Sundays at 11 p.m. after a long day's work, Chinese restaurant workers in Rocky Mount, N.C., meet at Sunset Avenue Baptist Church to worship the Lord.
The congregation is one of many for Chinese restaurant workers in small cities across the U.S. through Friends of International Restaurant Employees (FIRE), a ministry of Chinese-American church planter Kewen Dong. Holding worship meetings late at night allows restaurant workers to attend.
"There are 1 million Chinese restaurant workers living in the United States," Dong said. "Many of them live in small cities … and in these cities, they don't have a Chinese community, and also, they don't have any Chinese church. And these people live in very, very isolated conditions."
Dong entered the ministry after he felt God closing the door on his medical career and leading him to open a Chinese buffet restaurant in 1999, some 35 years after he dedicated himself to the Lord. In his new career, Dong would visit with the restaurant employees, learning about their lives and their hardships. He began to feel God moving his heart to care for these people.
It was because of this experience, Dong said, that he began to realize where God was leading him in his future work—to plant churches among Chinese restaurant workers and share God's Word with them.
In 2006, Dong began a late-night worship service for restaurant workers in Virginia Beach, Va. Four years later, God led him to North Carolina to partner with a Baptist church in Elizabeth City in another outreach to Chinese restaurant workers. His calling to Rocky Mount came in 2013. In North Carolina alone, FIRE has started a monthly Bible study in Greensboro and has begun church-planting efforts in Fayetteville, Cary and Aberdeen.
Through the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), Dong has provided his churches in North Carolina with resources, including Bibles and other tools to better know the Lord.
Though Dong has traveled far with the Lord, he knows that he still has a journey ahead of him. He feels called by the Lord to continue to reach Chinese restaurant workers in other states in the Southeast, a place where there are few efforts to reach Chinese people with the Gospel.
Dong's road to the U.S. wasn't easy. During his early years in China, the government forced him to leave his family and become a farmer. During that time, he faced hardship and experienced the Lord's provision, gaining a personal knowledge of the Lord and vowing to follow wherever He would lead. Soon after, Dong was selected by the government to study at a university and pursue medical degrees. He continued to seek God's will and glorify Him, even while living in communist China.
"As I look back … I see how God has been with me all along the way," Dong said, expressing confidence that God will continue to guide him in the years to come.
Emily Rojas is a communications specialist with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (www.ncbaptist.org).