Coming Full Circle

Sometimes life seems as though it goes in circles. For Bill Wong, a CMA corporate chaplain who attends South Vancouver Chinese Alliance, God has brought him full circle in his ministry. Bill was a professional, mechanical, engineer by trade. He developed marine terminals where ships dock in Vancouver and other places in the world. During his time as a plant supervisor, he oversaw one hundred and twenty tradespeople. People would come to him with issues on their mind. But if their mind was on their issues then it was not on their job. This was a safety concern. Reflecting on that ten year period in his life, Bill said, “Everyone has issues and they just wanted someone to listen. When I listened to them the situation was diffused and they could return to their task in safety.” At the time he was acting like a chaplain, but did not realize it.

In the summer of 2002 Bill went to seminary at Regent College. He began to recognize what God was doing in and through him as a chaplain.  While at seminary Bill met Tom Cooper with City in Focus who asked him to join him in corporate chaplaincy. Since 2005 Bill has been bi vocational – working as both an engineering consultant and a corporate chaplain.  Corporate chaplains are skilled practitioners who provide listening, encouragement and support to local businesses. in 2015 Bill retired from engineering and focused solely on corporate chaplaincy. 

Last year Bill supported four auto dealerships, a machine shop, Phantom Screens (Window and Doors) in Abbotsford, a nursery and a print shop. These businesses are multi faith and multicultural. They are comprised of approximately ten percent Christians and ninety percent non Christians but every person benefits by having someone to listen to them. Some are immigrants who are not working and Bill helps them with their resume, some have addictions, depression, some are struggling through divorce. These people need a sounding board and encouragement with their daily struggles which Bill provides.  

When Bill walks into their work space he begins with an open ended question, “how are things?” As he becomes familiar to them by continually showing up (building trust), people begin to talk. Bill listens. He tries not to offer too much advice and reflects back to them so the person is coming up with their own solutions. They know that what they share with Bill stays with Bill. Sometimes Bill prays with them and, usually when he does, they are grateful because they feel it is a last resort for them. These are fruitful and meaningful relationships developed over time. 

When I asked Bill about his motivation for doing this his answer was clear and full of grace: “Because I love God and Jesus touches them. I find a satisfying sense of accomplishment when the ‘least of these’ who are enduring personal crisis” find hope or “purpose in life.” Bill’s reference to Matthew 25:31-46 highlights his passion for welcoming the stranger.    

Life became full circle when Bill joined Lighthouse Harbour Ministry. This ministry takes the gospel message and the listening heart of chaplains onto the very sea terminals that Bill built earlier in his life where ships are docked and strangers (crew) have come to Vancouver with their goods. Bill said seafarers lead a lonely life. They are on nine month contracts, driven by money. They can make up to four times more money on a ship. However many people hate their jobs but they feel they have no choice because they love their families and are desperately trying to provide for them. Many workers from Indonesia have no other opportunities besides work on ships. These interactions are brief, often during a work break and filled with urgency. When they arrive in Vancouver they are often receptive to the good news and see an urgency in coming to faith. Bill greets them, listens to them, prays for them.

They share their joys in life as well as their angst. They feel encouraged, cared for, supported and listened to. To them it feels like time with family.  

Bill also offers follow up support for them through Facebook by offering them a basic Bible course, follow up contact with answers to to the nurse. Lighthouse  Harbour ministries has contacts in the Philippines and other areas around the word and will connect these people with churches for further support. Bill writes a newsletter four times a year sharing stories of God’s work in the hearts of people through his ministry.

Going onto a ship in Vancouver harbor is like “going to all the world” for Bill because all the nations are coming to Vancouver. Life has come full circle. Bill greets the lonely sailors at a terminal which he helped build but God is going back onto the seas with them. Their lonely lives are filled with comfort and hope which God has filled and Bill senses the Holy Spirit at work in and through him.

Article by Jonathan Moll, WCD Chaplain