This news story of a gunman charging into the First Baptist Church in Illinois reminded me of a similar incident many years ago when I was in college when our pastor was shot and killed.

Greg Owyang of First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles was a up and coming Asian American pastor. This was in the day before the term Asian American was even popularly used.  He had a gift and the insight into reaching the American born segment of young Chinese Christians. He was a great preacher, exemplifying the style used by Asian Americans preachers today of telling stories and using humor. That was uncommon among Chinese preachers then.

Greg, in his mid 30’s, was sitting at the stage of the church to prepare to preach one Sunday like every other Sunday, when a disgruntle congregant walked into the worship service with a gun and fired shots at the stage. One of the elders, Fook Kong Li, and Greg Owyang, were fatally shot.

Fook Kong Li was a successful businessman who gave large sums generously to Christian ministries. He was on the Board of Trustees at BIOLA. I had been to Fook Kong’s house (with a tennis court) on several occasions for church activities. He was leading singing that day, standing up at the podium when the shots were fired.

I was not attending that church that day, but the news of the shooting shook the Christian community, especially the Chinese, with a deep sense of grief and loss. Both men who died were extraordinary Christians, faithfully serving the Lord.

I can’t imagine what life was like for the spouses and family There are no answers adequate for these types of circumstances. I do know that both spouses continued in their faithful work for the Lord. Greg’s wife comforted me and gave me some perspective when I lost my baby.

The verse that kept me sane when I was grieving was John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” No matter what our circumstances, the Lord is God. We need go nowhere else.

17 Responses to “Baptist pastor murdered”

  1. Rene Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I was there that Sunday morning and for some time after the incident, it was hard to put that day out of my thoughts. But now, as I write this in 2010, it was 25 years ago and I rarely think of that moment in time. But today, I did a google search about it and found your blog post.

    I whole heartedly agree that both men were faithful servants of God and set wonderful examples of cheerfulness, generosity and putting God first. I too was a college student at the time. I can look back and say I’m grateful that they were a part of my life when the foundation of my Christian commitment was being formed.

  2. Joyful Says:

    Rene, thanks for coming by my blog. We’ve probably crossed paths and didn’t know it.

  3. Linda D. Urquizu Says:

    My brother was also there that day. He was visiting as a member of a youth group from another church. He was just being handed the microphone to introduce himself when the initial shots were fired at Mr. Owyang and Mr. Li. Being an off-duty officer, he had his service revolver with him. After a brief gunfight in the church in which one bullet narrowly missed my brother’s head by inches, my brother shot and killed the gunman. The gunman had 64 rounds of ammunition, and it was believed that many other people were saved from even more carnage that day. I believe there were approximately 500 people in attendance at church that day and all hit the floor when the first shots were fired. My brother said everyone became so silent that one could have heard a pin drop. There was no panic.

  4. Don Says:

    I am the deputy sheriff who is now retired who stopped the gunman from further bloodshed. It was the opinion of our homicide investigators who responded that day (interrupting their own worship at a baptist church in the San Gabriel valley), that Mr. Jow came to the worship service at the Chinese Baptist church that he had intended to execute many more in attendance that morning only to be interrupted by a sovereign God who exercised immediate judgment and vengeance upon him. It was the executioners .45 caliber autoloader with three total clips loaded up, and 41 loose rounds in his coat pocket versus my .38 caliber revolver loaded with six rounds total. Praise be to our Protector that the gunman was felled with three shots, all of which were lethal. It was puzzling that he was dead from the first shot, but didn’t know it. It might be compared with David versus Goliath as I stood over his dead corpse, at least that went through my mind. That evening, I was prompted to read Psalm 91 where we read of God’s sovereign saving hand, which rescues his people while we fearlessly look on.

  5. Joyful Says:

    praise God indeed for using you that day to limit the lives that could’ve been lost. Thanks for coming by my blog and sharing that.

  6. Joyful Says:

    Thank you for sharing that.

  7. JacksonF Says:

    My family had just gotten to church as it happened.
    I had just been to “uncle” Fook Kong’s house the day before (He was my camp counselor that year, where Pastor Greg had spent some time with me in the pool) The memories of that time frame come to mind countless times every year. It became a pivotal circumstance for me in life.
    I found this post by googling it. (As I’m prepping for a message for this evening.)
    Thanks for the post, and all those who have commented.
    God Bless.

