30 Years Ago
The new VW bug brings back old memories.
It was the old VW bug that took my wife, Maryann, and myself from Dallas to our first pastorate in Pittsburgh, PA, 30 years ago. Pennsylvania is also the place where God gave us our family. That is why we named our sons Patrick [P] and Amos [A].
The year 1968 was when Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was also when the United States was engulfed in the Vietnam War and China was at the height of the Cultural Revolution.
We were married the year before, in 1967, in Detroit, during the time when the city was burning. There were riots. Curfew was strictly enforced. Our wedding was moved from a church to a house and from the evening to the afternoon. You may call it a sneaking wedding.
When we started our ministry 30 years ago, the United States was going through radical social changes. Men were letting their hair grow, while women were letting their bras go. It was the hippie generation of psychedelic colors and experimental drugs. It was the era when battle cries of "burn, baby, burn" and "make love, not war" made their debut.
I was young, not quite 28 years old. I was also confident, thinking that "with God on my side I am the majority." One time, a lady called me on the phone. She wanted to talk to a pastor. A few minutes later, she appeared at the door. Even though she was a total stranger, I was ready to help. While I was inviting her to come in, she asked, "Where is your father?" I obviously did not look like a pastor to her. In contrast to that lady's comment, a six-year-old boy asked me recently with a straight face, "How come you look so old?"
During our five-plus years in Pittsburgh, we lived in the parsonage, affectionately called the "church home," which also served as a meeting place for almost all the church activities except Sunday service. My whole life was totally consumed in pastoring the tri-lingual church of 100 plus people. I was too immature to appreciate my wife's role in giving birth to two sons and in raising them in a house where it was not unusual to have four meetings a week.
There was one couple in the church who were very supportive and encouraging to us. We spent many evenings talking at their home and benefited from their wise counsel. Without their support and example, I can easily picture myself giving up ministry. On the morning when we left Pittsburgh to join the Chinese Christian Mission, they came to the church home to say good-bye. I will never forget what the husband said to me as he walked with me to the car. He said, "Wally, if you should ever have any financial needs, please let me know."
His offer still brings tears to my eyes.
One of the ministries that was very dear to our hearts was among the graduate students from Taiwan. Every Friday night, the students would come to the church home for Bible study and fellowship. Even though we were about their age and could barely speak Mandarin, they embraced us warmly. Some even affectionately addressed my wife, who was probably younger than some of them, as Yew Mama.
Recently I ran into one of those students in a small town in the Northwest. He presided over the Sunday service in which I spoke. He shared with me that he came to know Christ several years ago and said, "I still remember some of the things you shared with me. Even though I did not fully appreciate what you said at that time, you planted a seed in my heart. In due time, God caused this seed to grow."
The Bible teaches that when God's Word is spread it will not return empty but will accomplish what God has desired and achieve the purpose for which God has sent it (ref. Isaiah 55:11). It is a great encouragement and comfort to me to know that the Bible is so true. It took that man over 20 years to come to know Christ. For others, it may take even longer.
The most memorable thing that happened during the Pittsburgh years was the spectacular outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the annual retreat in 1971. Most of the attendees were ABC(American Born Chinese) young people, whom I had come to accept after being their pastor for three years. I still don't know how to describe what caused the special touch of the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that almost everybody at the retreat felt the working of the Holy Spirit in our midst. The closing bonfire can only be described as awesome. There was a holy hush. Nobody was in a hurry to say anything even though so many had so much to say. We spent much time singing praises to God because nothing else seemed appropriate, or necessary.
After the retreat, scores of young people crammed into the basement of the church home and discussed ways of how we would go to other cities and share what God had done for us. I still remember one person suggesting that we charter a plane and travel to various cities to share the Good News. Another person, in a more down-to-earth manner, suggested we should charter a bus instead. The idea of chartering a plane sounded far out to me even at that time, but it genuinely reflected the spiritual and emotional ecstasy we felt then.
I have not experienced another 1971 retreat.
But one thing I know, the Holy Spirit who did such a wonderful work in Pittsburgh in 1971 can still do it today, at any gathering that He chooses to bless.
God has not changed. God does not change.
What He has done in the past, He can still do today.
What He has done for others, He can do for you.
I was just fortunate to be there.