This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Gladys Aylward (1902-1970): “English missionary in China and Taiwan who worked to end the traditional Chinese practice of binding women’s feet, led a large group of orphans out of occupied China, and set up orphanages in Hong Kong and Taiwan”…
Gladys Aylward is buried in Taiwan, only 12 km from where I live here at St. John’s University. Her grave is in the grounds of Christ’s College, 臺北基督學院, located on the top of a very steep wooded hill above Guandu. Every time I go into Taipei by road or MRT, I pass by just below that college, but this is only my third visit to see the grave. Bit put off by that steep hill, the heat and all the mosquitoes up there under the trees!
My good friend and CMS mission partner colleague, Shelagh was called to the mission field as a child through hearing Gladys Aylward speak at her church in Canada. Shelagh served as a missionary nurse overseas until she retired only a few years ago – and when she visited Taiwan in 2009, Bishop Lai took us up that steep hill to visit the grave. He noticed the seal (right photo below) of the then President of the Republic of China (Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正) on the grave – Gladys Aylward became a citizen of the ROC in 1936 (though I see that the gravestone says 1941). With all the political turmoil of the time, she eventually settled in Taiwan, ROC in 1958, and died on January 2, 1970.
Gladys Aylward’s Chinese name is 艾偉德 Ai Wei-De, the characters are written vertically on the wall behind the tomb (left photo above). Her life story was published in ‘The Small Woman’ by Alan Burgess (1957), and from that book, made into what Gladys Aylward always thought to be a wildly exaggerated romantic Hollywood classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman. Ah, but it’s a great movie! Apparently it was filmed in N. Wales and the children in the movie were from the Chinese community in Liverpool.
The words on her grave are as follows:
MISS GLADYS AYLWARD MISSIONARY (1902-1970) Born on the Twenty-Forth of February, Nineteen Hundred and Two in London, England She came to China in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty to preach the Gospel, in response to the Lord’s call: And became a citizen of the Republic of China in Nineteen Hundred and Forty one She was laid to rest in the Lord, at Taipei, Taiwan, on the Second Day of January, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. John 12:24”
The grave is hidden away on the main campus, on the edge of the steep hill, next to graves of the founder and others associated with the college. The vegetation has grown up and the steep slopes are covered in trees and plants. Down below are several new high-rise apartment buildings that are almost taller than the hill itself. The graveyard is really a little oasis in the midst of a busy bustling area of Taipei. Oasis for mosquitoes that is – don’t stay there long or you’ll get eaten alive!
And most moving for me is the quote on her grave in English and Chinese:
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’. John 12:24
Temperature checks ✓ hand sanitizer ✓ face-masks ✓ And so the 60th annual convention of the Taiwan Episcopal Church could begin!
This event was originally scheduled to take place from March 27-28, 2020 in St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung – in conjunction with St. Timothy’s 50th anniversary celebrations. But the pandemic caused a delay, and a new date was set for Saturday August 15 – also it was decided to limit it to a single day, and to relocate it to Advent Church at St. John’s University (SJU), Tamsui.
Advent Church Center is large enough to host a gathering of 80 or more people, and if we needed to reschedule again, it could be done more easily than if we had booked a hotel meeting room, which is usually the case. Also it is well-ventilated, spacious and often quite breezy, being near the sea.
Currently Taiwan has still managed to contain Covid-19, and although there have been a few unexplained individual outbreaks, so far there has been no widespread community transmission, so our annual convention could go ahead this past Saturday. Government regulations say that face-masks are mandatory at places of worship, so everyone wore theirs for the actual service. This is the masked group from St. John’s Cathedral….
Limiting the event to a single day meant the meeting had to be condensed and finished in half the usual time, so a lot more work had to be done in advance to make sure everything could run quickly and smoothly. And it did, thanks be to God! And, of course, thanks to Mr. Yang, the diocesan secretary and all the staff at the diocesan office. The opening service was at 10:00 am in Advent Church…..
