Fishers of Men on Campus
The Vision of Campus-based Church
Our church started out as Pittsburgh Campus Fellowship. Since 1980’s, we have used the basement of First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh (between University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University) to meet together. Every Sunday, brothers and sisters with cars would drive their fellow students to worship at Pittsburgh Chinese Church (North) which is about half an hour drive. Subsequently, Pittsburgh Chinese Church purchased a 15-seat minibus to transport students to worship service. At that time there were two elders. One of them was Professor Leaf Huang from University of Pittsburgh Medical School, who was the advisor for the Chinese-speaking Campus Fellowship. The other was electrical engineering Professor John Shen from Carnegie Mellon University, who was the advisor for the English-speaking Asian Christian Fellowship. Thus, they had three jobs: professor, advisor, and church elder.
There were always a great number of people at Friday night’s fellowship, but very few came to Sunday’s worship service. The church was in the suburbs, which makes it difficult to take care of students who live on campus (in the city). Because of this, the two elders suggested that the entire church be moved to where the campuses were in order to train up students to become future leaders for God’s kingdom. The Pastor and the entire core team were all very supportive of this suggestion. Alas, it was not so easy to make this suggestion into reality. Real estate in Oakland is in quite high demand due to its proximity to the universities, and to have a building that would fit over three hundred people would cost several million dollars. The church spent over two years looking for a building but could not find one a suitable one. Clearly, God did not open this door. However, God continued to put the burden of establishing a campus-based church into the hearts of these two elders. They thought, even though we could not bring the entire church to the campuses, at least we could establish a daughter church. As the two elders shared their vision again, with the prayers and financial support of the entire church, the two elders and three other families were sent to Oakland to plant a new church. Finally, on March 5, 1995, we had our first Sunday worship. A few years later, with the blessings of the brothers and sisters from our mother church, PCCO became an independent church in 2001.
The two professors not only helped to establish the new church, they were also the main building blocks in the spiritual growth of the congregation. Their testimonies were like shinning stars; brothers and sisters learned many valuable lessons from their service for the Lord.
In 1991, before one of the professors even came to take a post in Pittsburgh; there was already a curious Christian Ph.D. student inquiring about who the new professor will be. He even went as far as borrowing the professor’s resume from the departmental secretary. To his surprise, the brother found that the professor’s outside interest was to “share the Gospel”. This would mean the professor was a Christian and had a burden to spread the Good News! Afterwards, this brother and others have looked to this professor as a model for how to serve the Lord in their own work place.
Changing Lives is the First Priority
PCCO takes discipleship very seriously. Under the pastor’s leadership, every new Christian gets discipled by someone from the church. He/she will start with basic training of “Five Assurances”, followed by one to three terms of advanced discipleship training. Thus we are able to avoid the phenomenon of “getting baptized through the front door, but getting lost through the back door”. The reason for the pastor’s burden for discipleship can be traced back to his own discipleship training with one of the professors when he first became a Christian, long before he dedicated himself to full time ministry. Once a week, the two would have lunch together to study the Bible and pray. In the same token, one of our current core co-workers was also discipled by the same professor throughout his college years. In the first meeting with the professor, this brother asked incredulously: Why would you, such a busy professor, be willing to spend your precious time every week to disciple me, a little freshman?” The professor’s candid reply was that he was only carrying out the vision of campus discipleship, using one’s own life to change lives of others and help them to grow spiritually. The only requirement was for the brother to disciple others in the future and to invest in the lives of future generations of Christians. Taking time out of his hectic schedule to invest in the lives of Christian students bore much fruit. Ten years later, these efforts produced a pastor, several major church co-workers, and established the foundation for discipleship for the new church.
