Short Takes, December 19 to January 9

December 19    Rhoda’s getting old, making the Train look better.

The car we’ve been driving in Taiwan since 1997 is a locally assembled 1995 Toyota, It’s a model not sold in North America, but has been reliable and functional all of the years we’ve owned it, which means most of the years we’ve been here. When we got this car, Dave was in the habit of naming our vehicles, whether we used them for only a matter of months on home assignment in North America or drove them for years, as our cars in Taiwan. Being a Toyota, this one was named Rhoda.

Early in December the rattles, squeaks and rough ride prompted the replacement of all of Rhoda’s shock absorbers. As that was being done, Dave mentioned to our mechanic that we need to keep this car only until July of 2018, and received the assurance that all will be well. Since then, though, minor things like burning oil and leaking power steering fluid, which are manageable problems, have resulted in Char taking the train to and from work more and more. Rhoda, relaxing into retirement, doesn’t go to much more than the supermarket on Saturday mornings any more.

December 21 College Worship: Pregnant with Possibilities

It was the final student-led session of college worship for the semester. The assigned text was the Annunciation from Luke 1. The man in the pulpit got a little off-point. First, he decided to center his sermon on Mary’s pregnancy, which isn’t in the text. Second, HE decided to preach about pregnancy (an experience he has not, now will not ever have).

Dave was surprised to see the student who carried the offering box up the aisle and said the prayer. Those jobs go to the student who will preach next week, but this guy is supposed to have cleared his sermon and service with Dave first! Thankfully, the next time a student preaches on Wednesday won’t be until March 6. There’s time.

 December 22  College Christmas Worship & Carolers

There was almost a surplus of worship going on in Tainan during the week before Christmas. Besides regular morning prayers at Tainan Theological College on four days there was regular college worship on Wednesday afternoon PLUS a college Christmas service on Thursday night. Later that night groups of students went caroling to teachers’ homes. The worship service itself was elaborate, complicated and very musical. Nevertheless, the service itself made up for the rambling and disjointed sermon that it contained. As he translated along for the foreign guests, Dave found himself wishing that the guy who wrote the new hymn had run it past him to fix the rhymes and infelicitous word choices in the printed English translation.

About 30 minutes after the benediction, our front yard first, and then our living room, was filled with people. Dave had spent part of the morning baking in anticipation of their arrival, and they consumed almost everything that had been put in front of them. We felt totally and generously blessed by bedtime.

 December 23   College Christmas Banquet

The dining hall at Tainan Theological College is managed by a student organization. Students don’t do the cooking, but they do all of the management, all of the serving, and all of the cleanup. Each year at Christmas they also put on a banquet. Sometimes that is at a big restaurant, but lately it has meant a catered buffet on campus. That’s easier, but it also means there will be things like door prizes, songs, dances and the like. It’s so much noisier!

The college uses this banquet to honor retired teachers and staff, volunteers and just about anyone else. You can be sure that, students having paid into the fund that covers their own meals, the college has paid into it for faculty and guests. Managing a dining hall may seem to have little to do with a future in social work or parish ministry, but it sure teaches usable skills!

 December 24 Church Christmas Eve Worship & MORE Carolers

        Dongning Presbyterian Church, our usual place of worship on Sunday mornings, also held a Christmas Eve service. In the past we enjoyed the “lessons and carols” approach used there, but Rev. Chen, who has been our pastor for two years, seems to prefer preaching services. We were both there, and Dave volunteered to translate for anyone who might show up needing English. But, the equipment didn’t work. He put on the headphones and no sound came into his ears. He spoke and no sound went into the microphone.  Because it was Saturday night, the guy who could fix things wasn’t there.  SO, things were solved by moving to the translation booth which is used for translation into Mandarin and using their equipment.

Later that night our front yard, and later our living room, was filled with carolers from church.  They didn’t stay as long as the students on the 22nd, but since they arrived later, by the time we’d swept up the crumbs and wiped off the coffee table, we got to sleep pretty late.

 December 25 Tainan International Community Church…. Day 1

On Christmas morning, it was just the 3 of us (the Cat now counts as 1) We went to church (cat not included) for a service mostly led by the choir (which is excellent). The translation system was fixed. It turned out that someone had unplugged the headset, then plugged it back in with the mic jack in the speaker place, and the speaker jack in the mic place. After worship there was a banquet at the Christian high school next door. Overfed, we went home for a nap. Dave returned to church early because he was on deck for his first day as regular preacher at Tainan International Community Church. The service went well enough, except that the computer-file hymn accompaniment wasn’t loud enough. Something to work on.

The international church’s leaders had decided to hold a 90-minute Christmas party following worship, so that’s what happened next. It wasn’t until Dave got home at about 7:30 PM that we finally opened what gifts we had prepared for each other. Not our traditional Christmas, but certainly a happy one.

 December 26 The Week Off that Wasn’t

        Not being government accredited means that Tainan Theological College can arrange its academic calendar freely, and that means a week of Christmas Vacation! Chang Jung Christian University, where Char serves, is accredited, so doesn’t have that privilege. Dave could legitimately put his feet up all week, but with Char toiling away, he decided to devote himself to certain projects, too. He wrote scoring rubrics for final projects in 2 courses, lesson plans for an course he’s developing, and syllabi for things he’ll teach next term. Beyond that, he now has a church for which to prepare every week. Busy enough to fill an entire week of vacation with work.

