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Taiwan’s Most Famous Missionary

The 150th anniversary of Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay’s arrival in Taiwan was celebrated in 2022. Perhaps the country’s most beloved 19th-century Westerner, churches have reenacted his arrival, and several books are being published about the missionary. The Taiwan government even has a bio of him on their website. So, what made this foreigner worthy of this level of affection more than 100 years after his death?

In 1872, the Canadian Presbyterian missionary arrived in northern Taiwan (then called Formosa). Over the next 29 years, Mackay planted more than 60 churches and baptized more than 3,000 people. He started a college and a graduate school of theology. Mackay Memorial Hospital, named in his honor, is now a large downtown hospital in Taipei.

He also provided medical treatment. He and his students would sing a hymn to patients, extract their teeth, and then preach the gospel to them. Over the years, Mackay became known for having pulled thousands of teeth.

He insisted on identifying with Taiwan and the Taiwanese. Mackay spent more than half of the 57 years of his life on the island. Upon his arrival in Taiwan, he immediately began learning the language from the local boys herding water buffalo. Unlike most Western missionaries, he married a local woman, and they had three children. Embracing Taiwan as his adopted homeland, he touched the hearts of many Taiwanese and contributed to the conversion of many to Christianity.

Before he passed, Mackay captured his love for the country by writing a still widely beloved poem: “How dear is Formosa to my heart! On that island the best of my years have been spent. A lifetime of joy is centered here … My heart’s ties to Taiwan cannot be severed! To that island I devote my life.”

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