  8. Annette Says:

    Thank you Don, for saving our lives. God used you in a mighty way that day. I was visiting that morning with a group of college friends. The gunman came into my aisle and shot at you while I hid next to him. I remember too well hearing him gurgle his last breaths and jumping over his body with his gun still in his hand. We met some of the most beautiful, caring, kind-hearted, God-centered people. I will never forget their kindness. We made a plaque with the scripture that was read that morning just before the shooting and presented it to the church later that week. Its comforting to see their website and know they are still strong and faithful.

  9. Annie Tam Says:

    Dr. Greg Owyang was the speaker at Teen’s Conference in Toronto, Ontario which was attended by hundreds of young people in 1982. After the news of his martyrdom, many of these young adults committed their lives to serving our Lord in full-time ministry. Myself being one. Pastor Owyang’s death was not in vain. He inspired many to serve the Lord, the gospel continues to be preached by many who are carrying the baton of evangelism. Pastor Owyang’s gift in music, playing the piano and preaching has not been forgotten in Canada.

  10. Joyful Says:

    Praise God! Thanks for sharing that.

  11. Mike Romeo Says:

    A friend of mine had told me Fook’s story last Sunday. He was a friend of Fook. We both serve on security at our local church in Costa mesa. Fooks story and others like Jeanne Assam shows why churches need to be prepared for such incidents. I think backlash against christian fundamental churches will increase as political correctness and hate crime laws overstep their bounds of common sense and invade our country’s religious freedoms and rights.

  12. Polly Yiu Says:

    I saw Mr. Fook Kong Li just the night before his murder (He was walking out of the restaurant and I was walking into the restaurant). We chatted and joked a little bit. So when I was told that he was murdered when I was getting ready to attend the 3rd service at First Chinese Baptist Church, I went hysterical! He was so alive and happy just the night before and now he was dead! For the longest time, it was really hard for me to even walk close to the sanctuary where the murdered occurred.

    I miss them both!

  13. Joyful Says:

    Yes, indeed they are missed.

  14. Albert Lew Says:

    I was a member of FCBC growing up and move out of the area. I did hear about the incident from my family who still attends services there even now. Finally, today I had some time and google the incident for the first time. I wanted everyone to know that tears filled my eyes even after all this time and they will always be missed and remembered. FCBC is a great place to worship and no matter what happens to kept the faith because GOD is watching over us all.

  15. Angie C Says:

    Who could forget that day ” 1July1985.’ I have only heard Pastor Owyang spoke at West Coast Winter Conference . I am the 4 th generations Chinese American , who because of 1882 Chinese Discrimination Act, was denied living my life in USA. , until 1985.

    Only with one encounter of him speaking, I have committed my life to full-time Christian ministry . In which, we identified loners and aggressivors in Sunday Church. Then , we embraced them with friendship, walk with them, listen to them, showed God’s grace with them and then connect them to existing church groups or form new groups for them. ( at time, we would develop 490 friends for one identified individual ) it is like a mobile hospital . Many , many times we assist to de escalation , calm them and assist to regroup, or restore their life. Our team consisted of Mental Health Workers, RN, Md, lay- bible based volunteers from all walk of life.

    Pastor Owyang life is still speaking volume to thousands…He is the champion of all, God ‘s presence is all over him, even I have seen and only heard him one time !
    May all of us continue to be uplifted by his serving spirit to our King ! There is no fear, no fear ahead ., because our Lord was, is and will be the only one and through Christ Jesus., we will love Him more and more each day !!! Amen.

  16. Hannah Li Lee Says:

    On this 30th anniversary of the June 30, 1985 shooting, I came across this blog, and want to reach out to Don Leverence, if possible. I am Fook Kong Li’s daughter, and for so many years, our way of coping was to just not discuss what happened, except very privately with family. My mother, Irene, is 84 and doing well, health-wise, but this anniversary date is always hard for her, and we just surround her with lots of love, and recount precious memories. We stay in close touch with the Owyang family, and I know they would love to also establish contact with you. Don, if you see this blog post, please contact me at [email protected]. We have so much to thank you for…and we would love to connect, albeit later than it should have been. You are a hero to us, and God used you “for a special time as this”, as he did Esther, in saving many.God bless you! (thanks to Katy for this blog, and how it is giving the connection a chance to happen!)

    Best regards to all-
    Hannah Li Lee (yes, I married a “Lee”!)

  17. Joyful Says:

    I am so glad to hear from you, Hannah! Your father had a big influence on me as a young believer. He gave me rides to church because I lived in Pasadena. He tried to share the gospel with my father, who was willing to listen to a Christian who was financially successful because his impression was that Christianity was a crutch for the weak. (he accepted the Lord when he was 89, passed away at 93 in March this year.)
    May God be glorified!

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