Continuing a Legacy of Church Mission

May 21, 2015

Nearly 25 years ago, a young Auburn Adventist Academy student glimpsed firsthand the challenges facing his growing world church. Along with fellow members of the academy’s Sylvan Chorale, Andre Wang was in Indianapolis, Indiana, to perform at the 1990 General Conference session.

The session was already notable for the unanticipated election of Robert Folkenberg as world church president. And as Wang looked on from a stadium seat in the Hoosier Dome, lines began to form at floor microphones with delegates eager to comment on a topic of interest to our church then and now: the ordination of women.

Wang decided that day to never be content to sit on the sidelines. He would become actively involved as a member of his church. He realized the old legislative adage — “the government is run by those who show up” — applied as well and as often to the church.

In college, he engaged with the church mission at every available opportunity, helping with committees and student worship teams.

A third-grade teacher of Wang’s once observed his willingness to mediate playground disputes. “He’ll be a lawyer someday,” she said. True to her expectations, Wang passed the Oregon state bar in 1998 and has practiced as an attorney ever since.

This year, Wang decided after much prayer to combine his passion for justice and love for the mission of his church. He accepted the position of North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) legal counsel, stepping into the role left vacant by the retirement of David Duncan. He had resisted the invitation for months. “I don't consider myself a ‘church guy,’” he thought.

But a friend at the General Conference convinced him otherwise. “That’s exactly why you’re needed,” she said.

While Wang (pronounced “Wong,” by the way) might not think of himself as a typical “church guy,” he brings extensive interest and experience in working at all levels of the church as a lay member. He adds a unique and fresh perspective on how our church work can be operated safely in an ever-changing culture.

GLEANER: You never thought you’d work directly for the church. What changed?

WANG: After praying about it extensively, my wife and I felt this was truly a call, where God was asking me to serve my church. What better reason could there be? Serving on differing levels of church committees for years not only gave me a deep understanding of the mission of the church but also how our church operates to accomplish that mission. This was a way to incorporate that institutional knowledge in a professional context.

GLEANER: What exactly does the NPUC legal counsel do for the organization and Northwest members?

WANG: Legal issues that arise, even at a local level, often impact the wider church organization. So I am always available to provide counsel on how to steer through what can often be a legal minefield. I also am constantly thinking ahead to help our leaders make decisions that are consistent with our mission and which can stand legal scrutiny. In my opinion, an attorney who works directly for the church, who is active in his or her local Adventist church, is best suited to understand the priorities of our mission-directed organization.

GLEANER: In 2010, you unsuccessfully sought election as an Oregon State representative. What did you learn from that experience?

WANG: Well [smiles], I learned what losing is like and how to move on productively. I learned firsthand how “dog-eat-dog” politics can be. In spite of that, I learned there are many wonderful, thoughtful Christian people in government. I learned the importance of seeking God’s guidance and the value of trusted, prayerful friends. It was probably one of the most humbling, if not humiliating, and yet rewarding things I’ve ever experienced.

GLEANER: As we look toward next month’s General Conference session in San Antonio, what should Adventists understand about the world church process on issues such as ordination?

WANG: Always remember that our church and its work includes both ecclesiastical and business elements. I recognize the legal operation of the church can often feel ponderous and political to those of us who sit in the pews each Sabbath. I would urge our members to unite on the three major elements of our mission no matter what policies and procedures change: 1) discipleship for all believers, 2) evangelism for those who don’t know Jesus and 3) readiness for our Lord’s coming.   

GLEANER: Both of your grandfathers were involved in church work, one in China and the other in the Philippines. What does their legacy mean to you as you continue your work for the church?

WANG: My maternal grandfather was a pastor and administrator in the Philippines and a mentor to me. As I grew up, he instilled the importance of service to our God and community, whether it was in or outside the church. I never met my paternal grandfather. Because of his faith and his role as a worker for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he was put to death during the Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung. Based on photos I’ve seen and people that knew him, I look almost exactly like he did at my age. I pray the commitment both of my grandfathers displayed for their faith and God’s church can be reflected in my own attitude and passion for the cause of Christ.