Tag Archives: Advent Church

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!

We visited as a group of 8, representing both SJU and Advent Church. We were also able to collect the official receipts, which will be distributed to all those who made a donation, so that they can file their tax returns. The Cathwel Service CEO, Ms. Yen-Chi Ting, presented an official Certificate of Thanks in the chapel, first to our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and then to Mr. Ming-Chuan Chen, our Advent Church senior warden.

And us altogether…

The chapel is stunning! It is in the basement area of the building along with the carpark, but it is below an open area above. I gather it used to be a fairly traditional RC chapel until it needed renovation due to a badly leaking roof last year.

Fr. Fabrizio Tosolini (杜敬一神父) is an Italian RC priest who has taught the Bible for many years at Fu-Jen RC Seminary, Taipei. Many of our clergy have also studied there under him, including our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu, so he was able to describe to us the meaning of each picture. Fr. Tosolini is a member of the Missionary Order of Saint Francis Xavier and also a very gifted artist. He painted the pictures that decorate the newly-renovated chapel, which was completed and opened only last month, December 2020.

The picture above the altar is of Jesus, his mother and his disciple, John. The writing on the 2 long red pieces of paper was done by the children. On the left, words of Jesus: ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to little children’, and on the right it says, ‘If you fall in love, stay in love’ (from the Arrupe Prayer, attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, which starts ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God’, and is also very popular as a song).

On the right-side wall, there is a line of 14 small paintings, serving as the Stations of the Cross…. check out the eyes!

On the left wall and at the main entrance are other paintings, mostly much larger…..

This organization is based in Shenkeng 深坑, on the SE edge of Taipei, an old coal-mining town on the edge of the mountains. They have a large building right on the main road in front of Shenkeng Old Street. This is the mosaic version!

Shenkeng Old Street is famous for its stinky tofu and every other kind of tofu. This is it!

After our visit to the centre, we just had to visit the Old Street for some of the famous tofu, plus other dishes ~ kindly hosted by Ming-Chuan and his wife…. It was all delicious!

This is the Old Street, with hardly any people. At the weekend, it’s full, but even so, with the pandemic, there are no international tourists. We all agreed it was a much nicer Old Street than our local one in Tamsui!

It was, and is very cold, and it’s been raining and cold for days. A massive cold front has swept in and frozen us all up! “6°C, feels like -1°C” said my phone yesterday morning. This is not a country that does ‘cold’ very well. We have no central heating, everything is built to keep us cool not warm! Everyone is wearing a ton of layers, inside and outside – temperatures inside and outside are more or less the same. Our houses, offices, schools and lifestyle are much more suited to summer than winter – Taiwan is on the Tropic of Cancer, after all. But a few years ago, we did have snow on Taipei’s Yangmingshan Mountains, and the news yesterday morning said that 5 cm of snow had fallen up there overnight. However, the mountains were hidden from our view – in swirling clouds and rain all day. Until that it is about 4:30 pm, after we had got back from Shenkeng, when the clouds cleared ~ and yes, in the far distance we could see a sprinkling of white snow! We all rushed out and up to the 3rd floor of St. John’s University to take photos. Such excitement!

Update, Saturday – and the snow has stayed throughout last night and today. Those mountains have looked the same all day today. We’re all excited about the snow, but everyone is freezing cold!

Enough excitement for one weekend. Stay warm everyone, and thanks as always for your continuing support!

Advent & Christmas 2020 🎄🕯️🎅🦌🎁⛄🌟⛪🔔🤶🎶👼

December 2020 flashed past in a whirl of activities, but when I read last year’s blog post of Advent & Christmas 2019, this year seems so quiet in comparison. December 2019 was jam-packed full! This year things were quieter, partly because of the pandemic ~ so there were less large activities and fewer parties, no visitors and less travel, but also because St. John’s University (SJU) has been downsizing, so there’s far fewer faculty, staff and students – and, let’s face it, far less money to spend or donate. Many of our local businesses are suffering too from our downsizing, and people are being more careful with their money. With non-stop rain, strong winds and cold temps in this area of Taiwan for most of December, it’s the time of the year when everyone needs a bit of Christmas cheer ~ and here we are at the SJU main entrance wishing the guard a Merry Christmas! 🎅🎅

Covid-19 update: Since an isolated locally-transmitted Covid-19 case a few days ago (traced to a pilot who didn’t follow quarantine rules and then wouldn’t reveal his movements and contacts; he’s since been fired and fined), the Taiwan government has further tightened restrictions. With the UK Covid variant spreading around the world, there is high alert and extra restrictions on people coming from the UK. This includes them all being quarantined in government facilities for 14 days on arrival, rather than in registered quarantine hotels of their own choice, and each one having to test negative before being released from quarantine. Flights to and from the UK will be cancelled altogether from January until the situation improves ~ and in the last few days, the Taiwan Post Office has also announced the temporary suspension of all postal services to the UK. Some of our churches have cancelled parties and celebrations, others continue on. Ours mostly continue on, and school and work continues as normal, which means we’re all still here – in our offices and classrooms. No break for Christmas, but we do have January 1 off, and then we’ll have about 3 more weeks of term until the Chinese New Year holidays start.

