Vigil. I was in pink with a pink face-mask! And here’s to the next decade…

Wishing you all deep Easter joy and peace in these troubled times. Thank you for your prayers for Taiwan, and for your Easter greetings. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘It is finished’: Maundy Thursday & Good Friday @ Advent Church

Today’s tragic news is of a train accident early this morning in a tunnel in Hualien County, on Taiwan’s east coast, with many killed and injured. News is still coming in. We mourn and lament such terrible loss of life on this the first day of the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. Please do pray for all the victims, and for all those in shock and grief.

Today is also Good Friday. We hear the words again of Jesus on the cross, ‘It is finished’.

Last night we marked Maundy Thursday at Advent Church with a service which included foot-washing. This year, we did things differently and lined up to take part. It was wonderful to see so many of our students involved. Such a meaningful service.

After Holy Communion, the altar was stripped and all the crosses covered over. In the darkness, we read the words of Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

This afternoon we had a very meditative Good Friday service from 2-3 pm, which finished with prayers around the altar.

We stayed on to pray and left in silence. In prayer, we remember the victims of the train crash, and we pray for God’s mercy and grace for all those affected.

Advent Church & St. John’s University Charity Fundraising 2020 @ 天主教福利會 ‘Cathwel Service’, Shenkeng 深坑, Taipei

Cathwel Service (Cath-wel is short for Catholic Welfare) 財團法人天主教福利會, is the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services, founded in 1949, originally to help unmarried mothers and their children. It continues its ministry helping disadvantaged women and children; many of the children have special needs, others have various disabilities. Some will be adopted by families in Taiwan, some by families overseas (you’ll find lots of info about their experiences of international adoption via google), others will remain at the centre until they reach adulthood. Currently there are about 40 children living at the centre, called Jonah House – with different age children on different floors. We visited yesterday, and saw some of the youngest children, and met some of the staff. All the other children attend local schools during the day. Despite the cold temperatures and rain outside, everyone there was so warm and friendly!

Our visit came as a result of our Christmas 2020 Charity Fundraising Events at St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church, which raised a total of almost NT$ 250,000 for the charity (see the previous post for details of our charity bazaar). Thanks be to God ~ and to everyone who contributed!