The service was followed by group photos and lunch, then after a short break, we started at 12:30 pm for 3 sessions, each of about 1-2 hours. During the breaks, locally famous snacks from the Tamsui area were provided by Advent Church for everyone to enjoy. The meeting finished about 5:30 pm and everyone was given a box of sandwiches and cakes to eat on the journey home. All delicious!
Advent Church was sparkling for the occasion – church members and clergy had worked really hard to make sure everything was ready, including cleaning everywhere inside and out. Each visitor was presented with a small handmade bag, individually decorated with buttons and designs – this was a wonderful team effort led by Marge Tan, chair of our ladies group, using materials from their Tan T-shirt company and helped by talented members of our student fellowship – a 2-day project. I loved mine! Inside was a set of postcards of Advent Church, designed by our student fellowship graduates as part of their final-year project in the SJU Dept. of Creative Design. Beautiful!
On the day itself, all the Advent Church vestry members came along to help, plus a team from the student fellowship – they were there all day – thanks to them all!
For our new bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, this was his first diocesan convention as bishop, and in his sermon, he was clearly delighted to be back in his old home of Advent Church for his first convention…
He started by showing his appreciation to the current leadership team at Advent Church, our lovely retired priest, Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei, SJU Chaplain Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and churchwarden Mr. Chen Ming-Chuan. All 3 are really great at encouraging church members to get involved and be part of the church ministry. Bishop Chang commented on how, as the regular cleaning person is sick, the church members have taken over the cleaning of the church, giving up their free time and spending hours and hours polishing, dusting, sweeping, washing and cleaning. He said how moved he was to hear that Ms. Shiao-Chien is bringing to the church the high standards she has at home for cleaning the church toilets, scrubbing the floors tile by tile, while 85-year-old Rev. Peter D. P. Chen is dusting and polishing the pulpit and choir chairs, while other church members and the student fellowship spent a whole Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago using high-pressure hoses to wash the white walls around the building, and clean all the windows.
Bishop Chang said that this year, 2020, 3 of our churches in the diocese celebrate their 50th anniversaries: St. James’ Church, Taichung, which celebrated on July 25, St. Timothy’s, Kaohsiung, which has postponed their celebration to September 19, and Advent Church. St. James celebrated the 50th anniversary of the actual church building, while St. Timothy’s and Advent Church are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment or official naming of their churches.
He said that for Advent Church, this is a very special 50th anniversary. Bishop James C. L. Wong, first Chinese Bishop of Taiwan (1965-70) was bishop for only 5 years, and yet in those 5 years, he accomplished so much, including the foundation of St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT) in 1967 (now SJU). On March 6, 1970, at the 10th annual diocesan convention, held in St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei, Bishop Wong formally announced that the new church / chapel to be built at SJSMIT would be named ‘Advent Church’. Only 3 weeks later, on March 28, at the Easter Eve Vigil at St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, Bishop Wong was taken ill and admitted to hospital. He died on April 27, 1970, so he never lived to see Advent Church be built. Bishop Wong was buried on the highest plot of land at SJSMIT, and over the next few years, the new Advent Church was constructed over and around his grave, which became the site of the altar. The new church building was consecrated on February 17, 1973. Bishop Chang said that it was almost as if, as Bishop Wong died, so Advent Church was born.
Fast forward 50 years, and while Advent Church is thriving, unfortunately SJU is possibly at its lowest point in all those 50 years. Our new SJU president, Dr. Huang Hung-Pin, who took over on August 1, 2020, is determined to turn things around and has already implemented huge cuts to faculty and staff, and is introducing many new ways of working. The priority is to stabilize the financial situation, increase student enrollment and improve academic standards. The finances are desperately low, and Bishop Chang announced that he has started a big fundraising campaign for SJU. He said that, after discussion with the Advent Church leadership team, that Advent Church would be celebrating their 50th anniversary, not by spending money on a big celebration, but by raising money to present as a gift to SJU. His goal is NT$ 500,000 (about US$ 17,000); to be presented to SJU on St. John’s Day, December 28, 2020, and he has invited all clergy, churches and church members to contribute. He also said that for SJU alumni and friends in the USA who would like to contribute, we are grateful to The Episcopal Church for their help in channeling donations to the Diocese of Taiwan. This is SJU President Huang giving his speech at the convention….
