Tag Archives: Coronavirus in Taiwan

St. John’s University Coming of Age Ceremony 成年禮 2020!

After long weeks of hard work for the clergy, staff and students of our St. John’s University (SJU) Chaplaincy – today was THE day, our SJU Coming of Age Ceremony!

This annual event is highly praised by the Ministry of Education, and is a wonderful way to welcome our first-year university and fourth-year junior college students into the grown up world. All have turned 18 in the past year (some are several years older), but this ceremony is a way of acknowledging their new freedoms – and of course responsibilities – now that they’re adults. Some of the emphasis is on thanking parents and teachers for their role in reaching this milestone. All the students were dressed very smartly in their new blue SJU ties – though some did need a bit of help to fix them!

Temperature checks were made at the entrance and face-masks were worn by all, except those on stage using a microphone. Taiwan continues its long run of over 200 days with no domestic transmissions of Covid-19, but the winter flu season is coming, and precautions are being stepped up – especially with increasing numbers of imported cases coming from overseas. Actually this week we have an Indian summer with sunshine and temperatures in their top 20’s, it’s really warm!

During the course of the ceremony, the students toasted each other with a small cup of wine….

Each of the class tutors was also welcomed to the ceremony, served a small cup of tea and presented with a poinsettia plant…

Parents were invited too, and also presented with a plant. This year for the first time ever, some of the extra speeches and presentations were replaced with a foot-washing ceremony. Parents were invited to take part, and 8 of them accepted – and had their feet washed by their son or daughter. For Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, this is the first time he has attended as bishop and chair of the SJU Board of Trustees. His original idea was for foot washing with faculty too, but in the end, it was just the 8 parents and their children. It was really good and the atmosphere was great ~ the parents and students who took part were so happy!

As well as VIP speeches from distinguished alumni, SJU President Huang and Bishop Chang, one of the students always gives a speech, and we usually choose a Christian who then shares the story of their Christian faith. This year, it was a young man, Ricky from Malaysia, and he gave quite an amazing testimony. The prayers were given by Melissa, also from Malaysia – in fact both of these students are from Anglican Churches, and we’re so happy that they’ve joined our student fellowship.

The ceremony ended with musical performances from some of our student groups, including our student fellowship – and then finished with the singing of the SJU School Song, and the blessing from Bishop Chang.

Our student numbers continue to fall – at today’s event, we had somewhere over 200 students – but that includes both first-year university and the fourth-year junior college students. The last time I wrote a blog post about this ceremony was in November 2017, when I see we had 350 students attending the ceremony, the year before, in 2016, there were 800 students, and way back in 2012, there were 1,500 students in their first-year. We thank God for all those students who are here, please do pray for them. There are increasing numbers of students coming from Malaysia, and this coming winter vacation, they are facing the reality that they are not going to be able to go home for Chinese New Year, due to quarantine restrictions. Many of them will hope to stay here locally and find a job for those few weeks. Chinese New Year will be very different for those not able to go home. We are busy making plans, hoping to organize activities and meals for those who’ll be here.

Our student fellowship, led by Min-Wen, our chaplain Rev. H. H. Wu, and the chaplaincy staff, Shu-Jing and Tzi-Wei worked really hard to organize today’s big event, and it went so well. I just turned up 30 minutes beforehand to start taking a few photos (just in case you can’t spot me – I’m on the temperature check screen!) These are a selection….

And this is the group photo of all those who helped organize the event, along with Bishop Chang….. they’re all happy it went so well!

They all deserve a huge amount of praise. Thank you everyone, and thanks be to Almighty God for his many blessings!

Update from Taiwan: Masked Summer Camp in a Time of Coronavirus 😷

Yes, Advent Church Summer Camp 降臨堂兒童喜樂營 2020 (Kids Games) has been happening this week, on the theme: “Guardians of the Earth 地球防衛隊” ~ and a great time was had by all!

