On the Sunday evening Hu Hong-chi was to be installed as intern minister to a community of lepers in Taiwan, an elder reminded him that Monday was his day off. The 29 year old former lawyer had been assigned to work for three years in San Wang hospital run by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) where 250 people affected by leprosy were in rehabilitation. As it turned out the next day the new theology graduate was instead to face his first professional challenge.
As Hu completed his shopping errands that Monday, he received an urgent message to go to the hospital. A woman who had been at the church service the previous evening had attempted to commit suicide. The community’s elders were calling him to her bedside. As Hu entered the hospital, they were waiting.
“I didn’t know what to do,” says Hu remembering how he felt as he approached the woman’s bedside with all eyes on him. “So I just sat down next to the woman’s bed and asked what had happened.”
The woman began to cry as she told him what had driven her to despair and the attempt to take her own life. As Hu instinctively took her hand in both of his, a murmur went out around him. When her story ended, Hu prayed with her and left the room.
An elder followed and said “You must wash your hands well.” Hu looked at him in surprise but did as he was told. Later he learned that the murmur in the woman’s room had spread throughout the community of lepers.
“He is not afraid to touch us,” they were saying. “He is not afraid of us.”
Hu stayed for three years then returned for another four years following graduate studies in Berkeley and Edinburgh.
Twenty years later Hu serves the PCT in Taipei as Director of Research and the denomination’s ecumenical officer. He remembers that day in the community of lepers as the moment he realized the importance of touch in forming bonds of trust and faith.
Hu’s outreach to ecumenical visitors such as myself from the World Communion of Reformed Churches is equally as warm and unjudgemental. A committed Calvin scholar, it is clear Hu has absorbed the Reformer’s teaching of our responsibility to reach out to and serve all in our community, however that community is defined and wherever its members are from.