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Memories of TMF

 by Paul Buttrey

I remember as a young boy I was fascinated by my father's life. What experiences had he gone through? How did he meet the challenges of his generation? What was his life like when he was a boy? What about his progress as a young man? How did he become the kind of person I knew? Some hot summers I sneaked down the back stairs of our house and secretly made my way behind the furnace in the far corner of our cool basement. A dusty, dark, and mysterious trunk sat there, periodically inviting my curiosity. I could only push open the heavy lid of my father's army trunk with great difficulty, producing a nervous creak. Inside I discovered treasures which he had gathered when serving with the United States army in New Caledonia during World War II—pictures, mementos, and especially interesting for a young boy, his army pistol and a bag of bullets! I once had the courage to put six bullets into the revolving bullet chamber. But, alas, I never had enough courage to fire the pistol when it was loaded. I suppose that my fascination with my father's past arose because I felt that I somehow understood myself a little better by looking at the things he had looked at and touching the things he had touched. 



    The feelings I have when I think about the last fifty years of the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship are a little like the feelings I had in poking through that army trunk. The TMQ editorial staff recently sent out a questionnaire to many current and retired Taiwan missionaries, asking about their experiences of the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship. Almost seventy responses were returned to us. We have received reports of many happy memories, fascinating stories of a way of life that seems as remote from today as the earth is from the moon, and some frightening insights into what our forebearers in the missionary force had to go through to bring the gospel to Taiwan's unreached millions. Naturally, the most intriguing responses came from those who arrived in Taiwan the earliest and stayed the longest. The changes that have taken place in Taiwan during the last fifty years are hard to comprehend!

    Historical records tell us that in the modern era Christianity came to Taiwan in 1865, carried by Presbyterian missionaries. Some Japanese missionaries came a few decades later and planted the Holiness Church here. However, the great number of church denominations and missions that we now see in Taiwan did not begin arriving until after World War II. Floods of Chinese soldiers came with Chiang Kai-shek from Mainland China. Some brought their brand of Christianity with them. And then various brands of missionaries started arriving.


Ministry in the 1950s

    Arriving in May 1949, Dr. Donald Dale and his wife, Penny, were some of the earliest missionaries in that period of time. Penny writes, "Apart from the Presbyterian missionaries, I don't think there were any others in Taiwan at the time we arrived. Slowly over the next eighteen months a few others came one by one from China. By the end of 1950 Dick Hillis of Overseas Crusades arrived and others with him . . . Most missions did not allow their missionaries to move straight from Mainland China to Taiwan because they were expecting the Communists to follow Chiang Kai-shek across the water, (he arrived in either October or November, 1949, I am not sure of the exact date). Praise the Lord that never happened, and by the end of 1950 and then in 1951 and 1952 many `old China hands' started arriving. About that time the missions also started sending new younger missionaries as well."

    Those must have been days filled with a certain amount of anxiety and tension because of the uncertain political situation. Glen Graber, who served with the Mennonites, wistfully remembers, "The previous MCC workers had left the island as most missionaries were fearful of the Communists coming in. Thus, I was alone in Taiwan at this point in time."

    However, God often makes His presence known to people in the midst of political and social upheaval. Carl Hunker, who served from 1952 to 1987 with the Southern Baptists, remembers the difficulties, tensions, and spiritual opportunities that filled life in those days, "These conditions along with the pain, hurt, and loneliness of many from China caused grief and seeking for comfort and hope, so that many (including soldiers) were so responsive to the gospel. How many times from 1952 to 1960 at a weekend revival as many as forty or fifty would raise their hands to receive Jesus . . . At that time many of us missionaries felt that Taiwan would become ten percent Christian by 1960. The hopelessness of life opened the hearts of many to the gospel."

    The socio-political crisis created by the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek and soldiers from Mainland China created ministry opportunities, which pushed missionaries to the limit. The Taiwanese church was understandably unprepared to deal with the large influx of people from the Mainland. Carl Hunker reports, "Missionaries in Taiwan at that time were mostly Presbyterian, using the Taiwanese dialect. Thousands of Chinese from China moved to Taiwan, most of whom could not understand Taiwanese, so in most larger cities Bible studies in Mandarin were begun by missionaries from China; later many of these study groups became churches."

    There were just not enough trained Mandarin speaking Christian workers to deal with the spiritual openness. As a result, missionaries often found themselves in multiple roles. Everett Savage, who served with the Taiwan Lutheran Missionary Association from 1958 until 1996, describes some of the many faces of his ministry, "I was involved with the Taiwan Christian Service in the distribution of relief goods from the USA and for part of the time was superintendent of a children's and old people's home . . . The first years were spent as pastor of up to six congregations, mostly supervising Bible school graduates and seminary graduates doing internships before ordination. Later other ministries were added to that duty." He also describes founding a Christian hospital, serving as its chaplain, later serving as its superintendent, preaching in the local English speaking congregation, and founding a suicide prevention hotline and a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

    In a similar vein Carl Hunker remembers, "In addition to my seminary work, I supervised students in mission points and chapels, visiting each one once a month. Because they were students, they did not baptize. So during the ten day Easter period in 1956 I baptized 220 in seven mission points I helped to guide."

    Barbara Boehr, who with her husband, Ernie, served with TEAM from 1954 to 1989, reminisces about their active schedule, "Among the Mandarin speaking, Ernie preached in five churches monthly. Twice a year we invited an evangelist to hold five days of evangelistic services in each of the five churches. Twice a year we also had DVBS in each of the churches. Four summers we held a young people's camp for all the churches."

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