Back Chinese Congregation welcomes Dr. Yunhan Gwo as new pastor
October 7th, 2011
Brentwood Baptist Chinese Congregation has welcomed a new pastor, Dr. Yunhan Gwo. The growing ministry, now considered a smaller church within our own walls, will also host their first regular worship service this Sunday, October 9 at 11:00 a.m. in Baskin Chapel.
These new changes come with the arrival of Dr. Gwo, who came from humble beginnings on a pineapple farm in Taiwan despite his impeccable English and impressive educational record.
"I was born in a rural area of Taiwan to a poor farmer," Dr. Gwo said. "My father had only three years of Japanese elementary education when Taiwan was occupied. My mother only spoke Taiwanese and no other languages. I had seven siblings—three girls and four boys. I was number six among them."
Dr. Gwo reminisces about a happy childhood, running free through the open fields and mountains of his homeland with no restraints. Oftentimes, he would even go with his father to help on his pineapple farm.
At that time, evangelical Christian churches were limited in Taiwan. Only one Presbyterian church existed in his hometown. Besides, the majority of the population, including Dr. Gwo's family, shied away from outside religion, sticking close to the traditional folk religions of that region.
"When I was five years old, there was a Christmas celebration in our village. I was invited into the church to listen to the story," Dr. Gwo said. "Each child was given a beautiful Christmas card. I was happy to listen to the Christmas story, but my mother saw me come home with the card and immediately scolded me that I shouldn't go there again."
That was his first and only experience with Jesus and the church until he was a teenager.
"I never did step inside the church building again, except to play table tennis with friends," he said. "But, my situation started to change because I saw a lot of social injustice—corruption of the political and judicial systems. I saw persecution."
His father was a direct victim of that corruption and persecution—even though it wasn't related to the Christian faith. His father's very rich and powerful friend, who was a local mayor, accused his father of theft, a crime he didn't commit.
"He took my father to court where he was convicted," Dr. Gwo said. "He was imprisoned for three months and had to pay back money he never took. He had to sell his farm, which was our livelihood. That really hit me. I was very innocent. My school taught Confucius' teachings and that the orders should be harmonious, but that experience implanted a seed of hatred in my heart for injustice and inequality."
Yunhan began searching for answers—answers he couldn't seem to find wherever he went. He'd already decided to seek revenge for the persecution of his father. He enrolled in college, taking an English major, to elevate himself so he could seek out the man who'd ruined his father's life and do something about it.
In college, he became a student leader, participating in extracurricular activities to make new friends. Internationally, peace was absent. The Vietnam War was in full effect, creating tension between Taiwan and China. The government warned citizens to ready themselves for China's invasion. As a result, each male was required to enter military service.
"I started asking, 'Can there be peace in the world?'" he said. "I had some professors who were Christians—some were Chinese and one was a Catholic nun who came to teach us English. Another was a missionary from the Church of England. The first thing he said to our class was, 'I believe it's God's will to come here and teach you.'"
That jolted his senses, causing him to wonder: Who is God? How can He tell someone to go and teach?
"That professor was also the dean of a church-run hostel for students at the university," he said. "During my last winter vacation, I asked if he could spare a room for me. I wanted to clarify in my mind what I was going to do after graduation, my future. Campus was a pure and innocent place, but society was regarded like a dark fish tank."
As Christmas approached that year in 1971, he heard some of the students singing Christmas carols. The sounds entranced him, attracting him to melodies such as "We Shall Overcome" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain." His piqued interest moved him to accept their invitation to study the Bible together.
"I said, 'I'm not going to believe. I'm just coming to debate with you,'" Dr. Gwo said. "But the answer I found at the Bible study became relevant to me. I was already puzzled by the chaos in the world. But the Bible said it was in human beings' nature to be sinful and selfish. I immediately agreed with that. I knew I had that nature too because I hated the man who'd betrayed my father, and I hated society and injustice."
