Since the filming of the Yi’s story, our church has renamed our home fellowships as “Community Groups.”
If you enjoyed the Stonebriar Story of James and Judy Yi, read the full interview below to learn more about the Yis and their journey to becoming Community Group Leaders.
James, tell us about how you went from working in the business world to pastoring a Chinese church in our area. What were some challenges and rewards as God led you from one career to another?
James: My career change was due to the God’s calling. When I work in the business world, I also served as deacon and later on as an elder for a Chinese church. I taught Sunday school, led a Bible study, and be part of fellowship groups. And from those ministry experiences, my desire to become a pastor grew day by day. But the one thing I wanted to make sure of was—what is God’s calling, not just my own personal decision? So I waited and waited, and one morning during my devotion time, God used the verses I read to speak to me about His calling. And it seemed as if God wanted to make sure I got the message; He repeated the same process then the next day. During much devotion time again, God spoke to me from the Bible, through the verses I read. So I discussed these twin encounters with my wife, Judy. She was not totally surprised. She knew my desire to become a pastor in the past several years. Therefore we decided to resign from the company I worked for and start serving as a Chinese pastor in California, and many years later, I was called to become a Chinese pastor in the Dallas area.
In terms of the challenges I faced when I changed my career—I worked for three U.S. companies, Fortune 200 companies, big companies, and companies tend to focus on three things: the result, the time, and the cost. Results means you want to have a newer, a better product or service. And the time, the shorter the better. And the cost, the cheaper the better so I can get more profit out of it. Also, in companies, there is a clear hierarchy, spelling out the authority, responsibility, and accountabilities, and your punishments or rewards are decided by your annual performance review. Rewards can be a promotion or can be increasing your salary, but the laws are also clearly spelled out. But in the church life, we want to follow God’s plan based on His Word through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God is our boss. We want to be pleasing in our work. And in church life, we need tons of volunteers that are willing to get involved. So it took me awhile to get used to this new kind of thinking.
In terms of rewards, first, most of the experiences from my 25 years in the professional world are helpful to brothers and sisters I meet with at church. When they are struggling with work pressures, when there is conflict in the workplace, when they are trying to balance the demands between work and the family, I can come along and give them a word of advice and encouragement since I have been there before. I know exactly the kind of difficulty they are going through. But as a pastor, I also have another reward—I invest time in the most important work in this universe, which is to save souls and make disciples. I think this is the best investment I can think of, because investment return is eternal and not temporary.
Judy, tell us about your background and raising your family. How did you see God guiding and working as you stepped away from your career and raised your children?
Judy: I was born in Hong Kong, and it was a British colony at that time. I was born into a Christian family. In fact, I’m a fourth generation Christian, and I’m very grateful to God for my Christian upbringing. I went to school in Hong Kong to an English school, where my parents sent me, and I thank God for their provision of that because down the road, I would be living in the United States, so knowing how to read and write and speak English was really a plus for me. And I graduated from high school in Hong Kong and came to the United States for college. And the first college I went to was—guess what—TWU in Denton!
And the reason why I chose Texas Woman’s University was, first of all, it’s a woman’s university. I came from a girl’s school, so I knew that would make the transition much easier for me. Second of all, while I was applying to TWU, a group of Chinese Christians on campus got hold of my name, and they contacted me and they helped me and answered hundreds of my questions, and they helped me with my move from Hong Kong to Texas. And that really helped me to make the decision to come. And then on campus we had a Baptist church, and we went there. And I just instantly had a group of brothers and sisters on campus. So that is God’s provision, and I’m very thankful. Then after my first year at TWU where I was a major in chemistry, during the summer, my uncle in Minnesota asked me to visit them, since he and his family were living there. And so I went up to spend a summer with them. At the end of the summer he suggested, “Why don’t you stay here, go to University of Minnesota?”
And that’s what I did. So I started the second year in Minnesota, majoring this time in biochemistry, and I finished college there. And during those years, I went to a Chinese church where my uncle was the pastor, and in church I got to know my future husband, James, and I’m thankful to God for arranging that. After I graduated from college, we got married, and I went on to graduate school. When we had our first child, we decided that I would stay home, and it wasn’t a difficult decision for me because my mom was a stay at home mom, and I remember me and my siblings, we really appreciated it. We were able to see her when we came home. And also at that time we had our other friends, their wives also stayed home. So there was no pressure for me to go outside to work.
I thank God that James worked hard and provided for everything we needed at home and God provided for us. We just got everything we needed. And so we had three children, and I stayed home with them, and I see the advantage of staying at home; I could be with them more, and later on when they grew up they said they really appreciated it. When they would come home, I was there to give them a snack, help them with homework, make them practice instruments, and so on. It was good just to have more time to be with them and talk to them.
