A Reflection of the Oakland Ministry (The Early Years)
Many times when there is an anniversary celebration, the group normally recollects its accomplishments over the years and also remembers the work and ministry of some of the founders or leaders who had contributed significantly to the ministry. In addition, the ultimate glory goes to God who has made all things possible. There is a presumption that the group has been blessed by the ministry of these individuals.
I like to pen this article of reflection for the Oakland ministry from the perspective of one who was blessed because my family and I were associated with the Oakland ministry. I will try to give some recollection of the genesis of Oakland and reflect how God has always been involved and how He used imperfect instruments and servants to accomplishment His will on earth. His reflection covers the early years from 1995 to 1998.
1. The Pre-Cursor to PCC-Oakland Ministry
Pittsburgh Chinese Church (PCC) has been ministering to students in and around Oakland since the 1980s. The two main campus ministries were the Chinese ministry and the Asian Christian Fellowship which met in First Baptist Church on Friday evening. PCC was convinced that one of her roles as a church is to be a “transit” station where university students are trained in and through PCC and then send out to different parts of US and the world after their graduation. The families which formed the core of PCC were most supportive of this ministry even though it meant giving but receiving very little as the students do not stay after their graduation. The church supported these ministries through financial help, pastoral care and most important by setting aside some of the best leaders to lead these ministries. The pastors and elders were always intimately engaged in these ministries.
2. The Challenges to Set Up PCC-Oakland Ministry
One of the challenges in having a satellite ministry of PCC in Oakland was that transportation of the students to PCC is a challenge. In addition, the pastoral care was hindered by distance between the mother church and the place of dwellings of the students. Thus in 1994, the church leadership in PCC began to consider how they could overcome this challenge and the suggestion of setting up PCC-Oakland was mooted. The PCC Council was very supportive of this initiative and systematic background works were performed.
a. The Background Work
One of the important background works was headed by Philip Chang and Terence Liu who plotted all the Chinese surnamed individuals in Pittsburgh on a map of Pittsburgh according to where they stayed. The information was sourced from the telephone white pages and directory of the Overseas Chinese organization in Pittsburgh. The main conclusion was that there were three main clusters of Chinese residents in Pittsburgh and they are located in the North and East of Pittsburgh and Oakland. This helped to confirm the viability of planting a church in Oakland. The next step was to walk the streets of Oakland and to convince ourselves that indeed there was enough scale for a viable Chinese Church ministry in Oakland.
b. The Council Approval
With the preliminary information, the PCC Council approved the formation of the PCC-Oakland as a church planting ministry. PCC then had only two pastors (Rev Joseph Cheng and Paul Bucknell) and four elders (Elder Bill Ott, Richard Hsieh, John Shen and Leaf Huang). A church planting ministry would require the full concentration of a group of leaders. At the church AGM of 1995, the congregation approved the Council decision to set aside four founding couples to spearhead the Oakland ministry. The four couples were: John and Amy Shen, Leaf and Shiling Huang, Anthony and Alice Lee and Terence and Mickey Liu. The church greeted this decision with joy but apprehensions as these four couples were most involved in PCC and the decision meant that other ministry leaders in PCC would have to shoulder a heavier burden. Nonetheless, the church was firm that this was what God had called her to do.
c. The Work Began
Making the decision to begin a church planting ministry was relatively simple in comparison to the actual preparations and implementation of the decision. I can remember distinctly that once the decision was made to start a church, the ministry leaders began to walk the ground in Oakland and making all the necessary preparations. This included production of flyer to invite individuals to the Oakland service, physical planning for place of worship, rooms allocation for bible studies, negotiation with First Baptist Church, planning for the dinner after the service, ways to collect offerings and even the logistically issue concerning the serving of the sacraments. The ministry leaders in Oakland went around distributing flyers at Chinese restaurants, shopping areas and house-to-house knocking in Oakland. I recalled one autumn Saturday afternoon where there was a slight drizzle and the ministry team had a map of Oakland with streets clearly labeled and divided up so that the ministry team members could go door-to-door knocking. Hugo did very well as he was invited into the house of at least one of the Chinese families. In order not to stress the two pastors in having to preach in the morning and afternoon, the ministry team members took turns to preach in the Oakland services. It was hard work but there were great joy among the co-workers.
