Dr. John Sung 宋尚節 博士
"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?"
My father, as I recall during my childhood, would prepare the mosquitoes’ net, pillows, and blankets upon a cluster of ta-ta-mi (Japanese straw-mattresses where everybody slept on) while singing, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you…” Isaiah 44:22 NASB (Góa chhàt-siau líau lí ê chōe-kòa, ná o’-hûn siau-sòaⁿ…Lí tioh kui-ng Góa, in-üi Góa kiù-siok lí…) My father was not much a singer, and he was always out of tune when he sang. But his love to us and his respect for Dr. Sung’s revival hymns were unquestionable.
My mother, on the other hand, always talked about Dr. Sung as if he were the real model preacher of her life. Perhaps he was. I thought for sometime that Sung was one of the Taiwanese preachers. I also remember that my mother told me when Dr. Sung boarded the ship in Kaohsiung harbor on his final day in Taiwan, he still found time to pray and perform the healing power of the Holy Spirit for those who came to say goodbye.
My 86-year-old aunt told me a side story of Dr. Sung recently. She said that a group of people from Kaohsiung attended Dr. Sung’s final revival meeting in Tainan. Afterward, they took a train home. And in the train, they’d keep on singing that famous song, “Come on home, Come on home!” (Tò-lâi ah, tò-lâi ah, m-thang koh hòng-tōng. Chû-ài Thiⁿ-Pē chhun khui I siang-chhiú, Ng-bāng lí tò-lâi!) She also said that some pictures of Dr. Sung with Dr. C Y Peng (http://thetaiwanese.blogspot.com/2006/01/dr-c-y-peng.html) and friends were taken in Kaohsiung before Sung returned to A-Moy (廈門.)
Mrs. Au Chìn-an (歐進安牧師娘) well into her 90’s, has told me that while preaching in Mandarin, Dr. Sung, who knew Taiwanese very well, would correct the translator immediately when some words went wrong. The translators would take them with smiles.
Well, the event that made a long and huge wave in Taiwan Christian history in the first half of the 20th Century took place in 1936. The impact of Dr. Sung remains in effect even today. His revival hymns are still sung and sermons quoted. Dr. Sung was very much among the most influential preachers in the 20th century even in his rather short life.
His early Years
Sung was born in
Putian (莆田), Fujian, China. His father, Rev. S L Sung (宋學連) was a pastor of a Wesleyan Methodist Church while the younger Sung had helped some parish work including preaching when his father was ill. The young Sung was even called a “Little Pastor.”
The Sung was brilliant throughout his school works. With the help of an American missionary and a scholarship from the Wesleyan University of Ohio, Sung began his journey to the US in 1919. He then moved on to his graduate study at the Ohio State University. In 1926, he earned his PhD in chemistry.
Facing tons of career opportunities, Sung virtually turned everything down. He believed that, instead of simply following his father’s steps as a pastor, he was called by God to commit himself to work for the gospel of Christ in a special way. He soon entered the Union Theological Seminary in New York for further study.
The Turning Point
During his early period at the seminary (on that night of February 10, 1927) John Sung claimed to have received the gift of the Holy Spirit during a time of prayer. He once exclaimed, “This is my spiritual birthday!" John Sung later described that, “The Holy Spirit poured onto me, just like water, on top of my head continuously, wave after wave…”
Since that experience John Sung was radically changed in just about every aspect of his life. With straight face, he began to preach to his peers and the lecturers in the seminary. He was quickly considered a man out of his mind. For a little over six months Sung was confined in an insane asylum by the seminary authorities.
In that period of isolation, John Sung set himself to read the Bible. It was during this stay that he read through the entire Bible 40 times and soon became very familiar and well versed in its teachings. This period of Scriptural reading and spiritual renewal laid the foundations for one of the greatest revivals of the 20th Century.
Upon his release through the arrangement of the Chinese Consulate, Sung returned to China in November 1927. As one would expect, there was no diploma from the Union Theological Seminary in New York. In showing his commitment to the gospel Dr. Sung threw all his academic awards into the sea. He only kept the doctorate diploma for his father.
He soon began his preaching in the southern Fujian region for three years. His messages concentrated on The Cross of Jesus, The Spiritual Birth/Born Again, and The Ultimate Salvation. He began preaching extensively in China and Southeast Asia where the Chinese and the Taiwanese speaking communities were. In 1931, with a few pastors, he formed a "Bethel Evangelistic Band." And his sermons then focused on how to deal with sins. His powerful and charismatic preaching style (he would frequently sing those revival hymns in the middle of the sermons, and occasionally jumped up and down while shouting) had often made his listeners confess their sins in public. His critics called Dr. Sung a pure religious nut.
Like all other great preachers, Sung was a man of prayer. He often spent hours in prayers while the list of prayer requests poured in. Sung was quoted as defining faith as "watching God work while on your knees". By 1936, before his trip to Taiwan, it was believed that Sung had converted between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Three Weeks in Taiwan: April 16 - May 8, 1936
Invited by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, with co-workers, Rev. C J Wang and C C Wang (王宗仁 王宗誠) Sung arrived Taiwan. The trip was one of the many for Dr. Sung, but the impact to Christianity in Taiwan was tremendous.
Week 1: At Tōa-Tiü-Tiâⁿ Church (大稻埕教會) of Taipei, there were nearly 2000 people gathered to listen to Dr. Sung’s messages. Dr. Sung organized more than 130 evangelical teams to help him spread the good news.
Week 2: At Líu-Gôan Church (柳原教會) of Taichung the audience doubled. Many followed Dr. Sung from northern Taiwan. Many more people benefited from Dr. Sung’s messages and prayers. His evangelical groups grew rapidly as well.
Week 3: Originally the selected church was East Gate (Tang-Mng 東門教會, the largest church in Tainan then) but the meetings had to be relocated to the open filed of the Tainan Theological Seminary with bamboo-built tents where nearly 5000 people gathered from all over southern and eastern Taiwan. The number of the evangelical teams who closely worked with Dr. Sung almost amounted to 500.
As the result of the three-week revival meetings, many new churches were founded and many more Christians experienced the born-again refreshing joy. Offerings from the audience were overwhelming, including cash, gold and silver jewelries. Some people had committed themselves into the full time ministry.
It is said that Dr. Sung’s three-week messages had greatly helped the Taiwanese Christians endure the Japanese forceful ruling and through the horrible World War II.
Dr. Sung’s Legacy
I have never met any Christians over the age of 80, in or from Taiwan, who had not heard of Dr. Sung. In fact, these people have not only heard of him, but have been affected by his messages. For a three-week journey, it was rather a miracle in itself.
There are many books about Dr. Sung. And among his legacy, such as love, faith, courage, endless prayers, the healing power, and the great team work…I pick his honesty and integrity.
Dr. Sung's messages were like the straight arrows shooting into human hearts. In his perspectives, the gospel did not need any complicated theological arguments, just answered “Yes” and turned around.
Dr. Sung was never really healthy in his adult life. His tight schedules did not help much either. Towards the final years of his life, the tuberculosis had plagued him and deeply affected his work. When he passed away he was just about three weeks short of his 43rd birthday. Yet his spiritual fruits, in Taiwan and elsewhere, are still multiplying even to this day.
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