Bishop Wong was a true disciple of Christ, who saw the great importance of reaching out through his life and witness to share the Gospel, so fulfilling his motto of ‘Transforming lives through Christ’. Bishop Chang encouraged everyone to follow Bishop Wong’s example ~ not to just sit there in church waiting for people to come, but to go out into the world ~ and share the good news of Christ!
The Taiwan Episcopal Church has 8 kindergartens, and in his sermon, Bishop Chang also said very strongly that the purpose of the kindergartens is to help and support the local community, and for outreach among the kindergarten children and their families. He emphasized that our kindergarten ministry is not just for making money, and the church must stop relying on them for income – and must rely on the church members instead. Later in the meeting, Mrs. Liu, chair of the kindergarten committee talked about how a group of our kindergarten principals, supervisors and teachers had visited church kindergartens in the Province of Hong Kong last year and how moved they had been to see so many Bible verses decorating their buildings, and how they have resolved to do the same here in Taiwan. Children will now learn 5 Bible verses a semester, and small cards with the verses have been printed out and distributed to all our kindergarten children. Mrs. Liu produced statistics that show, in total, our 8 kindergartens have 1,103 children, of whom 94 (8.5%) come from Christian homes. We have a total of 140 full-time teachers and staff, of whom only 30 (21%) are Christians; and 101 part-time teachers and staff, of whom 19 (18.8%) are Christians. So we have a huge amount of work to do sharing the Gospel with the teachers, children and parents. Bishop Chang also emphasized the importance of the kindergarten supervisors being church members of that particular church, and being active in outreach to the parents, getting to know them, inviting them to events and sharing the Gospel with them. This is Mrs. Liu (second left) with the delegation from St. John’s Cathedral, including her son, standing next to her…
Much of the actual meeting-time was taken up with procedural matters, discussions of financial reports, elections to the different committees etc. However, a few other items of note:
1) Rev. David Chee, assisted by Rev. Antony Liang, is now officially starting work on re-establishing the Trinity Hall Theological Center, based at the diocesan office, but running primarily online to all our different churches. This ministry will include developing theological courses for church members, interns, seminarians and clergy. They will focus on strategic planning for each of these groups, which will then help the diocese to have a clearer long-term plan and set realistic goals. This is Rev. David Chee – with Ms. Shiao-Chien, they’re great friends, both involved in the music ministry at Advent Church and though not related, both have the same surname…
2) St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung has a church building that, when it was constructed in 1964, was considered an amazingly innovative design for modern church architecture – it is shaped like a tent with a roof that goes down almost to ground level. However, that same roof leaks very badly and the other church buildings on the site – which house the kindergarten and meeting rooms – are also in a bad state of repair, and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. The vision of the church is that the whole site could be re-developed, with a new church built. However, the local government is now assessing whether the church should be classified as a historic building, in which case, there will be huge restrictions on what can be done on the site in the future. The vicar, Rev. Cheng Chen-Chang asked for prayer and for any legal experts who might be able to offer their assistance.
3) The newly elected chair of the Diocese of Taiwan Standing Committee is the Rev. Lily L. L. Chang, Rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung. Please pray for her, and all the different committees as they continue the work of the diocese. This is Rev. Lily Chang below, with newly-ordained deacon Rev. Stoney Wu and the delegation from St. James – with and without their face-masks!
4) The next diocesan convention will be – as originally planned for this year – hosted by St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung, possibly over the first weekend of March 2021 – to be confirmed.
Thank you for your prayers for the convention. And to all those involved in the running of the event, thank you! Special thanks to the churchwarden of Advent Church, Ming-Chuan and his wife, Meng-Chen who have spent months preparing for this great occasion – and posed especially below. We love them to bits, and are truly grateful that everything went so smoothly under their care and direction.
And thanks be to Almighty God ~ and please do continue to pray for Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang and all in the Diocese of Taiwan!
