Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan
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The Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan (FOMCIT) is the only Anabaptist-Mennonite group on the Island of Taiwan. It is officially associated with Mennonite World Conference. The first church was founded in 1955 and today the group has 22 member churches.
The first protestant missionaries in Taiwan were Presbyterians who arrived in the mid-1800s. It was James Dickson, a presbyterian missionary, who saw a need amongst the indigenous people of Taiwan and invited Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to come to Taiwan for relief work in 1947. Later in that year a survey team was sent to Taiwan to evaluate the need there. At the beginning of 1948 the first MCC doctors arrived. This was the beginning of the Mennonite presence in Taiwan that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan.
The MCC doctors operated under a mobile clinic system centered in a Presbyterian hospital in Hualien on the east coast. They served primarily villagers in the mountains. They used a model of evangelism and medical relief and brought copies of the gospels with them to share with the villagers.
From 1953 to 1954 Taiwan was presented to the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) as a prospective mission field and approved. In November, 1954 Hugh D. Sprunger and family arrived in Taiwan as the first missionaries appointed by the General Conference Mission Board. Later other missionaries were sent. Their approach to missions was heavily influenced by the Presbyterian’s model. The missionaries planted churches by buying buildings to hold church services in, offering Sunday school for children, offering English classes, evangelism meetings, providing kindergarten classes, using radio, literature, hospital evangelism, and student work.
The first Mennonite church in Taiwan was started in 1954. The church met on the lawn of one of the children’s homes started by another christian group in Taichung. In 1955 the church was able to purchase one side of a Japanese style duplex and convert it into a church. This church was called the Lin-Shen Road Mennonite Church.
In the same year a 35-bed hospital was built for the MCC relief work efforts. These events kickstarted a decade of church planting that lasted from 1955-1965. Over the course of this decade and leading up until 1972 various churches gained financial independence from the mission. In 1962 The Fellowship of Mennonite Churches was founded. By 1972 all properties held by the mission, church, and hospital were registered under one juridical person.
Though the governing body of the Fellowship was not officially established until 1962 the church celebrates its anniversary according to the day the first church was established, March 12, 1955. The Mission in Taiwan officially closed in 1994. This means that Taiwan is no longer considered an active mission field by the General Conference mission agencies (now by extension Mennonite Church USA) and receives no missions funding.
Currently the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan has 22 churches whose Sunday attendance averages around 70-80 people.
1860s: First Protestant missions began in Taiwan with Presbyterian workers from Scotland, England, and Canada.
1930s and 40s: An indigenous evangelism movement sweeps through the mountains in spite of persecution.
1947: James Dickson, a Presbyterian missionary, travels to Shanghai to meet MCC Relief workers and invite them to do medical relief work among Taiwan’s indigenous population.
1948: MCC workers arrive and start mobile clinics. Their efforts were centered in Hualien. The MCC doctors do some collaborating with and use the supplies of the Presbyterian hospital.
1953: Three eye clinics opened with the support of the American Foundation For Overseas Blind. MCC invites General Conference board of Missions to consider evangelistic outreach and W.C. Voth and Verney Unruh explore the possibility of coming to Taiwan. Taiwan is approved as a new missions area.
1954: Hugh D. Sprunger and family arrive in Taiwan as the first mennonite missionaries. A small church meets outside on the lawn of one of the Christian Children’s Fund Babies’ Home. The missionaries in Taiwan are funded by the Board of Missions of the General Conference Mennonite Church.
1955: A Japanese-style house is purchased and converted into a church and the building is dedicated in March. This church is the Lin-Shen Road Mennonite Church.A 35-bed hospital built in Hualien. Stations started to feed children. Later several orphanages were also opened.
1956: MCC work in Taiwan is transferred to the Board of Missions. Mission work is redirected towards the Taiwanese rather than the indigenous groups of Taiwan.
1955-1957: Samuel I. N. Hsieh is pastor of the church in Taichung.
1957: The Lin-Shen Road Mennonite Church plants a new church in Hsi-Tun and Mr. Wung, a Presbyterian, is asked to pastor there. Relief work in Taiwan transferred to General Conference Mennonite Commission on Overseas Mission.
1958: The first baptisms occur at the church in Hsi-Tun.
1959: A flood in August makes the building the Hsi-Tun Mennonite Church was renting unusable.
1960: Financial assistance through the Board of Missions as well as other offerings make it possible to build a church in Hsi-Tun which is dedicated in March. Lin-Shen Road Mennonite Church in Taichung conducts a building project to purchase the other side of the duplex the church was meeting in.
1961: Hsu Tsun-tao becomes pastor of the church in Taichung.
1962: Lin-Shen Road Mennonite Church gains financial independence. The Fellowship of Mennonite Churches is founded and all mission, church, and hospital properties are registered under one juridical person.
1963: Feng-Chia Christian Student Fellowship, started at a nearby college, meets in the church building. Over the coming years students become an important part of this church.
1964: Seven churches have been established with membership totaling 291.
1969: The church constructs a dormitory for students at Feng-Chia college. The connection between the church and the college students leads to financial independence for the church.
1972: The process of registering all properties under the juridical person of the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan is completed.
1975: A 20 year anniversary celebration is held.
1991: Financial independence from the Commission for Overseas Missions is achieved after a five year phase out.
1993: The mission field “closed” meaning that the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan is financially independent and Taiwan is no longer considered an open mission field.
1994: A sister church agreement is created between the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan. A service is held to commemorate the church’s 40th anniversary.
1995: Hospice care fund and various other funds started by the Mennonite Christian Hospital.
