The History of Pittsburgh Chinese Church Oakland
Ever since the Lord brought my wife Shilling and I to Pittsburgh in 1991, we had been serving in Pittsburgh Chinese Church Perrysville (North mother church). Shortly after, I was elected an elder, although I really am not worthy. We already had the burden for student ministry, so we served at Campus Fellowship. The situation at Campus Fellowship at the time was not ideal, and there weren’t many students attending fellowship. Including Cantonese students, we had forty to fifty people at the most, but normally we only had a dozen to a dozen and half people. I remember it was 1994. The location where our Perrysville mother church was at was not very safe, brothers and sisters’ car windows were frequently broken, sisters felt very unsafe, and many seekers did not want to come to our church. Thus the church leaders started to discuss whether we could move our church elsewhere. At the time one of the three elders hoped our church could move to First Baptist Church (FBC) in Oakland, where Campus Fellowship met. The reason was because it was a central location and also was convenient for student ministry. Another elder, Dr. John Shen, and I had always had burden for student ministry, so of course we fully support this suggestion. Everything progressed very fast, FBC leaders agreed to our conditions, we had many meetings, and the discussions also went smoothly. During our discussions, we often spoke about how this move would be very beneficial to student ministry and we were all very excited. Many coworkers were also quite supportive of this move and the congregation’s burden for student ministry grew. Unfortunately, as FBC had their congregational meeting to vote, many members were strongly against the idea and we tabled the idea. Later on, Perrysville mother church started to look for other church locations and found an old school that is even further from Oakland than Perrysville. This is where they meet currently.
Unable to move our church to Oakland was a big disappointment to us two elders and some families. We thought, since we have the burden for student ministry, and God did not allow us to move to FBC, perhaps we should start a daughter church renting FBC’s building. As this thought entered into our minds, we became very excited, especially Elder John Shen and Deacon Yew Kee Ho, who was about to receive his Ph.D. from CMU; because they were very interested in church planting. I had never planted a church before, but I thought if we have a church in Oakland, it would be much more convenient for the students and it would make it easier to share the Gospel in this area; so together with deacons Anthony Lee and Terrence Liu, we often got together and prayed. When we first prayed, the other church leaders were not entirely supportive of the church planting idea. Their main concern was that Perrysville mother church’s ministry may be affected if the younger coworkers all moved to Oakland. As we continued to pray, we gained the support of our pastor Joseph Cheng and his wife at the end of 1994. Not only did they attend our prayer meetings, they also gave us many valuable suggestions. For example, he suggested that daughter church should meet in the afternoon, we should still come to Perrysville in the morning to worship and serve, the afternoons in Oakland should be an additional special service, and we should keep doing this for six months and then everyone can choose between serving at Perrysville or Oakland as six months is up. These six months would be a transition time. If we decide to plant a new church, we can use these six months to train up coworkers in Perrysville to take over our ministries, so the work at Perrysville would not be affected. Those were very valuable suggestions and we are very grateful for Pastor and Mrs. Cheng’s support.
The church sent five coworkers’ families: John & Amy Shen, Leaf and Shilling Huang, Anthony and Alice Lee, Terence and Mickey Liu, and Yew Kee and Huey Huey Ho to Oakland to start up a daughter church. The first official Sunday service was on March 5th, 1995. Before the first service, many faithful co-workers went to the streets of Oakland after the Perrysville morning service to hand out flyers promoting the Oakland afternoon service. Brother Yew Kee was responsible for this whole operation. He would take a map of Oakland and divide the map into small areas. Each area would contain several streets. If we were given a specific area, our responsibility would be to go to the homes on those streets and invite people to come to our new church. I remember one time I was paired up with Pastor Paul Bucknell and whenever we saw a mailbox with a Chinese last name, we would go and knock on their door. I let Pastor Paul go knock on the door first and when the door opened, Pastor Paul would introduce himself as “Pastor Paul” in Chinese. When these people saw that this American could speak such excellent Mandarin, they were always shocked. After Pastor Paul introduced himself, it would be my turn to introduce our new church and invite them to the Sunday service. I also remember one time it was pouring rain in the afternoon, and everyone got really wet. Even though our bodies were cold, our hearts were on fire. That’s how we started this church planting ministry.
