The Path of a Church-planter 吳天賜牧會生涯


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By Rev.Ted Tien-Tze Wu(吳天賜,Gou Thian-su in Taiwanese,1920-2009), October 27, 2005 Edited by Mei-Miau (吳美妙)

His biography in Chinese see 吳天賜牧師 (1920-2009)

Mother Dedicated Me to the Lord

My lifelong ministry is inseparable from my parental influence. To talk about the path of my ministry, I have to start with the faith displayed in my home. One night before I was born, a song could be heard from distance over the quiet street, “Come and believe in Jesus. Come and believe in Jesus.(來信耶穌、來信耶穌) Now, …” It was the evangelic meeting led by minister Hsu Chun-Shen (徐春生)who came to Tou Chen Town(頭城), Eelan County (宜蘭縣), my home town. My father (吳萬成)came closer to learn about the good news while Minister Hsu said, “God is the beginning of the creation. He is the Father of all mankind. He watches over us and protects us every moment. We are His children, and He loves us. If you have sinned, confess your sin before God. He will forgive all your sins. Come quickly to accept Jesus Christ, at this moment, now…” Amazingly, upon hearing that, my father immediately raised his hands and accepted Jesus as his savior. After that, Minister Hsu planned to start a church in Tou Chen. My father immediately found a store front for the church to meet. He was baptized (受洗) on November 30, 1917, and subsequently elected deacon, later on elder.(長老) It was my father’s greatest hope to have own church building. At that time, he was suffering from colon cancer. Even after his surgery, he traveled all over Taiwan to raise fund for building the church. Finally they purchased the building from Bureau of Food and converted it into a church. The current church building is the result of my father’s effort and labor.

I was born in a Typhoon night on September 4, 1020 (I was nick named “Son of Typhoon”). My father named me “Tien-Tze”(天賜) meaning “given from Heaven.” You see - my father named my older brothers and sisters with “Jin” (金meaning gold) as the leading character: Jin-Long (金龍.金隆Golden Dragon), Jin-Dze (金枝Golden Branch), Jin-Shue (金水golden Water), Jin-Fu (金福Golden Blessing), Jin-Luan (金鑾Golden … ) etc. One can imagine that before my father became a believer, his head was pointed down toward the ground looking for gold. Once he accepted the Lord, he held his head up looking for the Lord. My younger siblings were named Tien-Lai (天來coming from heaven), Tien-En (天恩 from heaven), Jen-Ai (仁愛loving kindness), and Tien-Bao (天寶treasure from heaven). By the way he named his children, we can see the tremendous change in my father’s value in life.

Initially my mother (李泉) opposed Christianity, but God’s choice is amazing. At that time, the church sent a woman minister to assist the ministry. Through the love and discipleship of the woman, my mother easily accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. After she became a believer, she often preached the Gospel in her home town and led many people to Christ. She also donated money to help the poor and engaged in charity.

During the 85 years of my life long journey, I have forgotten many things in the past, but one event remains in my memory vividly. In the morning of the first day of my elementary school in April, 1927. I was seven years old. My mother put a hard-broiled egg in my hand and took me by my hand standing before a Ten Commandments (十誡)plaque. She prayed, “Dear Father in Heaven, I am dedicating Tien-Tze to you. May he be your faithful servant and be a pastor in the future. Amen.” I did not quite comprehend her pray as I walked to school, but her prayer of dedicating me changed my life.

April 1935 I was admitted to Tan-Shue High School(淡水中學), a mission school. The next year, the school had a new principle, a Japanese man. He forbade all Christian activities on campus such as morning and evening worship, Bible studies, hymn singing, etc. For this reason, I transferred to Tainan Chang-Rong High School(長榮中學) in April, 1937. Because I could play piano very well, during my fourth year in high school, Pastor Hou-Ten from the Congregation Church recommended me to first attend Kwan-Si College(關西學院) in Japan, then transfer to Japan’s top conservatory to study music. I forgot the pledge my mother had made about devoting me to God. Although I betrayed her pledge, God did not give me up. Instead, He grabbed me closed by Him. I traveled by ship, three days and nights, finally arrived at school, only to learn that I had missed the registration deadline. At that moment I remembered my mother’s pledge to God; I thus confessed my sin, repented, and took another ship to return to Taiwan. My experience paralleled Jonah’s in the Old Testament. Jonah ran away from …against God’s command. However, through God’s amazing grace, a big fish swallowed Jonah, keeping him inside of the fish for three days and nights. Similarly, I was in a ship for three days and nights. God awoke me, saying “Tien-Tze(天賜), your mother dedicated you to the Lord when you were little. My child, come home!” Thus, I came back to Taiwan.

