Two Grateful Great-Grandmothers Celebrate Four Generations in the CRC
In the fall of 2016 a group of immigrant Chinese CRC pastors and their spouses held a retreat in the Lynden, Wash., area.
As part of the event, the group visited CRC leaders in Lynden, a community founded by Dutch immigrants. In the process of the visit, two stories — and especially that of two great-grandmothers from two continents — became intertwined.
The first story is that of Janet Steiger, born in the Netherlands in 1931. After World War II, she immigrated to the United States with her young husband, selecting Lynden as their destination.
“I wasn’t all too thrilled to come to Lynden, because I had other family elsewhere. But God surely had a wonderful plan in mind,” said Janet.
Janet raised her family as an immigrant mother in a new land. Now, at age 85, she has many stories about God’s gracious work in her life. She also has four children and 16 grandchildren, and she has become a great-grandmother.
One of her grandchildren, Janelle, has a CRC pastor as a father-in-law, Rev. Tom Draayer. And Draayer and his daugher-in-law Janelle persuaded Janet to share her story of immigration with the Chinese pastors and their spouses.
Among the group who heard the story was Rev. James Chiang and his wife, Winnis. They had a story to share too.
James came to the U.S. with his parents from Taiwan in 1968. They were not Christians.
James attended the University of California, Berkeley to study electrical engineering and computer science.
Winnis, his future wife, was enrolled in the same program. They were married three months after their first date — “too quickly,” they both added.
They soon became engulfed in a busy professional life, with each having an active career in Silicon Valley. The blessing of a son did not slow them down, and, before long, they came to a point of crisis in their marriage.
In the midst of that crisis, Winnis connected with a Christian friend, who kept inviting her to church. After several years of refusing, Winnis finally agreed to attend a Christmas play.
A few weeks after that, on Jan. 28, 1989, Winnis professed her faith in Christ. Her changed life caught James by surprise. Fearing she was involved in a cult, James accompanied her to church, wanting to check it out. To make a long story short, James also became a believer, and he professed his faith in April 1990.
Winnis eventually decided to leave her management career to be a stay-at-home mom. She enrolled in seminary in 1995 to be trained in Christian counseling, which she has been practicing in California since 2003. In 1998 James also enrolled in seminary.
James’s parents lived in nearby San Francisco. His father would often engage James in serious conversations, trying to talk him out of the decision to leave a professional career for what he considered to be a less rewarding one as a pastor.
James soon realized that this was a divine opportunity to help his father know the Lord. Eventually it became clear that God had been blessing their conversations.
One Sunday evening in September 2000, James’s dad said to him, “You don’t have to worry about me; Jesus lives in my heart.” It turned out that these were the last words James heard from his dad, who suffered a fatal stroke the next Friday.
Lily Chiang, James’s mother, had listened in on the conversations between James and his father but did not participate.
The death of her husband, however, opened new conversations between her and James, and eventually Lily also professed her faith.
Meanwhile, James found a Chinese ministry in San Francisco, the Golden Gate CRC, to provide a place of fellowship for Lily and for others.
It became her spiritual home, and this great-grandmother worships there every Sunday, currently at the age of 95.
God has continued to use the ministries of the CRCNA in the lives of the Chiang family.
James Chiang has been involved in helping to begin and support a range of Chinese CRC congregations and ministries. He is currently the pastor of a Chinese CRC church worshiping in Los Altos, Calif.
His son, Scott, has also attended seminary. Scott was approved as a candidate by Synod 2016 and was ordained as a minister of the Word in the fall.
With Scott’s child now baptized, God has made an impact on four generations of the Chiang family through the ministries of the CRCNA, just as God has done with four generations of the Steiger family.
“The visit to Lynden — lunch and discussion with local pastors, visiting a Christian school and local church, and meeting Janelle's grandma — were all informative and exciting,” said James Chiang. “We see how God helped Christian immigrants from the Netherlands since the early days.”
At the retreat, he said his wife, Winnis, gave thanks for getting to know the story of Janet Steiger, who, like Lily, is a great-grandmother.
“We were amazed that our family, like the Steigers’, also has four generations in the CRCNA,” said James.
“Even though Winnis was the first in our family to believe in Jesus, my mom, Lily, was the first to join a CRCNA church, and then somehow one generation after another joined the CRCNA. That's pretty incredible!”
Janelle Draayer also appreciated meeting with the Chinese pastors — and especially Chiang and his wife.
“Visiting with the Chinese pastors was so enlightening,” she said.
“The challenges they have faced and the perseverance they have shown are inspiring and proof of God's providence.”
She added that comparing the stories of Chinese and Dutch immigrants really highlights how similar the struggles of immigrants are and “how God provides during difficult times through his church and his people. I was so blessed to have witnessed the confluence of these pastors and immigrants!”