Our Founding Pastor: Samuel To
Samuel To was born on June 10, 1945 in Chongqing, Szechuan Province, China. During the civil unrest, his family moved to Guangzhou in his first two years. In 1949, the family escaped the Communist occupation of mainland China by train and by foot to Hong Kong, and so Samuel was brought up in Hong Kong. At the age of 19, under a scholarship to attend Warren Wilson College, he boarded a ship for a 20-day trip to San Francisco followed by a week-long bus ride to the East Coast.
Samuel grew up in a 4th generation Christian home. His great-grandfather became a Christian in San Francisco in 1860. Having experienced the blessing of knowing Christ early in life, he knew first-hand the unusual challenges and blessings of growing up in a Christian home, and he used his life to help families to reach the next generation. He often expressed thanks for those who labored in love to bring the good news of Jesus to the Chinese. He pastored a diverse church, with Chinese from different parts of the world, and entirely different ethnic and language groups. He challenged believers to a "world Christian mentality," especially crossing cultural and linguistic barriers. He encouraged those under 60 years old to learn a new language (Greek, Hebrew; Mandarin, Cantonese; Spanish, Arabic, Malay, etc.). He recognized God’s Word, the Bible, as the Designer’s manual and highest authority for faith and life, and pointed to the Bible’s lasting truths amidst cultural differences. He often prayed that America would be a place where all races could come and find special meaning and purpose through Jesus.
Samuel received B.S., M.S. (Chemical Engineering) and Ph.D. (Environmental Engineering) degrees from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (1974). Responding to the call for full-time ministry, he completed a Master’s degree from Capital Bible Seminary in 1990. Having experienced spiritual revival during graduate school in Virginia Tech, he pastored near the University of Maryland and encouraged others to plant roots among students and young professionals, a season when people are more receptive and less entangled by things of the world, e.g. materialism, affluence, etc.
In 1971, Samuel attended a Campus Crusade for Christ conference on evangelism where he met his wife-to-be for the second time. He recalled every detail of their first meeting at her sister’s house a couple years before, but Winnie had no memory of that event whatsoever. As someone who loved simplicity, books, and the Bible, it is not surprising that he would eventually woo her to marriage through fervent prayer, with a gift of a book, and an invitation to study the Bible together. Winnie recalls her sister, Ida, allowing them to meet at her house for the Bible studies, and her sister, Jennie, offering them her home and car for the wedding since he only had a rented room and an old beat up car. Their household grew to include three daughters and Samuel’s parents. Through life, Samuel was a faithful husband, father and son, and he was central in teaching and shaping each member of the family. He was a model of commitment and consistency, jumping rope every night at 10 pm while watching the world news, leading the family in regular Bible reading and prayer, reading books in his study with a highlighter in hand, enjoying food but never indulging, annually tending his garden, diligently keeping to-do lists and Bible verse memory cards with him at all times, and meticulously keeping his journal. He was an example of patience and servant-heartedness, from going skiing with his “公主” (princess, i.e. his wife) to letting others have the last word. Samuel and Winnie enjoyed over 40 years of marriage together.
For 17 years, Samuel loved his work as an environmental engineer, including 12 years in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) managing national environmental projects. He excelled at his work, earning an EPA Bronze Medal in 1988 for Commendable Service. He would continue to remind his family and church to conserve energy and water. However, having been blessed with seeing many people experiencing the abundant life that Christ has promised (John 10:10), his greater ambition would be to see more people have the opportunity to encounter our Lord Jesus and to become “new creations” in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17), experiencing new purpose and meaning as they trusted in Christ. He shared the Bible as the “blueprint for living,” introducing us to the Creator who wants us to know his loving intent and design for our lives. In 1991,God led him to pastor full-time at the Chinese Bible Church of College Park, a trilingual church near the University of Maryland, which he planted on the first day of spring in 1988, with a team of people sent out from the Chinese Bible Church of Maryland in Rockville (CBCM). Samuel would wear green on the first day of spring each year to commemorate the church’s anniversary. He spent much time and energy to mentor others in full-time ministry. He was a founding member of the CBCM in 1976, and helped to plant the Chinese Bible Church of Fairfax in 2005. He also served on the Board of Directors of the China Graduate School of Theology (US) from 1999 to 2014 and of Capital Bible Seminary (Lanham, MD; now part of Lancaster Bible College) from 2002 to 2013. He served on the Asian-Pacific Advisory Board in Prince George’s County under former County Executive Wayne Curry from 1994 to 2002.
One of his enduring desires was to write and share the lessons God taught Him with others. Starting in 1972, he researched and documented the incredible journey of his great-grandfather, Dr. To To-Ming, in his book published in 1993, The Doctor Comes Home. The book was published in Chinese and English. “Not only did [Dr. To To-Ming] find his physical roots, he also found his spiritual roots in God, which in turn affected his eternal destiny.” Samuel wanted each friend attending today to have a copy. He also published articles in both Chinese and English, in several publications such as the Great Commission, Ambassadors, Challenge , Herald Monthly newspaper and recently in the ubiquitous Chinese newspaper. He wanted some of those articles to be shared with you today.
Samuel was diagnosed in July 2013 with a rare form of aggressive terminal cancer, small-cell cancer of the prostate, which had already metastasized upon discovery. Besides spiritual ambitions, Samuel wanted to contribute to medical science and entered a clinical trial at NIH. He was thankful that under God’s hands, the medical therapy and excellent care gave him many good months. He and Winnie even enjoyed a special trip to the Key West, a place he dreamed of visiting since reading the Hardy Boys as a child. He gathered all his effort to continue to participate in church meetings and leadership until his last day. In his weaknesses and limitations (e.g., headaches, toothaches, ear ringing, and a rare form of cancer), his life verse echoed Paul’s experience:
And [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthinans 12:9 NASB)