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Rev. George Leslie Mackay Rev.

George Leslie Mackay Rev. photo

George Leslie Mackay is the founder of the churches in Northern Taiwan. His life had great impact on Tamsun through his missionary, medical and education work. He not only changed the cultural landscape of Tamsun, he himself became an inseparable part of Tamsun history.

Mackay was born in Zorra Village, Oxford, Ontario, Canada on March 21, 1844 to a Scottish emigrant family. His parents were typical Presbyterians, with immovable faith and devoted family values.

The turning point of his life came early at the age of 10. That year, renowned missionary William Chalmers Burns was on his way to return to England for holiday and to report the progress of his work. Burns passed Zorra and gave a speech in the local church on the situation of preaching in Hsiamen. Mackay was deeply moved by Burns" words and had since decided to become a missionary in China. In order to search for the place for his missionary work he visited the churches in Kuangchou, Shantou and Hsiamen. Finally he was onboard the schooner brig "Chin Lin" to Taiwan. As he passed the Wu Shui Kou (now known as Taiwan Strait), Mackay began the most weird and difficult journey, a journey of pioneers.

Landing in Tamsun

To come across a sea to Taiwan was never Mackay"s plan. Yet all the things led to this result, as Mackay described on his log— It was as if there was an invisible rope leading me to the Formosa.

March 9, 1872, the brig entered Tamsun River, Rev. Mackay wrote— as I looked to the north and to the south, then at thegreen mountain hills in the inland, my heart was filled with satisfaction, and my spirit calm and tranquil. I knew this land will be my home. A voice of peace and wisdom said to me: "This is the land", that is where Rev. Mackay landed.

Living in a Humble Alley

April 6, 1872, Mackay began his missionary work alone in Tamsui. He rented a room at the place, now the back of the house at 24 Mackay St. The house was originally used as a stable for Ching Dynasty officers. This house was built on a bumpy slope, in between the hills and Tamsui River; the surroundings were very dirty. There was an alley beside the house that went all the way to the riverside. Although the location is not bad, it was not an ideal place to live.

Mackay wrote in his April 13, 1872 entry of his dairy— Now that I have entered this house, and recalled the day I left my hometown Zorra. How could I ever think I would be guide by Jesus Christ to come to this place safely? It was as if there was a label of "Taiwan, China" on my luggage.

Learning Taiwanese and Chinese Languages

After arranging for housing, Mackay"s first job was to master local Taiwanese language in order to spread the Gospel to the people.

Once, Mackay saw a dozen of kids on a hill (now a golf course in Tamsui), when he approached them, these cowhands all screamed: "Foreigner Ghost, Foreigner Ghost!" and ran away. The next day Mackay tried to get close to these cowhand kids again but they all ran away. It wasn"t until the third day when Mackay finally had the chance to say something. He tried hard to pronounce the word accurately. The kids were astonished: "He can speak our tongue!" They were pleased that "Foreigner" could actually speak their language. Mackay took this opportunity and pulled out a pocket watch for them to look at. They huddled up around him and touched his hand, button and clothes with curiosity; since then they and Mackay became friends. Mackay came every day, played and talked with them for 5, 6 hours a day. He jotted down all the new vocabulary he heard. His vocabulary improved so quickly that it amazed his own servant. Several of these kids became Christians, and one of them became a missionary.

A Hard-earned Achievement

Mackay"s stay in Tamsun had raised a lot of eyebrows. Tamsun local townspeople were very cautious of him, especially his intention of staing in Tamsun, about which the locals came up with endless speculations. These, added with local traditional beliefs misunderstanding of and unnecessary hostility toward Christianity, caused Mackay"s early work to have met with a lot of obstacles. Mackay"s motto was: Rather burn than rust out.

By the time Mackay had his first home-return holiday in 1880, he had established a total of 20 churches in northern Taiwan, assigned 10 missionaries to station in these churches and had 300 adult disciples. Mackay"s establishment of churches in foreign soil in the first 9 years is considered a great success, and it was indeed a rare achievement in overseas missionaries.

Marrying a Taiwanese Wife

In his 6th year in Taiwan, Mackay, 34, married Chang Tsung-ming, a Tamsun local. Chang gave birth to two daughters and one son. Chang Tsung-ming died in 1925 at the an age of 65. She had been a good partner to Mackay for all her life. In fact, getting married was among the last 3 things he planned to do— travelling on a sedan chair, getting married and returnning home for holiday. But due to circumstances, he was able to do them all.

First Report of Duty in Canada

In 1880, his mother church required Mackay to return home for holiday, and report his activities to the churches he toured. The return of the first missionary with substantial achievement and a wife from Formosa was certain to cause a great sensation. Mackay received a lot of money from enthusiastic donors. This money helped Mackay"s development of medical and educational institutions as he returned to Taiwan.

Mackay"s speech in St. Andrew"s Hall, London, Ontario greatly inspired a high-school teenager, who also made up his mind to become a missionary just like the 10-year-old Mackay once did. That teenager was William Gauld, the successor of Mackay. After the completion of Hu-wei Mackay Hospital and of the Oxford College in 1882, Mackay had effectively established the medical and educational system of the Presbyterian Church. New churches were quickly established based on this foundation.

The current Oxford College

In autumn of 1884, the Sino-French War began. The French army attacked Tamsun with cannon fire and invaded Keelung. There was an uprising in Taipei, people began to accuse church disciples of betraying the country by communicating with foreigners. Churches were torn down, disciples were killed and robbed. After the war Liu Ming-chuan apologized to the churches and compensated immediately. He remitted funds for the churches to rebuild. Mackay built seven churches in Mankah, Hsindian, Tataocheng, Songshan, Jilong, Heshangchou and Baliben. On the pinnacle of the first four churches there were paintings of a bush in fire, meaning "being burnt but not destroyed", that has been the spiritual totem for the Presbyterian Church in its 100 years in Taiwan.

Hero To Hero

In 1892, Mr. and Mrs. William Gauld arrived in Tamsun. Mackay and his family returned to report on activities for the second time on September 6 of the next year. Before Mackay set off for the journey, three of the local gentry in Mankah invited Mackay to bid him farewell since these friendship were all hard-earned (he had been thrown out of town 3 times here, his church was torn down twice). On Sept. 14, Mackay sat on a sedan chair lifted by 8 people. The group set off from Longshan Temple. Eight bands opened the way for him; the sound of music reached the sky. Mackay was waited on by 6 mounted guards, 16 sedans and 300 soldiers behind his sedan. Comparing this kind of ostentation and extravagance to the time when he had almost no where to go in Mankah 16 years previously, Mackay could feel the mysterious way the world works.

In November of 1895, Mackay finished and published his book From Far Formosa, a research report of the experience he had in the 18 years in Taiwan. It is an important reference for the study of Taiwan history, anthropology, culture and aborigines.

Tamsun, his final home

After returning to Tamsun from his last inspection tour of the churches in Lan-Yang plain in May of 1900, Mackay died of throat cancer on June 2 in his home in Paotaipu, aged 58. His family and church buried him according to his will in his private cemetery behind Tamkang Middle School instead of the foreign cemetery (which is separated by a wall). The funeral was held on June 4.

In his 30 years in Taiwan, Mackay had established more than 60 churches, and baptized more than 3000 people. He identified with Taiwan all his life and called himself a Tamsun local. His heart, his love, his blood and his legacy are all in Taiwan. This one person"s love of the land marks a major contrast to the foreigner rulers who came and went without identifying with Taiwan in the past 400 years.