SQJ Taipei

Mr. & Mrs. SQJ… 4 kids… several fish… this is our life…

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About SQJTaipei… the blog

August 14th, 2007 · 7 Comments

I’ve been thinking of writing this for some time… I recently read a couple things that made me decide to do it now. I guess you could consider this a “State of the Blog Address” of sorts.

The Catalyst

I can’t recall how I stumbled across this post at Scott Sommer’s Taiwan Weblog.

I do visit his blog from time to time so it isn’t unusual that I saw it… just that I don’t remember reading it back in April 2007 when it was posted. Scott’s post was actually a post related to this post by Michael at The View from Taiwan.

If you aren’t a blogger in Taiwan… the posts probably won’t interest you very much… but I do find them interesting and they are, in part, a reason for this post. Their opinions gave me things to think about. As I thought… and evaluated the purpose of SQJTaipei and its place in my life… I decided to put some of my thinking in a post.

Michael’s post is a good one. So is his follow up post where he emphasized the importance of knowing why you have a blog. He posted slides from a presentation he gave on English blogs in Taiwan. He says there are 3 kinds of English blogs about Taiwan:

  1. long-term expats who know about Taiwan and blog on it
  2. short-term expats who don’t know a thing about Taiwan and blog on their own lives
  3. missionaries

    Scott writes:

    One of the more interesting dynamics of blogging in Taiwan that Michael raised is the world of missionary bloggers. While I have had encounters with this world, I always viewed them as an anomaly in the world of foreigners in Taiwan. When Michael and I use the term ‘missionary’, really what we mean are missionaries from modern Protestant churches. This would include the Latter Day Saints more commonly known as ‘Mormons’, missionaries from Studio Classroom, and the increasing number of Jehovah’s Witnesses I hear about.

    For the most part, such missionaries live on the very edge of both mainstream foreign life in Taiwan and also of mainstream Taiwanese life. While some learn to speak Mandarin very well, they do not integrate at all. None of the ones I have spoken with have any significant understanding of Taiwan politics, history, or culture, even if they have married local people and moved back to Taiwan following their mission. But in fact, almost all of them live here only a very short time and then return to the life they had before they came here. As such, their blogs reflect the superficial aspects of Taiwan they encounter in their daily lives. I suspect that no one outside of their missionary community would be interested in them. Even though some would not appear to be diary-type blogs, the discussions would be of topics completely divorced from the lives of those outside their community.

    Integration

    I’m not exactly sure why missionaries get their own category… but I do have a guess… an educated one at that… the long term missionaries who know about Taiwan just don’t blog about it. Many of them do, however, write about Taiwan in publications like, TMF Magazine (formerly Taiwan Mission Quarterly). Seeing missionaries separated out like that makes me want to make sure and be in touch with those missionaries who aren’t blogging to see if they know how easy it is to get started.

    Although Michael has a nice and tidy label for my little corner of the Taiwan blogosphere… I’m not sure I see it so clearly. Scott also seems to mention some things about missionaries that are outside of my own experience.

    As a family of foreigners, I know we can’t fully integrate here… but we are far from “the very edge” of mainstream Taiwanese life and outside of a few missionaries and one Kiwi friend, I don’t even really know any other foreigners here. I know that Scott wrote “For the most part”, but I’m not really refuting him (or Michael) in this post… I’m just using their opinions to help me think about my own reasons for blogging. I don’t work closely with any other missionaries right now, but some that I have worked with are quite integrated here… others not so much.

    Politics, Culture, History

    I do have a “significant understanding of Taiwan politics, history, [and] culture” but don’t often blog on these aspects of Taiwan for 2 reasons:

    1. my OCD/perfectionist tendencies would cause me to spend ridiculous amounts of time creating those kinds of posts on a regular basis (one example: I have a draft about learning Chinese that is killing me softly by its never ending options)
    2. the information is usually already out there somewhere… probably on The View from Taiwan!

    I do think that I should probably make a page on the blog where I list some of the available resources that I find most relevant related to learning about Taiwan’s culture, history, and politics.

    One other fact that some may find interesting (or not) is related to my missionary visa. In order to be in Taiwan with a missionary visa, we must be invited by an existing organization in Taiwan. Mine is called Formosa Christian Mission (which gives you some idea as to how long it has been here if you are historically observant). Each year, we have to renew our ARC (visa – sort of) and take a new copy of the “Letter of Invitation”. My most recent one includes this line:

    Their purpose for coming to live in Taiwan was and still is, to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ through preaching, literature, teaching, and the establishment of churches. Scott & Angie have not, and will not, involve themselves in the internal affairs of the government of the Republic of China or in local politics.

