Volume 17, Issue 2
Wan Welcomes Missions Challenges
by Becky Hobbs
Growing up in South China, Dr.Enoch Wan, Director of RTS/Jackson's Doctor of Missiology Program, never thought he would enter full-time Christian ministry. Life was hard, right from the beginning. "Papa Wan," his father, was a gifted Western-style tailor who ran his own thriving business. But finding an area of the country in which to work and raise a family was difficult. The Sino-Japanese Wars of the 1940s dragged on and on, and the Japanese and Communist forces were formidable forces. Enoch's father moved the family around quite a bit, trying to find a safe haven from the fighting. His father and mother accepted Christ early and became active leaders at a Protestant church founded by American pioneer missionaries.
His father was planning to enter full-time Christian ministry and go to seminary. In fact, when Enoch was born, his father named him after the biblical godly man to signify the elder Wan's desire "to walk with God." But again the Japanese military invaded their region; this time he lost his business as he fled with his family from the conflict. Tragedy also struck; Enoch's mother was stricken with cancer and died, leaving Papa Wan with three small children to care for. As a result, he lost his opportunity for theological training and Christian ministry.
The family ended up in Hong Kong, penniless and helpless. Having no other recourse, Papa Wan sadly placed his three young children in an orphanage . Enoch was only three. Unfortunately, his time there was very unhappy; he was mistreated by the orphanage workers who were often cruel to him.
Several years went by while Papa Wan worked in the garment factories of Hong Kong to support his children. Happily, he eventually married Mei-Kam, a Christian girl who was sold by her father as an indentured maid in Southeast Asia. She had been redeemed by her sister, who was on the staff of Alliance Seminary on Cheung Chau (long island), a fishing island near Hong Kong so small that cars are not allowed there. Mei -Kam was a kitchen helper at the seminary, where she had been led by American missionaries to Christ.
For more than a decade after marrying Enoch's father, "Mama Wan," as she was affectionately called, continued to work as a kitchen cook to support seven children (three plus four of her own), supplementing the income of Papa Wan, who failed at several business attempts. The children grew up on that small island, with Mama Wan as a single parent most of the time. Papa Wan worked on the main island of Hong Kong and could come home only once or twice a month for a day.
"The years on the island were very good," remembers Enoch, "even though financially tough. I think all seven of us came to know the Lord through the seminary students."
Whenever Papa Wan made it home, he led the family in worship and encouraged the children to enroll in seminary and enter the Christian ministry on his behalf. Enoch never thought he would be the one because he was very shy and suffered a severe inferiority complex from his mistreatment at the orphanage. By God's grace, however, he not only entered full-time Christian work but four of his siblings did as well.
A HERITAGE OF FAITHFULNESS
Perhaps part of the vigor and diligence Enoch brings to his work in missions is due to the godly models set by his parents. His father was a pioneer of sorts in industrial evangelism, a ministry to blue collar workers unheard of in the 1960s and 1970s. During those years, Papa Wan used his hours after work organizing sewing classes in garment factories as an evangelistic outreach. He taught many ladies sewing skills, in return for the opportunity to teach them Christian songs and Bible lessons. Most were refugees from China laboring for little pay in poor working conditions. Many factory owners gave him their blessing, since he upgraded the skills of their workers. Perhaps due to the efforts of Enoch's father, today a potential church planter among blue collar workers can receive seminary training to aid him in his task.
Meanwhile, Mei-Kam supported the family in her humble, quiet way, leaving a rich spiritual heritage for Enoch and his siblings. She had no education, as was the case with most Chinese girls of that period. Although she couldn't read the Bible, she continued to learn hymns by heart. Her godly living also earned her a listening ear from unchurched neighbors.
"My mother's kindness made a huge impression on me," recalls Enoch. "She was always helping someone. She gave food and clothing to neighbors in need; in an emergency, she carried the sick to the hospital thirty minutes away on her back. Actually her compassion was an excellent evangelistic technique. Many Chinese are superstitious and don't want to deal with troublesome problems -- funerals or terminal disease) -- therefore they'd call my mother. When she invited them to church they had to come because they were indebted to her!"
Enoch also grew up seeing his home opened to all types of church functions. Bible studies, free lunches for choir members, and breakfasts for Sunday School teachers and preachers were only a few of Mama Wan's activities.
Enoch took that godly heritage with him when he left home for college, graduating first from Northcote College of Education in Hong Kong with a Diploma of Education. Depending on God and hard work to finance his education, he left Hong Kong for Nyack College in Nyack, New York, where he earned a B.A. in Social Sciences. He then entered Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. During his second year there he married Mary, a public school teacher in Boston whom he had known in Hong Kong.
Tragedy struck again in Enoch's life when, only a day after their honeymoon, he received the dreadful news that his father had been killed in a cable car accident in Hong Kong. As the oldest son, Enoch rushed home for the funeral and felt obligated to remain in Hong Kong to take care of his mother and siblings. Chinese tradition demanded it. But Mama Wan insisted that he go back because God would take care of them.
"As a Christian I had to heed the clear Scriptural injunction to honor my parents," says Enoch quietly. "That meant following my mother's insistence that I continue my theological training. But the conflict between Chinese tradition and Scripture was very painful; I had many sleepless nights from the emotional turmoil and spiritual struggle. Not only had I lost my father, but I had to watch the helplessness of my widowed mother and fatherless young siblings."
