The Presbyterian Church in Canada mourns the death of the Rev. Dr. C. M. Kao, who died in Tainan, Taiwan of February 14, 2019, at the age of 90. Graduating from Tainan Theological College and Seminary in 1953, he served the PCT as Pastor among indigenous communities and churches. Passionate about indigenous ministries, he was appointed in 1957 as a teacher and later Principal at Yushan Seminary for 13 years. In 1970 he was elected as General Secretary of the PCT, serving until retirement in 1989.
Rev. Kao was beloved and admired by many Canadian Presbyterians for his courageous actions during the 1970’s, because of his sympathy for the cause of democratic reform in Taiwan. The 70’s were a critical period when the PCT issued three prophetic statements which Rev. Kao signed, based on his deep faith conviction. Later, in 1980 Rev. C. M. Kao was arrested and imprisoned, tried by a military court, accused and subsequently charged and sentenced for seven years in prison, allegedly for assisting a Human Rights leader. Throughout this period his family and home were under twenty-four-hour police surveillance. In 1984 Dr. Kao was given early release, on parole for one year, and returned to his duties as General Secretary.
During the four years, three months and twenty-one days of his imprisonment, Rev. Kao along with the PCT, received much prayer and moral support from churches including The PCC, organizations and individuals worldwide. He was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Many church leaders visited him in prison and the international support and protest to the government undoubtedly played a significant part in his early release.
In 1986, Rev. Kao was honoured with the E.H. Johnson Award for The Cutting Edge in Mission. Addressing the General Assembly in London Ontario, Rev. Kao said: “I was arrested and imprisoned in 1980 because of my love for Taiwan. In prison I suffered for four years, three months and twenty-one days, however, this experience reaffirmed for me the truth concerning God’s almighty love and our human weakness.”
A man of prayer and vision, Rev. Kao saw the mission task of the church as twofold, where evangelism and social justice/welfare ran parallel. This was reflected in his unrelenting sincere efforts to preach the good news among all peoples; at the same time his commitment to peace and justice issues never wavered. Throughout his life C. M. Kao served tirelessly and humbly for his church and country Taiwan, inspired and strengthened by his living faith and belief in Jesus Christ his Saviour.
After a time of devotion reading the Bible and praying with his wife Ruth and family, Rev. C. M. Kao went to the Lord peacefully. It was his and Ruth’s 61st wedding anniversary.
Reverend’s Message of Hope During Hardship
Article from Taipei Times by Chen Hsiu-li 陳秀麗, chairwoman of the Spring Wind Cultural Company, translated by Julian Clegg
The Reverend Kao Chun-ming (高俊明), former general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, died on Feb. 14. For many people, their deepest impression of Kao is that he was imprisoned for four-and-a-half years for hiding fugitive dissident Shih Ming-te (施明德) following the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident.
His arrest was a big sensation at the time and made him into a prisoner of consciousness whose name was known worldwide.
His case aroused the concern of pope John Paul II and the Vatican, whose charge d’affaires in Taiwan, Paolo Giglio, visited Kao in prison.
For me, the most legendary thing about Kao is his poem, Watch the Bush of Thorns (莿帕互火燒), which he wrote in prison.
The poem — listed as Hymn 604 in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan’s 2009 Hymnal — is a moving witness to his faith behind bars.
The melody for the hymn was written by Pastor Loh I-to (駱維道), then-president of the Tainan Theological College and Seminary, and buttresses a lament about the spirit of Taiwanese’s resilient struggle in the midst of hardship. It can be accompanied by a flute or two-stringed fiddle.
Kao’s poem won him Best Lyricist in the traditional arts and music category at the 2006 Golden Melody Awards.
I remember seeing Kao’s appearance at the Golden Melody Awards ceremony, which I watched on television, and hearing him say: “God bless Taiwan.”
Although I am not a Christian, I could not hold back my tears.
Only later did I find out that this poem was written for an assembly of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and that it expresses the spirit of Calvinist Christianity as symbolized by the burning bush, which is not consumed by the flames.
The poem was also written for a Presbyterian Church in Taiwan suffering from political persecution to inspire the faithful not to lose hope in the face of adversity.
Kao’s poem, as translated by Jim Minchin, reads as follows:
Watch the bush of thorns being licked by fierce flame —
The bush is not consumed, but still stays the same.
Watch the burning bush, by God’s will kept whole:
When Christians face hard trial, love’s power nerves their soul.
When fire and heat subside, seed growth soon resumes;
The spring wakes what had died, and bring forth new blooms.
Watch the suffering thorns: though burning still alive —
If persecution strikes, then Christ’s Church revives!
Courage fills our hearts as Jesus Christ’s friends!
With him in test of fire, our faith finds true strength.
When I heard the news of Kao’s death, the melody of Watch the Bush of Thorns welled up inside me.
Pastor Loh wrote the melody in 1985 in the form of a traditional Taiwanese lament, and in 1993 he arranged it into a chorus.
A Taiwanese lament is emotional, but also a kind of culture and art. In Loh’s composition, it gave full expression to Kao’s spirit and emotions.
Kao lived through many trials and tribulations. He worked hard to speak out for Taiwan on the world stage. He did his utmost to promote higher education for Aborigines, as well as theological education.
Although he has left us now, he bequeaths to us many intangible assets. Watch the Bush of Thorns is a song that every Taiwanese should know how to sing and enjoy, and it is a lesson in how not to lose hope, even in the most difficult of times.
“Watch the Bush of Thorns” Hymn
The following hymn was published in the Sound the Bamboo: CA Hymnal 2000. It was not a direct translation, slight adjustments were made.