 December 27   Gift of Being Rewrites

On the 12th and 13th of December Dave participated in the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. He came back with an assignment to suggest rewriting and clarification in parts of a long new document that the network has recently released, but which hasn’t yet been finalized. When he finds time, he’s been going at it paragraph by paragraph, removing ambiguity. Fearing that his work is also removing much of the passion that the document contains, he has labeled his rewrite “an intermediate document between the original English and whatever languages into which it will be translated”. That’s really a mouthful, but so is translation!

 December 29 Doctors and Bankers

We had run out of coffee, which we usually buy at Costco. For a couple weeks we used beans from a local stores which we ground up in the blender. We wanted to get back to normal. On the 28th, Dave took our neighbors, Juan and Ruth Carmona, along so they could do some of their own shopping.

On the way home, Juan mentioned that he’d run out of some medicines he regularly takes. His refills were stuck in North Carolina because the US Patriot Act prevents the mailing of prescription medicines overseas. Dave took Juan to a local doctor who confirmed that his medicines were both common and available in Taiwan, but who recommended going to the outpatient clinic at the Christian hospital the next day to get them refilled.

When they went, Juan got a 3 month supply of his regular meds, paying the full amount in cash up front. Even at that, the bill came to $300, which was about what they would have cost him AFTER his US health insurance did it’s part at home.

        With Juan’s needs taken care of, Dave turned to banking. The schools where we work in Taiwan pay us for our work, but since the Reformed Church in America pays our full salaries and benefits, that locally earned money doesn’t belong to us. We had done a reconciliation in January, but then spent 6 months in North America, so nothing else had come in until about October. There wasn’t much to send up to the mission treasurer’s office in Taipei, but it had to go before the end of 2016. After everything was calculated, it came to about US$2,900. That is mission money that the RCA doesn’t have to raise somewhere else, and which can be used to fund mission activities in Taiwan and elsewhere.

 December 30 Word List

Even though he’s changed the way that Tainan Theological College evaluates incoming students’ English language ability, Dave is still required each year to produce a list of several hundred words upon which they can be tested to prove they can or have learned, English. One big change he has made is to take all of the words from a set of 6 chapters of the Bible. This year the chapters were Amos 7,8,9 And Matthew 8,9 & 10.

He outsmarted himself, though. Having “harvested” and alphabetized the words, he separated them according to word type (noun, verb, etc.) and put them into little tables with their Chinese translations using the wrong computer software. When it came time to put them all back into one big list, alphabetized list, he found himself incapable of removing the boxes without a lot of trouble.

A lot of trouble ensued. Many hours were spent. Some possibly “less than sterling” vocabulary was used.

 December 31  Two of Char’s Alumni Marry Each Other

In 2008, returning to Taiwan after a year away, Char discovered that a change of leadership in her department at Chang Jung Christian University had resulted in her being forgotten and left her without a job there. Tainan Theological College needed her, though, so she taught undergraduates in the departments of church music, social work and theology. She got closely related to a lot of those young people, and saw a certain number of college romances get started.

On December 31 two of her social work students, (the bride and groom both graduated in 2012, but he continued on for ministerial training for another 3 years, then went to work for a year after that) were married in the college chapel. Lots of their classmates came, and everyone remembered Char.  The wedding was followed by a buffet on the college lawn. A wonderful way to spend New Year’s Eve.

 December 31  Recorder Group Dinner & Seeing in the New Year

The recorder group that Dave belongs to held a year-end potluck meal. Apparently it was decided at the last minute and news was communicated on facebook (where Dave doesn’t reside) so he didn’t know. It was nice NOT to have to make brownies or cupcakes (which is what he’s usually tasked with bringing) and then to just sit and eat with everyone.

Later that evening our neighbors Juan and Ruth came to see in the new year with us. The fireworks at the 101 story building in Taipei are broadcast on national TV, and we appreciated the spectacle from the comfort of our living room couch.

 January 1 Tainan International Community Church Week 2

Worship stuff was up on the screen this week, and the computer files for hymn accompaniment were through a different sound system, but still not loud enough to sing with. We’re still learning. There was no party after worship this time, but we did meet for about 30 minutes to talk about who we are and who we want to be. Dave was tasked with choosing the hymns and delivering the sermon each week, and a couple of members volunteered to write the service. He challenged the group to consider how this church advertizes itself and shares news of its existence, especially wanting people to reach beyond the ‘when someone new from my homeland arrives at my university, I’ll tell them about it’ mentality that has prevailed in recent years.

 January 2  Word List Submitted.

January 2 was a holiday in Taiwan. And that was very good for Dave who still hadn’t gotten the entrance examination word list into proper order. He had originally promised that it would be ready by the end of the year. The extra time afforded to him by the college’s Christmas break and the government-granted new year holiday enabled him to have it delivered before things started up again.