But Enoch had no cause for concern. He learned graphically how to trust God and obey. Mama Wan's faith was strong. Although she was illiterate and unskilled, she believed in and experienced God's faithfulness. She claimed Psalm 146:9, which reminds us, "The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow." Eventually all her children graduated from college -- three from graduate schools and five from seminaries.
Upon graduation from seminary in 1975 he moved to Long Island, New York to plant churches among the intellectual Chinese and to attend the State University of New York at Stony Brook. While working on a master and a Ph.D. in anthropology, he formed a Bible study group with Chinese scientists in the area, beginning first in Mandarin and expanding to Cantonese and English. Two thriving churches grew out of that ministry.
In 1977 he and his family moved for a year to Chinatown in New York City, where he wrote his dissertation. In 1978 he returned to Hong Kong to become Chairman of the Missions Department at Alliance Seminary. The three years there were very profitable; Mary's parents were not Christians, but through frequent contact Enoch and Mary led them to the Lord.
TEACHER, PASTOR, AND CHURCH PLANTER
In 1981 the Canadian Theological Seminary invited Enoch to start the first Chinese program in any North American seminary. So the Wans emigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada, and Enoch began training pastoral workers for Chinese churches and helping missionaries in countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China.
"Those were exciting, challenging years," says Enoch with a smile, "even though I suffered culture shock because my experience of North America had been New York and Boston! I was now in a pioneer, prairie town -- very cold, very rural, very small, and boasting very few Chinese residents."
But he stayed in Canada for most of the next eleven years, only leaving for a one-year stint of missionary work . In 1984 the Lord called him again to a pastoral ministry in Vancouver, British Columbia. Starting with two hundred members originally, the church had increased to three hundred when he left a year later.
He was invited back to Canadian Theological Seminary to resume his directorship of the Chinese program, a post he held until 1987, when he left for the Philippines, where he taught at Alliance Biblical Seminary and did evangelism and discipleship work in two Vietnamese refugee camps. During the same year he went to Australia to teach missions at Alliance Theological College in Canberra.
He then returned to Canadian Theological Seminary and expanded the school's Chinese program into the Center for Intercultural Studies, focusing on five ethnic groups: Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, South Asian, and Native Canadian. As founder and director, one of his main goals was to help ethnic pastors in Canada deal with the huge number of new emigrants.
In 1992 he moved to Toronto to plant a church among the huge influx of Hong Kong immigrants. Again beginning with a small group of twenty, the Lord used Enoch's gifts to grow the church to eighty at his departure.
MULTIPLYING HIS GIFTS
In 1993 he felt the church was strong enough for him to come to RTS. "At first I was very reluctant to leave Canada," confesses Enoch. "Many of my former students were pastoring churches, and I traveled widely, working within the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. During my time in Canada the number of Chinese churches in the denomination had grown from ten to fifty."
Although Southern culture is very different -- the closest Chinese church is in Texas -- Enoch feels he is multiplying himself by training international students for ministry. In addition to training future church leaders, he also is an interim pastor for a small church in Louisiana.
Currently Enoch is Alan Hayes Belcher Professor of Missions and Anthropology and Director of the Doctor of Missiology Program. He is also Chairman of China/Christian Interact, a strategy group; President of CHEPSIS (Christian Higher Education Professionals Serving International Students); and Chairman of the China Academic Consortium.
His rich background of service in the United States, Canada, and Australia is an asset to the department. Because of his wide-ranging experience as a teacher, church planter, pastor, and field researcher he comes to the classroom with significant insights and great enthusiasm.
His colleagues have great praise for him. "Enoch provides strong leadership in the Missions Department and great clarity of thought in dissertation supervision," says Dr. Paul Long, Professor of Missions Emeritus. "He has significant influence with international scholars, including educational authorities in China. Both he and his wife provide leadership, love, and pastoral care to the international community at RTS. He also actively participates in U.S. missiological societies where he presents notable papers. Finally, he is fun to work with."
In addition to scholarly articles Enoch has authored the Mission Resource Manual, A Devotional Commentary on Mark, and Missions Within Reach, a book on intercultural ministry. He has just completed a volume on "Sino-Theology."
Enoch also keeps his hand in mission work. Two years ago he took his family to South America for a short term missions trip. He taught, conducted Bible studies, and evangelized while Mary taught English with the assistance of the children.
He hopes to see approval of the projected Ph.D. program in Intercultural Studies because he has been intensely involved in planning the program. It will allow training of Christian workers among North American ethnic groups, which are burgeoning with massive numbers of immigrants.
"The proposed Ph.D program will be an important part of our missions commitment at RTS," says RTS President Dr. Luder Whitlock. "We see it as the capstone of our educational endeavor within the area of missions studies. Dr. Enoch Wan is the perfect person to serve as director given his vast experience and his extraordinary ability to do research and lead others in research."
"I like Enoch very much and enjoy working with him for three reasons," explains Dr. Elias Medeiros, Chairman of the Missions Department at RTS/Jackson. "First, he is a team player and works harmoniously in our department. If his ideas meet resistance, he is quick to try to see the other side and revise his thinking. Second, he has a heart for the Chinese people, traveling to China several times a year not only to reach out to intellectuals there but also to train lay evangelists. Third, he isn't satisfied merely to teach here in the United States. He actively seeks out Chinese intellectuals in this country, traveling in the southern states frequently to tell them about Christ."
The little boy in the orphanage has come a long way. From pastoral ministries on two continents, missionary ministries on a third, church planting in several cities, and teaching at a number of schools, God has used his gifts to train hundreds to share His Good News. Papa Wan would be proud.
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Last updated 4-2-2002.