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Thanks for agreeing to meet with me and letting me record your story! Okay, this is on, let’s begin.
This is Joseph Wong, A-B-C. Born in Nogales, Arizona, making me a Chinese cowboy. (laughs)
Lord called me into the ministry when I was 17. He brought me into His Kingdom when I was about 15, and has been very gracious to me. Not only did He give me a new destiny, but He gave me a significant purpose in my life, to serve His church as a pastor.
And then (turning to Shirley), he gave me a helper. (laughs)
We started our official ministry in Seattle at the Chinese Baptist Church as a part-time youth pastor in 1961. We’ve been serving the Chinese Churches on the West Coast. We were there in Seattle for 10 years. And then we moved down to San Francisco Chinatown, where we served at the Chinese Independent Baptist Church (CIBC) from 1972 to 1980.
In 1980, we moved to a church we started in San Rafael, the Marin Chinese Christian Church. And we served that church for nine years. After which we went to the Bread of Life Church in Torrance, CA. We served there three years, having been warned by a church member that that’s as long as we were going to last. (laughs)
What did this church member say to you?
That was such a novel experience. I arrived down at the church and shortly after that I was invited by a church member for dinner. So I went, and I was asked, “Did you sell your home up in San Rafael?” And I said, “No.” And was told, “Good, you’ll be back there in three years!” (laughs)
And she was a prophetess. I was back in three years.
But that was the nature of that church at the time, they kept going through a pastor every three to five years.
What happened after that church?
From there, we decided to shift because I came to the realization that OBC Christians were not bad people. And the church leadership were not bad people. They loved the Lord, perhaps more dearly than I did. They worked hard, probably harder than I did. They gave sacrificially, perhaps more so than I did. So, in their love for the church, and in their service to the church, why the painful splits after every three to five years?
And I concluded, it’s because they didn’t know how to do what they wanted to do.
And I thought I had some clues as to what’s wrong. And I decided to become a church consultant and began looking for an organization I could connect with.
In 1994, we became part of the Church Dynamics International (CDI) staff. It was a discipleship training program. We go into a church, to try to help the church establish a discipleship training program.
But my real desire was to go in there and help church leadership run a church, to understand what is necessary.
And so from 1994 to 2011, we did just that. In 2004, we left CDI and eventually wound up with International Church Ministries. We were with them until 2011. With both organizations, we did short term ministries at churches, sometimes a year or two, sometimes as long as three years.
In January 2014, I left my last church responsibility in San Francisco. So in a sense, I’m retired because I don’t have church responsibility.
Shirley: I told him, you retire when you expire—
Joe: Under the guidance of my wife, I am still serving the Lord. (laughs)
Shirley: There is no such thing as retirement—
Joe: I have a tough taskmaster.
But I love her dearly. Anyway, we continue to promote a ministry called “Truth-Based Living,” a biblical solution to much of the pain and problems in the Chinese churches. Which I think is really the answer to many of your questions, but we can move into that some other time. [A synopsis is at the end of the FACE interview.]
So that’s sort of a history of me.
We love serving the Lord. We’re so grateful for the life that He has given to us.
Joseph Wong’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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