Forrest Cao / David Chang
Editorial note :
When the trend of “Van Life” videos started going viral on YouTube, I found myself inspired to convert my Honda Odyssey into a road trip vehicle, but never found the motivation to hit the open road. That was until I heard about Brother DC from the English congregation and his incredible travels across the United States in his converted van. His story intrigued me and I soon learned that his purpose for traveling around the country was not simply for leisure, but to gain a better understanding of the homeless lifestyle and how he could serve the community more effectively. My admiration for him grew even more. Now that he has completed his journey, DC is currently studying at a seminary in Ontario during the week, while continuing to live in his van and serve the homeless community around the school.
Taking advantage of the opportunity following DC’s two-month tenure as a Mission Council member, I had the pleasure of interviewing him to gain a deeper understanding of his story and introduce him to the readers of Heavenly Garden as our newly elected Missions Council member. During the interview, we explored three main themes: DC’s role on the council, God’s personal calling for his life, and some of my own personal questions regarding the homeless population. I was eager to hear from this brother who invests so much time and effort in serving the homeless community, hoping he could provide insights into my concerns.
As we chatted over Zoom on a Wednesday evening, DC happened to be spending the night in his “Beetho-Van” (the witty name he gave to his van after the famous composer Beethoven) on the streets of Ontario. Despite the dark backdrop, I could sense the warmth and radiance in his heart shining through.
FC (Forrest Cao) : Brother DC, first of all congratulations on being elected as a member of the church council. Can you talk about how you decided to join the council?
DC (David Chang) : To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I received the invitation to join the council. In fact, I was very tempted to turn it down straight away.With my seminary studies and church ministry already occupying my schedule, I wasn’t sure if I could handle this new responsibility. They wanted a response within two days, so I turned to God in prayer. And I felt like He spoke to me through different people.
I reached out to my friend Alex, who’s already serving on the council, and he reassured me that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to learn things that I simply couldn’t gain in a seminary classroom. He also shared that this role would give me behind-the-scenes insights into how our church operates. His words encouraged me, and I sensed that God was calling me to take on this challenge as a way of helping me grow. The next day, I spoke with another sister who shared the same perspective. She saw this position as a great opportunity for me to develop new skills and gain experience. Surprised, I asked her if she had discussed this with Alex, but she said she hadn’t.
Although accepting this position would be a challenge, I trust that God will help me through it and use this experience to equip me for His purposes in the future. Suddenly, my apprehension turned into excitement, and I couldn’t wait to see how He would use me in this new role.”
FC : It has been almost two months since you took this position, how do you feel so far? Compared with the situation you had envisioned, was there anything unexpected?
DC : Haha, praise God! So far so good! When I accepted this position, I knew it was going to be a challenge. As you know, I’m mainly involved in the English congregation ministry. I knew I had a lot to learn about the Chinese congregation and the church’s overall operation, so I didn’t expect it to be smooth sailing right off the bat. It was a learning phase in the beginning. For example, in the recent evangelistic event, I needed to learn how to coordinate the theme with the Chinese side, as well as thow to arrange the meals and snacks for the whole event. I received help from many brothers and sisters, and I’m still learning.
Alex, last year’s Mission council member and this year’s Council Chairperson, has been a great source of help and guidance. He has given me the freedom to make decisions and explore, while still providing support and advice. I’m excited to continue working with him and look forward to further growth and development
FC : Let’s talk about your “policy agenda”. What plans do you have for our church’s missions ministry?
DC : This year, my plan is to keep things stable and ensure that everything continues to run smoothly without making too many changes. On the one hand, I still have a lot to learn, and on the other hand, as you know, there have been some changes in the church, such as Jonathan becoming the new Student Minister and Pastor Nick stepping down from the English congregation in July. We need to adapt to these changes. Also, the carnival event in March is a new ministry responsibility for the Missions Department, which will also be a challenge. So, my plan for the first year is to maintain stability.