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…
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! 😷
So here I am, along with 23 million other people, on this small, densely-populated island of Taiwan, only 130 km across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China, and only 1,000 km or 2 hours’ flight from Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus. In late January, Johns Hopkins University said Taiwan was one of the most at-risk areas outside of mainland China, owing to its close proximity, ties and transport links. Taiwan’s first case was announced on January 21, exactly 3 months ago today, and let’s face it, it did not look promising.
Yet, fast forward 2-3 months, and a CNN report on April 5 is titled, “Taiwan’s coronavirus response is among the best globally”. True. As of today, Taiwan has 425 confirmed cases, 217 recovered and 6 deaths. The latest group cluster are 27 military personnel from the Panshi Fast Combat Support Ship, part of a goodwill fleet that visited Palau from March 12 to 15, they are now being followed up and contacts traced. Hopefully, as has happened so far, the virus will remain contained. Although the economy is suffering badly, so far there has been no lockdown or isolation imposed by the government, and although many activities are cancelled, schools, work and Sunday church services continue more or less as normal…
Global suspension of postal services due to the virus means I can write to you in the USA, but not if you live in Hawaii. On the other hand, you can write to me from anywhere in the USA, including Hawaii. If you’re in Canada, you can write to me here in Taiwan, but sadly I can’t write back. I can write to you in the UK, but you can’t write to me, so my Easter cards have arrived with you, but yours will not arrive here until after postal services resume again. We can send our diocesan magazines to Northern Ireland, but not to Ireland, and Ireland can’t send anything to Taiwan, whereas Northern Ireland can. We certainly live in interesting times.
So it’s a good job we have other ways to communicate. And communication in Taiwan these days is mostly done from behind a face-mask. Face-masks have been popular in Taiwan for years, but now they are compulsory on public transport, in all government buildings, schools, markets and many shops, along with temperature checks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. Most people wear them most of the time, me too. Face-masks hide virtually all facial expressions, especially as many Taiwan people also wear glasses, so you never again need to smile at anyone, in fact you can happily ignore everyone around you. That is until you get to teach a class of children and need them to speak, like in my weekly early morning class at the local middle school. They sang for my birthday a few weeks ago, all masked up. Thanks everyone! We also went there in Holy Week to distribute Easter eggs (actually salted duck eggs, dyed by our student fellowship) to the staff and children…
In our church services, wearing a face-mask has also become compulsory, but now I realize it’s easy to get away with not singing any hymns because nobody can see your lips moving, and anyway, it’s fiddly to sing as it moves the mask too much and you need to adjust it again – so it’s better to stay quiet. But if you stay too quiet, then the live broadcast doesn’t sound very live, as nobody can hear the congregation saying anything. And be careful not to yawn, or the mask comes loose, and certainly don’t laugh – masks only stay in place if you don’t move your mouth. The only time in the church service that anyone takes their mask off is the preacher for the sermon, and for everyone to receive the bread at Holy Communion. The photo at the top (and below) shows our masked communion service on Easter Sunday at Advent Church….
Actually, we encourage all the elderly to stay home and watch the livestream of services from our cathedral and some of the other churches instead. Advent Church cancelled its Holy Week services this year, and we all stayed home. Isn’t it just great sometimes to lie on your bed and go to church? That’s what I did, flicking through church services throughout the diocese as they broadcast live. And that’s how come I watched the end of the Maundy Thursday service from St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi. After the altar was stripped and the cross covered in a black cloth, the priest sat down and prepared to turn out the light, and to read aloud, in the darkness, the moving story of Jesus’ last hours. Except that at that exact moment that he switched out the light, the music started outside in the street, telling us all that the rubbish (garbage) truck was coming. The rubbish trucks have a set timetable, but all play music to let everyone know they’re coming along, like ice-cream vans do in the UK. And y’know, it was really quite surreal, but also kind of appropriate – the people outside throwing their rubbish into the trucks to be taken away, as the story of Jesus taking away our sins on the cross was being recounted inside. Almost a parallel universe.
