With the ongoing impact of the pandemic, a local minister is broadening the scope of his church’s ministry to help care for the community.
Toby Wong, pastor of the Stettler Seventh-day Adventist Church, recalls an early life of attending church, but it was more of a social event.
But eventually, his mom discovered more about the faith and started to explore it more deeply, which in turn helped prompt Wong on his own spiritual journey.
“We came to Canada (from Malaysia) in 1976, and (at the time) we were all basically nominal Christians – we searched around for a church to be in.” They eventually kind of gave up on the idea, but again, Wong’s mom did instill in him that Saturday was considered a day of worship (part of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine).
“But one day, God showed me something through my martial arts teacher,” Wong explained.
They had some pretty meaningful discussions about the faith, and his teacher even went on to quit the martial arts and become a pastor.
“I had met him in an unemployment line when I was really down and out in my life. He had decided to lead some Bible studies, and my mother was also very surprised that he was a Seventh-day Adventist!”
The pieces began falling into place for Wong.
“After being baptized and going into the church, I felt a calling after about two years of being active in the church through doing Bible studies and working with the youth. So I went into the ministry – and I also met my wife at the time,” he recalled.
Wong started his ministry in Lacombe where he studied theology at Burman University.
He worked hard, too – fitting four years’ worth of studies into just two and one-half years.
“I just wanted to get out there – that’s how eager I was!”
This was 2003 – and Wong, who is now also dad to an 11-year-old daughter, was well on his way on an exciting new path.
“I started out in Ponoka, and I had initially thought that I would be going back to Ontario after I was done my (studies).”
That’s where the family had initially settled, with Wong having moved west in 2001.
He served in Ponoka for four and one-half years, and then headed to Calgary for a one-year chaplaincy position.
Then he was off to Edmonton for an associate position for just over three years.
Another transition came along with a stint in Smoky Lake for eight years. It was there he served several districts which also included the village of Boyle and Lac la Biche as well.
And it was about a year ago that the Wongs moved to Stettler – pretty much as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to impact virtually everyone’s lives.
These days, regular services are running within the AHS restrictions, and Wong is also excited to announce that the church is opening up from noon to 2 p.m. or possibly longer every Tuesday for the month of May.
“We are calling it the ‘Walk-in Prayer Clinic’. People can come in there and pray – and you can take your time. It’s open for prayer,” he explained.
Also, Wong noted that the pandemic has also opened doors to further help others and communicate what the Gospel message is all about – something he emphasized is needed all the more in such uncertain times.
”We have an opportunity to share that there is something far greater than what is going on in this world – that’s how we are as a people,” he said. “We aren’t doom and gloom and saying, okay, that’s it. There is something far better than what we have right now!
“The human contact is also so important,” he said, adding that the lack of it in society today because of the pandemic is unfortunate and rather troubling.
“When my daughter comes home from school, she is just always wanting hugs.
“Jesus healed people – he touched them. And there is something about the physical touch that makes a world of difference,” he said.
“The isolation doesn’t help mentally either – yes, we are trying to safeguard everyone from the situation but there has to be some semblance of a sense of normalcy,” he added.
“Coming to church was really the best thing that people had felt in a long time. And so, we are open on Saturdays from 9:45 a.m. to around 1 p.m. – that’s pretty much our main service. We do have restrictions, but that’w what we are here for – to minister to people,” he said.
“We are here to minister in every way possible, and that’s also why we are opening it up on Tuesdays between 12 to 2 or 3 p.m. People can take a break, come in and have a five or 10-minute private prayer session,” he explained. “Come in and relax in the sanctuary and meditate on your own.”
Outside of ministry, Wong has a passion for tennis and even considered going pro at one point.
“I like to work out, and a lot of times I like to listen to classical music and just chill. And I also like cooking – that’s one of my hobbies!” He often checks out Facebook for inspiration when it comes to finding new recipes to try, too, he added with a laugh.
Meanwhile, the ministry itself is certainly not always a walk in the park.
But Wong recalls some encouraging words a leader once shared with him.
“He told me, when you get to know Jesus, you will be attacked. But you will always have this source of peace in knowing Jesus – no matter how bad it gets,” he recalled.
“You also have a purpose each day – despite all of the challenges I’m going through, I still hold onto Jesus.”