    So… this determines (to an extent) what I will write about on my blog. Now… I’m not sure that the government would really care about what I would write on my blog. I’m just grateful to the Taiwanese government to allow me to come to their beautiful nation and don’t see much need to be involved in or publicly comment on political issues in Taiwan. I don’t feel particularly limited by this and I probably just told you all you need to know about my political stance regarding Taiwan if you read carefully. 🙂

    Purpose of SQJTaipei

    Back in February 2005, we started this blog with the following ideas:

    THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG IS TO SHARE INFO ABOUT:

    • CHURCH PLANTING IN TAIWAN
    • LIFE IN TAIWAN FROM AN EXPAT’S PERSPECTIVE
    • OUR FAMILY

    Why we have it…

    • Newletters capture certain aspects of a ministry. We will continue with our newsletters, but we think this weblog will give us a better outlet for sharing the day to day events in our ministry and in our family.
    • Mr. SQJ enjoys writing… but often finds the monthly newsletter difficult to prepare because there is always far more information to share than we can really put in a newsletter! So… this will give him a chance to share more often and not have to worry about space.

    I think we’ve been faithful to those ideas…

    I don’t think I ever posted this, but my intended audience for this blog was:

    • My family, friends, and supporters around the world (the blog is an important supplement to our newsletters and prayer request emails)
    • Anyone coming to Taiwan and interested in the experiences of those who have gone before them (just as I keep learning about Taiwan from those here longer than I)
    • Anyone interested in church planting… particularly in urban settings… particularly in Asia… and particularly in Taiwan (this has led to great ministry contacts and partners)

    I’d add 2 more categories to that list now.

    • Anyone interested in the cool (IMO) combination of science, technology, and missions (like my new online friend Jeff at Missionary Geek)
    • Other Taiwan bloggers… to make friends (even if only online) and learn from one another

    Future of SQJTaipei

    So… except for the period from April 2005 – December 2005… this blog has fulfilled its purpose and answered the “Why blog?” question in my own mind. I think we’ll keep it going. I’m really glad you visit the blog and I hope you enjoy it now and in the future. I enjoy all of your comments.

    Tags: Blog related · Family · General · Taiwan

    7 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Michael Turton // Aug 14, 2007 at 9:20 am

      Hi Scott:

      The problem of ‘those who know’ not blogging is a general one across many fields, not just an issue of missionary blogging. ‘Those who know’ are generally doing productive work and don’t have time to blog, I guess. Or the rewards don’t outweigh the effort invested. In Taiwan studies, for example, the only bona fide expert I know who blogs is Mark Harrison. The same is true of most of the fields I follow, though biology and Bible studies are happy exceptions.

      Also, few of the long-term expats blog, missionary or not. There are thousands of foreigners here for the long haul, but few have blogs. So the “problem” is general. Although I don’t think of it as a problem. It’s just the way things are. I’m not evangelical about blogging, the way I am about some of my other interests.

      I gave the missionaries their own category because, well, that’s the way they behave. They don’t interact with anyone else in the local blogosphere, and tend to interact only with each other. I’ve gotten thousands of comments, but the number I’ve received from missionaries can be easily counted on the fingers of one hand. Your blogroll is highly unusual for a missionary, in that it is not composed entirely of other missionary bloggers here and elsewhere.

      That’s true not only in the blogosphere, but in daily life as well — no missionaries show up for any of the various blog gatherings we’ve had. At conferences and suchlike I’ve never met a missionary. When I travel around Taiwan I run into people who know me from my blog and website — but rarely a missionary, though I know from their blogs that many have seen both. Similarly, people from all walks contact me all the time wanting to get together and go hiking or have a beer or chew the fat about Taiwan — but never a missionary. The missionary community puts up powerful barriers between it and everyone else.If you guys keep to yourselves, you’re gonna get your own category. That simple.

      I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with the inward look of most missionary blogs. That’s the way things are. Most blogs are aimed at the folks back home, missionary or not. But my perspective is “how can I raise Taiwan’s profile in the world?” so that’s how I look at bloggers in Taiwan. The non-missionary English blogging community is not very diverse but many in that community do show a lively interest in the island and its affairs, whereas the missionary community blogs don’t. The English bloggers link to each other and to a wide variety of blogs. At least two of us have attempted to comprehensively list the English language blogs on Taiwan. Nothing like that can be found on the missionary blogs. Missionaries may build community, it appears, but not with outsiders.

