The Gospel Bun

'No turning back.' That's the phrase heard almost weekly at the conclusion of Chinese baptism videos. For more than 15 years, Shu and Lily Huang have as transformed, sent people.

Story by Allison Strickland | | Photography by Ashley Johnson
“Dr. and Mrs. Huang were influential in my decision to follow Christ.”

That is a phrase you’ll hear often here at Shades Mountain Baptist Church. I’ve heard it dozens of times. I knew the Huangs were effectively spreading the gospel among the Chinese community in Birmingham, and I was interested in learning more about their story.

Dr. Huang is a retired physician. He is gentle, factual, direct, and brilliant. Before I could even ask a question, I had several informational packets and documents in front of me. Some were in Chinese.

The literature recounted the history, growth, and goals of Shades’ Chinese Ministry. I learned that it began in 2001 with five Christian families and stemmed from an English as a Second Language class. What began as an opportunity to help Chinese people acclimate to their new home in America quickly evolved as a means for native speakers to explain the gospel in their language.

Now, hundreds of Chinese people have passed through the doors of Shades, have heard the gospel, and have been changed forever. Some have even returned to their home country, where they have brought others to Christ.

“My feeling is actually not that we’re doing wonderful things. God did everything.”

David Cheng and Kerry Lok, friends of the Huangs, were at their home during our meeting. They had wonderful input about the history of the ministry, as well as about the Chinese Youth Group at Shades.

As he explained the history, I heard David say, “Since the start of the original five families’ efforts, we literally cannot count the number of lives touched all over the world.”

“So, how does that feel,” I paused to make sure I asked the right question, “to know that you have literally changed lives all over the world in the name of Jesus?”

I noticed that Mrs. Huang hadn’t said much. I assumed she was quiet.

David immediately answered, “I think it’s the greatest joy and fulfillment to know you are in the will of God. To carry out a purpose, fulfill His purpose, is a feeling that you cannot describe. It’s sheer joy.”

Dr. Huang remained consistent: gentle, factual, direct, brilliant.

“My feeling is actually not that we’re doing wonderful things. God did everything,” he said.

He recounted how he and Mrs. Huang got started at Shades. Church members had been praying for native Chinese speakers to build the Chinese community. The Huangs thought they were the answer to their prayers. But at first, the Chinese students avoided them. “They said, ‘What do these people want?’” he chuckled as he described their initial outreach efforts.

Then Dr. Huang said his wife prayed. She prayed for five Chinese converts that year. And the Lord was faithful. Five converts.

The next year, she prayed for ten. Again, the Lord was faithful; there were ten converts.

“So, we were very excited,” he said, “we thought, ‘This must be God!’” He then told me about the future goals and projects of the Chinese Ministry, which include discipleship training, mission trips, Bible studies, and more.

Finally, Mrs. Huang looked at her husband and began to speak about her involvement in the ministry.

That’s when I learned that my southern roots were deeply misguided. 

As a native Mississippian, I thought southern hospitality was a cultural anomaly, unique to the South. I was wrong.

See, like any Southern lady, Mrs. Huang makes friends through food. She is known as the Steam Bun Aunt ­­­­- it sounds better in Chinese - and she spends hours making cultural food from scratch for strangers and friends alike.

In fact, before we parted ways - and before I knew what hit me - she had scooped up half a dozen buns and put the bag on my arm.

“Steam for 10 minutes,” she said.

“And don’t eat the wax paper on the bottom,” Dr. Huang added.

In full disclosure, I accidently ate the wax paper. The bun was too good to notice or care. 

So how do Dr. and Mrs. Huang find Chinese-speaking friends in the Birmingham area?

Sometimes, Mrs. Huang gets a phone call; maybe from a friend, a friend of a friend, or a stranger. Sometimes, she goes out and meets people in the community.

“I am the person that just likes to approach people, and when they need it, I will be there,” she said. “I make a lot of steam buns to give to a lot of people. I like to bring something that I make with my hands.”

“And it’s very delicious,” Dr. Huang said.

“Some people call it the Gospel Bun,” David added.

“I need to mention, she is very close to people,” said Dr. Huang. “If they have any trouble, she helps them. And they can see her love. She always prays with them. And that’s really more important than my talking about the fundamentals of Christianity.”

“I just like to go. I need to go,” she said. “I will pray with them. Cry with them. They touch my heart.”

She thought for a moment, and then said with a sprinkling sweep of her hand, “I drive a lot! I’m like … a fly …” She thought again.

“No no no. A bee! I am a bee. A busy bee. When I learn about something, I just have to go. I have to go.” 

That’s when I understood why the Chinese ministry works

Mrs. Huang, the nurturing, busy bee, steam bun maker, invests in the hearts of the community. Her husband, brilliant, gentle, direct Dr. Huang, teaches the foundational truth of the gospel. They are a team, a complete picture of 1 Corinthians 12:12, and they have dedicated their life together to telling others about Jesus.

It is obvious the Huangs adore each other. Dr. Huang was gently protective of his wife, reiterating how important she is to the process. Mrs. Huang is a beautiful example of Proverbs 31. She is wise, respectful, a devoted wife and mother, and she gets things done.

As I remembered the countless baptisms and Chinese conversions (I say countless, they say 250) that have taken place because of the Chinese ministry at Shades, I suddenly understood. Yes, it’s the community outreach. The Biblical truth and sound doctrine. Yes, it’s the Holy Spirit stirring hearts. 

But, it is also God using people willing to be obedient to his urging. In the Huangs, the Chinese community sees a husband and wife team who love each other as Christ loves the Church, an earthly picture of the kind of relationship that Jesus longs to have with us. As I reflected over a steam bun on my conversation with the Huangs, that’s what I saw.

A beautiful picture of the love between Jesus and his Church.