These are a few highlights of our activities here at SJU and Advent Church this past month, starting with lighting candles on the Advent Wreath each week in each of SJU main offices. Bishop Chang also came with us one week. The above photo is SJU President Huang lighting the Advent candles for Week 2 ~ and in our offices below….

A few days before Christmas, we went out around the campus and across the road to the shops to share the good news of Christmas with our neighbours…

We did a similar thing at church member’s homes, and at 8:00 am on Christmas Day morning, we went to share the good news of Christmas and to give out small gifts to the children at Xian-Xiao, our neighboring junior high school. They are so lovely!

Every year during Advent, the church and university combine to raise money for charity, and despite the economic downturn due to the pandemic as well as the downsizing of SJU, this year we decided to continue the tradition, and chose ‘Cathwel Service’ (‘Cathwel’ is short for ‘Catholic Welfare’) 財團法人天主教福利會, the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services. They came to give a talk about their work, which is mainly to provide care and help for disabled children, disadvantaged women and their children, and all those who struggle to take care of their families; they are one of the few organizations in Taiwan legally registered to arrange adoptions, both in Taiwan and overseas. For our fundraising, mostly we rely on individual direct donations, but for our students, they give their time and energy to help run a large bazaar. This involves collecting and selling second-hand goods, as well as making and selling lots of food, helped by church members and SJU staff, organized by the SJU Chaplaincy. The event was held on December 16, and Bishop Chang and his wife came along too. Ah, it was fun!

This year our aim was to raise NT$ 200,000, and thanks be to God, the total amount raised was about NT$ 250,000. We will be visiting the charity centre in Taipei for a formal presentation on January 8, so watch this space for photos! (It turned out to be a big day with lots of photos taken, so the next blog post is dedicated to the visit). This is the presentation!

As Christmas is not a national holiday, so we hold our main (or only) service in the evening of Christmas Eve. The congregation who come along is always affected by what day of the week it falls on. This year, Christmas Eve was on a weekday so our students could be there, but many church members were working, so unable to come. Some of our former students return every year for this service, it’s great! The service was beautiful, all candlelit at the start as we sang ‘Silent Night’ ~ very moving.

St. John’s Day was marked on Monday December 28 this year, and we had a service for about 60 people, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Advent Church. At the end of the service, there was a presentation of 2 cheques, firstly a cheque for NT$ 100,000 presented on behalf of Advent Church by Ms. Marge Tan to SJU President Huang to cover the cost of repairs, maintenance, utilities and cleaning of the church during this year. The other cheque, for NT$ 4,366,705, was presented by Bishop Chang to SJU President Huang on behalf of the diocese. In August, at our diocesan convention, Bishop Chang had shared his vision, that with the many problems facing SJU of seriously falling student numbers and therefore a large financial shortfall, it would be inappropriate for Advent Church to put on an expensive and elaborate 50th anniversary celebration. Instead we would raise money to donate to SJU in thanksgiving and to show our love and support. Most of this money was collected from individual donations made to the diocese, and it also includes a donation of NT$ 515,429 from a annual trust fund of The Episcopal Church for the SJU Library. The original aim was to raise a grand total of NT$ 500,000, but that has been vastly exceeded, thanks be to God ~ and to all those who have donated!

We were honoured that so many clergy, church members and representatives of SJU were able to be at the service, including clergy who came especially for the occasion from Hualien and Kaohsiung. At the end of the service we had lunchboxes, supplied by a restaurant run by one of our church members. Simple but delicious!

We had plenty more activities in Advent, far too many to mention here, but I will finish with photos of a happy day I spent at Xingren Elementary School 興仁國小, on December 18, where I told the story of Santa Claus / St. Nicholas, set in Turkey in the year 300 AD. The older children, grades 3-6, recycled the pictures of my old Christmas cards, sent in past years mostly from the UK, to make pop-up cards of their own. The younger children made Christmas tree pictures with stickers and the letters of Merry Christmas. These photos below are all downloaded from the school facebook page – if you’ve sent me a Christmas card in the past few years, then know that it was put to good use. Thank you!

Thank you all for your Christmas wishes for 2020, and your prayers and support throughout the past year. Here’s to the New Year 2021, stay safe and well, and wishing you all a blessed and peaceful year ahead! 🥂

Stop Press: Just announced today is the news that from January 1, 2021, our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu will also become rector of Advent Church, serving in both roles. Please do pray for him, it is a big responsibility!