2005: The Asian Mennonite Conference meets in Taiwan.
2014: A two day gala is held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Fellowship on October 25 and 26. Two new churches are planted in Taichung.
A number of important things have played into the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan’s development of Anabaptist identity. The first protestant missionaries to Taiwan were Presbyterian and used the traditional mission model. The Presbyterian missionaries taught Taiwanese people the model of church organization used in the west and used a hymnal that essentially translated the hymnal used in North America and Europe into Taiwanese. The Mennonite church in Taiwan was started with a large amount of help from the Presbyterians and a similar missions model was used. Mennonite missionaries were rarely ever pastors of churches. Churches frequently hired pastors who had been trained by Presbyterian seminaries in Taiwan. Thus, the Taiwanese Mennonite church is strongly influenced by connections with Presbyterians.
There still is no Mennonite seminary in Taiwan, however a number of North American professors have visited Taiwan to teach Anabaptist theology. Ten Taiwanese pastors were sponsored to study at AMBS (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary) and a large number of them came back to pastor in Taiwan. Summer training courses for pastors have also been developed.
The connection with MCC services and the Anabaptist connection between service and mission have also contributed to unique realities in the Taiwanese Mennonite church. The MCC volunteers in the early years, while operating clinics, started a large number of other service organizations including rehabilitation centers for the blind, nurse training programs, hospice care, and other forms of charitable medical care. The church has also set up and sponsored a number of other initiatives to educate, care for, and support underserved people groups in Taiwan. This commitment to service is something that is very Anabaptist.
Commitment to peace is perhaps the aspect of Anabaptism that is most difficult for Taiwanese Anabaptists. Taiwan has a long history of military occupation, first by the Japanese, then by the defeated Republic of China. Though this never resulted in persecution for the church military conscription is mandatory in Taiwan. The Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan was able to gain the right to alternative service. However this option is not very popular amongst Mennonite young people due to practicality reasons. Alternative service takes longer to complete. From a teaching standpoint the Fellowship has emphasized pacifism as it relates to the military. But teaching has not focused enough on reconciliation.
The Fellowship of Mennonite Churches (FOMCIT) has maintained good connections with the Anabaptist global community. It was a part of the Asian Mennonite Conference until that organization was absorbed into Mennonite World Conference. FOMCIT sends delegates to Mennonite World Conference and has sent a women’s choir twice.
In addition to the continued challenge of solidifying an Anabaptist identity FOMCIT faces several other important challenges. The challenges of developing a more life transforming gospel, training capable leaders, and developing a more solidified gospel of peace seem the most pressing to Paulus Pan, a member of FOMCIT. These spiritual struggles are difficult to address but important to consider.
Challenges that affect growth continue to affect the church in Taiwan. The church has seen various church plants come and go since the 90s and there are a number of churches started in the early days that are no longer in existence. The success of these church plants is largely dependent on who their leader is. Taiwan is a fairly affluent country and rising property prices make it difficult to purchase property for new churches. The appeal of mega churches and new evangelistic movements also presents a challenge to smaller churches in Taiwan in general. Growth in general has slowed for the Mennonite church in Taiwan since its beginning. The practice early on of planting churches based on whether or not a church was already in the area, not on the receptivity of the people may have also contributed to this problem.
The problems this church faced early on are much different to the ones they face now. Growth has consistently been a challenge. But in the early days there were also issues with weather (natural disasters like flooding and typhoons) and poverty.
Future of the Group
Even though the Taiwanese Mennonite Church is small in size, it is not necessarily in danger of extinction. The church grows slowly and is still very young. It continues to seek out its identity in a complex and dynamic society. Two new church plants in Taichung have contributed to growth recently. As the church adjusts to the society it exists within new challenges will present themselves.
Paulus Pan, a Taiwanese Mennonite, stated in an interview that he believes the church must learn more about Anabaptism and foster strong leadership in order to grow both physically and spiritually. In the next 5-10 years this church will likely continue to grow slowly. If there are no substantial changes in those years this slow pattern of growth will likely be maintained.
Important group members
Sheldon Sawatsky is a retired missionary who spent around 30 years in Taiwan with the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches. He was interviewed for this information. He has written a thesis on the growth of the Taiwanese church and several other smaller pieces.
Paulus Pan is a Taiwanese Mennonite who is involved in the leadership of the Taiwanese church.
Lu, Andrew K. C., and Fellowship of the Mennonite Church in Taiwan. 1975. The Twentieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Mennonite Church in Taiwan : ... March 12, 1975. Taichung, Taiwan: Fellowship of the Mennonite Church in Taiwan.
Mennonite Christian Hospital. 2008. Serving the Lord - the 60th Anniversary Volumes 1-3. Hualien, Taiwan.
Pan, Paulus. Email message to author. November 25, 2016.
Ramseyer, Alice R. 1974. Mennonite Churches in Asia. Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press.
Sawatsky, Sheldon. 2014. Profile of the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan.
Sawatsky, Sheldon. 2014. Taiwan Mennonite Church Celebrates 60 Years.
Sawatsky, Sheldon. From Mission to Church in Taiwan: The Mennonite Experience. Received November 26, 2016.
Sawatsky, Sheldon. Interview by Eli Studebaker. Phone Interview. Goshen College, December 9, 2016.
Sawatzky, Sheldon Victor. 1970. The Gateway of Promise : A Study of the Taiwan Mennonite Church and the Factors Affecting Its Growth. (Master’s Thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1970).
Wiebe, Willard. 1964. The Mennonite Church in Taiwan. Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press.