August 15, 1941 – February 3, 2014
Sylvia Welwood was born in Ontario, Canada, to a devout Christian family. She grew up in the Holiness Movement Church and found the Lord at age 11. As a teen, Sylvia helped her father establish a Sunday school among a group of migratory children on Edmonton’s northern outskirts. During Sylvia’s late high school years, she was very active in summer camp work, often serving as a teacher and counselor. These experiences became so much a part of her life that Sylvia began to think and pray about full-time missionary service.
After receiving an elementary teaching certificate from the University of Alberta in 1962, Sylvia taught for four years. Then following God’s leading, she enrolled at Seattle Pacific University, Washington, to complete her degree. Sylvia saw the Lord’s plan was certainly best when she met Loren Van Tassel in a college prayer group. Together, they began to work among international students at the University of Washington. They were married in June 1967 and then moved to Kentucky for Loren to attend Asbury Theological Seminary. They applied to Free Methodist World Missions and were appointed in 1969.
In 1970, the year Loren completed seminary, the Van Tassel family, including two sons, David and Brian, arrived in Hong Kong. Sylvia assisted Loren with his conference and church responsibilities and worked in children’s ministries. Sylvia began a weekly Bible club for as many as 40 children. During the summers she helped organize and teach in a vacation Bible school for 150 English-speaking children. Sylvia’s education experience was invaluable in training several young adults and teens to be teachers. As would be the case throughout their missionary service, Sylvia used her musical talents to enhance their ministry and to help others develop their musical skills.
FM ministries flourished. Ten years after arriving in Hong Kong, the Van Tassels found the church had come of age and young students who made up the church in the early stages were marrying and establishing their own homes. The Van Tassels found rewarding ministry in teaching and counseling these young couples. They had also added two daughters to their own family through adoption, Sheryl and Janice. While Sylvia managed the home, she also helped provide hospitality for fellow workers, youth groups and tourists in their home and served as chairperson of an evangelical group working with children. The committee organized after-school Bible clubs that ministered to 80-90 children weekly. At least one-third of these children were from non-Christian homes. Sylvia also worked with a neighborhood Bible study group comprised of women representing seven different nationalities.
In the 1980s, the Van Tassels felt an urgency to make disciples before Hong Kong came under the sovereignty of mainland China. Many church leaders were immigrating to other countries where their freedoms would be more secure. New church lay leaders needed to be prepared and small groups developed.
In 1993, the Van Tassel family returned to the U.S. for home assignment. They took a leave of absence in August 1994, but missions remained part of their ministry. Sylvia taught children’s Sunday school and was a member of the local church’s missions committee. When God provided a way for them to return to Asia, Sylvia and Loren taught in a creative access country at the university level from 1998 to 2001. When they returned to the U.S. once again, they were active in recruiting teachers for this creative access country. Loren and Sylvia’s official retirement began January 1, 2003.
Sylvia’s Colleagues Write
Margaret and Jim Nelson, former missionaries to Hong Kong, have fond memories of Sylvia. “Sylvia, along with Loren and the whole family, made us feel a part of their family even before we arrived in Hong Kong in 1981. She helped us buy secondhand furniture and appliances before we arrived, and then after we got there, made sure we were included in holiday celebrations, family outings and shopping trips, as well as ministry. Her encouragement and advice helped us weather the challenges of being new missionaries, of learning a new language, and of settling down in a new culture. We thank the Lord for the many years of being friends as well as colleagues, and for the privilege of serving Him together with a very special woman of God.”
Colleague Gordon Evoy writes, “Before our arrival in Hong Kong in 1977, Sylvia was busy making our new ‘home away from home’ comfortable. She and Loren located an apartment for our family, helped in furnishing it and welcomed us warmly. Our transition into a new culture was less difficult due in large part to Sylvia. Her excellence as cook and hostess was evident in mission family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our missionary families often found ourselves singing hymns with Sylvia at the piano. During our years together, we grew to love and respect Sylvia not only as a wife and mother, but as one who worked tirelessly alongside Loren in effective ministry among the Chinese in Hong Kong. Loren and Sylvia’s fingerprints are found in churches they helped plant as well as on people whose lives they touched.”