December 2012 Issue
First Chinese Baptist Church Los Angeles
A Strong Home Base; an Aggressive Global Vision
by Karen L. Willoughby
The International Mission Board and North American Mission Board are two strengths of Southern Baptists, according to Benny Wong, pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church Los Angeles. The church is one of the largest Chinese Baptist churches in the United States, with more than two thousand in attendance each Sunday morning.
“They [IMB and NAMB] reflect the heart of Southern Baptists for the Great Commission and I appreciate that very much,” Wong said. “This is the church’s mandate; this is the heart of Jesus. Maybe I’m too simple-minded, but if this was Jesus’ last statement before His ascension, why emphasize anything else?”
Founded through the work of the SBC’s Home Mission Board (now NAMB) in 1952, the church’s commitment to cooperative missions can be seen in the fact that it is on track to be, for the third year in a row, the fourth-largest giver in California to state, national, and global missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program. Through its faithful support of the Cooperative Program, the church helps support almost five thousand international missionaries. Its CP contributions also provide resources for church planting, language missions, church revitalization, Christian higher education and benevolence in California, and ministerial preparation through six Baptist seminaries across the United States.
“Every year, with the blessing of the church, I partner with IMB in conducting training for the underground church,” Wong said. “There, I have seen how the Cooperative Program supports IMB missionaries. They don’t need to worry about finances; they can focus on ministry. This is one reason we strongly support the Cooperative Program.”
First Chinese Baptist doesn’t just send money for missions and ministry. Globally, more than twenty members of the congregation have become career missionaries and more than one hundred people from every age and language group in the church participate in short-term mission projects each year. The church also provides direct support for fourteen missionaries and six other missions organizations.
Nationally, the church focuses on ministry to the Navajo nation in Arizona and on church plants through the Chinese Baptist Fellowship, a fellowship of Chinese Southern Baptist churches. Locally, the church reaches out to its community with a variety of ministries to children, youth, and adults.
“The uniqueness of our church is that we embrace a ‘one-church’ philosophy,” Wong said. “We have one mission, one direction, one budget. It is a core value of the church. Many [Chinese] churches with three language groups [Cantonese, Mandarin, and English] have three separate congregations, three budgets, and three ways of doing things. We do not allow any competition between our language and age-group congregations. We want our people to believe that ‘their’ needs are also ‘my’ needs. Thank the Lord for the harmony we have.”
First Chinese Baptist is able to leverage this unity to continue to extend the Kingdom of God.
Three years ago, six families from the church were commissioned to start a new church plant in San Gabriel Valley.
“These families all have young children,” Wong said. “It was really a sacrifice on their part. Every week they work very hard doing evangelism. They take every opportunity to share the Good News. As a result, more and more converts have been added to the church.”
The church plant has grown to 180 people in Sunday worship attendance. “We are very happy that the majority of them are not church-hoppers,” Wong said. “These are new believers, the fruit of the six families who were sent from here.”
The San Gabriel Valley church plant is only the latest of several churches planted since First Chinese Baptist was organized in 1952. Their first church plant was in 1959. Wong said, “With every church plant, we can train more disciples than we can at one single location. This means more people are involved, more are serving, and there are more opportunities to make disciples.”
Closer to home, First Chinese Baptist has ministered for the last six years to the Spanish-speaking employees of a commercial laundry service housed next door to the church, where 100 percent of the workers are Hispanic.
The church hosts special events for the company employees during the year—such as a Christmas-time lunch—where the Gospel is presented to the employees in Spanish, their “heart language.” That has led the church to open its facilities to host a Hispanic church plant from Iglesia Horeb, a Hispanic church located in a Los Angeles suburb.
“[Chinatown] is our Jerusalem,” Wong said. “There are many Hispanics in our immediate area but there is no Hispanic church here. We know our limitations, we realize we have language barriers, we understand Hispanics are not our primary target group, but we are obligated to do what we can.”
Perhaps as a result of the faithfulness of First Chinese Baptist, God continues to expand the church’s borders.
“Three years ago, one of our deacons saw something we had never seen before,” Wong said. “He helped us see the need of the people in India.” Disregarding a traditional Chinese aversion to India and its people, over the last two years, mission teams from First Chinese Baptist to the country of India have led more than two thousand Indians to faith in Jesus Christ.
“It is the Lord who enlarges our perspective,” Wong said. “We do all of this because we want to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana.
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