      This inward focus of missionary blogs also reinforces another common perception among non-missionary foreigners in Taiwan, that missionaries just don’t care about the island. Of course, all of us meet Mormons, who are here largely to socialize themselves in their religious standpoint and really just don’t give a damn about Taiwan, but if you start reading missionary blogs, you’d be hard pressed not to develop that perspective. That’s the perspective that Scott writes from. The missionaries we meet aren’t married to locals but to each other — that also reinforces perceptions of underlying racism among missionaries that many outsiders hold but rarely express — since many long-term expats are married to locals. Perhaps some of the long-term missionaries are married to locals, but I personally have never met one (my son went to Morrison for three years). I know, of course, that the Presbyterian Church played a key role in the development of democracy here, and that missionary women married local democracy activists to give them cover….

      Finally, you don’t have write on politics to write great posts — I wish we had more people blogging on culture, literature, art, business, social mores, languages (there’s an area of missionary expertise!) etc. But I rarely see a post like that on a missionary blog and I’ve read thousands in the search for posts to link to. Why?

      Michael

    • 2 Scott Sommers // Aug 14, 2007 at 8:49 pm

      I’d just like to add a few points to what Michael has said.

      I have no doubt that missionaries from modern Protestant churches are informed about the history and culture of Taiwan. But in all honesty, I have yet to meet even one. By this I do not mean missionaries from the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Church, who are singularly well informed.

      Unlike Michael, I have had significant contact with missionaries on my blog. This is perhaps because I have written directly about the political implications of some of the missionary work here. Pretty much anything I have ever had to say about missionaries has been that they blindly get involved in work that is complex and political making it harder for other foreigners who want to live here long-term and for Taiwanese who want to establish needed policy reforms.

      I have received some large number of responses to this point. Some of these I have posted on my blog and some I have not. But the direction of all of them has been that the politics and history I talk about is irrelevant and that God is telling the missionary in question what they need to do here. Some of these remarks have been offensive, to say the least. Like the young woman I mentioned in this post
      http://scottsommers.blogs.com/taiwanweblog/2005/06/atii_missionary.html
      who told me I had no business interfering in local matters because I was not born here.

      As I said, there must be missionaries well-informed about the situation here. I think it would be great to talk to them. In fact, if you or any of your readers have something they would like to say on my blog, I encourage you to comment or submit information you’d like me to post. I can’t promise I’ll post it, but I’m always looking for new perspectives on the issues I deal with.

      Just one point of correction to Michael’s comment. George MacKay who founded the Presbyterian mission in Tamsui married a Taiwanese woman. This was scandalous at the time, but Dr. MacKay felt that it was the only way to leave a legacy for Christ in Taiwan. As he said in his diary, he was “marrying her for Christ.”

    • 3 Tyler Payne // Aug 16, 2007 at 5:01 pm

      I’m glad you posted this, and I had a good time reading it. I can always relate to you when you mention your OCD/Perfectionist habits when it comes to things like blogging, or computing, or daily life, or whatever, haha. I think I’ve got a bit of historian or documentarian in me. Maybe you do too.
      Anyways, I always enjoy your writings. Bye Bye.
      88

    • 4 Scott Sommers // Aug 20, 2007 at 4:06 pm

      It’s been a week since your post went up, so it’s probably appropriate that I add one more point.

      This is at least the second time that a Christian blog has discussed my blog. Several years ago, I posted about a scientific education organization comparing their methods with those used in a Christian summer camp my friend’s son attended. Some of the counselors at this camp found my post and posted a discussion of it on their Christian-based blog
      http://awwstin.blogspot.com/2005/10/i-forget-which-came-first-bad-idea-or.html

      I found their post and asked any of them who were interested to voice an opinion on my blog. I got no response.

      My point is that outside of the rather heated topics where I have addressed missionary activity in Taiwan, I have been completely unable to get missionaries to comment on my blog. This is in spite of writing relevant topics and inviting them to do so. Even the heated topics I referred to above attracted very little attention and most of it seemed to be centered around the King Car Education Foundation.

      My point is that missionaries in Taiwan seem to operate much the way that Michael describes them. It is as if their social lives revolve entirely around their mission lives and even when something relevant comes up, if it does not involve people in their mission lives, it gets ignored. I can understand this. People with families and jobs are busy. The world that Michael and I live in generally holds little interest for people devoted to teaching about Christ.

      But for what ever reason Michael is right. Christian bloggers in Taiwan have nothing to do with the rest of us.

    • 5 Mr. SQJ // Aug 20, 2007 at 4:33 pm

      actually… I wrote a partial comment right after your initial comment here… but haven’t had a chance to finish it yet. I think you deserve something substantive. I’m not sure that the passing of a week should really indicate anything more than that I haven’t had a chance to respond in a manner worthy of this issue. I do appreciate you checking back.