On Easter Sunday, our preacher at Advent Church encouraged us to follow the example of Mary, on the day of resurrection at the tomb, who turned and saw the risen Christ, having first thought he was the gardener who had removed the body. In times of turmoil, grief, pain and suffering, we are inclined to blame others for everything that’s going wrong. But in reflecting on our own sin and turning in repentance, so we turn, as Mary turned, and see the risen Christ – and we pray that we might see the risen Christ in others too. We so easily see the evil in others, rather than the good. That is my challenge and prayer this Easter season for all of us, as individuals, communities, governments, countries and world leaders.
But, when I ask myself what is my response to all the pain and suffering in the world caused by the coronavirus, I am angry. Taiwan has done so well in handling this terrible situation, all without any help from the World Health Organization, which it’s not allowed to join, and all in such contrast to so-called ‘Great’ Britain, where the government has not just been slow to act, but inept and arrogant in its response. People here have asked me so many times to explain ‘herd immunity,’ and how come the UK government is in such a mess that even Prince Charles and the prime minister ended up infected. Don’t get me started, but it’s a good job the queen appeared on TV at the right moment to give a great speech and some hope to us all. Of course, all the credit must go to the exhausted front-line workers in hospitals, care homes, emergency services, supermarkets, delivery vans, schools and all those who’ve stayed home and done their bit to flatten the curve, plus those who’ve used their time creatively to raise money and help those affected. Yes, Taiwan learned from SARS in 2003 (read this account of what went wrong then) and has been proactive and vigilant ever since; plus the people are willing to comply with all restrictions for the greater good. And now the country is donating face-masks by the million to governments around the world who for the last few months have had the arrogance to say that face-masks don’t work or are not necessary. God have mercy!
In an opinion piece by Ian Inkster in the South China Morning Post titled, “In the battle against the coronavirus, East Asian societies and cultures have the edge”, he includes Taiwan when he says, “What has come through in each of the East Asian societies is a moral economy compounded of ancient traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism, and moderation of individualism by deep values of benevolence, shared responsibilities and obligations that might well be at the heart of East Asia’s success. Cultures that are sturdy in a world of change do not have to rely on expensive policies or promises of rapid economic recovery, for cultural suasion can go a very long way. It can save lives.” Food for thought indeed.
These few weeks we were supposed to be hosting the World Anglican Chinese Clergy Conference (WACCF) in Taiwan, and the 53rd anniversary celebrations of the foundation of St. John’s University, held each year near the last week of April. The result of so many events being cancelled is that we have far more time than usual, not just because the events are cancelled, but the planning and organization of them all too. It does mean more time for our new bishop, Lennon Y. R. Chang, who continues to be very busy as chair of the board of trustees of St. John’s University, as well as overseeing the remodeling and modernizing of the diocesan office building in central Taipei, which we hope will be finished next month.
Having less weekend events means more free time, and encouraged by the government to get out into the countryside for fresh air and exercise, so all the bicycle paths, parks, mountains and scenic areas locally are full of people, young couples, families, small groups of students, retired people, all enjoying themselves. That just has to be a good thing. Nature is there waiting for us to come and see it. The cherry blossom season is over, so is the wisteria at the middle school (photos above and below, courtesy of Jasmine Yu), and now it’s the frog-croaking season in full swing – they go on and on all night long!
Thanks for your continuing prayers, support and concern for us all in Taiwan, they are much appreciated. Praying for God’s mercy, grace and comfort in a hurting world. Stay safe everyone 😷
(On first sight, doesn’t that sign above look like it’s saying ‘Avoid Catherine’?!) 😮
Taiwan is now in its 3rd month since the fear and worry about the coronavirus situation started. It was just before Chinese New Year in the 3rd week of January that things started to happen big-time and Taiwan started its wall-to-wall News coverage, with daily press briefings from the health minister, and the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in non-stop action. Check out the Wikipedia Site “COVID-19 pandemic in Taiwan‘’ for a good description of what has happened so far.
