Multi-church building in NYC legacy of one immigrant couple

Samuel and Katty Wong celebrated 30 years of ministry in New York City in July -– a monumental moment because it also marked the dedication of a seven-story multi-church facility they build with their own savings. (BP/Submitted photo)

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NEW YORK (BP)—When Samuel Wong was 32, he and his wife, Katty, sold everything they had in Hong Kong and moved to New York City.

The couple lived simply and ate simply. They used things until they wore out, like the shoes he wore in central Brooklyn to walk the streets of Sunset Park, looking for souls in need of Jesus and real estate to build a church in the crowded city.

chinese church400In 1983, Samuel and Katty Wong opened Chinese Promise Baptist Church. Among their earliest supporters, pastor Nick Balk (right) of 2nd Evangelical Free Church arranged for the fledgling Chinese congregation to meet on Sunday afternoon at the Evangelical Free 52nd Street site. (BP/Submitted photo)Thirty years later, the Wongs found the right spot. And when they did, they paid for it out of pocket—to the tune of $2 million.

“We’ve only had a very small handful of churches in the city that have purchased property and built a building—two or three others, and that’s it,” said George Russ, executive director of Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.

The couple’s story is “truly remarkable,” Russ insists.

But, to Wong and his wife, “God put everything” in their hands.

“We just try our best to serve him—that’s it,” Wong said. “It’s nothing we did. It is all God’s grace, for God’s glory, for his gospel.”

Six months after the couple moved to New York, Wong started Chinese Promise Baptist Church in 1983, renting space on Sunday afternoons from a church of a different denomination. His wife found a steady job at a bank while he served the fledgling congregation, and despite their small income, the couple tucked away money.

“We had food, and that was enough. We thank God for that,” Wong said.

Five years later, the couple purchased a duplex, but they decided to rent it out rather than move from their modest home.

“We purchased it for God and not for us,” Wong said. “We didn’t have kids, so my wife and I tried to live a simple life.”

Every extra dollar from the rental property—and from their lives starting the moment they got married in 1977—was saved in a bank account, waiting for God’s timing.

“No one knew this,” Russ said. “They never spoke about it.”

chinese church bldg180Chinese Promise Baptist Church in New York City has dedicated a new seven-story building financed largely by the life savings of pastor Samuel Wong and his wife Katty. Wong hopes several churches can use the different floors for worship, as affordable space is difficult to find in the city. (BP/Submitted photo)Wong began dealing seriously with the idea that the time might be right to build when their lease ended at the church facility they rented. Chinese Promise Baptist had met there 25 years and had transitioned in that time from speaking Cantonese to Mandarin to Fujianese, dialect spoken among many Chinese in the United States.

Then a little dilapidated 50-seat chapel on 41st Street went up for sale for $1 million.

“It was a small chapel, but the land is pretty big,” Wong said.

He saw the vision and bought it outright with his life savings.

But he began to see the money he and his wife had left wasn’t going to be able to cover the demolition and a new church building. Baptists in New York and in China graciously gave money, but it still wasn’t enough.

“And we are not many members—maybe 100 or 140,” Wong said, noting the Chinese in New York are migrant, so members often come for a while then move away.

There was nothing left to do but trust God and sell the duplex.

It sold for nearly four times the price the Wongs paid.

“We just thank God for the financial need and for giving us the vision,” Wong said. “God’s grace is amazing.”

Chinese Promise Baptist dedicated its new building in late July—seven floors plus a basement that look like a multi-family house converted into a church in the midst of the Chinese community.

“We hope every Sunday we will have many churches inside the building. Somebody can use each floor to worship on,” Wong said. “In New York, it is not easy to get space, and we want to share the building.”

The new building—plus the ability to have a morning service—will help the church’s growth, Russ said.

He also noted there is “a lot more” to Wong “than anybody ever knew about.”

Since 1990, the church has held a Summer Street Fair, shutting down the street for parades, singing and preaching. The event “brought many in the community to Jesus,” Wong said.

Wong is well connected in the city, Russ noted, to the point that he serves on community boards, and councilmen and district attorneys often attend church events.

“We only knew we needed to save money without knowing God’s plan,” Wong said of the three decades he stayed busy—and saved money.

“Now we come to realize his will,” he said.

Chinese Promise Baptist Church will continue for years to share the gospel.

“This church is our kid. We use our money, our lives to invest in the kingdom,” Wong said. “My heart is full of thanks and appreciation. In God’s hand, anything can turn into a miracle.”

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