    • 6 Mr. SQJ // Aug 23, 2007 at 12:51 am

      Thanks for your comments. It takes time away from other things to read my blog and take time to comment. I appreciate it. I’m glad that you understood that I was trying to use your comments (the ones I quoted and linked to) constructively and think about my own blog and the reasons for it, etc. The post wasn’t really about “missionary blogs” but about THIS missionary’s blog.

      Sorry for the time it has taken to make a proper comment. It is just that I don’t take this lightly. As will probably be obvious, I haven’t spent the entire last week preparing this comment… just some other things going on that keep me from spending the time that typing this will take.

      Three “quotes” or “sayings” or “sentiments” came to mind immediately and have remained there so I guess I’ll use them as a bit of an outline for my comments.

      First… the ubiquitous marketing mantra: Perception is reality.
      I can’t and won’t argue with your perception of the situation. I value your opinions and read your comments as I would read most things in the news: they are opinions based on observation although they may not cover the entire story from all the angles. This doesn’t mean I think you aren’t being fair or anything else with a negative connotation… conversely, I take your opinions very seriously and infuse them with some other things I already know to help me make sense of the issue at hand.

      Second… there is a somewhat popular pastor named Rob Bell. He has a great series of videos called NOOMA. I’ve seen this attributed to him although I can’t find the source:
      “How is it that so few can speak for so many of us. It is important because we are all being painted with the same brush. We are all being called christians, but we all aren’t handling that job the same way.”
      I’m disappointed that the missionary community comes off looking like it does… but I’m not really surprised.

      I’m not going to try to defend this entire community (missionaries) because there are probably numerous examples (like the one Scott links to in his comment) where some missionaries have made it more difficult for the rest of us. I can’t defend it or excuse it their behavior.

      Historically, missionaries are fiercely independent and often seem (or perhaps truly are) stubborn. As with most personality traits, these are potentially very positive *and* negative. I think that Scott and Michael both overestimate the closeness of the missionaries in Taiwan. It seems like you think there is this thriving missionary community that has put up walls to non-missionary expats. Outside of the people that are in my mission, I hardly have any contact with other missionaries. I find that to be the case for most of the missionaries that I do meet. The comments on my blog are from one missionary I work with (Jen) and one missionary I have met in person (Sandy) and one missionary I only know online (Amanda), some college and high school students that have visited Taiwan, a random friend from home, a few family members, and Michael Turton. Although I work fairly closely with about 9-10 other missionaries, I only know of one of them even reads my blog (Jen) even though I’ve told the others about it many times. I’m not surprised that missionaries don’t seem to be a part of the larger expat community because they are rarely part of the larger missionary community. The missionary blogging community is even smaller. Of course there are exceptions… and I believe we are perhaps seeing more cooperation and community in recent years. I think it is probably because denominations are becoming less and less important. Besides the Baptist International Mission Board, the biggest missionary organizations in Taiwan are probably all non- or un-denominational. That is actually a big step, but it still remains that missionaries are usually independent to a fault. Besides a week in Taichung for a conference put on by Taiwan Missionary Fellowship and missionaries that I may bump into at school or community events, I just don’t talk with other missionaries that much. Maybe it proves your point in a different way. Maybe we aren’t an antisocial group… just antisocial individuals. 🙂 All I’m trying to say is that missionaries are typically more independent thinking and acting than Christians in general. They are also typically workaholics and I think these 2 traits combine to create a strange mix of evangelistic success and church growth… perhaps high profiles… often social improvement… but at the cost of family strife, stress, and health problems. Those 2 traits also leave little if any time for pursuing other relationships.

      Finally, a few thoughts based on the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14:
      “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?”