And so far, thankfully, it seems that Taiwan is just about keeping its head above water. Even as the coronavirus situation worsens worldwide, the government here continues to be very vigilant and the people very willing to comply with all restrictions. I was in Taiwan for the SARS epidemic in 2003, when we were the third most badly-affected country in the world after China and Hong Kong, and my memories are of it being a very fearful time for everyone; the depressing doom and gloom lasted for many months, and it was clear that the government regretted not being quicker and more proactive in preventing community outbreaks. This time the government did not delay, and did what governments are supposed to do, that is learn from history and act for the benefit of the people. On the very first day that the outbreak was officially reported by China (December 31, 2019), that same evening, the government here started checking incoming passengers on flights from Wuhan, even before they disembarked from the plane.
By February 22, the day of the consecration of our new bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, there were 26 confirmed cases in Taiwan, but no serious community outbreak, and it was felt safe to go ahead with the actual consecration service, though with a lot of precautions, including cancelling the consecration banquet, and temperature checks on everyone at the service. Travel restrictions imposed by Taiwan at the time meant that visitors from Hong Kong had to cancel, but we welcomed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and 12 other archbishops and bishops from the USA, Japan and Korea for the occasion.
When we said goodbye to those bishops a few days later, it was South Korea, Italy and Iran that were the developing hotspots. Fast forward a month, and the virus has spread worldwide, and with cancellations of school and work in Europe and the USA, so we are in a second wave of confirmed cases, as anxious Taiwanese overseas flee for the safety of home, all with stories of how relieved they are to be back in a country that really is taking this virus seriously. Since last week, only those with Taiwan passports or a resident permit are allowed into the country; all are quarantined for 14 days and all are closely monitored; while the few who have tried to escape quarantine have been caught and fined.
As of this afternoon, Monday March 23, we have a total of 195 confirmed cases and 2 deaths, with an increase of 26 new infections today, all accounted for, as announced by the health minister. It feels like we are still holding our breath, still treading water, not daring to let down our guard, just in case, but also relieved that so far the virus remains contained. Here at St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei, we are now in our 4th week of the semester (after an initial delay of 2 weeks), and this morning, I was on duty for an hour of temperature-checking of all students and staff arriving for classes. Most of those arriving at the front entrance had just got off a bus or motorcycle and were wearing face-masks, many will wear them all day long. I wear mine in church, on public transport, in the supermarket, sometimes in the office and of course for temperature-checking, in fact anywhere where there’s too many people in too small a space, at the very least it keeps my hands off my face. We use a digital forehead thermometer to check everyone, after which they get their hands sprayed with sanitizer and a sticker with a ‘1’ on it, denoting the first day of the week (in Mandarin Chinese, Monday is Day 1) showing that they have passed the temperature check. If they get a reading over 37.5°C, the thermometer light glows orange or red, so we wait a few minutes and check again. If it happens a second time, they get checked with an ear thermometer, and if that reading is over 38°C, then they are not allowed to enter the campus and instead sent to seek medical advice, and their details are recorded and followed up. This temperature-checking activity takes a lot of organization, as everyone entering the campus has to be channeled through a central processing area at the main entrance, so it involves a whole rota of people, and there’s another group checking temperatures of those driving in by car. The same rules of daily temperature-checking apply at all schools and government buildings in Taiwan; but apart from that, work and school continue vaguely as normal, with plenty of precautions, though many after-school, extra-curricular activities are cancelled, same for the churches.
Our Sunday services are an ongoing challenge as they involve a wider age range of people, but they have not been cancelled, although numbers are down as some of the most at risk stay home. We have the usual temperature checks, face-masks to be worn by clergy and congregation alike, and depending on the church, it may or may not be Holy Communion, and if so, mostly with bread only. Here at Advent Church, the clergy adjust the service protocol each week as they try to accommodate for everyone and everything in as safe a way as possible. Our fellowship groups, Sunday Schools, Bible Studies etc are all cancelled, some are taking place online. One thing’s for sure though, with so many cancellations, everyone has a lot more free time than they had before.
