Sister Li Ching (Lekheng) Chen

Current Ministry Location: Tanzania

Sister Li Ching, from Chang Hua, Taiwan, entered Maryknoll in 1979.  She grew up in a traditional religious family that was a mixture of Taoism and Buddhism.  When she was 21, she encountered Christianity.  Inspired by the story of Jesus, she chose to follow in His footsteps.  Maryknoll Sisters were her companions in her journey.  “They witnessed that they had Jesus’ DNA in their blood and compassion flowed through their feelings of tenderness, passion, tears and profound prayer.  In my search for deeper religious life, I was drawn to the Maryknoll Sisters, because I felt I could share the common humanity of who I was/am.”

Before she entered Maryknoll, Sister Li Ching was a bookkeeper and catechist. She was sent by Maryknoll Sisters to study at a catechetical and social training center in Taiwan and at Xavier University in the Philippines.  In 2000, at the age of 50, she went back to school and earned a B.A. in religious studies from the College of Our Lady of Elms, with a minor in art therapy.

Sister Li Ching went to Tanzania in 1981.  She was a teacher in primary schools and gave domestic science courses.  She also visited and supported women who suffered from being ostracized because of witchcraft.  Sister Li Ching also trained religion teachers and encouraged young women to further their secondary education.  Together with two other Maryknoll Sisters she helped to start Project VEMA, which promotes an integrated approach to education, development and health for village people.  Sister Li Ching organized educational programs to help prepare young girls for their future.  She also trained AIDS workers and gave AIDS prevention education with her staff, visited AIDS patients, and listened to them, as well as prayed with them.

In 1994, more than half a million Rwandans, mostly Hutu, fled to Tanzania.  Under the auspices of the UNHCR, Caritas started a reception center for unaccompanied minors.  The UNHCR appointed Sister Li Ching to be the supervisor of a Center in the Chabilisa refugee camp.  She worked closely with the International Red Cross and MEMISA.  This Center housed up to 100 people.  Sister Li Ching was responsible for all daily needs of the children.  Caritas Taiwan supported Sister Li Ching in this work and provided her with a car, and school children in Taiwan raised money to help provide needed supplies for the Center.

“My life was more intense and my faith was challenged,” Sister Li Ching said.  “I sang Lamentations to God each day, and it was God’s grace that sustained me through each day’s difficulties.”  Sister Li Ching trained the refugee youth to be community workers and teachers.  The Center was operated as a study center with emphasis on helping the youth remember their roots.  Art was used to generate income and as a way of communication.  Sister Li Ching reflected, “Do the Rwandans still believe in God, still seek God?  Yes, they believe in God, the God they are seeking is the God who is forgiving and comforting.”  Sister Li Ching was commended by the Secretary General of the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference for doing an excellent job in running the Center.

Sister Li Ching went to Hawaii in 2002 and took Clinical Pastoral Education at the Pacific Health Ministry.  She returned to Tanzania and worked with the Maryknoll Fathers as a student supervisor in Bugando Hospital.  She also worked with other Maryknoll Sisters in Mwanza.  At the Shalom AIDS Outreach Center, she facilitated the AIDS teachers’ training program and gave workshops for youth on AIDS.  In addition, she visited patients in the government hospital.

In 2009 Sister Li Ching joined another Maryknoll Sister in their work in Morogoro.  There she worked in a clinic doing counselling and teaching Chinese exercises to the patients.  Half of the people there are Muslims, Sister Li Ching was struck by their strong faith.  An important part of her work there is to listen deeply to the people in their life struggles and pray together with them.  Throughout all of Sister Li Ching’s mission work she would always first listen to the people, see their needs and then find an appropriate way to respond.  She said:  “Without prayer it would be impossible to continue in ministry.”