Advent Word 2020, Day 26 ‘Proclaim’

#AdventWord #Proclaim

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

This Advent season is a good moment to pause and listen to Mary’s proclamation. Do we sometimes think we are insignificant? Listen to Mary’s affirmation that God is deeply interested in us. Do we wonder what we should be doing with our lives? Listen to Mary’s words as she explains what God wants to do with this world of ours.

Then we need to be ready to proclaim this good news to others. Although Christmas can be a moment of joy, many people are missing someone they love, struggling to make ends meet, and afraid about the future. The invitation from Mary is to see oneself as a person connected with God—a God that seeks to use us to further a future that is different and hopeful.

Advent Church, Christmas Eve 2020.

Advent is over for another year, and so are these #AdventWord meditations, along with my photos of events in Taiwan in 2020. It has not been an easy year for the world. Many are suffering. Taiwan continues to do well in handling the pandemic, although the long run of 253 consecutive days of no local transmission ended a few days ago with one case, traced to a infected pilot who has caused much worry for the country ~ and has since been fired for his dishonesty in neither revealing his contacts nor his travel details. As it is, we are grateful that our Christmas continues as ‘normal’, which for Taiwan means work and school; we have no Christmas holiday or time off. Y’know, it’s actually good, there are so many opportunities for outreach, and many of our students and former students came to our Christmas Eve Service this evening ~ and stayed for the delicious refreshments afterwards. Tomorrow’s main event for Christmas Day will be at 7:30 am when we all gather to go to our neighbouring junior-high school to wish all the children and staff a Merry Christmas. 🎅⛄ 🎄

Thank you all for your Christmas cards and messages. I didn’t really send any Christmas cards this year ~ please accept this as my Christmas greetings for 2020. I am very grateful to you all for your support and prayers this past year, Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time!🎄🎄

Advent Word 2020, Day 25 ‘Holy’

#AdventWord #Holy

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

Mary sang in praise of God:
And holy is his Name.
Gracious God, what is our song,
Now in this time of weeping?
In our night of pain and grief,
Faithful voices rise toward starry skies:
In you, O Holy One, we put our trust.
Can we find once more your promise of mercy?
A new light shines in the darkness –
Together, we wait and rejoice.

The Nativity Scene here at Advent Church, Tamsui, Taipei

Advent Word 2020, Day 15 ‘Go’

#AdventWord #Go

The seven practices of the Way of Love are often interconnected. To practice go, we add words frequently. Go and preach. Go and serve. Go and listen. Go and praise. Go and pray. In our ways of faith following Jesus, we must find the courage to move beyond our communities and comfortable relationships to unknown places. Doing that work takes practice; I don’t know many people who flourish when pushed into unknown situations….

In the path of my heart this Advent, I’m crossing the barrier that says light and darkness are white and black. When God chose to bring the light of the world to earth on a night in Bethlehem in Mary’s womb, God made it clear that light and darkness cannot exist without each other. Too much of one and little of the other withers and destroys. Deepening ourselves in our hearts may result in the need to shine a light in unseen and unknown cracks. We can only do this after taking time to adjust our vision to the dark to see what our hearts have hidden, so that when the lights turn on and leave us without sight for a while, we remember where to look.

Just one more photo before you go!

Saying farewell to our students on Graduation Day @ Advent Church, St. John’s University, June 20, 2020. To get the stained glass artwork in the picture, the only way is to lie on the floor!

Advent Word 2020, Day 14 ❤️ ‘Honey’ ❤️

#AdventWord #Honey

The Promised Land flows with milk and honey – how sweet it is. Like Pooh Bear, I love “sweet” and “Sweet Jesus” appeals to me. But as I ponder this, things get sticky very fast.

“Sweet Jesus” is not a popular term in many churches. “The sated appetite spurns honey, but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet”(Prov. 27:7). Want honey? Follow bees. Want Heaven? Follow Beatitudes.

Fed-up people have little use for a Sweet Jesus, one who feeds hungry people merely because they are hungry and loved. Child-souls love Pooh and honey – and Jesus – because they sweeten many bitter circumstances.

❤️ The sweetest couple in Advent Church! ❤️

This is our senior warden, Ming-Chuan and his lovely wife, Meng-Zhen, who have carried much of the responsibility for the smooth running of Advent Church in the interregnum – since our rector, Lennon Y. R. Chang moved on to become bishop in February. This responsibility included organizing the annual diocesan convention, which was held at Advent Church on August 15, 2020 – this photo was taken that day. Since then, Ming-Chuan has faced very serious health challenges, but his faith remains strong, his testimony is vibrant and he continues serving as senior warden, well-supported by Meng-Zhen ~ and by us all. They are both just so wonderful and we all love ’em to bits ~ please do pray for them both! ❤️