Stories About Both of Us

Char’s Evenings Out   May 18 and 23

The Interpretation and Translation department of Chang Jung Christian University, where Char has been teaching since 1996, has an annual “Drama Night” every spring. Student-run plays are presented in Japanese, German, Spanish, French and English. For the past few years Char has been a language and pronunciation ‘consultant’ for students in the English plays, meeting with script writers to get the language correct and with many of the actors to get their pronunciation fine-tuned. Of course, when the plays are presented, she attends.  On the 18th she sat through all of the plays and the presentation of awards afterwards. For the first time in 4 or 5 years, the Spanish play did not win first place.  It was a big upset to the Spanish juniors when the Japanese play came out on top.  Neither of the English plays (freshmen and sophomores) won awards, but everyone did an amazing job.  Staying for the 3 hour event meant getting the next to last train back into the city, and reaching home after 11PM.  On the next morning, she didn’t want to risk having to drive out to school for her first-period class, so I drove her to the station for the train. Her class that day was “light” in comparison, both because students were tired and because their teacher was under-slept.

Every year graduating seniors honor their teachers (and themselves) with a dinner, and reach all the way back to those who taught them as freshmen. Char attended the dinner held by this year’s graduates on the 23rd. She was happy that it was arranged at a hotel within walking distance of our house, and that apart from eating together, there was no program of singing acts, speeches and over-sentimental slide shows to sit through. The hotel buffet was wonderful and after eating, the only ‘program’ was for people to run around and take pictures with each other and teachers in different groupings. It was fun.  These seniors are particularly special to Char since she taught all of them for 4 semesters, both freshmen and sophomore years.  She walked home, full of memories and buoyed on the fond wishes of students with whom she had spent many, many hours a few years back.


Farewell, Dear Sister (May 10 and 27)

Four years ago, Wang Jen-wen (Ong Cheng-bun), who taught Christian History, Liturgics and Feminist Theology at Tainan Theological College, made an emergency trip home from a tour in Turkey and checked into a hospital. She was found to be suffering from ovarian cancer. After surgery she began chemotherapy. Of course, she was on medical leave from her teaching duties.

The therapy worked, and she returned to teaching the next year, but the cancer didn’t stay away. She was on “light duty” at the college between the times that she was on “no duty at all” and going through yet another course of chemo.  Earlier this year the final chemotherapy stopped working, so she stopped taking much of anything at all.  We saw her on campus from time to time, she would listen to and advise graduating students’ about sermons. She pronounced the benediction after one such service in April.

On May 10th, while the college was at worship, the news came that she had died at 5:17 that afternoon.  Later that evening I joined some faculty, staff and students from the college to go to the municipal mortuary to give condolences to her parents and sisters. Jen-wen was 52 years old.

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On May 27th a memorial service was held in the college chapel. The place was packed, and an overflow venue was set up in the college dining hall.  Representatives of church and civic groups where she had been influential spoke. Samples of her artwork were shown, two of her hymns were sung, and a lot of reference was made to the novels, poems and essays that she had written. Her twin sister, Chao-wen, who was with her to the very end, remarked that Jen-wen smiled all the way. We all trust that she smiles even now, and even more broadly. A role model and encourager especially to women in the church, Jen-wen will be sorely missed at the theological college and in the wider church and society.


100!  (May 28)

When, Dr.James Maxwell M.D, the first British Protestant missionary to arrive in Taiwan, set up shop in Taiwan in 1865, he established a clinic in Tainan City. The facility had two rooms: a preaching hall in front and a medical office in back. It was only a matter of a few weeks before he was run out of town and retreated to Kaohsiung and the safety of the British community, 50 kilometers away. But eventually he returned to Tainan and set up again at a different location in town.

In 1917 a firmly established downtown church opened a preaching station near the location of Maxwell’s original clinic. That preaching station became “Khoa*-Se-Ke” Presbyterian Church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 28th. To do so, the congregation rented an entire elementary school campus for the day and invited 11 other churches from around the city. Members of each church wore distinctive colored t-shirts and sat in designated areas of the school gymnasium. The combined choir was a rainbow!  Following morning worship and lunch, a field day was held with events both in the gymnasium and out on the field.

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In his sermon to the massed congregation, the pastor of Khoa*-Se-Ke Church reminded everyone that we are not separate congregations united by a common history or theology so much as a united people, caring for each other and for our society in Christ.

When we walked home, wearing our bright purple t-shirts, we were inspired by the gathering, the word, and the enthusiasm of our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Tour Guide (29 May)

Long before making toys moved to the third world, the American Mattel toy company had lots of stuff manufactured in Asia.  From 1970 to 1987 Taiwan was a major manufacturing center for Barbie dolls.  I thought of Barbie, specifically “Tour Guide Barbie” as I escorted an interfaith  group of graduate students from the religion department of a university in northern Taiwan through the campus of Tainan Theological College on the 29th. I told them stories of the school’s history, pointed out landmarks, took them to touch a 300-year-old camphor tree and narrated the history of the movable statue of the college’s founder (and the reasons behind its moves over the past 10 years). The 29th was a national holiday, so lots of tourists were looking around the campus, and some of them joined the group to hear the stories.  Someone was supposed to have opened the chapel, but hadn’t. So one of the students climbed through a window and opened the door from the inside, making it possible for lots of people to go in and hear about the background of that building, which is a historical structure in the city.  

The school official who had booked the tour and asked me to lead it had said, “Just lead them around for 30 minutes and let them go on their own to take pictures and such.” She didn’t bargain on the wealth of stories about this place, and me joy in showing people around. Maybe someone in Taiwan should make a doll in my image….



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