Every summer, for the first 2 days of Taiwan’s primary / elementary school summer holidays, Advent Church holds a children’s non-residential summer camp (aka holiday club), and for many children, as well as our student leaders, it’s one of the main highlights of the whole year! Last year, we had 80 children and 35 student leaders, and the theme was ‘Be Brave’ (see that report here). This year, we had 60 children and about 35 student leaders, and the theme was ‘Guardians of the Earth’. Every activity was about protecting this planet – and learning about litter, pollution, recycling, the effect of plastics on ocean animals, preserving the environment, taking care of God’s creation and much more. We had drama, singing, dancing, games, team-building activities, lunch, rest, sharing time and of course plenty of water fun to finish!

The student team was led by Tze-Wei, our wonderful colleague in the St. John’s University (SJU) Chaplaincy, who is now into her third year as camp leader. She was assisted by a whole group of student fellowship members past and present, plus some who attended the camp in the past as children and now come as leaders, and a few friends and church members too. We are especially grateful to Ming-Chuan, our senior warden, who supported us throughout…

Left to right: Tze-Wei, Ming-Chuan and Pi-pi – who came along with several of his Sunday School group from his church in Beitou

There was a lot to prepare and practice, but the student team were amazing, as always, and have dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to the camp, in fact they all arrived on Sunday for 3 days of preparation first. Several are SJU student fellowship graduates who have used up nearly the whole of their annual leave from work to take part. Of the 35 on the team, 10 are from Malaysia, all SJU students or graduates, and one is from Hong Kong. Five came from St. James’ Church, Taichung, and they will use the same theme and materials for their own summer camp this weekend at the Church of the Leading Star, Taiping, led by Stoney Wu – who will be ordained deacon on July 25. And we were well-supported by Advent Church clergy, including Rev. Wu, here he is with some of the team, all masked up ready for the children arriving…

As we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, so we are well aware that most places in the world have had to cancel their summer camps this year or move them online. Ours could go ahead because Taiwan continues to do really well in keeping the coronavirus at bay. Taiwan’s official figures for Covid-19 currently are 454 confirmed cases, 440 recovered and 7 deaths, and no domestic transmissions since April 12. Taiwan’s borders remain closed to all visitors, so a church group from Hong Kong who were originally scheduled to join us for the camp sadly had to cancel. The silver lining to the borders being closed is that some of our overseas students who may normally have gone home for the summer, could stay in Taiwan and take part in the camp instead. As you can see from the photos, it was great fun for everyone!

Normally all government-run elementary schools in Taiwan break up on June 30 for 2-months summer holiday, but as schools were delayed by 2 weeks starting their new semester after Chinese New Year due to Covid-19, so they made up for it by extending the semester for 2 weeks until July 14. Our summer camp is usually July 1-2; this year it was held July 15-16. Because there was always a concern that we might have to cancel at the last minute, so we did not order any T-shirts like we normally do – which then also made it cheaper for the children. Some wore their T-shirts from previous years, as we did also ~ check out Mr. ‘Be Brave’ below after an onslaught of water!

We did take other precautions too: usually we would allow up to 80 children to take part – but this year we reduced the number to 60; face-masks were to be worn inside, except for leaders who were singing, dancing or speaking from the stage; there were temperature checks and hand sanitizer at the main entrance, frequent hand-washing throughout the day, and parents were asked not to send any children who were unwell. Actually all this is standard procedure now in Taiwan, and children are well-used to wearing masks, though some found them hot and later took them off. We even had 2 sets of group photos, one in masks and one without…

Thanks be to God, everything went really well, and yes, I took a lot of photos!

Day One Morning;

Day One Afternoon:

Day Two Morning:

Day Two Afternoon:

And finally, at the end of the afternoon….

In case you’re thinking that’s way too many photos, don’t worry too much! The student leaders were not allowed to take any photos during the summer camp (until the last few minutes of the last day, that is!) so that they could concentrate on being with the children, so only I and Yu-Lin were taking photos, and the parents, children and student leaders are looking forward to seeing the results. Yu-Lin was in charge of producing a short video of the whole camp which might appear here in the next few days. She has gone off to the next summer camp at Church of the Leading Star, starting tomorrow, Saturday. Do pray for them all ~ they must be just a bit exhausted!

Update: this is the video!

Grateful thanks to all the student leaders of this year’s summer camp, and especially to Tze-Wei and her team, also to Bishop Chang, all the Advent Church clergy and church members for their support, and to you all for your prayers! Thanks be to God that everything went well, the weather stayed dry, and the children stayed safe, happy and full of fun. And hey, it’s not so bad having a summer camp with face-masks after all! 😷

CMS Link Letter #80

Published yesterday by the Church Mission Society, my latest link letter, click on the link below..