On March 5th, 1995, we started our first Sunday worship service. Due to a business trip on that Sunday, I was not able to attend that service. After I came back, I heard that everyone had very little faith at the time and hoped for 50 attendees, so they only ordered 50 people’s worth of dinner from Yum Wok. Amazingly 120 people came that day! At the time we did not have adult Sunday school, only Sunday worship service, and after worship service we’d have dinner together. We can’t really call it a full-fledged church, but perhaps it was just a missionary kiosk or a Gospel stand. Every Sunday’s message was always the Gospel. God had grace upon us, and we started to see people getting saved. Some people received Jesus at the worship services, some people became saved during visitations, and others received the Lord in their private meditation time. We were so excited that we could lead so many people to Christ. We knew to tell them the Gospel, but we did not spend time to disciple these new brothers and sisters. During the first few years of the new church, many people received Christ through the front door, but quite a few left through the back door. We were very discouraged and started to consider how we may seal the back door so people would come before God and never leave again. We knew this was a very serious matter, but we did not know how to resolve the issue.
Now let’s talk about our English-speaking brothers and sisters. Among the five families sent to Oakland, three of us (the Shen’s, the Lee’s, and the Ho’s) speak English. Yew Kee only served in Oakland for a year before he went back to Singapore. Even though all three of these families speak English, they had one thing in common: their goal was to share the Gospel with Mandarin-speaking seekers. Their main ministry was children’s. When Oakland first started, we had several Gospel camps. We thought the food was not up to par, so we wanted to cook some Chinese food ourselves. Elder Shen gathered a few English-speaking brothers and sisters, and they all willingly served at the Gospel camps. They would start their morning devotions at 6:00 am, cook breakfast at 7:00pm, serve breakfast at 8:00 am, and then clean up afterwards. Some also taught children the Bible. I was deeply touched by such sacrificial service.
As for our problem with losing new believers through the back door, things did not improve until Pastor Hugo Cheng came. Pastor Hugo came to our church in 1999. He focused on two main things; one of them was to start cell groups. Cell group members spent much time fellowshipping with each other, so seekers and new believers felt right at home and were less likely to leave, so fewer people got lost through the back door. The second thing was he emphasized discipleship. Our church had different levels of discipleship and also Sunday school, thus helping new brothers and sisters to grow spiritually; church also grew because of it. When Pastor Hugo first came, our church had about 70 -80 people. After a year we grew to about 150. Praise the Lord, our pastor is an anointed and loving shepherd.
Sunday schools got started in 1997. At first we only had three classes, because we didn’t have enough teachers, then we had more later on. There were not enough Sunday school teachers, so we trained new teachers when we started to teach Sunday school. If we don’t coach them, we’d always be lacking teachers. We trained many new Sunday school teachers, but many left because they typically graduate and find employment in other cities, so we had to continuously train up more teachers. Praise the Lord, after many years we saw the fruits of our labor: new teachers were teaching Sunday schools at our church. There were two common phenomenons. One of them was that the teachers grew spiritually and their services in the Lord became more effective. When God lead them elsewhere, they’d be able to have their own ministries in other cities. One example was Mr. and Mrs. Xulung Li and Junmin Wang. They stayed at our church for three years and then the Lord brought them to Sacramento. They first started a neighborhood Bible study, and then a new church plant, now the new church plant is already an independent church. Praise the Lord; He used us to do such wonderful work as this. Another result of Sunday school teachers’ training is improved Sunday school quality and it greatly benefited the students. Especially as we have more teachers, we were able to start more classes. Besides Gospel class, we had Equipping class, New Life class, and Christian Life class; each class equipped many Christians. Praise the Lord that He can use Sunday school teachers’ training.
I especially would like to talk about the Gospel class. I was always responsible for Gospel class, until recently this responsibility was turned over to brother Jay Pan. Shortly after we had Sunday school teachers’ retreat, I announced to everyone that God would take Shilling and I elsewhere. Of course my heart was saddened, everyone was crying, and I could not stop my tears. We thought about how God has done so much work here, and there are so many dear brothers and sisters; when others left us before, we were always heartbroken, but today is our turn. Lord, please continue to pour grace upon this church, because You built this church, so You will not abandon it; and You will send other brothers and sisters, or build up brothers and sisters here to continue faithfully serving you. As I share and remember the Sunday school teachers we’ve trained up over the years; I see how they’ve grown in spirit, especially the teachers from the Gospel class such as Jay Pan and Stephen Lee. They all can preach at Sunday worship service, they can do alter calls after they speak, and there are always people who raise their hands to receive Christ. Even our pastor would say that among all the churches he knew; only our Gospel class is like that. Praise the Lord for using us unworthy servants, because the Lord greatly empowers those who are willing to humbly give themselves.
This is roughly how Oakland church got started. I don’t intend to write the entire history during tonight’s reminiscence, only whatever I thought of. God’s grace is never-ending. Thank you!
Narrated by Elder Leaf Huang, arranged by Mickey Liu
Extracted from the PCCO 10th Anniversary History Book