Sometimes the Lord calls someone to serve even before the world is ready to accept their service. One example of this was God’s call for the Gentile Cornelius to be baptized, which Peter was unprepared to accept at first (Acts 10). God’s call to Florence Li Tim-Oi to be an Anglican priest was another call the world was not prepared to accept.
Li Tim-Oi was born on May 5, 1907 in Hong Kong. Her name meant “much beloved daughter” because her father wanted to make it clear that even though sons were preferred, he felt blessed to have a daughter. She was baptized as a student, and chose the name Florence, after Florence Nightingale. A service held at Hong Kong Cathedral in 1931 changed her life forever. She witnessed the ordination of a woman as a deaconess, and when the Bishop asked if a Chinese women would dedicate her life to the church, Florence responded. She went on to study theology at Union Theological College in Canton, and was ordained as a deaconess in 1941. She was then assigned to serve in the Portuguese province of Macao.
At this time, World War 2 was raging, and the Japanese occupied much of China. Macao was filled with refugees trying to escape from China, and Florence served as their spiritual leader. As a deaconess in the Anglican Church, she could perform all the tasks of a priest except for giving the Eucharist. Because of the war, it became impossible to send a priest to Macao, so the bishop gave Florence license to perform the ceremony. As the war dragged on, Florence served her congregation with diligence. Food was scarce and there were constant threats of violence. Florence gave the people around her hope, serving unofficially as a priest until the bishop asked her to come to China to be officially ordained as a priest in 1944.
Once the war was over, controversy over her ordination broke out. She was forced to give up her license to serve as a priest, but she did not stop serving the Lord. Her connection to Christianity made her a target once communism took over her country. She was removed from her home and ministry, and placed in a re-education camp. Instead of serving the Lord as she was called, she was conscripted to raise chickens. The only thing that kept her alive was going to the mountains to pray.
In the 1980s, she was able to move to Toronto, Canada where the remaining members of her family lived. While she was there, her priestly orders were restored to her. She spent the last few years of her life serving as a priest, the task she had been called to do so many years ago. Even at her deathbed in 1992, she continued to minster to those around her. The life of Florence Li Tim-Oi is a reminder that when the Lord calls someone into his service, nothing can stand in the way of that call.