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How did FACE start?
We started FACE in 1978.
It was Thomas Wang’s fault because he began a national association of Chinese Evangelicals. NACOCE. [North American Congress of Chinese Evangelicals, acronym pronounced NAY-cose] He invited me to do a workshop at the Congress, the first one in Richardson Spring, California. And Hoover Wong was invited to be a speaker.
There was a miscommunication. I was giving a workshop to deal with the potential and problem of American Born Chinese, ABCs. I thought I would be helping Church leaders understand the need for ABC ministry in local church. Instead, I got a lot of college students wanting to know how to witness to ABCs on Campus. (laughs) I apologized to them. That was not the preparation I made for this workshop.
So the next NACOCE, I told Dr. Wang, “I will do another workshop only if you make it a church leadership workshop. I want elders there.” And so he did.
We explained to them the problem of the Overseas form of church ministry as it applies to American-born Chinese. Had some good discussion. But no conclusions, as is usually the case.
So the third Congress came along, and I was asked to participate again. And I decided that, I want some action. Just coming up and talking about it, doesn’t help. So I shared this with some of my colleagues. And the four of us: Wayland Wong, Peter Yuen, Hoover Wong and myself, felt the burden: the hurt in the Chinese churches, the loss of their children from not only from their churches but from their parents’ faith.
So initially, I thought we could get some [OBC] pastors to come and join a team, and we’ll address the need for ABC ministries at Chinese churches. But in our discussion, we realized it’s unfair to ask the OBC leadership to do what they cannot do.
And so, the question was: do the four of us feel a sense that God is calling us to do this ministry? And in our prayer, we concluded, “Yes,” and we pledged together to establish FACE.
Our purpose was to hold up the banner for effective ministries to ABCs. ABCs need Christian ministries addressed to them. Not simply as a youth ministry, but as a full spectrum ministry, adults and children. Our goal was to develop equal parallel ministries for ABCs and OBCs. And so, we issued a proclamation, a birth from NACOCE which was FACE.
How did you try to fulfill your goal of encouraging parallel ABC and OBC ministries?
So we sought to do this all within the context of the Chinese churches. We didn’t pull out by ourselves and do things. We thought we would have some conferences, seminars if you will, where we would invite the [OBC] Chinese leadership to come in and hear us talk about ABC ministry and the adjustments in attitude and program that is necessary. And we called those seminars Face to Face. (laughs) We were very clever.
We had the seminars in Los Angeles, up here [in the San Francisco Bay Area], in Chicago. We would invite the church leadership to attend.
And we also decided we would publish a newsletter, quarterly. And we called that About Face. Which was was understood by the Overseas Chinese that this is about “face” (puts the back of his hand to his cheek). But no, our intention was that it was a call to make an “about face.” The church gotta turn around!
But that’s the culture, right? That’s where we communicate and miscommunicate.
What did you try to say to the OBC?
The OBCs must not think that the church they started has to remain that way. It has to evolve. You are in a different country. If you don’t evolve you will become irrelevant, if not offensive to your children.
Gail Law, a doctorate student, did a paper, and she concluded, 96% of their children are being lost. And my question is: how can you afford that casualty rate?
How were you received by OBC?
We found our seminars distasteful to the Overseas church leadership. And so, we were boycotted. We were called “Communists.” We were called “the Gang of Four” in a spin off from China’s Gang of Four. And we said, “Ok. If that’s what it takes, I guess that’s what we are in their eyes.”
Nevertheless, we continued to conduct these ministries for a number of years.
When did you start ministering to ABCs? FACE seems to have certainly had its influence. The generation after you: Donna Dong, Louis Lee and Steve Wong, they count you guys as mentors. Donna calls you her heroes.
NACOCE* held an ECCOWE (Ethnic Chinese Congress for World Evangelism, acronym pronounced E-COW-wee) conference, an ethnic congress in Hawaii [on July 5-12, 1984]. And we were invited to attend, and we did.
In Hawaii, I was blown away, and I think we all were, when we met David Chow of Ambassadors for Christ (AFC). David Chow was becoming a leader in the work, an OBC leader, though he was “one-and-a-half.” He came over to the US when he were quite young, and grew up in this country. Moses Chow [David’s father and one of AFC’s founders] was getting older and about to retire.
And so, David Chow shared with me, “I feel I can do the work of a bridge between first generation and second generation to create greater understanding between us.”
