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How did you become a Christian?
As a little child, we did not go to church because my father didn’t go, and my mother didn’t speak English. We were in Arizona until I was, what, 8?
My parents came over in the early ‘30s, maybe late ‘20s—but really during the Depression as immigrants. My father came to work initially as a truck driver delivering vegetables to grocery stores. And then I guess he saved enough to buy a market in Nogales, Arizona. Probably the cheapest one he could find. (laughs)
So we were there for about 10 years, and my father did well with that. And then he retired and moved us to Berkeley, California because my mother says, “Enough is enough.” We were basically the only [Chinese] family in Nogales, and my mother didn’t speak English. So she’d been isolated for that period of time. So she insisted that we come to the San Francisco Bay Area. They had family in the Bay Area.
Well, my mother was a Christian. I remember there were occasions in which my mother read to me from the Scriptures, in Chinese, at which time, I used to understand.
And it was God who sought me out. Nobody came and witnessed to me. Instead God gave me a nightmare based on one of the stories my mother read to me about Daniel and this rock that was not carved out by hand, destroying the statue and then growing into a mountain and filling the earth. My nightmare was seeing this rock in the corner of my bedroom growing. And just as it’s ready to crush me, I would wake up.
It was a recurring nightmare. I think I had it two or three times. But what I realized was it made me aware of my mortality. As a 13 year old kid, you don’t think about dying, but it made me aware of that. And I began to ask, how do I get right with God?
I knew I wasn’t ready to meet Him. I knew enough to understand that. I knew I was not a good boy. So I began to inquire, how can I deal with my sin—I didn’t even have that term—but how can I deal with this guilt that I had, that I couldn’t stand before God?
And nobody had an answer. We weren’t really attending church, although we went to Chinese school in a liberal Chinese church. But I didn’t hear about the Gospel.
I thought, maybe I need to get baptized, so I asked my mother to arrange baptism for me. And so, I was baptized in the Presbyterian church in San Francisco Chinatown. But when I stood before the preacher to question my faith, everything was in Chinese. Classical, theological [Chinese]. I didn’t know what I was answering to. I was about 14.
So I was baptized, and thought, well, now what? I had no relief of my guilt.
But a few months later—my baptism was on Easter—around August, September, I was in bed and again troubled by my lack of acceptability to God.
Not knowing what else to do, I began to pray, “Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do.” That was pretty much the essence of my prayer. I repeated it a number of times. “Lord help me.” And then He answered me.
He spoke to me very simply. He said, and I remember it, “Joe, it’s okay.”
That’s all I heard, but immediately, my sense of guilt was gone. And the sense of relief brought tears to my eyes, and I wept briefly and then fell asleep. The next morning, I wondered what happened. (laughs)
I had no theological training, no background, I had no idea what that was. But I began to look for answers, and then one day, I came across the passage, “They who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And I says, “Oh, okay, so He kept his promise to me!”
And that’s how I got saved.
Then I started going to church, Independent Baptist. My sisters were going there. Attended Youth for Christ meetings and so on. Began to grow in my understanding. Went to Mt. Hermon for a Christian conference [not the same as the JEMS one]. I dedicated my life to the Lord because that’s what I heard I should do. I said, “that makes sense, so I will.”
And a year later, the Lord put into my heart, “What if I want you to go into the ministry?”
I said, “I was serious about my dedication, so if you want me to, I will. But please make it clear to me that’s what you want.” And I argued with God about that for about eight months, but He did not answer. I couldn’t get rid of the idea. So after eight months, I decided I would settle it with the Lord.
So I went into my bedroom, closed the door and got on my knees. I wasn’t coming out until I settled it. I was serious. And I said to the Lord, “Do you want me to go to the Ministry? If you do, please make it clear to me.”
And He answered me, second time He spoke to me.
“Joe, if I want to make something clear to you, I can.”
And I said, “Of course, Lord, I know that. That’s why I’m asking you to make it clear. You know, send me a telegram, write it on the wall. Any way you want. This is all I ask from you.”
He says, “I tell you what—” (laughs) He’s so clever! “Why don’t you pretend that I want you to go into the ministry. And if I don’t, I’ll make that clear to you. Will you trust me for that?”
And I says, “Whoa” and I knew He had me. I says “That makes perfectly good sense. So okay, I’ll do it.”
So I came out of the bedroom heading for the ministry. I realize now, He had given me a purpose for my life.
Joseph Wong’s words have been condensed, edited and subtitled with permission.
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