Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we introduce you to Katie Choy-Wong.
Katie, tell us about your ministry journey.
Prior to seminary, I was the food director of the Northern California Ecumenical Council and directed food programs for low-income and homeless. I also have served as the Asian ministries director of the Board of National Ministries (now known as the American Baptist Home Mission Societies of the American Baptist Churches-USA); area minister for American Baptist Churches of the West (now known as Growing Healthy Churches); and admissions director and adjunct instructor for the American Baptist Seminary of the West. I currently am the senior pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (an American Baptist church) in Castro Valley, California.
Tell us about your church and the ministries and mission with which your congregation is involved.
Our church is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2016. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural with over eleven ethnicities represented by its members. We are also diverse in educational and income levels. We have members with with M.A. and M.Div. degrees, and members who did not graduate high school. We have lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers, and we have members recovering from drug addiction and homelessness. From the beginning, our church has been committed to community ministries, serving lunches and helping in homeless shelters in two locations. Today we work with three non-profit organizations, ministering to people in need. We are also committed to missions outside our communities, by sending mission teams every other year. We have served with the Hopi people in Arizona, helped with the seminary and mission work in Mexicali, worked in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., served with Ingrid Roldan Roman in Panama and Costa Rica. This year members will be going to New Orleans with ABHMS to continue the work of rebuilding and assisting those affected by Katrina.
Closer to home, we have an outreach and ministry program to the Nepalese Refugees in the Oakland area as well as to the homeless and addicted population in the Bay Area.
Being in close proximity to the seminary, we have trained many seminarians over the years, and a number of them have remained as members of our church. We have twelve active members who are ordained or seminary trained.
What challenges have you encountered along the way in ministry?
As a woman in ministry, my career path has been opposite of many of my colleagues. My initial call was to the local church. Unfortunately, there were few opportunities to serve as a pastor when I graduated from seminary. So, I actually started full-time ministry on the national staff of the ABC-USA in Valley Forge. Then I went on to regional staff, and later joined the seminary staff. Finally, after twenty-five years, I was called to pastor! God has a sense of humor.
Many of the obstacles I have encountered were from the local churches and pastors. I could not preach in some of the churches. When I visited the churches, I was not recognized as an ordained minister. In one church they described me as a “Bible woman.” It took years of relationship building and trust until finally I could preach in all the churches and be recognized as an ordained minister.
Other issues for me as a woman and Chinese-American is dealing with the fact that I constantly encounter “being invisible.” In other words, I am often the only woman in a group of men. When I suggest something, my words are either ignored or passed over, and then when a male colleague suggests the same thing that I did, his words are complimented or heeded! As a Chinese American, we are not “there.” We are never considered in any discussion of race, racism, or prejudice, especially in certain pockets in this country. It is always a black and white issue, or now a black, white, hispanic or latino issue. When this oversight is pointed out, I have found our denomination is uncomfortable in talking about it.
Once, the denomination produced a film produced that dealt with racial issues, but not one Asian American or Native American was interviewed or even mentioned in twenty minutes of film. I was on a panel to respond to the film, and I raised this exclusion as a question. After the session was over, the producer of the film admitted that he knew nothing about Asian Americans, and he wasn’t aware that Asians also had to deal with racism and prejudice. But there was no commitment to change the film or to deal with it at all. I was never asked back to do anything with this part of our denomination.
Lots of challenges!
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Be certain God is calling because without this commitment to the call, you will get discouraged and give up. But be patient, if God calls you, know that in your heart, stick with it, never give up. God will find a way to have your call fulfilled.
Every ministry I have done gave me valuable resources, connections, networks, and insights for the next ministry. Even though I took a circular route to my true calling (pastoring a church), I gained so much and loved ministering in those areas, and all those experiences I now can give my congregation. I see God’s plan for my life as it unfolded, and I would not trade all the ministries I have done for anything.