Ministry Journey in Taiwan

Service in Hwalien Presbyterian Church and Church Planting in Aboriginal Areas

I began my study at Taiwan Theological Seminary (當時是台北神學校)in April 1940, and I graduated on September 29, 1944, half a year earlier than it generally would require because of the Second World War. On November 17 of the same year, Taiwanese Presbytery assigned me to pastor the Presbyterian Church at Hwalien Harbor(花蓮港長老教會). During WWII, Hwalien was under siege of Japanese control and was considered the second most dangerous region in Taiwan. Not only would military police sat in church to monitor pastors’ preaching on pulpit, they also follow pastors while the pastors conducting home visitation, placing high stress on pastors. The ex-pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Hwalien, Kao Twan-chong (高端宗), died from this intense stress. The Presbytery met numerously times, but they could find no solution. At the end, they decided to send the young seminarian Wu Tien-Tze to Hwalien. Upon hearing the news, the Dean Pastor Moses Hu (胡摩西)came immediately to inform me of this news. He advised me to get help from the chairman of the Mission Board, Pastor Chen Si-Chun(陳溪圳), to see if the Presbytery could assign someone else who had more ministry experience. Immediately I visited Pastor Chen expressing my thought. He said, “If we send an older pastor he would have a wife and children. You are single. If you die, only one person dies, isn’t it.” I raised my head asking, “Do you intend to send me to die?” He replied, “Yes! If you should die, it is only one person.” Without hesitancy, I lowered my head and said, “I accepted your order.” I absolutely obey God’s will. He is all mighty. He will direct my path and protect me in the future. I deeply believed that God’s plan is the most secure. Wherever He leads, I will go.

On November 7, 1944 I began my service at Hwalien Church. During the War, the majority of the congregation left the city to live in countryside. The church building was occupied by Japanese and used as a warehouse. The 50-60 church members who remained in the city could only meet in parsonage on Sunday for worship. After the War, the situation improved. While serving several churches in Hwalien, I expanded the ministry to include aboriginal areas. I planted 17 churches in these areas and trained young members from these churches to be pastors. When the War was over, aborigines freely attended worship in these local churches listening to sermon translated from Taiwanese to Japanese. They could only spoke Japanese. Gradually the number of church attendees increased. Sunday service was given twice: morning service conducted in Taiwanese, and the afternoon service in Japanese. Both services had translation into the aboriginal language. On the average, over 300 people attended the worship; however, the church building could only seat 250 persons. The rest of the people had to stand outside during the worship. The first baptismal service, only one person (Wei Lan Ta Go,高添旺) was baptized. The second time, 16 persons were baptized, one from each village who was preparing to become the minister of his own church. After that, about 200 new believers were baptized at each baptismal service. Churches in Hwalien were blessed by God. The Gospel spread like fire..

In order to train aboriginal pastors, I consulted with a missionary, (Rev. James L. Dickson(孫雅各), to start a Bible institute for the aboriginal people, which became the former Jade Mountain Bible Institute (玉山神學院前身) . Due to the shortage of fund, I gathered building materials from 25 villages and built modest class rooms and dormitory in Talogo, a village outside of Hwalien. The first aboriginal bible institute was built. Pastor Wun Rong-Chun(溫榮春) was its first president.