Spiritual Training Produces Christian Warriors
This is a church that emphasizes spiritual growth and training. Ten years ago, when the church was first founded, the worship services focused on the Gospel message. Later on, as more people became believers, we started Sunday schools to nourish the congregation with spiritual food and to help them to be rooted in God’s Word. One professor and his wife would use their own teaching experience to hold summer training sessions to equip new Sunday school teachers. Since the church’s main focus is campus ministry, very often after a year’s toil and labor in training, the entire generation of Sunday school teachers would graduate and go onto other cities to attend other churches, leaving very few in Pittsburgh. Therefore, we often hear of how other churches appreciate the excellent brothers and sisters we’ve trained up to become key co-workers in their new spiritual homes. It seems as though all our labor was in vain and only benefits others. However, this couple holds God’s Kingdom in their hearts and willingly laid down their lives to train up warriors for the Kingdom of Heaven. When spring ends, they still diligently hold summer training sessions. For ten years, due to their faithful service and earnest effort, they’ve provided generations of new blood to the Sunday school teachers’ pool, allowing Sunday school to become an indispensable link in the church’s ministry.
Holding World Evangelism in Our Hearts
This is a church that has a vision for evangelism and missions. As a part of his professional work, one of the professors often gives lectures at different universities all over the world. When he went to Europe, he found that unlike North America, European campus ministry was quite weak and did not have many bible studies and fellowships on college campuses. As a result, since 1995 (the year of the church’s birth), he has brought brothers and sisters to Manchester, Oxford, Cambridge, London, and other college cities in Europe to preach the gospel and to train up Christians. During the ten years since the church was first established, aside from the year when we had the Rev. Stephen Tong crusade, short-term missions have never stopped. One year we even sent out two short-term mission teams to Europe! This professor not only had a burden for short-term missions, he also saw that our church was surrounded by students from all over the world as well as Chinese-speaking students. Therefore, he often reminded brothers and sisters we should also take up the burden of serving international students. He even went as far as suggesting changing the church’s name into “International Christian Church” or “All Nations Christian Church” in order to prevent the words “Chinese Church” from hindering international students to come to our midst. In this manner, he encourages the church to expand our vision and become more Kingdom-focused so we can spread the Gospel even further.
Imitating Christ in Service
The two professors’ testimonies in our church were in words as well as in living examples. Originally they lived in spacious houses with large yards in affluent suburbs and opened their houses often for fellowship. However, transportation had become a difficult issue for the students due to the distance between the schools and their residence. Thus, their houses can only be used for weekend gatherings but not more frequent activities during the week. After seeing this, one of the professors decided to learn from our Lord Jesus in whom “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. He sold his large suburban home and moved his entire family closer to campus and lived in a house that is older, smaller, and more expensive. They lived among the students like missionaries, opened up their home to discipleship and meetings throughout the week. Because of this, his house is always full of lights. Such a beautiful testimony has encouraged many brothers and sisters to make Pittsburgh their first choice as they graduate so they can stay in this church to serve alongside such a godly couple.
Looking back at the church’s founding and growth; I thank the Lord for putting me in this church, allowing me to become a believer, being discipled, learning how to serve, and growing with the church. I saw with my own eyes how these two professors fervently served the Lord and witnessed what they have sacrificed for campus ministry. Planting a tree can last ten years, but what they have invested in people’s lives can last hundreds of years. This also reminds me of the Bible’s teaching: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) The two professors responded to their calling, used their positions as professors, and became “fishers of men” on campus for the Lord. I hope that there will be more “Esther’s” who will respond to God’s calling in this ministry on North American campuses, to work together, and to further expand God’s kingdom.
By Terrence Liu
Ambassador Magazine Editor Note: After three years of diligent effort, Ambassador Christian Faculty Association contacted more than eighty universities and two hundred and twelve Christian professors. Establishing a Church among campuses, thus allowing students to have a Christian home, is an important building block in campus ministry. Not only is it convenient, but also it encourages believers to live together in harmony and turns the church into a fragrant altar of worship. Pittsburgh Chinese Church Oakland is such a campus-based church which already has ten years of history. This magazine especially publishes their experience in this area. Under God’s leading, Christian professors have played a vital role in the development of this ministry. We hope that this piece would allow more Christian faculty members to see this vision more clearly. At the same time, AFC has sent a resident intern to co-work with this church in order to further campus ministry. The first Sunday of this past March was the church’s tenth year anniversary. Throughout the years, this church has experienced the Lord’s abundant grace.
The article was published on Ambassador Magazine – March 2005, volume 49; reproduced by permission from Ambassador Magazine, www.afcinc.org.