I liked his concept, and I appreciated his statement. And when he spoke at ECCOWE, I heard him saying the same things FACE had been saying.
And I told the other guys, “You know, he’s a far more acceptable speaker than we are with the Overseas leadership. And if OBCs are willing to speak and share these concepts, then I don’t see why we need to do that.”
So we made a shift from witnessing to the Overseas leadership to ministering to the ABC leadership, to try to help them to adjust and adapt to the Overseas Chinese leadership.
So we eventually ran summer conferences, a FACE conference at Mt. Hermon also.
It was almost at the end of Hoover’s stint with us. He went to Fuller (between 1999-2003 to start the Chinese Studies Program, a precursor to the current Asian American ministry seminary programs). He felt that the demand at the school was greater than what he could handle with FACE. And so he asked to be excused, and we accepted that. Then we sought to incorporate a couple of other pastors into the group. And so, David Woo and Bill Eng came in.
Pastor Wayland Wong tells me that Chinese Churches didn’t really begin thinking of its next generation until the 1980s. He credits parachurch ministries like Youth for Christ and InterVarsity and the work of missionaries for helping ABCs grow in the Lord.
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.
I was helped by Caucasian missionaries that opened a ministry in (San Francisco) Chinatown. They ministered to us when the Chinese churches did not minister to us.
They really didn’t see the need?
Joe: Unlike the Japanese churches whose immigrants quit coming, what is very evident is that the Chinese immigration population continues to grow. In fact, with John F. Kennedy in 1965, the influx of Chinese mushroomed.
The OBC certainly had their hands full with new immigration due to the 1965 Immigration Act. Chinese immigration, in fact, still continues to grow today. In 2013, China surpassed Mexico as the number one country of origin for immigrants to the US.
And yet, it seems so different than what it is like now. When I spoke to Pastor Andrew Lee, he told me when he was growing up in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was no English Ministry.
The sermons, everything, was in Chinese. So you had to learn Chinese if you wanted to learn more about Jesus. If you wanted to be in ministry, you had to…
Learn Chinese, yes.
Now, I realize what they meant was more than to just learn Chinese. but to become culturally Chinese, which could not be achieved through language classes.
Can you help me understand more what it was like for ABCs pastors back then? Some churches today seem to jump at a chance for an ABC to help their youth ministry. It’s hard to believe the door was really closed to ABCs.
When I came to age the late ‘50s, I had friends who were preparing for the ministry but were frustrated because Chinese churches didn’t hire ABCs.
I remember an ABC guy named Bill. He went to Dallas Seminary, went for about two years and then he quit. And I says, “Why did you quit?” and he says, “There’s no future. Chinese churches don’t hire.”
There was another young man ahead of us who graduated from Fuller Seminary, and he ended up pumping gas because there was no position for him. And then another friend of mine who finished at Covina American Baptist Seminary of the West—he had to go to Hawaii for a position. That’s the way things were.
There was no avenue for ABCs to enter the Chinese immigrant churches.
How then did you find a position at a Chinese church?
So when I graduated, I didn’t know where to serve. But I belonged to the Independent Baptist Church here in Oakland. We have a Souls for Christ club, and I was active in that group, a leader in that group. I told my wife, “I was busy as a student, and now that I’m through studying, I would like to devote my full time energy to trying to build up this ministry, Souls for Christ.”
So I sent her out to work, and we gave ourselves. We even rented a house and had the young people coming over. We used it as a headquarters as a youth ministry for our church.
The church, however, never recognized me. Did not offer me any position. No acknowledgement of who I was, or what I was doing.
So after about nine or ten months of that, I realized my wife is working in a public school as a teacher in East Oakland, which was not a very safe place. I remember when she came home one time and she says, “Oh, they discovered a gun in one of the kids’ lockers.” (laughs)
So I said, “Her working is not right. I don’t want her there.” I says, “I need to find a job, so my wife doesn’t have to go out to work.”
That summer, I decided I would look for a church position. So we drove up to Seattle, visited the Chinese church up there, came down through Portland, visited the Chinese church and came back. We told them who we were and the fact that we were open for ministry.
Only the Pastor in Seattle, he says, “Joe, if you think the Lord wants you to come here, let me know. I will submit your name to the church Board.”
I came back and says, “You know, that’s the best offer I had.” (laughs) I wrote him, and said, “Please put my name in.”