In 1950, I resigned from Hwalien Church and devoted fully my time and energy to plant Mei-Leun (米崙) Church in a new community in Hwalien. Mrs. Wu (吳賴春菊)and I, followed by our eldest son Hsieng-Ming (吳顯明 Jonathan) and two ewes (to heal my son’s 100-day cough), started the ministry without salary. We lived by selling goat milk. Every morning we rose at 2:30 a.m. to milk goat. After finished tending the farm chores, we conducted home visitations, bible studies, prayer meetings, and family meetings. Although physically exhausted, we were joyous and encouraged. The church started by meeting at homes, and I preached in Taiwanese. As congregation grew, we added translation to Mandarin. Three years later, the congregation felt the need to have our own worship place. The church building fund began to grow. In the fifth year, the new church building was completed.

President of Hsing-Chu Presbyterian Bible Institute and Planting of Chang-Chun Church

August 1, 1955 I was installed as President of Hsing-Chu Presbyterian Bible Institute.(新竹長老會聖經學院) The institute at that time did not have own facility, instead rented a commercial building for offices, classrooms and dormitory. Still, there was no chapel. Later on we built a chapel on a nearby vacant land. This chapel could seat approximately 100 people. Teachers, staff, and students looked forward to having our own facility in the near future. Three years later, the Institute was relocated to the new campus at 56 Kao-Fun Road, New Light Section, Hsing-Chu.(新竹市新光里高峰路56號)

From 1958 to 1961 I received the scholarship from Southern American Mission Board to further my education at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decater, Georgia. In three years, I received B.D., M. Div, and Th. M degrees. I returned to Hsing-Chu and continued to build the Bible Institute. At that time, Hsing-Chu region was in severe shortage of ministers. The Bible Institute sent students to help those churches without pastors on Saturdays and Sundays. Praise the Lord, I was able to provide help to local churches in time and relieve the shortage of ministry resources. The Bible Institute’s contribution to Hsing-Chu Presbytery (新竹中會) was my encouragement. Glory to the Father God in Heaven.

During my tenure as President at the Bible Institute, I also planted three churches in Chu-Bei, Hu-Kou, and Hsing-Chu (Chong-Chen Church).

Early 1966, I heard of the plan of converting the Bible Institute to a Christian laymen training center. I contemplated about resigning from the President position. Six months prior to my departure, I shared with Pastor Chen Si-Chun (陳溪圳)of Taipei Shuan-Lien Church my plan for planting a church in Taipei. I also expressed my wish to start the new church as a daughter church of Shuan-Lien Church. The board at Shuan-Lien Church accepted my proposal, offering to provide $1000 NT monthly for two years. Thus, Chang-Chun Presbyterian Church (長春長老教會)started its first service on November 13, 1966, at Ming-Shen E. Road in Taipei. Over 100 persons attended this thanksgiving service. Praise God for His abundant grace. Chang-Chun Church was able to take its first step smoothly.

On January 31, 1967, I formally resign from the Bible Institute and relocated to Taipei. In order to provide for the family, Mrs. Wu ran a day care center and gave piano lessons. I tutored foreign missionaries and taught them Taiwanese. My two sons Hsieng-Ming (吳顯明)and Hsieng-Yang(吳顯揚)led the youth group and took care of church maintenance and custodial activities. Mrs. Wu and my daughter Mei-Miau(吳美妙)played piano, taught Sunday schools, and led women’s fellowship. The whole family worked in unity to serve God. Later on, Tan-Shue Technical College (淡水工商管理專科學校) hired me to teach English and work as Student Dean. Praise the Lord! God increased the number of saved people in our church. Few years later, the congregation felt the need to have our own church building; however, the offering was insufficient. I took the second mortgage against my house and borrow $100,000 NT from Elder Lai Yi-Dzer (賴愈哲長老 Mrs. Wu’s cousin) of Luo-Tong Church.(羅東教會) He lent the money to us without charging interest. Through various venues, the church was able to purchase a building to use as chapel and parsonage.

