Lily Lai of the Diocese of Taiwan. She is the wife of the bishop, David Lai.

Most people in Taiwan follow the traditional folk-religion practices of Taoism mixed with Buddhism, and my family was no exception. My father and mother were very devout in their daily ancestor worship and in their prayers to the gods. From the start they opposed me going to church or having anything to do with Christianity. It is only by the grace of God that I can write these words now, as I look back on my journey to faith and its most unlikely and seemingly impossible start.

Early Life

When I was 9-years-old, the local Presbyterian Church started a childrens outreach program on the street outside our home in Tainan, southwest Taiwan. Every Saturday afternoon I would take my youngest sister (then aged 2) outside to listen to the evangelist preaching the Gospel. My mother did not like this, and one day when it rained we ran home soaked, only to get a beating from my mother!

My father was a police officer and was sent to work on the east coast of Taiwan, so I moved with one of my sisters to my grandmothers house. Several of my classmates were Christians, and they often shared the Gospel with me and invited me to go with them to church activities. One day a missionary came to our house and invited me to kneel down and pray, so I did. My grandmother was so angry. When my mother returned to visit us and discovered I was going along to church, she beat me again!

Family life changed dramatically when my father had an affair and moved out to live with this new woman. My mother was very angry and blamed me. It was because she was pregnant with me that she had to get married in the first place so she saw it as my fault that she was in this mess now. My mother decided that I should have no more education, but should get a job. My father on the other hand supported me in my desire t complete my education, so I moved to live with him and his girlfriend.

At that time I was the best student in Taim High School for Girls, but my father lived in Kaohsiung. So each morning I would wake up at 4 am, prepare my lunch box, walk one hour to the train station, catch the first train to Tainan and then walk 35 minutes to the school. Each day I had to pass the river which was reputed to be full of ghosts, and I would sing choruses and hymns to get me safely past!

My fathers girlfriend didnt like me studying and told my father I wanted to stop my education and look for a job. So she tried to tempt me to become a dancing girl in one of the dancing halls. For two months in the summer vacation I worked there selling tickets, each night returning home on foot after midnight. These dancing halls were run by the local mafia and had a bad reputation. I was so afraid of what might happen to me and I used to sing choruses to help calm me.

Lily Lai and her husband Bishop David Lai open gifts presented them when they visited the Diocese of New Westminster in 2004.

Leaving Home

Eventually I told my father, and he gave me some money and told me to leave the house and move away. But where could I go? I eventually ended up living in a convent near my school. Things were fine until the convent needed all the rooms for a retreat and I was homeless once more.

Fortunately I heard that Grace Episcopal Church in Tainan had a hostel and I moved there. That was my first contact with the Episcopal Church. The priest there at that time, John Chien, was later to become Bishop of Taiwan, but my first memory is of him banging on my door while I was hiding inside, too afraid to answer!

He needed me to help him take care of his wife, who had just had a baby, so I helped wash the vegetables and prepare the food for her. That first day helping them, I also met my future husband for the first time! At that time David was at Tainan Theological College, and assigned to Grace Church for field work. It was Chinese New Year and Davids family were too far away for him to return home, so he spent the time with John and Grace Chien. Grace invited me to go to church that Sunday, and kept on inviting me week after week. Through their witness, care and encouragement, I was eventually baptized and became a committed Christian.

Amazing Grace

My testimony is one of amazing grace. Despite all the opposition, temptations, and difficulties of my early life, God has proved faithful to me and showed me he is indeed the way, the truth and the life. When David was elected Bishop of Taiwan to succeed Bishop John Chien, in the year 2000, we already had good role models to follow. I was able to retire from my teaching post and we moved to Taipei to start our new ministry.

Whatever I can do to help David, I am more than willing to support him. I am the supervisor for one of our church kindergartens, and I have a particular ministry among clergy wives and the female members of our churches. There is a lot of prayer, counseling and encouragement needed to help these wonderful women in their journey of faith and their outreach to others. Before we took care of one small church, now we have a whole Diocese.

We also work on building relationships with other denominations in Taiwan, with other Dioceses in the Epicopal Church USA (of which we are a part), as well as other Dioceses in Asia. We share a vision to be a bridge between the churches in Asia and the USA, and to promote reconciliation between those who think differently, that we may be able to work together for the good of Gods Kingdom.

This article was written by Lily Lai in response to a request from Jane Williams, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in preparation for the Lambeth Conference 2008. It first appeared in Friendship, the English language news magazine of the Diocese of Taiwan.