As for my plans for next year, I do have some thoughts on what I hope the Missions Department can do. I really hope that I could encourage brothers and sisters to be more active in outreach activities within our community. There has been something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but I’m not sure if it’s God’s plan yet. I’m still praying about it. (FC: Can you share?) Well, here’s what I’m thinking: I ask myself, what are the needs of the surrounding community that our church can meet? What is special about our church?
As I’ve been brainstorming outreach ideas for our church, I’ve realized that we have a lot of Chinese-speaking members and it seems like more and more English-speaking folks are interested in learning a new language these days. And guess what language is super popular? You got it, Mandarin!
So, I had an idea: why don’t we offer Chinese language courses? We could invite people from the community to come and learn Mandarin, and as we teach the language, we can build meaningful relationships with them and invite them to join us for Sunday worship. I truly believe that establishing these connections through language courses will open up more opportunities for us to share the gospel.
This plan has been brewing in my mind for quite some time now, and I haven’t shared it with anyone yet. But I’m thinking that in my second or third year as a council member, we can start implementing it gradually. Let’s introduce this vision to the church slowly and see how our brothers and sisters react. I’m confident that once they see the value of connecting with the community in this way, they will join in with excitement.
FC : Thank you for sharing your vision with me! I know that you’re currently enrolled in seminary classes and are actively serving the homeless community. It’s clear to me that God must have a special calling for you. Would you mind sharing a bit about what that calling is and what motivates you to live the life you do?
DC : I often think about how precious life is and how important it is to help those who need the love of God the most. You know, we live in a society right now where it’s so easy to get caught up in our own lives, stuck in our own little bubbles, and we forget about the world around us. But let me share a story with you.
Last week, Jonathan met a homeless man outside of our church who had curiously stumbled in. Instead of ignoring him, Jonathan took the time to talk to him and show him kindness. The man said that he has been in Los Angeles for years and usually, everyone is so cold towards him and not giving him the time of day. Yet, when he passed by our church, someone actually invited him in and was willing to spend time talking with him. It really made a difference for him.
You see, that’s what motivates me to share God’s love with those he has put in my life. I just put myself out there to be an instrument for God to use and to love others. Yes, we are just God’s instruments, not relying on our strength, nor relying on our talents. And when I see how God works through me, it’s an incredible feeling.
FC : This is probably why you enjoy Van Life so much, right? What is it like to sleep in your van on the street every Wednesday night?
DC : Oh yes, you might not be able to see it from here, but there’s actually a park behind this street that’s close by to my school. About a year ago, God led me to this place where I overheard these two homeless Christians discussing Bible verses. I told them that I have my Bible with me and asked if they’d like to look up those verses together. Right then and there, we started to have a Bible study in the park. Then I remembered I had my guitar in the car, so I asked if they’d like to sing some songs and worship God together. And so, we started worshiping in the park! To my surprise, more people from a nearby homeless camp joined us as they heard us singing. I was amazed at how much they were attracted to the Gospel. As I was leaving, one girl even asked me for a Bible.
Just like that, we started this worship and Bible study at the park. Over this past year, many people joined and left our group. As a matter of fact, last Wednesday, February 8th, marked our one-year anniversary! To celebrate this milestone, we had a big anniversary celebration in the park. It was great to see a bunch of folks I haven’t seen in a while. I brought some hot dogs and burgers, which we grilled up to celebrate. It was a chill and awesome afternoon! During the party, I bumped into a homeless buddy I hadn’t seen for nine months. He shared some sad news with me – his brother passed away in a car accident last year, and he’s still heartbroken about it. He asked me for a Bible, and I gave him one and comforted him with some scriptures.
Just then, a passing teenager overheard our conversation and came up to ask if he could also have a Bible. He had never heard the Gospel, but he was willing to open up to me and share about his confusion with life and his difficulties in high school. I gave him a Bible and together, we went through the “Roman road”, discussing each verse and praying together. To my pleasant surprise, he accepted Christ on the spot!
