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April 30, 2008

Former ELCA missionary Marjorie Bly dies

Former ELCA missionary Marjorie Bly died April 8 in Makung, Peng Hu, Taiwan.

Born in 1919 to missionary parents in China, Bly began serving in 1946 as a nurse through the Lutheran United Mission. When she told friends she wanted to be a missionary, her friends said, "How can you be a missionary? You don't play the piano, you don't sing, you don't speak, and you don't ride a bicycle!"

Bly began working among lepers in Taiwan in 1952, under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, later the American Lutheran Church (a predecessor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). As a nurse in a mobile clinic based at the government leprosy hospital in Hsin Chaung, she observed that the most afflicted patients came from Peng Hu. "If we could reach patients in Peng Hu before their condition became crippling, they could be spared a degree of handicap," she wrote.

In 1955 she was granted permission to move to Peng Hu and begin a dermatology clinic through a hospital that provided follow-up care and treatment.

In a culture that ostracized leprosy patients and forced their families to bury the dead by night in unmarked graves, Bly advocated for the dignity of her patients and integrated them into the general hospital program. One Taiwanese health official said that Ms. Bly gave "three-way care: body, soul, and social acceptance."

Often called the Lutheran Mother Teresa, Bly saw the rate of leprosy diminish. In 2006, long after her "official" retirement in 1989, she reported knowing of no new cases of leprosy in the previous two years, and said that the stigma of being treated for the disease had been nearly eradicated

In 2007, she received the highest civilian award from Chen Shui-Bian, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
"Marjorie's work made a significant contribution in the lives of the people," ELCA Global Mission executive director Rafael Malpica Padilla wrote to Bly's family and friends. "Her life and ministry bear witness to God's amazing grace in Jesus Christ."

 

Click here for a related story in the Taipei Times.

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