It’s a month since Bishop Lai retired and Bishop Chang was consecrated, and our new bishop has not wasted one moment, starting immediately on the renovation, remodeling and updating of facilities at the 5-storey diocesan office building in Taipei City. He was also here at SJU this morning, now as chair of the SJU board of trustees, but I mistook him for one of the students as he arrived at the campus with his face-mask on, and lined up with everyone else for temperature-checking; the same with SJU President Ay. When it comes to temperature-checking, from bishop to university president, staff, students and even the bus drivers delivering students, all have to line up to be checked; vigilance is demanded of everyone.
As the coronavirus situation worsens worldwide, and restrictions continue in Taiwan with so many activities cancelled, I too have more time than usual. Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in the UK and my mother celebrated her 88th birthday only a few days before. It is a worrying time for those there and for us far away. A few days ago I went through my address book and compiled a list of friends and family members mostly in far-off countries who are particularly vulnerable at this time. Many are elderly or have elderly parents, many are in isolation, some have underlying health conditions. My list has about 60 individuals / couples on it and I have committed myself to praying for them all by name every day for the foreseeable future, specifically for God’s protection, grace, strength and comfort at this time. I’m happy to extend the list with a few more people and add your name or the name of someone close to you who you feel especially needs prayer at this time. Just one or two individuals / couples will be fine, not a whole list, I have to be realistic. Just let me know the name and a few details. Happy to help!
I am very grateful to my sending organization, Church Mission Society (CMS) for their support, care and concern, and especially for treating us as individuals, within the context of the church and country in which we work, and for respectfully standing back when appropriate and reaching out when necessary. The last thing I would want is mission support done ‘helicopter parent’ style, so a big thank you to all in CMS. Other people working in the charity sector are not so fortunate, I’ve realized recently, and some US mission societies have ordered everyone to return home, regardless of where they live or the current virus situation or the health facilities in that country; Peace Corps even has a worldwide evacuation order for all 7,300 of their volunteers to return to the USA, and finish their term of service. Yes, sometimes less is more, which is the quote on the photo above (and below), though at first sight I thought the final phrase said, ‘Avoid Catherine’ but it turns out it’s not my name after all, but ‘Avoid Gathering’ with the ‘s’ missed off (duh!🙄) Certainly, avoiding people doesn’t mean we also need to avoid God, and surely He is nearer to us than we can expect or even know, and especially in these darkest of times.
Let me finish with this prayer, which I really like, from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the National Day of Prayer and Action yesterday, Mothering Sunday, as everyone was encouraged to light a ‘candle of hope’ in their homes: “May the God of all hope show us his face and his way within the darkness that enfolds us. In all things, God can work with us to transform and bring light, however desperate our present may be”.
And finally, it’s spring and these pink wood sorrels are out all over the SJU campus, looking glorious on a sunny day….
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support, you are all much appreciated. Thanks especially to my CMS-supporting link churches. Please do stay safe, healthy, prayerful and hopeful, and let me know if you’d like me to pray. There’s a comment section up near the title if you want to write something.
Chinese New Year (CNY) Celebrations for the Lunar New Year / Spring Festival have been going on non-stop all week here in Taiwan! There are mice and rat characters everywhere 🐭 🐀 and Mickey Mouse and his friends have never been more popular. Plus red lanterns galore 🏮🏮🏮….
However, the Taiwan News is dominated by wall-to-wall reporting of the Wuhan Coronavirus situation, which has created a lot of fear, particularly among those who have stayed at home over CNY and watched a lot of TV. We all remember the SARS outbreak in 2003, which the Taiwan government handled really well, but still, many have cancelled their travel plans and are avoiding large gatherings and public transport, and we’re all hoping that the situation does not get worse. There are quite a few suspected – and some confirmed – cases in Taiwan, but so far all remain contained. Kindergartens are back in action as from yesterday, state schools start on February 11. I’m here at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, where all children and staff have their temps checked on entering the school, and everyone is wearing a face-mask and being extra-careful. Face-masks will be worn by all in our churches on Sunday too, and church activities limited for the next few weeks, just to be on the safe side.