Yes, that’s why I sleep there every Wednesday. It’s amazing to experience the work of God.
FC : Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories with me. I’m really amazed by how effectively you share the Gospel. It’s incredible that you can lead people to believe in the Lord just by talking about the “Roman Road”. How did you do it?”
DC : I believe that God created us and made each one of us so uniquely different, with our own personalities, talents, and gifts. Some of the people in our church work in the tech industry or in research labs at UCLA, and I could never have the same connections they have. We are all built in different ways, placed by God in different locations, and used in different ways, which is the mystery of the body of Christ. I believe that it’s not about our abilities or how well we explain things, but you know, in the end it is God who draws people to Him.”
Everything was orchestrated by God, who understood the high school student’s heart, his loneliness, and his longing to be understood. It was God who led him to the park and had him stumble upon our conversation. Everything fell perfectly into place in order for this kid to hear the Gospel and receive Christ. So it was God who moved the heart of this kid, not me. All we can do is to love. Loving someone is not about changing their mind or winning an argument. It’s all about showing them love so that we can share the good news about their soul.
FC : Praise God for using you to serve the homeless community. I have a question that may be a bit difficult to ask… I’ve noticed that Chinese-speaking people rarely seem to reach out to the homeless community here, including myself. I think I may have some misunderstandings about them and I’m not sure how to help them. Can you share how you started reaching out to this group?
DC : I totally agree with you. Many people, particularly in the Asian community, may not know how to help these individuals and often have a fear and misunderstanding that they might get attacked. Fear of the unknown can often prevent us from connecting with the homeless. However, I always remind myself that we are all created in God’s image, including those who are homeless. Although they may be facing various difficulties, they are still created in God’s image, just like you and me.
In 2016, while working in HR at a company, I had a chance encounter with a homeless person that ignited my lifelong desire that I’ve had since childhood to serve this community. I felt God moving my heart to leave my HR job and to serve the homeless full-time. After praying about it for a year, God confirmed that He was calling me to do homeless outreach. My outreach job was to visit different homeless encampments, get to know the people there, and help them find the resources they need, like shelters and other necessities. During my two years of service, I was never attacked, nor did I feel any danger. Instead, God opened my eyes to the realities of this world that I couldn’t see when I was in my own little bubble. It’s easy to have biases against the homeless.
FC : You know, I have to be honest with you about something. I have some “prejudices” against homeless people, and I’m hoping you can help me correct my perspective. I mean, the US unemployment rate is at its lowest point ever after the pandemic and there are plenty of job opportunities available. But, not too far away from those stores that are hiring, there are many messy encampments under bridges and other public areas where homeless people live. It seems that the police would often clear them out, but it wouldn’t take long for the areas to get dirty again. I can’t help but wonder why they can’t just get a job. But then again, I realize that there must be more to their situation than meets the eye. Can you share your thoughts on this?
DC : That’s a great point! You know, the homeless population is really diverse, it’s like a whole spectrum. On one end, you’ve got people who may be dealing with mental health issues or struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol. On the other end, there are folks who are totally normal, responsible people who have fallen on hard times and lost everything. Let me give you a few examples:
I once met a mechanical engineer who had graduated from Stanford and was incredibly intelligent. Unfortunately, he was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident that left him with massive medical bills, which wiped out all his savings. His pride made him reluctant to ask his family for help, so he ended up wandering the streets for a year or two. Another person I met was a chemical engineer who was also very polite and intelligent. Every time I saw him, he would greet me with a smile. He was very tidy and always packed up and left the shelter on time at 8 o’clock every morning. He became homeless when his wife betrayed and left him, which led him to suffer from depression, which in turn, affected his work. He found himself in a vicious cycle that ultimately made him unable to continue working and forced him to live on the streets.”