The leaders in the ministry team formed the co-workers group as the ministry was still part of PCC and the Oakland ministry was initially represented by two deacons in the PCC Council, namely, Terence Liu and Anthony Lee. Both pastors were intimately involved in the ministry with Pastor Joseph Cheng chairing the initial co-workers group.
d. The Inaugural Service
One of the prime movers in the background for the PCC-Oakland ministry was Elder Bill Ott. He was involved in the negotiation with First Baptist Church and the institutionalization of the dinner at Oakland. The inaugural service was a significant challenge as the turnout was much more than expected. It was a most God honoring moment to see the weeks of hard work to introduce service to the residence in Oakland paid off by a good attendance. This was also the beginning of many learning experiences in church planting and the adaptation of the ministry to suit the needs of the congregation.
e. Bringing Christ to the Masses
Although PCC is a Chinese Church and the Chinese ministry among Chinese students had been around in Oakland for some years, yet the PCC-Oakland ministry opened the eyes of the leader sto the uniqueness in ministering to mainland Chinese. In fact, many innovative activities and practices were created to ensure that the mainland Chinese understands the true meaning of being a Christian given their cultural context. For example, offerings were never collected during the service and individuals were encouraged to drop their offerings in a box. The dinners were provided free rather than individuals paying for them. Counseling had to be conducted in the context of Christian values and to be culturally sensitive to the students. One of the most memorable events is the annual Chinese New Year celebration in which the church hosted a potluck dinner. This occasion is always filled to the full as Chinese all over Oakland came to the church for this celebration. One of the highlights of the celebration was the interesting and witty scholarly couplets challenge conducted by Elder Huang. It was a tremendous learning experience for the leaders.
3. What Have We Learnt?
What can we say as we reflect on the works in Oakland? There are three lessons I had learnt.
- It is much more blessed to give than to receive.
As we pour our hearts, efforts and minds to the church planting ministry, it was tough. For example, in the initial weeks and months, some of the leaders attended both morning service at PCC and afternoon service at Oakland. The leadership team called it a day at 8.00pm on Sunday after the church is tidied and locked up. But the most important takeaway was that we experienced the hands of God working in and through us, the imperfect instrument and servant. This experience left a deep impression in us that God is at work and that we enjoyed working His works! God can use us if we are willing.
- The field is white for harvest.
We learnt that as we set our eyes on Jesus, He showed us the field and the harvest. Jesus showed us the masses of international students to be reached in Oakland. The turnover in PCC-Oakland was very great as batches of students who had been touched by the ministry moved on after they graduated. Yet, we were convinced that God had called us to be the watchman (Ez 33:1-9) in Oakland and Pittsburgh.
- The ministry outlasts the people.
One of the humble lessons I have learnt is that God’s ministry is meant to outlast the individuals. The individuals who were leaders or pioneers moved on after some good years and yet the ministry continues. We should always count it our greatest privilege to be called to be involved in the work. As individuals, we passed a place only but once and we have to make choices as to how we want to invest our lives in the ministry. I am glad that God has allowed my family and I to invest our lives in His vineyard in Oakland!
Jim Elliot made the remarkable statement: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to obtain what he can never lose.” This reflection is another documentary proof that God is alive and actively working in and through His people. Who could have guessed that God chose to use some insignificant individuals like myself to plant a ministry that in His own good time will become the tree in Daniel: “The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.” (Dan 4:11-12) I am humbled by this experience.
By Yew Kee Ho
Extracted from the PCCO 10th Anniversary History Book