Rev. Barnabas Cheung was not only a true servant of God, he was also a hero of faith and a warrior of life.
Born and raised in a Chinese family in Vietnam, he owned neither a fancy degree nor impressive credentials. However, those who knew him were convinced that he was a brilliant, learned man with a photographic memory. His knowledge, especially with respect to history, was unbelievably deep and broad, putting a history major like me to shame. He had outstanding language skills—fluent in English, French, Vietnamese, and Laotian. I had heard him preach in Laotian and Vietnamese. While his Laotian was a bit rusty, his Vietnamese was flawless. Note that this took place 30 years after he left his mission field. One can only imagine how well he had spoken those local languages when he served and shepherded there.
Rev. Cheung’s intelligence was also on display in his ability to survive. Yes, I’m talking about mere survival, as he often was in appalling living conditions. In those situations, survival was the primary concern. However, he not only survived, he lived well. Born and raised in war-torn Vietnam, he made the quest for learning and for career opportunities. Upon graduation from seminary in Hong Kong, he took his wife to Laos as a missionary. Not supported by any mission organizations, the couple worked to support one another. In a foreign land they not only survived, but they thrived and built churches in an unstable political and military environment. When he left Laos, he left behind a grand place of worship that still stands today. After the family moved to the United States, he started all over again in his middle age. Again, without any support he established a church and provided for his family, raising three wonderful children to complete their education and professional training.
I heard Rev. Cheung was an insightful and far-vision investor. If he invested in the secular pursuits with the same passion he had for the gospel, he must have become a very rich man. Sure enough, he was well off when he departed—a testament of God’s providential promise to His faithful servant.
My most profound impression of Rev. Cheung was not his achievements, but his yet-to-reach goals and dreams. Although he strived to live every day, he was still a dreamer. His God-given vision was far greater than his ministry; yet he refused to allow reality to limit his field of vision and dreams. In his later years he concentrated on writing several books, reflecting his commitment and hope for many ethnic minorities in Asia. He was not only a doer, but also a man full of dreams.
Rev. Cheung was courageous, confident, optimistic, bold, and responsible, while refusing to lose. Those who didn’t understand him might think he was stubborn, insisting on his own views, and not a sociable person. However, I view it as God’s way to equip His servants. Without these seemingly negative qualities, he might not have survived the strenuous conditions, bearing fruits beyond our imagination. In fact, I have observed that Rev. Cheung did connect well with people. His wife and three children, as well as members of his church, adored him and were proud of him. When those who were closest to him stood up for his faith and character, it tells how beautifully one had lived his life.
From his first day in the mission field, Rev. Cheung had chosen to be a lone traveler—with no support from any denomination, institution, team or network. Neither did he actively circulate among the social scenes to rave or be raved. For these reasons, many have heard of him but few had truly known and understood the value of his ministry and the extent of his contribution. I have a strong feeling that Rev. Cheung was a hero of faith in Chinese churches who had not been recognized. His life was full of treasures for others to discover and imitate. It remains the task of later generations to appreciate and recognize him for his place in history. I believe he would not have minded the applause of this world. Yet he has never deliberately glossed over his own image, only showing a simple, rugged face. His acceptance by God in eternity would bring him the final justice.
Rev. Cheung had never been in sync with his time; yet his not belonging to this world had allowed him to effectively serve his world.
On the road to Sam Neua in Laos on January 20, 2008, Rev. Cheung told me his last words. He identified with Apostle Paul’s sentiment in 2 Timothy 4:16-18, and sang “Jesus Leadeth Me.” (Regarding the scripture, he mentioned it in his book A Love for the Land to the South.) I have committed to be a witness of his life; and on that day wrote half of the sermon to be used in his funeral. Today, due to many circumstances I am unable to attend the service. It is not a loss to him, but indeed one of the many regrets of my life.
"He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me."
These lyrics fully represent Rev. Cheung’s life journey—full of blood and tears, nonetheless with grace and truth.