Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan
Established in 1962, the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan (FOMCIT) is a conference of 24 congregations in Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung and Hualien. It is a branch of Anabaptism, and a member of Asia Mennonite Conference and Mennonite World Conference. Impacted by COVID-19, the total baptized membership in 2022 was 1 935. The ministries of FOMCIT include evangelism, church planting, social services, theological education and publication.
In Taiwan, the denomination is known for its contributions in social services. Currently, there are three social ministries in Hualien: the Mennonite Christian Hospital; the New Dawn Educare Center for people with physical or mental disabilities; and the Good Shepherd Center for girls and women who have been abused.
Anabaptism first set foot in Taiwan in 1948 when Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) started medical and relief work among the Indigenous peoples in response to Presbyterian missionary Rev. James Ira Dickson’s call. Mennonite missionary doctors, nurses and pastors – including Dr. and Mrs. Robert Hess and Rev. and Mrs. Glen Graber – moved to Taiwan and began running mobile clinics in remote, mountainous places.
In January 1955, MCC established the Mennonite Christian Hospital (MCH) in Hualien, a city in Eastern Taiwan. Back then, the area was considered remote and backward; Indigenous peoples accounted for approximately 25 percent of its population. In the same year, the General Conference Mennonite Church Commission on Overseas Mission also started churchplanting ministries in Taiwan, which led to the development of FOMCIT.
The mission ended its operations in the country in 1994, when FOMCIT entered into a covenant with the Mennonite churches of North America to become sister churches.
Contributions and Significant Developments— Social Welfare Organizations:
Mennonite Christian Hospital
Located in Hualien, the Mennonite Christian Hospital (MCH) is a comprehensive-care institution that specializes in community health, geriatric medicine and long-term care. The 500-bed regional teaching hospital offers a wide range of medical services to people in Eastern Taiwan, and it is currently the largest Mennonite hospital in the world1.
Seventy-five years ago, MCH started out as a mobile medical team that offered relief work among Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples. The hospital was built in 1955 by Dr. Roland Brown, the founder and former superintendent of MCH, with only 35 beds at first.
Throughout the years, more than 160 Mennonite missionaries had come to serve at MCH. Advocating peace and stressing a life of “service to the Lord,” they quietly dedicated their lives to Hualien. Seven of the missionary doctors and nurses were bestowed the Medical Dedication Award by the Taiwanese government, and Dr. Roland Brown was granted the Order of the Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon by President Lee Teng-Hui, a rare honour symbolizing outstanding contributions to the development of the nation.
The missionaries lived out Mennonite values. After they retired and returned home, local staff picked up the baton. With more than 1 500 employees, of which 20 percent is indigenous, MCH and its affiliates continue to care for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
MCH’s affiliates include MCH Shoufeng Campus and Residential Home for Mentally Disabled Adults, Shoufeng Nursing Home, Mennonite Postpartum Care Center and Home Care Services. MCH also set up multiple funds to support Indigenous peoples and people who are underprivileged or disabled.
Looking into the future, MCH will continue to serve “the least significant of the brothers and sisters of Jesus” (Matthew 25:40), and will strive to improve the health of the community by enhancing its quality of service and medical capacity; leveraging AI technologies; and equipping employees with the knowledge, skills and resources they need.
As a Christian hospital, MCH cares about staff members’ faith. Prayer meetings and small groups are held regularly. Upholding its mission, MCH will keep on sharing the gospel through medical service and serving as if it is serving the Lord (Matthew 25:36).
New Dawn Educare Center
Founded in 1977 by Mennonite missionaries Rev. Otto Dirks and his wife Elaine, the New Dawn Educare Center offers both day and residential services to clients with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.
Rev. Otto Dirks and Elaine came to Taiwan in 1968 with their young son Randall. Their original task was to plant churches. Soon after they arrived in Taiwan, they had a second son who was born with Down syndrome. Later, they adopted an Indigenous girl who was physically and mentally disabled.
Back then, disabilities was stigmatized; families often neglected or abandoned their disabled children. The Dirkses observed this and decided to support these children. They returned to Canada to study special education and came to Taiwan again in 1977. With their new expertise and the financial resources they had raised, they established the New Dawn Special Education Center in Hualien (Later renamed as the Taiwan Mennonite New Dawn Educare Center).