      Theologians say this is about marriage and perhaps certain business relationships. I’m not one, so I can’t really say for sure although it seems about right. So why do I mention it here? One obvious reality in Paul’s words may be helpful for our discussion. My faith in Christ, and specifically in his resurrection, is foundational to my life. It is easy to take something vague like “religion” or even “athiesm” or “environmentalism” and compartmentalize it into a part of someone’s life. A person might be a Redwings fan, an environmentalist, and a Christian. However… when one looks at the early Christians, they were primarily identified as “followers of Jesus”. It was the cause of much honor for the early Christians and subsequently, much horror at the hands of Rome. There was not any compartmentalization. Their faith in Jesus was the basis for everything else. I try to follow their example here in the space and time in which I dwell. Since I am primarily a “Christ-follower” and my job is “missionary” and my closest co-workers are my wife and 4 kids… it logically follows that one way a person might show interest in me as a person is to ask me about my family, my church, my work, the Bible, our Taiwanese church family, etc. Is it surprising that it is usually other missionaries who show that level of interest in me and not expat bloggers who are not Christians? Not to me. But it also doesn’t mean that I don’t want to meet other expats whether they are Christian or Buddhist or bloggers or whatever. Just as Michael and Scott have had some (a lot of?) negative experiences trying to get to know missionaries… my personal experiences with trying to get to know non-missionary expats usually doesn’t get very far either. It may be because I’m ugly to look at, a bore to talk to, and I smell. I suspect (maybe incorrectly) that it is because people hear I’m a missionary and they immediately put me in dark pants and a white shirt and a tie and on a bicycle accosting people with religion. As I told Scott the other day, I’m probably about the worst missionary ever, actually. Christianity will come up in conversations with me because I’m a Christian… duh. Wouldn’t we talk with Scott Sommers about education? Wouldn’t we talk to Michael about Taiwan politics and photography? Of course we can all talk about Taiwan because we all love this place. I guess that is probably something we can agree on. 🙂

      The Part I Dread Writing But Which Must Be Done
      I perceive there is some hostility towards missionary bloggers by those who are not missionaries. A case in point: Amanda from “Following an Unknown Path”. I’ve never met Amanda… the comments you see on my blog from her and my comments on her blog are the extent of our communication. However, I feel a little sorry for her. Most Christians are used to being poked at and don’t really worry about it. It comes with the territory and I suspect Amanda understands this as well. I found it interesting that Michael linked (with strong comments) to her posts about requesting prayer for a family in a tough time instead of her post where she saved a Taiwanese persons life. It is Michael’s blog and he can post whatever he wants… I’m not trying to limit him. It just seemed insensitive to me to post that in the “Daily Links”. Michael wrote (above) that he looks for posts on missionary blogs to link to… how does giving CPR and saving the life of another human not make the list? I understand that one can’t read everything… maybe he missed it. But I find it interesting that a post by a Christian to be read primarily by Christians to pray for other Christians in a tough time is newsworthy. I know there are some cultural issues to be explored there… even the “where will they be in 40 years” comment is worth discussing… IMO, it is the hardest part of being a missionary (Xnity and culture)… but it seems like an email to Amanda (maybe that happened… I don’t know) or a regular blog post would probably be more appropriate. Maybe it is a coincidence, but I noticed that after the link in “Daily Links” that she received a few comments from friendly(?) visitors to her blog including this beauty from Amy: “Of all the animals on this earth, the human one is the least precious.” What? I hope you see my point. It ends up looking hostile towards Amanda and missionaries and Christians even though I really doubt that was Michael’s intention and he certainly can’t be held responsible for the comments of insane people. You know what they say about perception. 🙂

      Finally
      I do hope sharing my thoughts will prove to be helpful. It seems as though Scott and Michael would actually like to get to know some missionaries online and IRL. I know that I’d like to get to know them better. I don’t know Scott very well yet (I do have him as a friend in Facebook!)… but I know that Michael homeschools, has family in Yunghe and likes to sleep in places that are not socially acceptable :-). I homeschool, lived in Yunghe for 7 years, and can sleep anywhere… that’s a good place to start right?

      Finally 2
      I’m extremely busy with our work here. I blog as a way to battle the workaholic tendencies that I mentioned above. I *love* to get out and do new things and meet people. I’ve been known to watch the All Blacks at The Brass Monkey and the Super Bowl at The Tavern (please don’t tell the other missionaries). I just found out that Todd from The Daily Bubble Tea lives about 2 minutes from where I lived in Yunghe for 7 years. We hope to meet at one of our family’s favorite restaurants there soon. We have some GREAT hiking trails in our backyard here in Ankeng (Xindian)… let me know and I’ll show you the trails. We are planning to ride the Maokong Gondola with Sandy and her husband next week. I guess they are in the “missionary” category… but we are going because they let us know they’d be in town and wondered if we could go with them. The more the merrier! Michael mentions “various blog gatherings”. I don’t know about them. I’ve never been invited. Maybe everyone is invited… OK… but I’ve never even heard about them. I probably can’t travel the island going to blogger meetups … but if it is in Taipei, I’d like to go. I honestly don’t know about them. Maybe I won’t be able to go to them… but I’d sure like to!

      Finally 3
      I’ll probably get overrun with messages about meetups and Gondola trips and hiking now… and I won’t be able to do everything… and I’ll make missionaries look bad. Sorry everybody. 🙂 Really, I’m just trying to help.

    • 7 Michael Turton // Aug 24, 2007 at 12:28 pm

      Great post, Scott. I’ve decided to respond to you in the email.

      Michael