I sent the link letter to CMS on June 11, before I had heard of the ‘Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally’ being held the following Saturday, June 13, in the 228 Peace Park, Taipei outside the National Taiwan Museum – that’s the building in the photos below, built in classic Renaissance style by the Japanese Colonial Government in 1908.

I went the rally with Chia-Lin, one of our church interns, and we both felt it was very moving to join in. Now for the hard work of making change happen. Check out the Taipei Times report of the event here.

Update from Taiwan: Masked Graduation in a Time of Coronavirus 😷

Congratulations to all our St. John’s University (SJU) graduates!

Face-masks on, temperatures checked, gowns a-swaying, mortar boards balanced in place, and we’re off!

Today, Saturday June 20, 2020, we celebrated the graduation of 722 students from the 4-year SJU Bachelor’s degree program, plus 78 students awarded SJU Master’s degrees and 75 students graduating from the Junior College section. Thanks be to God!

This year marks the first graduation for the junior college students since this program was reintroduced 5 years ago, aimed at those who want to do more specialized study after leaving junior-high school. They are now 20 years old and most are ready to move on to university – with a further 2 years to go. One such is Chang Fan, in the Dept of Applied English, whose family came along today too…

It was also the first graduation for Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang as the new Bishop of Taiwan – and also as new chair of the SJU board of trustees…

And it was the last graduation for SJU President Herchang Ay, who finishes his 4-year term next month…

We also welcomed many VIP guests, including some of our SJU trustees, members of the alumni association, plus 10 very distinguished alumni who were receiving awards…

Our SJU Student Fellowship said goodbye to 10 of our group who are graduating, including last year’s elected chair of the student fellowship, Yi-Ting. She’s brought several of her classmates along to the fellowship over the years, which partly explains why, of that group of 10, 6 are classmates from the Dept. of Creative Design. Yi-Ting and one of her best friends, Yumi are from Malaysia. Normally their parents would have come to attend the graduation and maybe travel around Taiwan for a few days as a family, but due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, that’s not possible this year. Then again they appreciate that at least they can have an actual graduation ceremony, unlike many other countries still in lockdown. Yi-Ting was also one of the recipients of a special prize presented by Bishop Chang today…

After the graduation ceremony, and after the students had said goodbye to their teachers in each dept, student fellowship members came with their parents to Advent Church. Former students had already gathered there to offer their own congratulations – and of course for photos. Check out the photos below where we had to lie down to get the right angle!

To rewind a little to last month, and the annual highlight of our fond farewells to the SJU Student Fellowship graduates is always a big fancy-dress party, held this year on Thursday June 4. The costume theme was ‘Movie Characters’, and we had a wide variety from Men in Black, James Bond, Tangled and Harry Potter, to name a few. Really spectacular! Lots of our former student fellowship members came back to visit, and we had a meal, worship, games, presentations – and finished with sparklers outside on the SJU labyrinth…

Check out the photos. It was all great fun!

It’s great to be able to celebrate graduation with our students. In particular, we are grateful that Taiwan continues to remain a safe and secure country to be in at this time of Covid-19. As a result, this year’s SJU graduation could go ahead as planned. We had to cancel our annual SJU foundation celebrations at the end of April, but the pandemic situation in Taiwan has stabilized considerably since then. A month ago, on May 22 the official Covid-19 figures for Taiwan were 441 confirmed cases, 408 recovered and 7 deaths, and there’s not been too much change since then. Today’s figures are 446 confirmed cases, 434 recovered and 7 deaths. All the new cases are imported, meaning they’re Taiwan people returning from overseas; there have been no domestic transmissions since April 12. The borders remain closed but there are plans to open them a little for closely-monitored business travelers from selected ‘safe’ countries, with reduced quarantine times, starting this coming week. After that, the next step may be to allow the return of more overseas students, also from selected countries – who weren’t able to return before travel restrictions hit. It’s expected that they’ll do their 14 days of quarantine during the summer vacation in their university dormitories. Otherwise, while temperature checks and face-masks continue, other restrictions are gradually easing, domestic tourism is being encouraged, large events are now allowed (with face-masks and temperature checks), and in our churches, worship and fellowship activities are more or less back to normal. And all swimming pools are open, including the 50m outdoor pool here at SJU – Yes! So, welcome to SJU! 🙂

One of the highlights of today’s graduation day was the opening ceremony beforehand to honour the donation from one of our alumni, Mr. Cheng, who has worked with students from the SJU Dept of Industrial Engineering on this wonderful robotic coffee-making machine. We were all invited to try out a coffee afterwards ~ the whole process is really interesting, and the coffee was great too!

