The Taiwanese 台灣人 Tâi-Oân Lâng

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rev. So Thian-bêng 蘇天明 牧師

Rev. and Mrs. So Thian-bêng

1911-2000... 1915-2009

"I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me."

This is not about the bio of the Rev. So (So Bok-su.) This is about a personal memory and reflections of a well respected pastor. So Bok-su had influenced my ministry directly and indirectly in so many ways. He was the officiator of my marriage ceremony and I was ordained in his church. My mother had been an elder and a Sunday school teacher from 1957 thru 1972 in his church. I have come to know many members of Sin-Heng Church that they have since become some of my closest friends in Taiwan.

Needless to say that So Bok-su had well connections in the Presbyterian Church network. His wife (許玉珠) was a sister of the Rev. Kho Iú-Châi (許有才). Their two eldest daughters married to pastors (蘇惠馨/謝穎男; 蘇惠蓁/駱維道) who turned out to be professors and then presidents of the two major theological seminaries in Taiwan. All his children are active in various communities and churches throughout Taiwan, Japan and the United States.

So Bok-su had also been deeply involved in the Taiwanese PKU (POĒ-KA ŪN-TŌNG, 倍加運動) double-the-church-movement in 1959 when he was the Moderator of the General Assembly. He had been leading the Overseas Mission Board (海外宣道會 ) of the General Assembly and The Church Press (教會公報社) for many years. Kaohsiung Sin-Heng church (新興, the church So Bok-su had served for more than 35 years,1954-1989) has been a major powerhouse behind the rapid growth of the churches in Kaohsiung area along with a new born Siū-San Presbytery (壽山中會, 1972). Under So Bok-su's leadership, Sin-Heng Church ( had established 14 new churches throughout the Kaohsiung area. I would need a page or two just to list his achievements and titles.

But the intentions here, again, are just my recollections:

• As early as 1938, So Bok-su was co-chaplain with Rev Ng Su-Beng (黃俟命 ) at the Changhua Christian Hospital. The chaplain experience there might have made a strong impact to young So Bok-su. The vital bridges of services must be built between the church and the society. Perhaps that was why Sin-Heng church, the church he serviced the longest, had started a full scale Social Service Hall (社會館) in 1962, one of the earliest social services in Taiwan Presbyterian Church history.

So Bok-su, along with Dr. C Y Peng (彭清約) and other medical professionals, should also be credited to the campus ministry at the Kaohsiung Medical College and beyond in early 1960s.

• Before So Bok-su came to Sin-Heng church, he was the pastor at the near by Old-Town church (Kū-Siâⁿ舊城). It is said that So Bok-su was once asked to cast the evil spirit out of a person. The moment he arrived, the ‘patient’ spoke out loudly, “Okay okay, you win! I will go away by myself. Just leave me alone. You have enough ‘fruits of the Spirit’ which have overpowered me already!”

• So Bok-su was once facing some unsubstantial accusations within the church. I was told by my mother later that I should learn from So Bok-su on that matter. During the entire process he kept quiet. The truth prevailed after all. The arguments stopped, and the accusations died quietly as well.

• So Bok-su was personally involved in all activities of the church and the spiritual growth of his congregations. He did not play the role of the commander, but the actual doer. His life style spoke itself and convinced the people around him that he had been sincerely and truthfully acting as what a good shepherd should be.

• During the funeral/memorial service of Dr. C Y Peng (彭清約
I was with the church choir then. And I was surprised to hear So Bok-su said with tears - referring to the medical treatment that Dr. Peng received when he became ill, “What has the modern advanced medicine done to our dear friend Elder Peng?” To say the least, it showed how much he had loved Dr. Peng and how much he had already missed him. As the matter of fact, So Bok-su had shared his tears with us, and had spoken from his heart for all of the church members.

• The last time I met So Bok-su was in 1995, the first time I came back home after almost 20 years abroad. We had lunch together with a few friends including Elder Koeh Gôan-sêng (郭源成.) As I looked at So Bok-su and Bok-su-niû (Mrs. So), something struck me all of a sudden. I then realized that how the aging process took its toll on each and every one of us. The beloved So Bok-su and Bok-su-niû were just there, as quiet as ever. So Bok-su did not need to say anything. His life was a good example and a great sermon by itself.

And the title of the sermon could easily be called “A Good Shepherd…”

"I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep."

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