Samuel and Katty lived simply. Ate simply. Used things until they wore out, like the shoes he wore in central Brooklyn to walk the streets of Sunset Park, looking for souls in need of Jesus and real estate to build a church in the crowded city.
Thirty years later, the Wongs found the right spot.
And when they did, they paid for it out of pocket -- to the tune of $2 million.
"We've only had a very small handful of churches in the city that have purchased property and built a building -- two or three others, and that's it," said George Russ, executive director of Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.
The couple's story is "truly remarkable," Russ said.
But, to Wong and his wife, "God put everything" in their hands.
"We just try our best to serve Him -- that's it," Wong said. "It's nothing we did. It is all God's grace, for God's glory, for His Gospel."
Six months after the couple moved to New York, Wong started Chinese Promise Baptist Church in 1983, renting space on Sunday afternoons from a church of a different denomination. His wife found a steady job at a bank while he served the fledgling congregation, and despite their small income, the couple tucked away money.
"We had food, and that was enough -- we thank God for that," Wong said.
Five years later, the couple purchased a duplex, but they decided to rent it out rather than move from their modest home.
"We purchased it for God and not for us," Wong said. "We didn't have kids, so my wife and I tried to live a simple life."
Every extra dollar from the rental property -- and from their lives starting the moment they got married in 1977 -- was saved in a bank account, waiting for God's timing.
"No one knew this," Russ said. "They never spoke about it."
Wong began dealing seriously with the idea that the time might be right to build when their lease ended at the church facility they rented. Chinese Promise Baptist had met there 25 years and had transitioned in that time from speaking Cantonese to Mandarin to Fujianese (a third dialect spoken among many Chinese in the U.S.).
It was time to move.
And then a little dilapidated 50-seat chapel on 41st Street went up for sale for $1 million.
"It was a small chapel, but the land is pretty big," Wong said.
He saw the vision and bought it outright with his life savings.
But he began to see that the money he and his wife had left wasn't going to be able to cover the demolition and a new church building. Baptists in New York and in China graciously gave money, but it still wasn't enough.
"And we are not many members — maybe 100 or 140," Wong said, noting that the Chinese in New York are migrant, so members often come for a while then move away.
There was nothing left to do but trust God -- and sell the duplex.
It sold for nearly four times the price the Wongs paid.
"We just thank God for the financial need and for giving us the vision," Wong said. "God's grace is amazing."
Chinese Promise Baptist dedicated its new building in late July -- seven floors plus a basement that look like a multi-family house converted into a church in the midst of the Chinese community.
Why so tall?
"We hope every Sunday we will have many churches inside the building. Somebody can use each floor to worship on," Wong said. "In New York, it is not easy to get space, and we want to share the building."
Russ said the new building -- plus the ability to have a morning service -- will help the church's growth.
He also noted there is "a lot more" to Wong "than anybody ever knew about."
Since 1990, the church has held a Summer Street Fair, shutting down the street for parades, singing and preaching. This has "brought many in the community to Jesus," Wong said.
Russ said the pastor is well-connected in the city, to the point that he serves on community boards, and councilmen and district attorneys often attend church events.
"We only knew we needed to save money without knowing God's plan," Wong said of the three decades he stayed busy -- and saved money.
"Now we come to realize His will," he said.
Chinese Promise Baptist Church will continue for years to share the Gospel. "This church is our kid -- we use our money, our lives to invest in the Kingdom," Wong said. "My heart is full of thanks and appreciation. In God's hand, anything can turn into a miracle."
Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist. For more information about Chinese Promise Baptist Church and opportunities for volunteer teams to continue interior work in the new building, contact pastor Samuel Wong at 718-833-5113. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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