So they invited me to go up there. I accepted a part time, youth minister position at $100 a month. We bought a second-hand trailer, loaded all our belongings in it, hooked it up to the back of my Simca—I don’t know if you know what a Simca is.
Shirley: It was a tiny little car. And we were pulling a trailer that was heavier than the car (both laughing), towing his pregnant wife and baby.
Joe: So we had one girl, and we were expecting a second, and we went up to Seattle.
We had a friend up there, and our friend says, “You have no place to stay. Move in with us.”
So we drove up there, and he says, “You can put your trailer in my dad’s carport.” And we moved in with them for over a month while we looked for a home.
Why Pastor Joe thinks it was so hard for an ABC to get a position in a Chinese Church
It was many years later, that I finally caught a glimpse of what’s going on. You know how you go around, and you get confused because you assume they think the same way you do, when they don’t. For decades, I didn’t know what was going on in my dealings with OBCs.
At a pastor’s conference, I met a Korean pastor who was a guest at that conference. He asked to talk to me about ministering to American Koreans. So we sat and talked. About a half an hour later, he says to me, “I think you’re right. We need to bring in American Koreans to minister to the second generation.” Then he said, “but they are such an evil generation.”
And I thought, “Wow.” I realized this was the thinking of immigrants toward the American-born.
That was such an insight for me. The reason the OBC do not accept us into the churches’ leadership was because they perceive us as evil. And since the church’s purpose for existence is to do what is good, how can you bring a guy that you perceive as evil to come onto the teaching staff?
I soon realized that this was a cultural perception, not a Biblical perception. But the cultural perception is considered Biblical because there is this tendency to equate what is considered good for the Chinese with what the Bible wants. If it’s good for the Chinese, it must be good in the Scriptures: this is assumed. Therefore, the Chinese culture became the culture of the Church. It wasn’t Christian, but it had the trappings of being Christian. But in reality, the commitment was to the Chinese culture. So the American Chinese could not be accepted.
My question is, how can that be changed?
Because the American culture does not see the Chinese Christians as being very righteous either.
Let me share one more experience. I talked with a Chinese pastor and he says, “Joe, you need to understand that your assumptions need to be challenged. You think you know what the problem is in the church, and we may agree with you. And you think you may know how to solve those problems. We might even agree with you there. But you assume, we are willing to be taught by you.” And he stopped, and I said, “Oh!”
And that’s been my experience in the Chinese churches. They will listen, but they will not allow me to change them. I’m not quite sure that can be resolved. I don’t think I’m the one to resolve it. My current “truth based living” ministry addresses this as a key issue in changing the church.
Can you share a brief synopsis of your “truth based living” and how it can change things?
Here’s my thinking on it. God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts and my ways above your ways.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) And I thought okay, God is telling us He is different. And there are a lot of ways He’s different from us, but He chooses only two: his thoughts and his ways. And he says, they aren’t the same as ours, not close.
And I said, what are thoughts? And what are ways? And I concluded that the thoughts are what we believe to be good. And the ways are the methods we believe are right to use to pursue the good. And I thought, you know, the thoughts and the ways of a people is really their culture.
God is saying, my culture isn’t the same as yours. So if the Jewish culture isn’t good enough, so why do we think the Chinese culture, or the American culture is good enough to define the Church?
I think we need to take the attitude that my culture must be sacrificed to learn God’s culture. Learning God’s thoughts and God’s ways is the target of my truth based ministry, and the target of God’s Word to us.
But I’m still at the same place, “who is willing to listen to me?” (laughs) But anyway, that is another journey I am on.
Today, it seems like FACE got everything it wanted. Almost every Chinese Church today has an English Ministry run by ABCs. I can’t think of a church that won’t hire an ABC for their English Ministry. And quite a few ABCs are Senior Pastors of Chinese churches now too.
There has been some success with that, yes. However, ‘toleration and compromise’ seem to be the primary approach for resolving the differences between the two cultures. I believe the true solution is found in applying God’s Truth to the thoughts and ways of our churches. I believe a Kingdom culture must be emerging in the local church before there is true success.
Joseph Wong’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
* By 1984, NACOCE actually had become integrated into Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism, or CCCOWE, which served as a Chinese evangelical umbrella organization as inspired by the Lausanne Conference.
[The acronym is pronounced CO-WEE.]
The Story of FACE
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