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Lillian Dickson and Little Joy【Parent-Child Reading Guide】

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Home land and childhood

During a cold winter in 1901, Lillian R. Dickson was born in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Her father was a dairy farmer and a postman, and her mother was an artist. As the third child of four children, Lillian enjoyed the outdoors very much. She swam during the summer and skated on the frozen surface of the lake through the winter. Compared to her intelligent siblings, Lillian enjoyed herself in Mother Nature more than anyone else and was considered as “worthless.” Although her family couldn’t support her college tuition, she still managed to enter the Macalester College following her father’s wish and earned a degree by working as a secretary for the Board of Directors.

During the semester, Lillian not only visited some poor patients living in the hospital basement but also gave out one-tenth of her income as charity and there she met James Ira Dickson who had the same passion in Jesus’s work. After graduating from college, James continued his study in the seminary and the two got married when Lillian was 26. James soon was assigned to Taiwan by the Canadian Toronto Presbyterian Church for missionary work, despite he is an American. The pair of newlyweds drove an old car across the whole of North America, sold out everything in Vancouver, hopped on a ship and went across the Pacific Ocean. After two months of extensive travel, they reached Shanghai; then they took a little ferry to Fujian Province, China, and eventually set foot in Keelung port, Taiwan on October 16th, 1927.

Missionary life in Taiwan

In their first two years of missionary, James and Lillian took lessons five hours a day for language. Lillian learned history thoroughly for understanding the structure of society in Taiwan, and she paid visits to the country churches with James. While James’ work loading was getting heavier, she also worked at leprosy hospitals. On this tropical island without much medical resources, James and Lillian lost two babies, one died on the day of his birth, and the other one only survived for two weeks. They continued to serve God even in grief. Finally, their son Ronny came into this world safely, and their daughter Marilyn was born the next year. In the following years, James worked as a Middle school principal and constantly went evangelizing in the mountain areas. Lillian often visited the patients of hospitals, invited tribal aboriginal people to her house and led some Atayal to God’s way.

As the tension grew between Japan, China and the United States, their missionary work was also affected. In 1935, the Japanese government forced the Dickson family to move to Tokyo and learn Japanese language. After returning to Taiwan, they were still often watched by Japanese police, and eventually were forced to leave Taiwan in 1940. They moved to British Guiana, South America during WWII, and didn’t move back to Taiwan until seven years later. An Atayal woman, Ciwang and a young man, Liu Fuchang continued to share the gospel of God with thousands of aborigines in the community during the absence of the foreign missionaries.

Amid the retreating Japanese, the new-coming Chinese, the wounded Taiwanese and the aborigines, Christians were busy repairing churches and hospitals, and treating wounded people. After settled her children in America, Lillian returned to Taiwan where was a total chaos after the war. She said to James, “I don’t want to be just a missionary’s wife; I want to be a wife-missionary.” A woman without an official missionary identity was more suitable to the streets with an accordion to lead the children singing ‘Jesus is our best friend’ inviting them to the church with outdoor sermons in the era of political turbulence. Her works also included the medical services in the mountain areas, leprosy and people of visually impaired.

Spreading the mustard seed

Lillian wrote to her friends and families regularly. She recorded what happened in Taiwan and expressed her feelings. After more than a decade, she had made a big list of readers. Her letters were posted on the Christian Science Monitor and received good responses. By the year 1951, Lillian started to send her readers printed letters from dozens to hundreds, to thousands, and even ten thousands of copies. The title of her missionary was “Mustard Seed Mission.” Many donations poured into the community, and they finally had the money to build the Church of the Lepers, the An-lok Children’s Home, the Boy’s Home, the Boy’s Home-Annex and the Second Mile House. The Mustard Seed Inc. was founded in California as a non-profit company in 1954. It is notable that even in the United States where people were mainly Christians, using a name with reference to the Bible as the name of a company was still a revolution.

Between 1955 and 1965, the Mustard Seed Inc. had built the Mobile Medical Clinic and the Christian Center Clinic for the mountain people, the T.B. clinic, the Room for Mary, the Pak-Mng Mercy’s Door Free Clinic, and also the Iro-Iro Compound, the Rescued Homes, the An-lok Disabled Home, and Milk stations in Taipei slums and coastal areas. It also had established the Mt. Kindergarten Teachers’ Training Schools, the Hualien Boys’ School, the Hualien Girls’ School, the Mt. Boys’ Preparatory School (Stepping Stone) and the Mt. Girls’ Schools. Furthermore, they sponsored the Indigenous Shanguang Magazines, built churches and supported the living expenses for pastors and preachers in Taiwan.

Missionary work in the last years

James came to rest in God’s arms in 1967. Lillian put all of her mind into the missionary work. She officially established the Burning Bush Mission Society, and trained aboriginal missionaries to Sarawak, Malaysia to share Our Lord’s gospel. In the next 20 years, the Mustard Seed Inc. continued to cultivate the Taiwanese aboriginal missionary work and found Trade Schools in Papua New Guinea as well as Christian High schools in Indonesia.

Lillian Dickson also came to rest in God’s loving hands at the age of 82 in 1983. The Taiwan Theological Seminary on the Grass Mountain is where she and James long rest. The seeds of the mustard have grown into big trees that shade many Taiwanese. How about Taiwanese seeds? May they spread and grow with the love of Jesus and carry on their journeys.

About the book

The story in this book was adapted fromAngel at Her Shoulder: Lillian Dickson and Her Taiwan Mission. The story took place after WWII, when Lillian put down her role as a mother, returned to Taiwan and focused on missionary work. The author used the real person “Joy” as an entry point to introduce the soft side of this strong woman, to present the “coincidence” that really happened while illustrating the true story of Joy, and to lead her readers to reexperience God’s amazing work.