In March 1972, an evangelist named Roy Taylor invited Yunhan to a four-night rally. The first night, he went and heard about God the Creator, who'd made all mankind in His image, and Jesus' sermon on the mount, where He implored His followers to store their treasures in heaven.
Two days later, God made that sermon's message come to reality. Yunhan rode his bicycle to play in a basketball game with friends, storing his clothes in the attached basket. After the game, he returned to an empty basket, evidence that someone had stolen his earthly belongings.
"I realized at that moment that Jesus was right, " he said. "He taught me not to put up treasures on this earth."
He went back to the rally the third night to hear the story of when Jesus forgave His enemies on the cross. Yunhan said, "I'd found the answer. The only solution to all my problems was forgiveness from God."
That radical decision to follow Jesus, and transformation of his life thereafter, ripped the relationship with his parents to shreds. He wasn't just the only Christian in his family; he was the only Christian in his village, in his whole town. And it stirred up trouble back home.
"After I graduated from college, I had to go into military service," he said. "It was compulsory. According to custom, each young man had to go to the Buddha temple to burn incense and seek protection. My father wanted me to do that, but I said no. He said, 'If you don't want to go the temple, then worship the deities and shrine to our ancestors in our home.' I said, 'No, I don't worship idols. I respect my ancestors because I'm a part of them, but I don't worship them either. I worship the living God.'"
For that, he was beaten by his father and disowned from the family. He packed his simple belongings and left the next day. As the distance between him and his home began to grow, his father shouted, "You're no longer my son. Don't come back!"
"Being a Christian in the military means no fellowship because it's not allowed," he said. "I had to walk by myself with God for 20 months. But I was a soldier for Christ there. I was given a King James Version pocket Bible from an American widow. I put the Bible in the left pocket of my shirt to symbolize my love for God's Word. I read it every day. I learned to develop personal devotion and got to go to church when I had vacation."
Before he even became a Christian, someone gave him a prayer written by Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century saint:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
During his military career, he made that his prayer. He said, "Every day, we were prepared to kill someone else during the war. Literally to kill them. God called me to spread His message of peace, the message of Jesus. I said, 'Here I am, God. Use me for whatever You want me to do.'"
After his military career was complete, he taught English at the college level for one year, serving as assistant chaplain while there, before he enrolled in Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary. There, he studied for three years, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree.
His graduation then launched him into full-time ministry, where he served as the associate pastor at Grace Baptist Church. He took a break to enter Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and gain his doctorate before returning to that particular church.
In 1992, he took the role as chairman of the Taiwan Baptist Convention. He said, "I got this vision from God to lead this convention into world missions. I made an effort to become a missionary—not only to Chinese but to all races."
That's when he migrated to the United States and made his home here. After a one-year guest professorship in world missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, teaching cross-cultural preaching, he accepted a pastorate in Alabama at a Chinese Christian church. He served there for seven years before moving on to another Chinese congregation in Indiana for the next eight years.
Through various connections, Dr. Gwo was recommended to Brentwood Baptist to take the role of pastor to the 100-member "Chinese Congregation."
"Coming here was the perfect match for me," he said. "Throughout my ministry in Taiwan and America, I found that Chinese Christians enjoy being together, but seldom do they reach out to other races and people groups. That's because most Chinese Christians are new converts and first-generation Christians. They need time to solidify their conversion and faith before they venture out. But, when I got to know this church's vision and missions, it lined up with what should be."
As Dr. Gwo eases his way into a new era, joining hands with Brentwood Baptist, he looks forward to adding to the Chinese Congregation, helping them go spiritually deeper, and encouraging them to reach out to the Chinese population and beyond in Middle Tennessee.
Along with his wife, Rebecca, Dr. Gwo says they have been welcomed unanimously. "Our first priority is to reach out to the Chinese people in our community and then help our congregation reach out to their neighbors. I'm very grateful to be here and witness one miracle after another."
Story by Kaylan Christopher, Staff Writer