Friday, March 04, 2005

Howard, once like an uncle

After realizing the depth of bitterness in my church over the 2-28 Incident, I focused my Bible Study class on forgiveness. I did not mention God's anger or my meeting with the pastor. My goal was show that God wanted them to forgive for the 2-28 Incident even if the government did not apologize or repent. Unfortunately it cost me my best friend and mentor in the church, Howard.

When I first came to Suan-Lien Presbyterian Church in 1992, it was Howard who helped me the most. He was an elder in the church and a taught a small English Bible study class. Although he is Taiwanese, he has traveled a lot and speaks English well. He invited me to take over his class and he became my assistant. He also helped me adjust to Taiwan and find other ministry opportunities. I never had to ask Howard for help, he seemed to know what I needed before I asked. He treated my like his favorite nephew.

I learned that Howard grew up in a successful family, but his father had business that lead him to spend a lot of time away from home. When Howard was a young man, his father who was now dying, confessed that he had more than one wife and family. His dying wish was for Howard would unite all the family together. Of course Howard was shocked but as the oldest son, he was honor bound to follow his father's last wish.

The big problem was that some of Howard's step-family lived in China and it was illegal for most Taiwanese to go to China. So Howard got an illegal passport and went to China. Unfortunately he got caught in Hong Kong as he was coming back to Taiwan. That cost him several months in prison, but he did unite his father's families.

After many years running the family factory, Howard realized he want to devote more time to God and church work. He sold his factory, invested in Canadian stocks and focused his energy on serving the church. He traveled around Taiwan with an American Presbyterian whose ministry was for spiritual renewal and revival. He brought a group of pastors to learn at Fuller Theological Seminary. He even organized a college for senior citizens though the church. He was and is a gifted leader.

Unfortunately, he like many of our church leaders was quite bitter about the 2-28 Incident and the government oppression following it. I had seen hints of it in the past, but I thought he would let it go once he saw the scriptures on our own sinfulness and God's forgiveness. Then one fateful class, the one where the wife of the denomination president ran out screaming, Howard refused to read Bible verses about sin and forgiveness. Then he walked out of the room and didn't come back for about a year. I was shocked and saddened because we had been working together every Sunday for over four years. Until that day his only complaint was that he wanted me to teach more about the Holy Spirit. (I just wasn't ready to focus on that.) Ironically he came back to class a year later and I was teaching on the same topic again. I spoke to Howard before class and said, "I think God really wants you to hear this message". But he refused and walked out again, never to return.

Of course I occasionally see Howard around the church, he's retired from the church elders and has silver hair now. But his is still active in various church projects. To this day I consider him one of the most godly and accomplished Christians I know. We are always friendly as we pass each other in the church, but our precious fellowship is gone.