Serving people with physical and mental disabilities for more than four decades, New Dawn offers a variety of educational and therapeutic approaches, including music, animal, and art therapies; vocational training; and opportunities for internships or employment with local businesses.
New Dawn’s hard work was recognized by the government; in 2019, it received the Presidential Culture Award in Humanitarian Dedication. Seeing a rapid increase in the number of people affected by Kanner’s Syndrome (a form of autism), New Dawn endeavours to build a support network for people with the syndrome. In 2020, New Dawn started building the Joy Campus, a green residential care home for adults with Kanner’s Syndrome. New Dawn is dedicated to building a friendly environment and offering resources to help people with physical and mental.
New Dawn will continue to empower both the clients and their families with the necessary abilities to live with a disability and to care for an individual with a disability.
Good Shepherd Center
In the 1980s, child prostitution was rampant in Taiwan. Indigenous children living in remote, mountainous tribal communities were sold into prostitution by their poor families, but the general public was unaware of this issue. In 1987, a 16-year-old girl was sent to MCH’s Emergency Department because of septic shock caused by sexually transmitted infection and pelvic inflammatory disease. Doctors and nurses fought hard to save her, and she survived. However, they discovered that she was sold into prostitution when she was 8 years old. For many years, she was trapped in brothels in Taipei.
A pediatrician and a social worker at MCH asked Rev. Fang-Fang (Katherine) Wu, a Mennonite pastor and later the first CEO of the Good Shepherd Center, to join them in rescuing children and teenagers from prostitution and sexual exploitation.
Growing up Mennonite, Rev. Wu was deeply influenced by missionaries like Dr. Roland Brown and his wife Sophie, Dr. Carl Epp and his wife Hilda, and MCH nurses Helen Willms Bergen and Sue Martens Kehler. The way they acted justly, loved mercy, walked humbly with God and served the least of the brothers and sisters of Jesus was imprinted in her heart. It was a natural response for her to do the same.
The rescue work began, and the Good Shepherd Association (later known as the Good Shepherd Center) was established. Every week, Rev. Wu would visit Indigenous villages across Hualien, looking for young victims and girls who were at risk. Unprotected and unsupported by the government, Rev. Wu worked with local churches, held afterschool programs in tribal villages, raised the public’s awareness on the issue of child sex trafficking, and urged relevant authorities to recognize the seriousness of this daunting issue. Whenever she discovered a victim, she would rescue her and hide her in Good Shepherd’s shelter home.
Encouraged by Rev. Wu, the Good Shepherd Association joined FOMCIT in 1990, and its name was changed to the “Good Shepherd Center.”
One morning in 1993, Rev. Wu was beaten by gangsters while she was on her way to work because she “got in the way of their money-making business.” This incident caught the attention of the media and the wider public. People were astounded and concerned, and the government finally enacted laws to protect children and teenagers. Because of this, child prostitution gradually ended.
The Good Shepherd Center is now a shelter for teenaged girls who have been abused, are delinquent, were sexually assaulted or neglected; for women and children suffering from domestic violence; and for pregnant teenagers. It also holds afterschool programs for underprivileged families and helps disadvantaged women find jobs. The Good Shepherd Center is committed to helping those in need to find hope.
Challenges and opportunities
The Mennonite denomination is small, with only 24 churches and less than 2 000 members. In the early years, Mennonite churches were often confused with the Presbyterian, as many of our pastors had Presbyterian background. Our leaders worked hard to strengthen members’ Mennonite identity.
Over the past 20 years, there has been a charismatic movement in Taiwan. The younger generations are more attracted to the charismatic churches. We need new strategies to share the gospel, engage the younger generations and keep our values.
Meanwhile, with our commitment to social justice and pursuit of mercy and humility, FOMCIT’s social ministries remain vital to society. By serving the least significant of our brothers and sisters and viewing our work as service to the Lord, we will continue to carry out our values and put our faith into action.
—Written by Jessica Lu, a thirdgeneration Mennonite. Special thanks to Mr. Harold Lu for his coordination and invaluable input throughout the process, and to Rev. Kim Chen, the Mennonite Christian Hospital, the New Dawn Educare Center, and the Good Shepherd Center for their generous contributions of information.