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So how did you meet?
Shirley: We met actually at Mt. Hermon. Mt. Hermon Christian Conference.
Joe: By Santa Cruz. It was a college conference Mt. Hermon sponsored every year. It wasn’t JEMS. The JEMS [camp] came around later. They were at Redwood Camp sometimes.
Mt. Hermon then was very influential among evangelical Christians.
Joe: Yes. Especially in the [San Francisco] Bay Area here.
Shirley: Because the churches were not doing their job in terms of helping us individually to grow in our walk with the Lord. In those days, there were no American-born pastors, there were only the Overseas-born pastors ministering to us. And there was not much ministry.
This was in the ‘50s, right? Right after the war.
Joe: Uh, huh.
Shirley: I was helped by Caucasian missionaries that opened a ministry in Chinatown. They ministered to us because the Chinese churches did not minister to us.
How did you guys get together?
Joe: This woman didn’t want anything to do with me. We knew each other for about three years and she tells people, “When I saw him coming along the campus going this way, I would turn around and go another way.” (laughs)
We were in college then, San Francisco State. I was actually in private college, but it was such a small school, we had to get our upper-level courses at San Francisco State. I got involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and some of their ministries. It was exciting. Made some good friends.
We had a mutual friend. She was a blonde, green-eyed Russian. My girlfriend. We got serious with each other, even though it was against my principles. I wasn’t going to date a Caucasian girl. (laughs)
Shirley: She was in the Navigators and a close friend of mine. She would try to convince me to go out with him, and I said, “No.”
Joe: She said to her, “For you, but not for me.” (laughs)
So Billy Graham was in town with his Crusade, and I was a counselor. The night of the event, I found out she was babysitting in Berkeley. So I asked her, if it was okay if I dropped by after the Crusade. She said okay, probably without thinking.
Shirley: But I did do a lot of planning.
Joe: And then she planned to invite her friends over as well, so she didn’t have to be stuck with me, so to speak. And so, they came in waves. Two bunches of them came. And they finally left shortly after midnight, and I was still there. I don’t know what I was doing because she wasn’t talking to me. But after they left, she came to talk to me.
And she tells me, she asked the Lord, “What am I going to say to this guy?”
So she came down, we sat down and chatted and inside of five minutes, out of her mouth—not mine—she says, “You know, we’re getting married.”
Shirley: I avoided him for about five hours.
Joe: And she knew it wasn’t her speaking it, because that was the last thing she would consider saying. And I was just listening. “Oh, okay.”
Shirley: Crazy, huh? When you know, you know.
Joe: Then she had to argue with the Lord. She says, “Lord, I have no feelings for this guy. How can I marry him?” And the Lord answered her. God speaks to her too, I know that.
God says, “Love is an act of the will, you can choose to love whoever you will.”
So she accepted that, and she gave her second objection, “I’m not the type to be a pastor’s wife.” She was Miss Sophisticate. Shopped at boutique stores. (laughs)
Joe: The Lord, answered that objection: “Will you let me change you?”
That may have been harder to do. I don’t know which is harder (laughing) to choose to love me or to let the Lord change her. But she made those two commitments to the Lord, and it’s been 56 years.
Shirley: Basically, what he’s saying is that I did die to self. (Joe is laughing)
Because I was not the type to be a pastor’s wife. I only bought from boutique stores.
Joe: Well, we shop at thrift stores now, and she loves it.
Joe: We have a happy life. She likes these twilight years. It’s good.
Shirley: Because you have to die to self.
Joe: So that’s how God put us together, and I see God’s hand in our lives very much. And I tell people if you knew how we got married, you would know, there is a God. It wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Shirley: If I saw him walking down the campus, I’d go the other direction. Can you imagine marrying somebody that you avoid? (laughs)
Joseph and Shirley Wong’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
How Pastor Joe and Shirley came to be
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