The late Roland P. Brown, who served as a medical mission worker in Taiwan for more than 40 years, is pictured here during a Mennonite Christian Hospital board meeting in 1990 in Hualien, Tawian. Brown helped to birth this hospital in 1954, which today is a renowned regional hospital with 500 beds and 900 employees. Photo Sheldon Sawatzky. 

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Roland P. Brown, longtime medical mission worker in Taiwan, birthed a 35-bed hospital in Hualien that has grown into a 500-bed regional hospital with 900 employees. After serving in Taiwan for more than 40 years with the Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, he retired in North Newton, Kansas, with his late wife, Sophie. He died in Newton on August 16. He was 93.

Roland was born June 5, 1926, in Kaichow, Hopei, China, to Henry and Maria Brown, who were COM missionaries in China. He was the youngest of five siblings. In 1941, when the Japanese invaded China, his parents were taken as prisoners of war and he was transferred to North Newton to stay with relatives who had also served as missionaries to China.

Roland completed his pre-med studies at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, and graduated from medical school at the University of Chicago. He performed alternate service in Idaho and New Jersey during his residency.

In the early 1950s, Roland worked on the east coast of Taiwan under the auspices of Mennonite Central Committee. In 1954, when he began serving as a medical missionary under the former General Conference Mennonite Church's Board of Missions (later it became COM), Roland worked with others to establish the Mennonite hospital in Hualien.

In its earliest days, the hospital operated mobile clinics serving indigenous people in mountainous regions of Hualien County. Today, it is one of the premier medical facilities in eastern Taiwan, providing health care for both the general population and indigenous communities.

"Dr. Roland Brown was a beloved and highly respected missionary doctor and colleague," said Sheldon Sawatzky during Roland's memorial service. "He was revered and honored by the Taiwan Mennonite church, community and government."

Sheldon served as an overseas mission volunteer with COM from 1965-1968 as mobile clinic coordinator, during which time he worked alongside Roland. Sawatzky became hospital board chair and longtime board member and continued to engage with Roland and his family during his lifetime missionary career in Taiwan.

In later years Sawatzky served as Mission Network's East Asia director, during which time he and his wife, Marietta, also lived six additional years in Taiwan. They were beneficiaries of the good will and trust that Roland and Sophie had established, Sawatzky said.  

"An excellent physician, chest surgeon, and hospital administrator, he is remembered for his compassionate service to the indigent and mentoring of doctors and future medical administrators," Sawatzky said. "Roland was also concerned for the health and growth of the Mennonite Church in Taiwan. He served on mission and national church committees and was a strong supporter of efforts to promote theological education for church leaders."

Roland was a mentor to many young people, including Mary Graber, MD, of Elkhart, Indiana. In an e-mail tribute regarding her medical student days in 1982, she wrote: "I witnessed the respect he showed his patients, his Taiwanese colleagues, and the medical students training at the hospital. His vision was for a first-class medical facility locally led and staffed, serving patients with love and respect regardless of status or financial resources. He believed in ministering to the whole person, with chaplains and pastoral staff integrated into patient care."

From the hospital's inception until his retirement in 1994, Roland performed both the roles of surgeon and hospital superintendent. Awards he received include The Order of the Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon (the highest civilian award in Taiwan), Bethel College Outstanding Alumnus Award, the University of Chicago Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award, Taiwan's Third National Medical Dedication Award, R.O.C. Medical Association Award, the first Key to Hualien County and Hualien City, and Good Persons and Good Deeds Award.

Current hospital representatives honored Roland with this statement printed in an obituary published in Taiwan News: "We thank him for his dedication and devotion to Hualien. The hospital will continue to uphold the belief of 'serving the Lord' and to provide 'meticulous medical care to the sick and vulnerable.'"

In 2017, Roland published his memoirs, Healing Hands: Four Decades of Medical Relief and Mission in Taiwan (Mennonite Press), in which he chronicled his service and the hospital's development.

In college, Roland met Sophie Schmidt in 1944 and they married in 1948. They served all their years with COM in Taiwan, except for Roland's two years as a surgeon at the Indian Medical Center in Phoenix in the 1970s. They were married for 62 years prior to Sophie's passing in 2010.

Roland is survived by his adopted sons, Keith and Cliff Brown; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Sophie Schmidt; adopted daughter, Carol Ann Fynan; parents, Henry and Maria (Miller) Brown; two brothers; and two sisters.

Memorial gifts may be given to the Henry and Maria Brown Scholarship Fund and to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  


​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor for Mennonite Mission Network. 



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