Today was a big day ~ many congratulations to all our students on their graduation! As they leave for pastures new and places yet unknown, we hope and pray that they’ll take many happy memories with them of their time at SJU. One of the graduating students gave a speech today and recalled her time at SJU, some of the more memorable events included the annual fun run in the year when everyone ran through a torrential rainstorm – I remember that! And then of course, no-one will ever forget that this was the year of graduating in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Quite something to remember – and to appreciate, given that education has been so badly affected in so many countries.

The graduation ceremony ended with Bishop Chang giving the blessing. Yes, indeed. May God bless one and all, today and always!

Update from Taiwan: Masked Celebration in a Time of Coronavirus 😷

First the good news, today Taiwan has reached the biblical milestone of 40 days, that’s 40 straight days with no domestically transmitted Covid-19 infections. Cautious optimism all round. 😌

Good news part 2 is that it’s perfectly possible for everyone to get used to wearing face-masks. You too! It’s not weird, honest. And think how much money us women can save on lipstick as a result! 👩💄The above photo is of our Mother’s Day celebration on Sunday May 10 at Advent Church, celebrated each year in Taiwan on the second Sunday of May, all wearing face-masks. 😷 And good news part 3 is that it’s also perfectly possible for small children to take to wearing face-masks all day every day in school. That’s the Taiwan experience this term. And the result? Our church kindergartens are finding that all those horrible coughs, colds, flu and nasty bugs that normally spread so easily among groups of children are just not happening at all this term, and the kids are healthier than ever. So are their parents and teachers. And it’s not just our church kindergartens, but everyone else I talk to as well, all agree that having to wear face-masks so much is having a positive effect on our general health. Of course, it’s getting hotter and more humid as summer nears, and face-masks really restrict air-flow to the face – so you also need a fan, but y’know, so far it’s working. Let’s face it, social distancing with hundreds of very small children is hardly practical, whereas face-masks are. Never underestimate small children and their ability to adapt – and if it’s working in Taiwan, then hey, take my advice and follow Taiwan’s lead! 😷😷

(PS Updated on June 10 with this link to an article in the Taipei Times titled ‘Infectious Diseases Incidence Falls‘ which provides the statistics confirming what I’ve written above.)

All masked up at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung (photo taken from their facebook page)

A month ago, on April 21, Taiwan’s official Covid-19 statistics were 425 confirmed cases, 217 recovered and 6 deaths. Today, May 22 and the figures are 441 confirmed cases, 408 recovered and 7 deaths. As mentioned above, today is also the 40th straight day with no domestically transmitted infections; the last time Taiwan recorded a domestic infection was on April 12. We had had no imported cases for 13 straight days too, but then a new case was confirmed yesterday of a Taiwanese man who had traveled to Mexico for work in January, returning to Taiwan on May 20 with symptoms, and testing positive soon after his arrival. Of course, Taiwan is still closed to all visitors and even transit passengers; those allowed in must have either a Taiwan passport or resident permit, and are then subject to a 14-day closely-monitored mandatory quarantine.

So far, the virus continues to remain contained and we have not been in lockdown. Schools, work and church Sunday services continue with many precautions, like temperature checks, face-masks etc, but now plans are being made to resume some of the social activities that were on hold. We proceed cautiously, as every so often a new crisis erupts, along with fresh worry in case there’s new infections. One such is coming up in the next few weeks when 77 far-sea squid fishing boats and their 4,000 crew members are due to return home after 6 months at sea – new stricter rules mean that despite having been effectively isolated at sea for so long, they will also be subject to a 14-day quarantine, so let’s hope everything goes well there too. Plans are also being made for gradually opening up the country for business visitors, but it’s not happening yet; instead, starting soon is a project to design protocols for travel resumption. It’s a collaboration between Taiwan and Stanford University School of Medicine, whereby they send 500 people from San Francisco to Taipei; once here they will undergo testing every two days in a 14-day quarantine period, to try to work out the shortest possible isolation requirement for travelers.