The word list is only part of the examination he has devised. It’s the least helpful part, but it’s the most culturally expected one. Later in the week he put together all of the files for the rest of the exam and sent them to the admissions director.

 January 3  Last Class

One class Dave has been leading this semester is a non-credit workshop in historical interpretation of scripture using internet resources. It aims to help “ministers-in-the-making” get from text to sermon topic with some reasonable background material. Because it’s not for credit, he and his students (who are writing term papers and preparing for exams) decided that January 3 would be their last meeting. The assigned text was from Deuteronomy 162- 17:7. It was pretty obscure stuff, just the kind of thing for sharpening tools and wits. They had a good time. The only snag was finding suitable pictures to go with sermons about stoning people to death.

 January 4  “Godfriends”

LL 313, Theological English (which is really a class on analysis of blog postings) took apart, analyzed and discussed an article, “Godparents to Godfriends” by Kaya Oakes, a University of California professor, this week. Oakes is a Roman Catholic, so the class’s first hurdle was to understand what it means to be godparents, something that even Roman Catholics don’t necessarily do in Taiwan. Then moving to the idea of being “Godfriends” (by which Dr. Oakes meant baptismal sponsors for adults) had to be considered. Since 6 of the 7 students in the class are headed for becoming ministers, the idea that someone else in the church would be helpful with or responsible for a church member’s faith development was a revelation!

 January 5  Last Class

Theology and the Arts met for the last time on January 5th. The students’ assignment was to bring pictures of two churches with things marked that were ugly or messy and easy to fix. They were to imagine themselves having not much more than ready hands and buckets of cleaning water. Keep the budget really, really low.

Everyone found something, and the most revealing pictures came from the home churches and field education churches where the students are most familiar. Things like electric cords going everywhere, dirty places around light switches, extraneous equipment (one church had 3 electric fans up on the platform, even though it’s January and even in the summer they only ever use one). Of particular interest were pictures of our own college’s chapel, brought by a music student. She turned her eye (and camera lens) on the organ loft, which she demonstrated has become a the corner where broken stuff is stuffed.

Dave was moved. The following Saturday night before recorder group practice he straightened things in the sanctuary at Dongning Church, little things that had been bothering him, but which he hadn’t bothered to fix.

 January 6  Education Alliance Dinner

        Every year at about this time the Chang Jung Educational Alliance, a cooperative arrangement of four schools, has a meeting and banquet. Dave has been attending for years now. It’s a chance for staff and faculty members of different schools to sit with and get to know each other. A lot of printed material is distributed, and Dave noticed that both Chang Jung high schools and Chang Jung university take pains to make their pages attractive. The theological college’s effort is just an announcement of the entrance examination. Apparently whoever prepares what goes “out” from here believes that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to attract people to the school. Beauty is not required.

January 7 Catsitters Visit

While we were in the USA last year two women lived in our house and cared for our cat. They left the morning of the day we arrived back, so we hadn’t seen them again, until Saturday. Char invited them to drop by at 2:30 PM, and spent some time preparing snacks.

The first arrived at two, the second right at the appointed time.  Char had thought they’d be with us for about an hour, and planned her afternoon work accordingly. Surprise! They didn’t leave until 5.

But it was a pleasant visit. We learned of their lives. They have both finished their master’s degrees in translation, but work on the staff at an engineering factory where auto parts are made. Their jobs have nothing to do with translation.

Taiwan’s economy is doing very well. Unemployment is under 3%, and though young people may not have the jobs they imagined, they can all pretty much find something to keep minds busy and a small but reasonable income coming in.

 January 8 Christmas Tree Down & International Church Week 3

We’re usually pretty slow to get the Christmas tree up, enjoying just the advent wreath and a few things until almost Christmas day. But because carolers were on the way as early as the 22nd, we hustled things in 2016. In contrast, we’re usually pretty good at getting the tree packed away by January 5th so as to celebrate Epiphany in its own light. This time, however, with guests planned for the 7th, we held off. We were too busy with other stuff anyway.

Between church in the morning on the 8th, and church in the afternoon, while Char worked on stuff for Chang Jung Christian University, Dave went room by room through the house, taking stuff down and packing it away. After he left for church, Char only found 3 things he had missed, all of which were hanging in the kitchen. The house looks normal again, and in contrast to all the decorations we had out and up, it even looks empty.

The international church went well enough, there were even first time visitors from the USA!  The fellowship committee had produced a light supper for afterwards, and all was smiles and good cheer.  The two members who had worked on the service asked Dave to do it all himself for the 15th.  We’re all learning from each other, and will get things adjusted well enough in time.

 January 9  New Yorkers to the Guy from New Jersey

For most of the years we’ve resided in Taiwan, two things have been true. 1) We’ve subscribed to The New Yorker and we’ve been friends of Tim Fox, a guy from Newark, New Jersey who came to Taiwan in 1984 and has settled here. Tim lives in Taipei and teaches at a National University on the Northeast corner of Taiwan.

Since The New Yorker is mostly a weekly magazine (49 issues per year or something like that), it tends to stack up. All the issues we had received since August were still in the house, until the morning of the 9th, when they were boxed up and sent northwards to their new home with Tim and his students.  Bo


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