As I said, I majored in biochemistry, and so maybe somebody said, “Oh, if you stay home, all the training will be wasted.” But James told me it’s not wasted. I can still practice at home in cooking because when I cook I put things into a pot and I stir them, and I cook them, heat them up, it’s something like doing experiments in the lab. But with this, with cooking, I can have the experiments and eat them. That’s a big difference!
James: And I enjoyed that very much!
Judy: I also see that because I stayed home, I spared James from a lot of other housework and so spared him to have more time to study the Bible, take seminary courses, and to serve in the ministry. So I don’t have a glowing resume of work, but I think that I’ve done what God put me into the family to do—to help my children, to know God, to honor God and to obey Him, and to help James so that he could have more time to serve. And also because I have more time, I can practice hospitality and am able to have an open house for a Home Fellowship, for example.
What led you to Stonebriar Community Church, and how did you decide to become Community Group leaders?
James: Before we came to Texas, we often listened to Pastor Chuck’s messages on the radio and read many of his books. We also know Stonebriar’s preaching and teaching is based on the Bible without any compromise. We also love to sing traditional hymns and songs. So when I retired from the Chinese church in Dallas area, Stonebriar seem to be a natural place for us to go and to be a part of here. But Stonebriar is a big church. On Sunday, thousands of people come. You can easily get lost in this big place, or you might just become a visitor every Sunday, by which I mean you come on Sunday to worship, then you leave. You can be at Stonebriar for many years but still not have a sense of belonging. And Home Fellowships can give you a sense of belonging because this is a much smaller group, a smaller family. And several years ago, we noticed many Chinese-speaking people in Stonebriar, but no Chinese-speaking Home Fellowship. So after talking to Pastor Greg Luttrell for his support, the Chinese Home Fellowship was born.
How have you grown closer to God while serving as Community Group leaders?
Judy: Having the Home Fellowship in our house gave us the opportunity to get to know more of other Chinese Christians and friends. And we noticed that because we are not in our homeland, so to say, we don’t have relatives or parents nearby. We love to have our own Chinese family close by, and a Home Fellowship provides for that need. And also to get to know brothers and sisters and to know their needs and the challenges they’re facing, and then for praying for them, and caring for them. I’m doing God’s will, and God is using me in a small way to bring encouragement and help to brothers and sisters, especially sisters.
James: Judy and I have a desire to obey God, no matter where we are and what kind of thing we do. We would like to live as consistently as we can, in a life of obedience to God, and obedience usually involves pray and praise or pray often and praise often. In our Home Fellowship, we pray for each other. The prayer item can be a job search, a better relationship between husband and wife, or how to be better parents, or how to resolve a conflict at the workplace. Our members have a desire to resolve those issues paved on God’s way, not on what they are thinking.
Our members share their problems, giving us the opportunity to pray. And when our prayers are answered, we rejoice together and thank God for His grace, and we feel closer to Him. We remember God’s faithfulness, His mercy, His compassion, and His promises to help us go through it, and we praise Him for His goodness. We feel we are closer to God in those moments. We can genuinely say from our heart, “Abba Father, thank You. You love us.”
How have you seen God working in people’s lives through your Community Group?
James: We see that happen in three areas. As a family, we pray for each other and care for each other. We notice the people love to come to the Home Fellowship meetings. Every meeting. And after the meeting, people stay behind and enjoy each other. They don’t leave right away. When issues arise in our lives, we always hope there’s a relative nearby, and unfortunately we don’t have those luxuries. So a Home Fellowship more or less becomes extended family to most of us.
The second area is in the Word. We are growing in the Word and gaining more confidence in the Bible and its abiding authority, power, and relevant application to our daily life in this chaotic and upside-down world.
A third area is what I would call relationship. With the trusting relationships we develop over the years, when issues arise, people are willing to ask for help, because they want to resolve the issue in God’s way. They want to become a better person, a better husband or wife, better parents, or better employees. So we do see that God changes our lives in these three areas.
Judy: I really like the transparency that we observe because our group members are willing to tell us their struggles and their problems, because they want us to pray for them, to remember them. And if possible, to help them. So I think that is a big advantage of having a Home Fellowship.
Do you have any words of encouragement for people who might be afraid to step out of their comfort zones into where God is leading them?
James: No matter what your spiritual condition is, everybody needs a spiritual home. A Home Fellowship can be a fit for you. So in 2020, be bold. Get out of your comfort zone. Take a leap of faith. Join one of our Home Fellowship groups. Try it, you may like it. You’ll never regret that decision. A Home Fellowship can be the extended family you have been looking for.
If you are interested in leading or joining a Community Group, reach out to Sarah McFarlane at email@example.com.