I’m always surprised at what I encounter in the National records of Australian Church Women (ACW). Even though the report in today’s blog post is from 1982, it brought back personal memories for me when I read it because of my visit to Taiwan in 2008.
In 2008, I was the Australian national representative and the Assembly Secretary of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC), and therefore was invited to attend both the General and Executive Committee Meetings of the ACWC. The Executive Committee Meeting was held in the north of Taiwan, in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Then we travelled on ‘the very fast train’ to the industrial port city of Kaoshiung in the southwest of Taiwan for the General Committee Meeting and a celebration of 50 years of the ACWC.
It was a real adventure for me, and I met so many new people and enjoyed wonderful hospitality from the Presbyterian Women of Taiwan who hosted the meetings. At one of the lunch breaks in the Kaoshiung celebration, I was introduced to a Taiwanese guest who wanted to meet me. I was very puzzled as she was an elderly lady, and I didn’t know who she was. All I was told before I met her was that she was a very important elder in the church.
Her name was Mrs Ruth Kao, but I was none the wiser as to her identity. She was a very gentle, humble lady, and she told me that she had visited Australia. She didn’t say much about herself, but she wanted to encourage me in my Christian walk and my role in the ACWC.
Fast forward a decade, and I was in the Women's Ministries Department of the Presbyterian Women USA in Louisville, Kentucky, searching through their publications for any information they might contain on the ACWC, when I suddenly realised I was looking at an article about the Kao family. An article that explained why Mrs Kao was so important to the Presbyterian Women of Taiwan.
So, when I came across the following report in the October 1982 issue of ACW’s newsletter, I now knew exactly who the report was about:
‘Members from the Victorian Unit of Australian Church Women met over morning tea to hear Mrs. Kao, wife of the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church, Taiwan. Mrs. Kao related experiences concerning her husband who was arrested after singing [signing] letters to the Government seeking social justice and appealing for religious freedom for people in the Church.
‘He was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to seven years imprisonment of which he has now served 2½ years. He is confined with three others in a cell 16ft by 6ft with only a small window and a hole cut in the door for food to be passed in.
‘In the early days of his imprisonment 15 people were crowded into this cell and out of this number three became Christians. Mr. Kao took every opportunity to spread the Gospel bringing a message of joy and hope and encouraging others to pray at all times. Christian books are handed out and the Glory of God has been moving with him and many are becoming Christians.
‘Mrs. Kao exemplifies a fine spirit in undertaking visits to the prison, showing concerns for the families at home, taking special interest in them, following this up with the Word of God and has been the means of bringing many to the Lord.
‘Each Thursday she gathers families together with Christian people to meet for prayer and Bible studies. This is the means of holding the people together and bringing them nearer to God.
‘In concluding her talk Mrs. Kao brought a message from the Word of God which she had been asked by Mr. Kao to leave with all with whom she came in contact. The words were from Habakkuk Chapter 3 Verses 17–19.
‘Words of appreciation were expressed by Sister Patricia MadIgan, President of A.C.W. for her visit and for her challenging and enlightening message. She assured her of our continued interest and prayers. The ladies asked that Mrs. Kao should take in return a message from Lamentations, Chapter 3, Verses 21–24, back with her to her own people.
‘"This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope In Him".
When my meetings in Kaoshiung concluded, I returned to Taipei for another meeting and to catch up with friends who were stationed there. We visited Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park, a human rights memorial and museum, which had been one of three prisons in Taipei used to hold political prisoners after Chiang Kai-Shek imposed martial law across Taiwan from 1949–1987. The prison was closed in 1991 and later became a memorial for Taiwan’s democracy movement and the achievement of democracy in Taiwan. I don’t know if Dr Chun Ming Kao was detained in this prison, and I didn’t ask because I didn’t yet know who he was or the link to Mrs Kao. However, I did see those small cells that held the prisoners. The museum guide told us that many of these cells ended up being overcrowded, and Mrs Kao said up to 15 in Dr Kao’s cell. There was very little room in which to move, especially after some prisoners needed space to recover if they had been tortured. It was difficult to comprehend that so many people would have lived side-by-side in those small spaces for so long under such harsh conditions. Dr Kao and others were charged with ‘hiding a fugitive’, and a ‘kangaroo’ court declared them guilty. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan had been speaking out against the repressive government, and they paid the price with their leaders being imprisoned. There is always a price for speaking the truth, whether that be unkind words from a family member through to execution at the hands of a dictator.
Photo from the Uniting Church Archives – Synod of Victoria. Attribution: Non Commercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/