Taiwan in Time: One Woman’s Desire to Build 100 Churches

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  • By Han Cheung / employee reporter

September 27th to October 3rd

When an apparition appeared in a vision in which Easter Lee (李 幫助) was asked to build a seminary, she said she would only do so if three conditions were met – those for a woman born in 1909 in a humble one Family with almost impossible to meet were 22 children.

Still bitter about almost giving up school for her younger brother, the ambitious 18-year-old wanted to break up her arranged marriage, attend a seminar abroad and become Taiwan’s first female pastor.

Photo courtesy of Qianjin Presbyterian Church

Lee reached all three before she turned 40 and reached the final milestone in March 1949 at the Qianjin Presbyterian Church (前 金 長老 教會) in Kaohsiung, which she helped build three years earlier.

In 1953 she fulfilled her promise by founding today’s Tao-sheng Theological Seminary (道 生 神 學院). Through the institutions of the school, she endeavored to promote the education and rights of women, while also addressing social problems such as the often abusive foster daughter system. After moving the seminary to Taipei, she began her endeavor to build 100 churches when she founded the Yuanping Dawson Presbyterian Church (延平 教會) in 1957. She founded seven other Tao-sheng member churches in the 1970s.

Lee’s mission was interrupted in 1989 by a stroke that left her bedridden for the last eight years of her life. She died in 1997, but her family donated their savings to help her achieve another goal by opening the Dao Sheng Assisted Living Facility on the seminary grounds in 2011.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

Lee was born into a Buddhist fishing family in what is now Shezidao (社子 島). Her mother contracted tetanus while pregnant with Lee and sought treatment at the nearby Mackay Clinic in Tamsui, where she was introduced to Christianity.

After she recovered, she attended the sermons of Canadian missionary William Gauld, and eventually the entire family converted to the religion before Lee was born.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

According to custom, Lee was engaged to be 11 years old. Still receiving an education, she enrolled in the missionary-led nursing program at Tamsui Girls’ School at the age of 15. But after a financial setback for the family, her mother asked them to drop out so they could afford to send their younger brother to the faculty.

Lee recalls asking why they were in favor of her brother’s education, and her mother replied, “Even if our daughter is well educated, she will eventually get married, have children, and become part of someone else’s family. This is not the case with sons and we hope that you can accept our agreement. “

Lee begged them to let them finish the semester and even considered suicide if they refused. Her parents eventually gave in and she worked at Mackay Memorial Hospital for a few years until her “vision” put her on a different path. It’s unclear how she got out of her arranged marriage, but she says in her bio that it felt like she had regained her freedom.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

She took theology classes while working as a nurse and “prayed day and night” for the chance to study abroad. It finally happened in 1934 when the Church recommended her to what is now the China Bible Seminary in Shanghai, which was then an all-women institution.

After graduating in 1936, Lee served as a missionary in Quanzhou, Fujian Province until the following year the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out and she was imprisoned on suspicion of spying for the Japanese. After negotiating her release, the English Presbyterian Mission traveled to British Malaya and returned home in 1941.

Ironically, after her return, she was imprisoned by the Japanese for several months for her work as protection for widows, children and other disadvantaged people in the Tamsui Mission, because she had collaborated with Western powers.

CHARISMASTIC LEADER

Lee helped build and served the Qianjin Presbyterian Church in Kaohsiung in 1946 when Incident 228, an anti-government insurrection that was violently suppressed, broke out the next year. She turned the church into a makeshift clinic for the many wounded and also helped recover bodies and conduct burials because men were afraid to go outside.

After seven years in Qianjin, Lee made history when the President of Tainan Theological College and Seminary WE Montgomery ordained her to the Church. According to an entry from the National Museum of Taiwan History, many religious leaders initially disapproved of Lee because of her gender, but she turned out to be a charismatic speaker who quickly attracted a following with her “gentle, warm, but alluring” style of preaching. By the time Lee moved on to focus on her seminary in 1954, the Church had expanded to Siaogang (小港) and had over 500 members.

Lee began the first iteration of the Tao-sheng seminary in 1953, with its temporary headquarters in Qianjin Church. The following year, she moved the school to Taipei, and after several moves, it was established on its current site in the Beitou District.

In 1957 she founded the Yuanping Dawson Presbyterian Church in Taipei’s Dadaocheng area. The distinctive building was built in 1937 by Taiwanese supporters of the Japan Holiness Church, and Lee raised funds to renovate it after World War II.

Lee only got busier over the years, taking on pastoral duties in Taipei’s Christian New Life Mission (新生 教會) for several years. It began expanding the Tao-sheng brand in 1974 and opened seven directly affiliated churches in that decade.

Lee’s great-nephew Lee Jen-hao (李仁豪) recalls in an article in The New Messenger (新 使者 雜誌) that she made her last public appearance at his wedding in 1989 and soon suffered a debilitating stroke that she could no longer speak.

The younger Lee writes that the family knew of his great-aunt’s desire to open an assisted living center, and although the project had stalled for over a decade, it finally happened in 2011.

Do you dream of building 100 churches? “That’s the harder one, and we can only do our best,” writes Lee Jen-hao.

Taiwan in Time, a column on Taiwan’s history published every Sunday, highlights important or interesting events across the country that either have anniversaries this week or are linked to current events.

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