Remembering 50 Years of Cross-cultural Service
By Alan Gates (BD '59, MA '66, DMiss '71)
I became a Christian during my last year of studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and soon after graduating, I felt a strong calling to prepare for formal ministry. In God's plan, I soon met a Fuller student named Dave Jones who was driving south to Pasadena. He asked if I would want to come along and attend Fuller, and I agreed, entering the Bachelor of Divinity program as an international student in 1955.
During those four years at seminary, many professors shaped and inspired me. Charles and Grace Fuller showed such loving care for us students--Mrs. Fuller referred to us as "the boys," and made sure that the cafeteria food was the best. Their son, Dan Fuller, was one of my professors. Other influential faculty included Edward J. Carnell, who challenged me to greater thoughts and goals, and F. Carlton Booth, from whom I learned all about evangelism. His enthusiasm to spread the gospel was contagious!
As a new believer, I was just becoming familiar with the Bible, but Fuller suddenly thrust me into subjects like Hebrew, Greek, apologetics, and hermeneutics. It was quite a challenge! My roommate Yung Chen--a fervent evangelist raised in a strong Taiwanese family--was significant in helping me through those years, and from him, I also began to learn about Chinese culture. Some days Yung Chen and I would walk on the wall of Pasadena's City Hall and pray for our future ministry. Yung would say to me, "Gates, you must go to Taiwan."
Eventually, God confirmed this call through a guest speaker at chapel. Lillian Dickson had been ministering in Taiwan for over 30 years--doing relief work with orphans, lepers, and others from mountain communities--and that day, she asked for five Fuller graduates to come to Taiwan to help. My fiancée Sharon Okerstrom and I eagerly volunteered, along with my classmates Don Williams and Jim Ziervogel and their wives, Betty and Barbara. With support from our home churches, family, and friends, Sharon and I left for Taiwan two months after my Fuller graduation and marriage in 1959.
After some initial Chinese language study, I began teaching at Christ's College in Northern Taiwan, but I also felt called to the tribal people in the nearby mountains. There were many churches there without pastors, and I loved getting to know the people--they had such enthusiasm about following the Lord! I decided to take some students from the college with me on weekends so that they could learn how to share their faith, and today, that weekend mountain ministry still continues. Additionally, I had wanted to plant and develop churches along with national pastors, and while teaching at the Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary, I witnessed the dedication and loyalty of committed pastors in 15 churches.
During two home leaves in the United States, I studied at Fuller's School of World Mission (now School of Intercultural Studies), receiving MA and Doctor of Missiology degrees in 1966 and 1971. Professors like Donald McGavran, Alan Tippett, Arthur Glasser, Peter Wagner, and Chuck Kraft opened my eyes to new methods of cross-cultural ministry and church growth. They especially encouraged me to research the folk religion of Taiwan, which helped me develop more contextually appropriate and effective means of sharing Christ with the Taiwanese.
When we returned to Southern California after 19 years of service in Taiwan, Sharon and I felt called to lead in local Chinese congregations. We wanted to serve newly arrived immigrants from Asia, acting as bridges between cultures and helping them adjust to their new home. I've now had the privilege of co-pastoring with eight gifted pastors over 27 years, including, currently, Arcadia's Hope International Chinese Church.
Now in my sunset years of life with frail health, I can praise God for all the marvelous experiences he has given us in the past 50 years. In 1959, God gave Sharon and me a verse in Isaiah 30:21: "And you will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or to the left." That voice of God has been strong over all the years, and he has kept his promise to guide us. I believe he is still calling for Fuller graduates to follow the Lord to the ends of the earth, to make sure all will have the knowledge of our Savior.
Alan Gates's roommate from his Fuller days, Yung Chen, was recently featured in Fuller Focus magazine. To read Yung Chen's story, click here.