But Taiwan people know the importance of celebrating the new year, and despite the concerns, we all had great CNY celebrations! On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I was invited by the Wang family from St. James’ Church, Taichung for their traditional family reunion dinner. Very honoured to sit next to Grandma Wang, aged 87, who kept us all entertained with stories of her early life and 20 years of living in Paraguay. And delicious food, as always – thank you!
Saturday January 25 was officially the first day of CNY, and my good friend A-Guan had invited me to join her on a 6-day road trip to southern and eastern Taiwan. None of her children wanted to go with us, so the two of us set off, in sunny weather heading south for Tainan, en route visiting all sorts of interesting sightseeing spots. First to Gukeng to the Pink Castle 古坑珍粉紅城堡, then to Rosahill, followed by some famous Gukeng coffee, and lastly to Wushantou Reservoir 烏山頭水庫 where it was overcast, but hey, it didn’t rain!
The Temple of Heaven at Wushantou Reservoir is being repaired, but it is modeled on the one in Beijing…. impressive eh?!
In Tainan, we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, his wife, their second son and his family, plus their daughter, all of whom had gathered for the CNY celebrations – actually his second son and family live very near me in Tamsui, ha ha! On Sunday we worshiped with the congregation at Grace Church, Tainan, and I was delighted to meet Rev. Samuel Liao and his family. We were all given red envelopes – as is the tradition, but instead of a token one dollar coin or chocolate money inside, we each received a new NT$ 100 note, plus a Bible verse. Mine was Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer 在盼望中要喜樂，在患難中要忍耐，禱告要恆切”. Thank you Grace Church!
After coffee time and a delicious Korean lunch, kindly hosted by Hsiu-Chin and her husband, we set off for Fengshan, Kaohsiung, where we were to be staying 2 nights with Ichen, our good friend from St. James – and her family. Once there though, it was such a beautiful day, that we couldn’t stay inside for long, and so we went by MRT along 3 stops to Weiwuying, Kaohsiung (still in Fengshan District), famous for it’s street art and wall murals, and the new state-of-the-art performing arts centre. I love Weiwuying – and there’s always new murals to look at – and this time a new multi-coloured seat to take photos on 🙃🙃 and hey, I met one of our church families from Advent Church, Tamsui visiting their family home in Fengshan for CNY!
On Monday, the weather forecast was good, but rain and cold were promised from Monday night onwards, so we needed to make the most of the sunny weather! A-Guan took us first to see the old iron-bridge 舊鐵橋 that used to link Kaohsiung to Pingtung across the Kaoping River 高屏溪, originally built to transport sugar. It was once the longest bridge in East Asia – built in 1914 in the Japanese Era. I loved it! The middle section was washed away in a typhoon some years ago, but much survives and is open to the public. The main train line crosses the river on a bridge close by. We also visited the nearby kiln and tile workshops, and in the afternoon we went to Pingtung to Liudui Hakka Park, plus other places – but there was a lot of traffic, everyone making the most of the fine weather!
On Monday evening, Rev. Lily Chang joined us, ready to leave bright and early on Tuesday morning. By 9:00 am, we were saying goodbye to Ichen and her family – they were so good to us, with delicious breakfasts and dinners, lively conversation and lots of laughs! We drove down the coast and over the mountains to Taitung – by the newly-opened road that goes through the tunnel – it’s great and saves a huge amount of time! We were heading for Bunun Village Farm 布農部落, our favourite place to stay in Taitung. This village project was started by Rev. K. S. Pai over 25 years ago, and is supported by many churches in Taiwan, with the aim of encouraging the local Bunun Indigenous people to remain in the area, rather than leaving for the cities in search of work. The village is a self-sustaining business with guest houses, restaurants, traditional dance performances, weaving, an organic farm and bamboo factory. We love it! We met Rev. Pai, who knows Bishop Lai and our former dean, Rev. Samuel Y. C. Lin from Tainan Theological College days – see the first photo below. I was very surprised to meet 4 Tanzanian students and one from Burundi, most on 4-month internships from Chang-Jung Christian University, Tainan studying Sustainable Development, sponsored by the Jane Goodall Institute 國際珍古德協會. Ah, it was nice to rekindle my Kiswahili!