Monday, March 26, 2012

Doris Brougham, my favorite "televangelist."

Have you seen the scene in Airplane! where the chief air-traffic controller McCroskey, played by Lloyd Bridges, is trying to prevent a jetliner from crashing, manage the media, run his office, and deal with family matters, all at once?

         Hold all takeoffs. I don't want another
         plane in the air. When the 508 reports,
         bring it straight in.

         Put out a general bulletin to suspend all
         meal service on flights out of Los

         Tell all dispatchers to remain at their
         posts. It's going to be a long night.

         And how about some coffee, Johnny?

That character reminds me of Doris Brougham, founder of Overseas Radio and Television, based outside of Taipei, Taiwan.  For Doris, though, her ability to control a madcap frenzy of activity-- and with a friendly, personal style - is a daily lifestyle at 85 years of age, not limited to emergencies.  A few minutes of my last visit to her office a few months ago, for example, went something like this:

"It's so good to have visitors from Azusa Pacific.  You know we support your programs . . .

"Have you met David Marshall?  He wrote a wonderful book called True Son of Heaven.  Come on into the picture together . . .

"This cover for the next issue is good, but I think you should lighten up the tones here . . . And maybe we should talk about  the lead story later"

"Chocolate cupcakes in the shape of owls!  (her 'totem') They're adorable!  Here, take one, please?"

"We need to support this ministry in the Philippines . . . "

"Can you get David that picture of me and (famous Chinese author) Lin Yutang?  Here you go, David.  He was a good friend, he would often come over and talk . . . " 

Born in 1926, Doris sailed to China after World War II, then moved to Taiwan when the communists took over the Mainland. After working with tribal people along the east coast of the beautiful tropical island for a while, Doris began reaching out to the many Taiwanese who wanted to learn English, founding Studio Classroom in 1962.  No doubt she has been, for some time, the best-known Western living in Taiwan: one little "detail" during my ten days in the country, she was given an award by the President on Teachers' Day.  . The company she founded, Overseas Radio and Television, have taught generations of Chinese to speak English, with drama, music, comedy, and Christian evangelism all mixed together.  Doris Brougham, all by herself, is almost enough to give "televangelist" a good name in the country. 

Her business is highly successful, with a six story office building in an expensive part of the capital, but Doris has never lost her sense of mission for Christ, her love of the trumpet, or her simplicity of manner.

She is also, as I have good reason to think, a remarkable generous and kind person.  

When I lived in Taiwan in the 1980s, I often attended ORTV "rallies," watching the show from the audience, then taking part in small group conversations later on.  I don't remember meeting Doris individually then, though perhaps I did. 

After True Son of Heaven came out in 1996, ORTV arranged for me to speak in churches, schools and fellowships (including at the KMT Party Headquarters, and in the Academy of Social Sciences.  My next visit to Taiwan came the day after 9/11, when I took a flight from Japan.  I was originally scheduled to speak at ORTV, but a typhoon came in (atypically) from the north, settled over Taiwan, and drowned the valley where ORTV is located.  When I came by, staff were cleaning instruments that had been left in the basement of their headquarters, and inundated by the flood.  (Flood waters should not have reached the neighborhood: apparently a sluice gate or something had been mistakenly left open.  More than a hundred people lost their lives in that Typhoon.)  ORTV lost millions of dollars of equipment.  I talked with Doris for a few minutes, outside: she was mildly distraught, but still unnecessarily apologetic for having to cancel our minor arrangements.  

I got the impression she was about to retire then, and was a little surprised that she hadn't, already.  So it was a pleasant surprise to visit, ten years later, and fine her, like Lloyd Bridges only without the stimulants (well maybe some caffeine, there is a Starbucks around the corner, a staff member took me there, and they were obviously on intimate terms) still running flight plans, whether for (figuratively speaking) Airbus A380s (government connections, international outreaches, media productions), or Piper Cubs (owl cupcakes for visitors), without looking the faintest bit harried.

And playing the trumpet in the morning "zhao dao hui."

Regretfully, I was not alive to meet the classic missionaries, who ran presses, wrote dictionaries, founded churches, rehabilitated opium addicts, started colleges, healed lepers, delivered babies, confronted corrupt magistrates, introduced new kinds of fruit, preached the Gospel, shut the mouths of lions -- or several of the above, all in one month.  (Like William Carey, or Taiwan's own George MacKay.)  Not was I privileged to see in person how they helped transform the status of women in much of the world.  But hanging around with Doris Brougham, for a small part of a day, one begins to get some of the picture.

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