Nine months after the first thanksgiving service, Chang-Chun Church (長春教會)established financial strength and was able to support a pastor without monetary assistance from Shuan-Lien Church (雙連教會). Chan-Chun Church became a fully functioning church (堂會). For a church to grown in such a speed, it could only be described as “space-age” growth. As Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) From the beginning of church planting to the end of the eight-year ministry, we focused on the verse, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat fails into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Between May 1972 to 1973, I was in the United States. Mrs. Wu stayed behind and took care of some of church ministry. I am thankful to God for giving me a wonderful helper who served the church with all her heart and mind.

The Ministry in the U.S.

May 1972, I came to the U.S. for a meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting on my way to visit my youngest brother in Brazil, I stopped by my brother-in-law Sonny Lai’s in Park Ridge, Illinois. He persuaded me to plant a Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Park Ridge. I stayed and began the preparation, without pay just like Paul’s tent-making ministry. I found a job at General Cable Company while continue to prepare the start of the church. On December 1 of the same year, I resign from Chang-Chun Church.

I went back to Taiwan. On July 1, 1974, my wife, daughter and I immigrated to U.S.A. Hsieng-Ming, my eldest son, was in Germany study music, and Hsieng-Yang, my second son, had just graduated from college and was fulfilling his military duty in Taiwan. Hsieng-Ming and Hsieng-Yang subsequently came to the U.S. within two years. My family was united. August 1977, we moved to California. The church hired Pastor Hwang Jia-Shen as the new pastor.

In Southern California we bought a Fish & Chips restaurant which occupied us from morning till night. Life was too boring. I thought that it would be more meaningful if we close the restaurant on Sunday and gather believers to worship God in it. Once I had this idea, the Holy Spirit encouraged me. Relying on the strength from God, Mrs. Wu and I dedicated ourselves to once more. On weekdays when business was slow, I went out to look for the “lost sheep” and brought them back to God’s home. On October 7, 1979, Grace Christian Church ( 恩惠基督教會) had its first worship, at the restaurant. There were 16 attendees at the service. As the congregation grew, the church went through several relocation and changes as follows:

November 1979 - the church was relocated to the Education Hall of a Baptist church at 3760 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach.

December 6, 1981 - the church moved to Seventh Day Adventist Church.

June 12, 1983 - through the recommendation of Pastor Chen Jin-Chai, the church joined the Lutheran Church in America as part of the church planting. The church was renamed Grace Lutheran Church, LCA (Lutheran Church of America).

November 4, 1984 – at the invitation of the United Lutheran Church, the church was relocated to 1416 S. Bristol Street, Santa Ana, sharing the facility with the United.

January 26, 1986 – the church was recognized as an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) church, and renamed to Grace Lutheran Church of Orange County.

July 5, 1987 – the church moved to the facility of St. Peter Lutheran Church at 1510 N. Parton Street, Santa Ana.

During my pasturing at the Grace Church, Mrs. Wu was the unsung hero God gave me. Her quiet support gave me strength and resources. She visited church members, played piano, taught Sunday schools, led women’s fellowship and encouraged youths, etc. My three children were also actively involved in various ministries including church cleaning, arranging meeting hall furniture, deaconship, choir conducting, piano accompany, college/career and youth groups, Sunday school. They are the treasure God has given me. Through out my ministry they supported me with faith, honor, and love, enabling me to complete the mission God bestowed on me. Praise the Lord! All the glory belongs to our Father God.

Recall the eleven years while I was with the LCA and ELCA, the church changed the location numerous times, renting space from other churches. The frequent moves produced a sense of instability, which was difficult for me and the congregation. Nevertheless, God was my stronghold. He gave me strength and security. With faith, love, patience, frugality, and perseverance, I planted the church and served for all these years. Often the new comers did not own a car nor had means of transportation. Every Sunday, I picked them up before the church and drove them home after the fellowship luncheon. By the time I finished all the activities on Sunday, it was the late afternoon. Although exhausted physically, my spirit was joyous, the joy of “fishers of men”.

On August 31, 1990, at the age of 70 years old, I retired. The church had a thanksgiving service in honor of my 46 years of ministry. The service, participated by over 200 colleagues, friends, and family, was a witness of God’s grace and love. With God’s blessings, it concluded.

