Love on the Far Side of the Mountains-The Story of Reverend Hu Wen-Chi【Parent-Child Reading Guide】


Hu Wen-Chi: Love on the Far Side of the Mountains

Rev. Hu Wen-Chi, also known as Tama Husung, was a pastor who dedicated his career to the Bunun people. In the Bunun language, Tama is the honorific for an elder, whereas Husung means bold and forthright. The name bestowed upon Hu paints a lively picture of him: thin, upstanding, and light-stepped, walking into the mountains to evangelize the Bunun.

A Vision from the Above

Hu Wen-Chi was born on April 28, 1910, in what is now Xinzhuang, New Taipei. A son of a Chinese-medicine practitioner, Hu had been immersed in healthcare know-how growing up. This proved to be especially useful in his later work with the aboriginal population around Guanshan, Taitung.

In 1927, on his way to taking Tamsui Middle School’s entrance examination, Hu picked up a flyer commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Taihoku Seminary (present-day Taiwan Theological College and Seminary). Hu thought it was “a vision from the above,” and hoped that one day he would advance to the school.Hu’s family’s fortunes took a downturn while he was studying in Tamsui Middle School. On the verge of dropping out, Hu summoned enough courage to ring the doorbell at the home of Dr. George William Mackay, the principal, to ask for help. Mackay answered the door himself, and, upon hearing Hu’s plea, offered the young man work. In 1931, Hu entered Taihoku Seminary, whose then principal, Rev. James Ira Dickson, would leave an indelible mark on him. Not only did Hu acquire theological knowledge from Dickson; more importantly, Dickson was a living testament to the practice of faith in terms of evangelism, pastoral care among the aboriginal, and cultivating tribal talent.

Let’s Go East!

In the summer of 1947, Dickson asked Hu if he would like to go to eastern Taiwan and evangelize the Bunun people. Hu had been serving in Dajia, Taichung, for a while, and led a comfortable life with his wife, Ye Bao-Yu, and their five children. Despite being pregnant at the time, Ye supported Dickson’s call; thus the family packed up and began making their way to the east. They received a heartwarming send-off from the Dajia congregation and townspeople, and visited Hu’s relatives in Xinzhuang. En route to Guanshan from Su’ao, Yilan, however, the Hus had to negotiate disconnected roads over a post-typhoon landscape. “The great migration,” the family would later joke about that journey from central to eastern Taiwan via the north.

Hu’s Fruitful Work

The Hus were new to Guanshan. Where do they settle? How do they engage with the aboriginal in the mountains? Well, God had it all planned out. Dr. Huang Ying-Tian, a physician at Guanshan’s Shen-Ying Hospital and a Christian, converted one of the wards into a chapel, and let out word that every Bunun patient gets half-priced treatment on Sunday mornings, in addition to free lunch after the worship at 10:30. The first Sunday, thirty adults and more than a dozen kids showed up. On Huang’s request, a Bunun nurse stood in as interpreter for Hu’s sermons. Later, Huang gave two kahs of paddies to Kinosita, an achieved Bunun, in return for him to resign as a policeman and become Hu’s full-time translator, pastoral aid, and tutor in the Bunun language.

During the first two years after arriving in Guanshan, Hu developed the Bunun writing system, using 17 letters from the Latin script. The publication of his An Alphabet for Bunun in 1949 marked the moment the previously oral Bunun language could finally be recorded on paper. He followed up by publishing a hymnal and the Gospel of Matthew in Bunun. Hu took an opportunity in 1959 to study in the United States quite seriously, and honored it by starting upon his return the translation of the New Testament into Bunun. The Catholics were interested in the project, too, and sent Fr. Titus Benz, a Swiss, over to assist. The translation took 12 years to conclude in 1973.

The first Bible seminar for the Bunun people was held in Yuli, Hualien, in 1949, and featured as speakers Rev. Hu, Rev. Luo Xian-Chun, Rev. Jiang Tian-Shun, Rev. Chen Hui-Chang, and Presbyter Zhu A-Sheng. It was the genesis of a self-sustaining Bunun Christian culture. Fifty churches were established over the next decade. By the time Hu retired, there were over sixty Bunun congregations totaling 12,000 members, equal to half of the Bunun population then.

Partners in Faith

Looking back at Hu’s career, it is clear that the companionship and support of his family played a crucial part. Married in 1935, Hu and Ye Bao-Yu were eventually parents to two boys and six girls. “It’s never easy to proselytize; better make more disciples yourself,” he once quipped. Hu’s children have always looked up to their father, but they were also little partners in his lifelong work, an observation from which this book developed. Ye was entrusted by the Bunun to manage the church funds including donations and tithe, for the Bunun were concerned that, uninitiated as they were in accounting, someone might mishandle the money, especially in the course of church building and congregation expansion. To the Bunun, Ye was like a mother, who emanates warmth within her strength; to her children, she was a pillar in body, mind, and soul. While Hu was working in the mountains and absent from home half of the days, she took good care of the children, and received the Bunun waiting for Hu to return or returning with him.Hu never had to worry about household finance or his children’s clothing. Thanks to his wife’s enterprising, Hu even had extra cash to help out those unsalaried aboriginal preachers and seldom asked for repayment.

Retired, not Redundant

Hu applied for retirement in August 1971, but carried on working as a freelance preacher.He consulted for the Bunun churches and several congregations in Hualien, Taipei, and New Orleans,the US. He threw himself into the work of Guanshan’stuberculosis sanatorium, founded in 1961 by Mrs.Lillian R. Dickson’s Mustard Seed Mission along with the “Rooms for Mary” for aboriginal pregnancies. Hu served as chaplain for the sanatorium,while Ye headed the Rooms. Over ten years, the Rooms helped deliver more than 5,000 aboriginal children. When the Rooms in Guanshan had served their historical purpose, Hu converted them to a center for aboriginal students who went to school in other towns and cities.

A Paradigm for Coming Generations

Rev. Lu Chun-Yi, who arrived in Guanshan in 1974, said this of Hu: “He invited me to visit the tuberculosis sanatorium with him. There I found out that he did not keep any deliberate distance with the bedridden patients. He hugged them, and even leaned by their chests to listen to the complaints and gently pray with them. I was profoundly touched by his caregiving sincerity, and ashamed of my constant worries about being infected.”

“An earthen vessel filled with treasure” was how Rev.Cheng Yang-En described Hu in a commemorative article. Hu thought of himself as a piece of earthenware in the Lord’s employment, and everything that it carried was grace from God that ought to be shared until the end of his time.

The author would like to express her gratitude toward the descendants of Hu Wen-Chi and Ye Bao-Yu for their input during the creation of this book, especially the couple’s daughters, May Wang and Chia Mei Liu, and grandchildren, Lily Wang and Rev. Amos Wang;and toward Rev. Aka Lubi.Lin for her assistance.