Oldest Chinese church faces toward the future
By Craig Bird
Special to the Standard
SAN ANTONIO–The past is a great place to visit, but it's not where First Chinese Baptist Church of San Antonio believes God wants the church to dwell.
That was the unofficial but unifying theme as the oldest Chinese church in the Southern United States celebrated its 80th anniversary.
|First Chinese Baptist Church's longest serving pastor, Alvin Louis (1979-89) greets the church's oldest member, 102-year-old Sai-Mun Wong, during anniversary festivities.|
Three days of activities and a series of messages from former pastors–delivered in person, by video or in writing–re-enforced the “Congregational Vision Summary” that Pastor Timothy Yin presented to the congregation. The detailed, four-pronged challenge covered ministry to God, ministry to believers, local missions and world missions.
This vision presents an ambitious stretch for a congregation that averages 150 in worship attendance. But, Yin insisted, it is both a faithful response to the opportunities God has given the church and a logical continuation of what God has done in and through the congregation over the past decades.
“We desire to live our vision, not just talk it,” Yin explained. “Everything we do as a church should relate directly to evangelism or missions or discipleship.”
First Chinese Baptist Church didn't wait for the anniversary to get started with new plans. Within the past six months, the church has begun a Bible study program for children that is attracting new families, launched a Chinese school to teach Mandarin that already is running out of classroom space, approved hiring a college/youth minister, and begun meeting in cell groups for discipleship.
Yin, a 2000 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is in his first pastorate after a 25-year career as a civil engineer with Shell Chemical Co. He admits that “changing traditions and concepts in an 80-year-old church is difficult unless God's Spirit is guiding those changes.”
|Opening day at the Chinese Gospel Hall on May 22, 1921|
With estimates of the Chinese population of San Antonio ranging from 8,000 to 20,000 and a steady influx of new Chinese immigrants and students, the opportunity is vast.
Alvin Louis, the longest-serving pastor in the church's history, was the featured speaker at the Sunday morning worship service.
“We are not called to be a cultural or social club,” said Louis, pastor of Chinese Independent Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif. “We are called to be soldiers for Christ.”
Staying true to the vision, the anniversary activities contained strong elements of outreach. A Friday evening potluck dinner and concert by a Chinese Christian rock band from Austin was promoted as an opportunity for members to invite unchurched friends and neighbors, as was a family carnival and free hot dog and fried chicken dinner on Saturday.
After the Sunday service, another free meal, this one catered from a local Chinese restaurant, served up big portions of reminiscing, aided by a slide show that projected history and memories for all to see.
There were images of the 257 Chinese who followed Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing out of Mexico to escape the ethnic cleansing vowed by Pancho Villa, photos of the Chinese Gospel Hall where Christian converts from that group worshipped before organizing First Chinese Baptist Church, reminders of more recent youth camps, revivals, pastors, weddings, parties, mission trips and building projects.
For almost-70-year-old Shewsun “Sonny” Lew, who has attended the church all his life, it was a special time indeed.
“In the 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention told us there was no need for Chinese churches, that we would just blend in with the Anglo churches as we learned English,” he pointed out. “Now look at where we are and where we want to go.”