By LINDA M. LINONIS
A unique worship arrangement and cultural interaction are unfolding at Poland United Methodist Church.
The church at 1940 Boardman-Poland Road is home to a small but growing congregation of Methodists who are Chinese or of Chinese heritage.
The group of between 50 and 60 people worship in the chapel at 11 a.m. Sundays. A smaller group meets for prayer from 9 to 10 a.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.
The Rev. Michael Grant, senior pastor of Poland UMC, explained that a church member of Chinese heritage brought her mother to services when she visited from China.
“But she had limited English, and it was hard to follow the service,” Pastor Grant said.
So, the family traveled to Pittsburgh or Akron to attend a service in Chinese.
The Rev. Ray Sung was serving as pastor at Akron Chinese Christian Church and met the Valley family. Eventually, he also met Pastor Grant.
What Pastor Sung describes as “a calling" led to his credentialing by the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and appointment as a part-time associate pastor at Poland UMC. He was ordained in the Free Methodist Church.
Pastor Sung and his wife, Rose, said they felt called to “worship and pray and be part of the Youngstown revival.”
Originally Buddhists, the couple became Christians when they were teenagers in Taiwan.
Pastor Sung said a friend invited him to a Christmas Eve service, and though reluctant to attend, he did — and it changed his life.
“God took over my heart that night,” he said.
He said before, his heart felt “empty,” but when he accepted Jesus, that changed.
Pastor Sung also said he felt “God calling me to be a minister ... a pastor.”
His wife said she “found peace at church and in Christianity.”
Pastor Sung earned a master of divinity degree at Chinese Evangelical Seminary and a master of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas, where he attended to further his studies. He was a pastor in Pittsburgh and Akron. The Sungs came to the United States in 1991 and are citizens.
Pastor Sung said he feels the arrangement at Poland UMC “wasn’t our plan but God’s plan. God called us here to reach more Chinese people,” he said.
Pastor Grant echoed what his fellow minister said. He said he felt Poland UMC and its congregation was called to this ministry and “blessed” to have the ability and space.
He noted while the adults attend services, youth from both join in junior church.
“We’re thrilled to do this; the church is excited,” he said.
After the Chinese service, the group meets for a luncheon and fellowship.
Rose Sung said the ministry can reach out to Chinese community in the Valley.
Among those attending the Chinese service is Ming Huichen, owner of the Fortune Garden restaurant in Liberty. She and some 18 family members attend services.
Since it began last March, the Chinese congregation has had 15 baptisms.
As part of its outreach in the community, the congregation offer, a ping-pong club that meets from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays at the church.
Pastor Grant said in the future the two congregations will plan a joint service.
“We feel we’re blazing a trail,” he said.
For a joint service, they’ll work out language issues and translation.
Pastor Sung added that the “miracle of connections” made the ministry possible.
“God led us here,” he said.
“We want to be one church that speaks two languages and worships one God,” Pastor Grant said.