Rev. Barnabas Cheung: a Biography
Rev. Cheung was born in Lishui Village in Guangdong Province’s Nanhai County. His father moved to Vietnam’s Hai Phong to earn a living. When Japan invaded China, his mother took him and his brother to be with his father. Rev. Cheung’s mother was a Christian. Each Sunday she would take her two sons to church. For this reason, Rev. Cheung had begun reading the Bible at a young age. However, he did not believe what he was reading and treated the Bible as a folk legend. Later, Rev. Cheung moved south to Saigon (present-day Ho Chi Minh City). He first studied in the local overseas Chinese school. Upon graduation from middle school he was enrolled in a French college. He received excellent marks due to his diligent studies. On September 17, 1949, he read a sermon by D. L. Moody entitled “Repentance and Redemption.” He was moved by the Holy Spirit, repented and declared his faith in the Lord, and immediately committed himself to God’s work.
Rev. Cheung’s first ministry was to share the Gospel with Chinese government troops who had retreated to Vietnam after fighting in the Chinese civil war. Because he was already deeply familiar with the Bible and had listened to sermons every Sunday, he was able to preach the Word of God.
In March 1952 he was enrolled in the Hong Kong Alliance Bible Seminary. In July 1954, France and Vietnam signed a treaty in Geneva, which stipulated that Vietnam would be provisionally divided between the north and the south before a popular election would take place two years later. To take advantage of the opportunity to share the Gospel, he quickly returned to Saigon that summer. The local Chinese church invited him to lead the Gospel truck ministry. His footsteps could be found in villages and townships from the southern tip of Vietnam to the country’s north-south border. In addition, he rode a bicycle to enter villages that were inaccessible by motor vehicles, where he distributed Bible tracts and engaged in personal witnessing for the Lord. He also printed and distributed 100,000 Gospel tracts, encouraged young people to distribute them to shops and residences in Cholon, Saigon’s Chinese quarter, as well as invited famous speakers from abroad to hold evangelical meetings. During those two years, Rev. Cheung had made every effort to share the Gospel with the local Chinese and the Vietnamese people.
In July 1956, Rev. Cheung returned to Hong Kong and married his fellow seminary student Yee Kok (Mary) Fung, who also felt the calling to become a missionary. In April 1958, they went to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to begin their ministry. In the beginning they borrowed a small, worn-out church used by Laotians. Only nine people attended the first service. Later, because he spoke Vietnamese Rev. Cheung began leading services conducted in Vietnamese while serving both local Chinese and Vietnamese residents. Afterwards, a Vietnamese deacon accompanied him to preach the Gospel to the Black Thai ethnic group. Rev. Cheung would speak Vietnamese while the Vietnamese deacon translated his talk into Black Thai. After Rev. Cheung learned Laotian, God blessed him with even more opportunities to preach the Gospel. He would eventually work with Laotians, Hmongs, and some ethnic groups throughout Laos. During the 17 years of ministry in Laos, Rev. Cheung would establish a church for local Chinese Christians and a church for Vietnamese in Laos. He also mobilized the Chinese and Vietnamese Christians to repair the small, worn-out church. In addition, he purchased a piece of land to build a sanctuary for the Chinese Christian church.
As a result of Laos’ unstable political situation, Rev. Cheung’s brother, who had immigrated to the United States, advised him to immigrate to the United States with his wife and their three children. After their children were enrolled in schools in the United States, Rev. and Mrs. Cheung would then return to Laos. Therefore, on March 12, 1975, they left the place where they had served for 17 years and arrived in the United States. However, several weeks later the Pathet Lao, a communist group, entered Vientiane and closed off Laos’ border. On May 9, when he saw on television the throngs of refugees who were crowding to leave Laos, Rev. Cheung knew he would be unable to return to Laos.
Since they were staying in the United States, they had to begin a new ministry. Rev. Cheung chose the Washington, D.C. area, where he leased an American church and established the Chinese Christian and Missionary Church (CCMC). During this time, he also wrote his memoir, entitled A Love for the Land to the South, which detailed his and Mrs. Cheung’s earlier missionary experience. In 1986, Rev. Cheung was conferred an honorary doctorate degree from Taiwan International Seminary in recognition of his contribution in the mission field.
Since the early 1990s, Rev. and Mrs. Cheung would visit the ministry field outside the United States once every year. They not only returned to Vietnam and Laos, but they also visited various Chinese provinces, including Yunnan, Tibet, and Xinjiang (from southern Xinjiang to northern Xinjiang). They also searched for areas that have not been reached by the Gospel, especially regions occupied by overlooked ethnic minorities. Rev. Cheung would record the local missionary history and culture. His research resulted in three books: The Living Water’s Flow to the South – Gospel and Vietnam, I love the Hani People – A Little-Known Ethnic Group, and The Light of Xinjiang, which were to serve as references for future missionaries.
Early in his life Rev. Cheung gave up well-compensated positions in the business world. However, God had never been unkind to his servant. Rev. and Mrs. Cheung lived a simple life, managed their investments soundly, and accumulated savings. Yet, Rev. Cheung was never a miser. He repeatedly donated his savings and his retirement income to support church-building, the planting of churches for ethnic minorities, and seminaries. In addition, he supported multiple anonymous missionaries working quietly in sensitive parts of the world.
After shepherding CCMC for 36 years in the United States, Rev. Cheung was filled with peace and felt gratified as he witnessed the ministry’s stable foundation, an expanding congregation, and co-workers who would take up his mantle. He only wanted to continue to lead his Bible study and Sunday school classes while enjoying the remainder of his days on earth. However, God wanted to take him back to his heavenly home. Therefore, he had no choice but to wave goodbye to his beloved family as well as brothers and sisters in Christ for now, until we meet again at the Lord’s feet when the Savior returns.