Two days ago, March 20, was Taiwan’s presidential inauguration, broadcast live but held behind closed doors, with none of the usual public events and no delegations invited from overseas. Heightened tensions and military activity in the skies and seas around Taiwan usually accompany such important occasions, and this one is no exception, though possibly aggravated by the Covid-19 situation as world powers try to distract from their own failings and take to threatening each other instead. At Taiwan’s elections in mid-January, President Tsai Ing-Wen 蔡英文 was elected to serve a second term. The vice-president for her first term, Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 is an epidemiologist and former Minister of Health during the SARS crisis in 2003, also a devout Roman Catholic – his was an ace appointment given the current Covid-19 crisis. The new vice-president, William Ching-te Lai 賴淸德 also has a medical background, but is most famous as being mayor of Tainan, 2010-2017, and more recently as premier. Most of the cabinet continue in their posts for a second term, including the very popular Minister of Health, Chen Shih-chung 陳時中 who is still giving briefings on the virus situation each day live on TV. His first briefing was on January 21, exactly 4 months ago, the day that Taiwan confirmed its first case of Covid-19, and he’s been doing them ever since. The government continues to be upfront, proactive and vigilant, and Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus crisis provides a beacon of light and hope in this dark world. And all this without any help or support from the World Health Organization and – despite the intervention of numerous countries around the world – no invitation to join the WHO Assembly held earlier this week either.

Meanwhile up in Yangmingshan, the Tajima Cattle escape the heat of summer…

It was Ascension Day yesterday, and today is exactly 3 months since the consecration of our new bishop, Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, on February 22. He’s been busy overseeing the renovations and remodeling at the diocesan office building, now virtually complete. The main changes are on the third floor, which was previously a meeting room with a large oval wooden table in the middle, with a double bedroom for guests at the far end, separated from the meeting room by a wall of books. All the books have gone, mostly moved down to the first floor; the wall and bedroom have also gone and the meeting room has been enlarged to make one big conference room, which is already being well-used by groups for meetings and training courses. There’s also been major work done to the bishop’s apartment and rooms on the 4th and 5th floors, plus the roof. Bishop Chang kindly hosts a monthly lunch for diocesan office staff, and on Wednesday he and his wife invited us up to their apartment for lunch (see photo below). They still don’t have any hot water, and they’ve already had one major flood – the water leaked from the 5th floor down to the 4th floor – but hey, everyone is still smiling! 😊

Check out the following photos taken over the last 3 months of the Diocesan Office remodeling project….

Floods inside, and now flooding outside too, it’s particularly bad in southern Taiwan. The first typhoon of the season passed by Taiwan a few days ago, leading straight into the plum rainy season, ⛈️ with heavy rains all this week, and warnings of further severe weather and ‘disastrous’ rainfall in some parts over this weekend. 🙏 Last weekend though, the weather was glorious, and the northern tip of Taiwan looked spectacular with its lighthouse, Shimen Arch and the Fuji Fishing Harbour…

As did St. John’s University (SJU), which is only 12 km south of Taiwan’s northern tip. Check out Sunday’s photo below of Advent Church and SJU, with the Yangmingshan Mountains so clear in the background. The people playing basketball are all from the Filipino community, who often spend their Sundays here having sports competitions….

SJU is now in the second part of the semester, and preparing for graduation and end of term events coming next month. The SJU Dept. of Creative Design has its annual graduation exhibition this week, and 3 of the girls from our SJU Student Fellowship in that dept, Yi-Ting, Yumi and Cai-Pei have based their design project on Advent Church, including the design for the new T-shirts for the student fellowship, modeled here by our chaplaincy staff and Yi-Ting (far left) 😊

The girls also designed all sorts of beautiful cards, books, calendars and souvenirs around the theme of ‘Advent Home’, all really creative, and I’ve persuaded them to put their short video on YouTube so you can enjoy it – just click on the arrow below….