3 Things I Learned from Hoover Wong

3 Things I learned From Hoover Wong

Daniel K. Eng     |     OCTOBER 15, 2018     |    8 MIN READ

This past week, I was saddened to learn about the passing of Dr. Hoover Wong, associate professor emeritus of Chinese Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He played a large role in shaping the development of Chinese American churches and has been called a patriarch of Asian American ministry.

Even though I never sat under his preaching or studied with him at Fuller, Dr. Wong mentored me through conversations at his homes in Pasadena and Chicago over the years. Here are a few things he taught me.

The Word of God Must Be My Anchor

Dr. Wong encouraged me to focus my time in seminary on receiving solid training in biblical studies. He said that my study in biblical languages, hermeneutics, and methods of studying Scripture would equip me for many years of ministry.

He told me that while practical ministry courses are helpful, church approaches and skills are always developing and changing. He made it clear that the word of God never changes. Listening to his advice, I used most of my seminary electives on further training in the Bible.

He was right. I am grateful for my focus on being equipped in biblical studies because that has given me timeless skills to teach and preach effectively. Furthermore, my pastoral ministry experience has shown me that ministry models develop over time, and my practical ministry approaches have changed because of what I’ve learned through seasons in different groups and places. Churches change. The Word of God doesn’t.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. — Isaiah 40:8

Lasting Change Takes Time

With decades of experience, Dr. Wong knew firsthand the struggles and difficulties that the more acculturated Chinese Americans have in the ethnic church. All the same, he encouraged me and countless others to persevere within its context.

He told me not to give up because Chinese churches need the next generation of leaders who can humbly serve and endure through the hardships. He said there can be positive change in the Chinese American church, but he also cautioned it wouldn’t come overnight.

Hoover Wong was one of several faithful men who founded FACE-- Fellowship for American Chinese Evangelicals. Together, they called meetings to pray, spiritually equip others, and produce a newsletter (called About Face, archives accessible here) so that people could be effective ministers to the next generation of Chinese Americans. They called churches to consider, start, and develop English-speaking ministries led by American-born Chinese.

Later, Dr. Wong founded the Chinese Studies program at Fuller Theological Seminary, bringing the study and discussion of immigrant churches to even more prominence.

As I look back at his ministry, I am grateful for his perseverance despite the hardships. He made a great impact for God’s kingdom.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. — 1 Corinthians 15:58

Embrace My Unique Role in God’s Kingdom

In one of our conversations, Dr. Wong affirmed my active seeking for mentoring from those more seasoned than I was. But he also encouraged me to go beyond what others teach me and learn about how God made me unique. He said that imitation of others can take me far, but embracing my own identity as a servant of God will take my ministry further.

Dr. Wong demonstrated his embracing of his own identity with how he spent his time. His service to the seminary and his publication of books Coming Together or Coming Apart? (1998) and How to Do Church (2003) came out of his decades of pastoral ministry experience bridging the gaps between cultures. While ethnic-specific ministry was looked down upon by many in the wake of America’s Civil Rights Movement, he unapologetically championed the legitimacy of contextualized ministry to Chinese Americans.

I have heard countless people share their testimonies of how Dr. Wong’s ministry has encouraged them to pursue full-time vocational ministry, many of whom are now impacting others worldwide. He has influenced the training of younger Asian Americans, and I am convinced that his pioneering has paved the way for modern-day ministries like SOLA Network to thrive.

Dr. Wong understood the unique place he had in furthering the kingdom of God, and he faithfully served as best he could. Even when I visited him several years ago in his home in Illinois after he retired, he was still writing so that God could use him to impact others.

Dr. Wong and me at his Illinois home in 2013

Dr. Wong and me at his Illinois home in 2013

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. — 1 Corinthians 15:10

I’m forever grateful for the legacy of Dr. Hoover Wong. We will be seeing the fruits of his labor for generations to come.

Photo Credit: Fuller Seminary

After a decade in pastoral ministry in California and Texas, Daniel is now pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and their three little girls. He has a D.Min. in Asian American Ministry and is constantly discussing concepts at the intersection of faith and culture. He enjoys following baseball, playing board games, and trying different types of cheese.