My Grandfather—Leaving a Legacy of Blessing
Most modern-day parents—even Chinese—would not consider having 17 children a blessing. But my grandfather, Chen Tien Un, born on March 14, 1872, did. He became the patriarch of a huge family which today numbers more than 400. We are scattered across seven countries, but that doesn’t keep about 100 of the Un family relatives from gathering every three years for a family reunion at a specific time and a different location. We cherish these times to recall and remind ourselves of God’s blessings to our family.
Our grandfather Un lived during the Yuen period, when he, as a revolutionist, quietly resisted the unfair practices of local government leaders, while at the same time worked to save lives as a western-trained doctor. Grandfather had studied medicine under the tutelage of Dr. John Otte, a missionary doctor who served in Foochow, the city where grandfather lived. In his biography, Grandfather wrote: “I was very much influenced by the great compassion of my teacher, Dr. Otte. He loved my countrymen as “life.” He considered it his duty to instruct his students to manage the hospital and to preach the gospel and help the church. He gave willingly to the relief of human suffering. Before performing any operation or tending to an emergency case, he always assembled his students to kneel down and pray.”
Unfortunately, during the bubonic plague epidemic (at the end of the Ching Dynasty), Dr. Otte contracted the disease and died while still a young man in his thirties. My grandfather told the villagers that “Christ gave His life to save the world. Dr. Otte sacrificed his life to save our fellow-countrymen.” Dr. Otte had mentored my grandfather in the medical field and been an example of “a true disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Grandfather was influenced by another person too—his granduncle. Recounting the story of his uncle, Grandfather wrote: “My granduncle got saved at the age of 45 and went out to do evangelistic work. He would walk for 20-30 kilometers in order to bring a man to Christ. He had a good reputation around the village. But some villagers—seeing that we followed the “foreign” religion—initiated attacks, abuses, and persecutions upon us, so much so that we were forced to move from our hometown to An-hai, where Christianity was established in 1856.”
Through his medical practice, Grandfather helped save people’s lives, and as a Christian, he used his resources to help save people’s souls. He opened a school for children where the gospel was presented and Bible study was a regular part of their daily lessons. He encouraged promising young people to go into the ministry—and then supported them financially through seminary. The example of Grandfather’s faithful Christian life has influenced and been an ongoing blessing to many in the Chen Tien Un family line.
A Granddaughter’s Journey
I am the recipient of these blessings and proud to be one of the descendants of Grandfather Un. My father was his third son, and I was born in Shanghai, China, on December 4, 1939, the fifth child of my parents, with four older brothers. Later, when I was ten years old, my mother gave birth to another son.
My family left Shanghai when I was seven years old because we heard that the Communists were going to take over the city. We traveled as a family—with my second auntie, fifth auntie, uncle, and grandmother (my grandfather had died two years earlier)—to Foochow, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and finally to the Philippines where my father set up a paper mill business. My grandmother lived with our family, and despite having given birth to 19 children, two of whom died during infancy, she lived to age 85. Grandmother was a giving person, always content with the circumstances of her life. Even in 100-degree temperatures in Manila, she would work in the kitchen, cooking delicious meals for our family. Her Fukienese egg rolls were a special delight to everyone.
As a child, I was anxious to know that I would go to heaven someday. I needed to know how to become a child of God. Even though my parents were Christians and my mom was much involved with church activities, they never explained to me how I could be saved. One day, my Sunday school teacher told me the gospel—that Jesus died on the cross for my sin, and if I was willing to ask Him to forgive my sin, I could be His child. She explained to my child’s mind what John 1:12 (NASB) says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” I prayed the sinner’s prayer and noticed an immediate change in my life—I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.
But in the years ahead, even though I was a child of God, there was always a struggle to be good. I had to learn that God wanted to be not only the Savior of my soul but also the Lord of my life—of all areas of my life. So I surrendered myself to God completely, committing to follow Him wherever He led. During my college years, I was fortunate to be a part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which helped me deepen my walk with the Lord.
Afterwards, I went on to get Bible school training which prepared me for my future ministry. Shortly after finishing Bible school, at age 24, I met a missionary lady named Miss Agnes Birrel. She was 63 years old and in her last term of missionary service in the Philippines. Having previously served in China, she had learned Mandarin but had since forgotten much of the language. Working with Chinese now in the Philippines, she needed someone to translate for her. So I joined Miss Agnes in her ministry among the Chinese in Butuan City, and through our ministry, eventually six churches were planted. After we left, eight pastors continued our work among these churches.
All along, God had given me a burden to minister to children. Children are so teachable, so willing to listen, and easy to mold. I believe sowing the seeds of God’s Word to children will reap a great harvest in heaven. For seven years I ministered through Child Evangelism Fellowship, teaching Bible in Christian schools in Manila. Teaching 4th-6th graders, with classes consisting of 50-60 students, was really difficult, but God gave me strength because I knew we were reaching children and their parents for Christ.
A Lasting Influence
Grandfather Un always wished one of his sons would go into the ministry. The only son who chose the ministry, unfortunately, died while he was attending seminary. But our grandfather would be smiling now, for recently his great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Tan, graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Tan pastors Grace Christian Church, Manila, Philippines, and is the son of Paul Lee Tan, whose Christian ministry focuses on Revelation and end-time prophecy. In Manila, there is also a Christian school started by my auntie many years ago that is teaching the gospel to over 3,000 students.
Praise the Lord for my grandfather’s influence. He loved the Lord and gave his family a great example of service to others. I pray my life will influence the lives of others, just as my grandfather’s has.
“Therefore know that The Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9, NKJV).
When asked about herself, May Co, author of this article, says, “I want to live for God in whatever situation I am in.”