Although retired, I did not rest. I had been Interim Pastor for five churches:

11/6/1990 – 8/31/1991, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, San Francisco

10/16/1991 – 12/31/1991, Grace Taiwanese Lutheran Church (during the absence of Pastor Chen Yao-shen)

5/1/1992 - ???, Bay Area Formosan Presbyterian Church, Northern California

1/2/1994 – 1995, Trinity Lutheran Church Taiwanese Ministry

2002 – August 2003, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church(好牧者基督長老教會), Montery Park, as one of the four Caring Pastors(關懷牧師).

IV. Mission Work in China

On April 23-26, 1997, I attended the Chinese Christian Meeting at Nanjin(南京). Over 30 participants representing America, Taiwan, Hong-Kong and China attended the meeting. When the meeting was over, I spent three weeks (April 28 to May 18) in Hang-Zhou, Zheng-Zhou, and Chang-Sha teaching layman leaders how to study in depth the book of Matthew, also preached on Sundays.

My ancestors, the Wu’s, were originated from Fu-Jian Province (福建省)in a remote mountainous village – Mountain Village of Pomegranate Township in Zhang-Pu County.( 璋蒲縣山城村) From May 27 to July 25, 1998 Mrs. Wu and I spent two months in this village. When I learned that the gospel had not yet reached this area, the burden of preaching the Gospel to my “relatives“ grew stronger within me. I then visited Taiwan, raising funds from relatives and friends. Mrs. and I went back to Mountain Village for the second times, penetrating even farther into more remote areas to preach the Gospel. The entire village bears the family name, Wu. Fifteen generations of my forefathers had lived in Taiwan; therefore, the villagers called me great uncle. During the days, the villagers went out to work. In the evening after the supper, people gathered in the house of the village chief listening to me while I preached the Good News. I bought many copies of Bibles to distribute to them praying that they would learn and understand the gospel. I further recommended Brother Wu Shan-Rze to study theology at Fu-Jian Theological Seminary. He spent one year at the Seminary, and is currently the pastor at the Mountain Village Church. The church also has owned a church building. A Christian woman, Chen Hui-Chin, who is originally from Mountain Village but is currently residing in Hong-Kong, had burden for people in the village. She frequently returned to the village. Since I live in America, I could not visit the village frequently. Sister Chen took my place and ministered to the believers there. I am thankful to the Lord for her service. I am also delighted that the Gospel has reached the remote mountainous villages. May God bless them abundantly. It is my prayer that one day the entire village will become a Christian village. Praise the Lord. Glory be to Him.

From May to July, 1996, Mrs. Wu and I were in to Moscow for a short-term mission targeting at the Chinese merchants. These merchants lived in a run-down old college dormitory. Many people crammed in a very tight living space following a rather poor living standard. Some people were interested to learn about truth, whereas others cared about nothing but smoking. Most of them did not have good hygiene, and it was unbearable to me. During the two-month stay, I experienced different cultures and habits. I learned to overcome the hardship with patience and love. At the end, it is my prayer that the Gospel is preached all over the world so that people of all nations become saved.

V. The Sunset

On January 28, 1994, Mrs. Wu and I moved into the Scripps Home, Altadena, California. We have been here ever since. God made the wonderful arrangement placing us in this retirement home where our needs (lodging, medical and others) are met beyond our expectation. The Scripps accepts seniors of 70 years and older. The residents are multi-ethnic: white, black, Hispanic, and Chinese (4 residents). The ability to communicate in English is required. The environment of the Scripps, in door and out door, is elegant and park like. It is my blessing to be able to live the last stage of my life in this environment. Mrs. Wu and I thank the Lord every day for His provision and grace. We spend out days counting the blessing, full of peace and joy.

Recalling the past, it was full of hardship and sweet memory. I deeply experience that God’s grace is sufficient for me. “The Lord is your keeper: the Lord is your shad at your right hand.” (Psalm 121:5) “He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.” (Psalm 115:13)

Cross raised high in my hands. Glory in the Father God. Hallelujah, Amen.

Ted Tien-Tze Wu, October 27, 2005.



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