Sadly, there are also many homeless children and teenagers out there who have grown up without parents or a stable home. Even though there are foster families available, many issues exist in the system, and some kids would rather run away to live in the streets than stay in difficult situations. So you see, there are all kinds of people in the homeless community, and all sorts of reasons why they ended up in that situation. Each person has their own unique story to tell.
Going back to your question “Why don’t they just find a job”, the reality is that a small portion of the homeless population that you see on the streets are actually physically and mentally capable of working. But suppose they are able to work, finding a job can be challenging for them. For instance, when filling out a job application, they are required to provide an address, which can be a difficult task. Even if they manage to get an address, there are other hurdles to overcome, like having a cell phone to receive interview notifications, or having appropriate work attire for an interview. These are things that most of us take for granted, but for the homeless, they become obstacles that prevent them from getting back on their feet.
FC : I guess there should be some organizations to help them overcome these obstacles and get back on track in life, after all, this may be the most effective help (DC: Yes). So how can we help those who have lost their ability to work?
DC : Absolutely, you’re right. From my experience, many homeless people are dealing with mental health problems or addiction issues, and it’s a complicated situation with no easy fix. There are so many different reasons why someone might end up on the streets, so we need a variety of solutions. Just throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. We need to provide resources like mental health counseling, shelters, and drug rehab programs. But more than that, we need to start by listening to them and building a connection with them. Society tends to treat homeless individuals as outcasts and ignore them, but taking the time to talk to them can make a huge difference. From my experience, a lot of them respond really well to being treated as equals and having someone to talk to.
For people who are struggling with addiction, it can be really tough to break free from the grip of those substances. Personally, I believe that the ultimate solution is Jesus. When someone is hurting inside, they might try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol, but it never really fixes the problem. Only Jesus can heal that brokenness and satisfy their heart in a way that nothing in this world can.
You know, it’s interesting. I’ve noticed that people who are homeless are often more receptive to talking about God than people who I’ve worked with in an office. When I talk about God in the office, people just sort of tune me out because they have a steady income and already have everything they need in life, or at least that’s what they think. They are comfortable and don’t see their need for salvation. But on the street, people are more aware of their brokenness and they know that they need something to change their lives. That’s why, when I talk about Jesus with people who are homeless, 9 out of 10 times, they are usually very open to discussing it with me!
FC : Thank you very much for accepting my interview! I had prepared three questions for you: your position on the council, God’s calling in your life, and your understanding of the homeless community. As I’ve been listening to you, it seems like these three things are all connected – that God has called you to serve those in need, to see their spiritual needs, and to help our church be more effective in sharing the Gospel.
DC : Yeah, I totally agree. Our church has been here for decades and I honestly think we could do more to make our presence known. I pray that this carnival would be the beginning of building a connection between our church and the community. This is a great opportunity for our church to reach out to the community and show them that we care. It’s important for us to make connections with the people around us and let them know that we are here for them. I think sometimes we can get caught up in our own little world and forget that there are people outside our church walls who need our help. So this is a chance for us to step out of our comfort zone and make a real impact. And who knows, maybe this carnival will lead to even more opportunities for us to serve and show God’s love to those around us.
FC : Besides the questions I’ve asked, is there anything else you would like to share with our brothers and sisters?
DC : You’ve asked some great questions and I really enjoyed this chat! I want to encourage everyone to take a step out of their comfort zone, just a little bit, and let God use them in powerful ways for His glory and His kingdom. Amazing things can happen when we have faith and allow God to work through us, things that are beyond our expectations and imagination. I never expected that the Bible study in the park would last for more than a year and that people would come to receive Christ, but it did! So let’s trust God and see where He leads us.
I know people in church think I’m an extrovert, but the truth is, I’m actually an introvert. (FC: Really? I can’t see it.) Yeah, it’s true! God has spent many years molding and training me to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people. To be honest, even now I still feel scared and nervous when talking to strangers. But if you keep yourself closed off and don’t allow God to work in you, you’ll always stay the same old you. I truly believe that when you let God use you, amazing things can happen!