Simon Tsoi shared Jesus with all his heart
Karen L. Willoughby | Aug 19, 2020
Guest speaker Simon Tsoi, preaching his closing message at a church retreat in California, turned to the worship leaders. “What about you guys?” he asked them. “Aren’t you all leading the church on stage? Don’t you need to set an example to win souls for Christ?” Tsoi challenged the worship team to lead 10 people to Christ over the next 12 months.
Listening to Tsoi’s message, worship team member Dori Yuen said she was “baffled and even a bit frustrated. But deep down inside I was amazed by your passion, your stories and your love for Christ. I wondered why I was afraid to share Christ and I am tired of making excuses.
“I went from a hesitant believer to a passionate evangelist who is now doing full-time church-planting ministry today,” Yuen wrote on the “Memories” page of Tsoi’s obituary posted Aug. 11 by the Green Acres Mortuary in Scottsdale. Yuen led 12 people to Jesus that year of 2012, and many more since.
Tsoi, who went to his eternal reward Aug. 7, was known to have changed the lives of countless people like Yuen during nearly 50 years of ministry.
“I think with my father, his main goal in life was to love people and he did this by sharing Jesus with them,” Tsoi’s older son, Sampson Tsoi, said. “His main goal was that everyone would know Jesus.”
The elder Tsoi’s favorite question to ask “at restaurants or wherever,” his son said, was, “‘May I ask you a personal question?’ They’d always say yes, of course, and he would say, ‘Has anyone told you that the creator Lord Jesus Christ loves you and died for you?’ His main mission in life was to tell people about Jesus Christ.”
Reared in a Christian home in Hong Kong, Tsoi immigrated to the United States for more education and never left. He earned master’s degrees at Oklahoma City University and Iowa City University, taught English at Langston University in Oklahoma and Merritt College in California and was an active member at his church, teaching Sunday school, leading youth and men’s small groups.
“He taught me and my brother to love and honor people,” Sampson Tsoi said, including his brother, Nathan, in his statement. “When I got my very first job, when I was in high school, he gave me three bags from our bank and told me the first bag was for tithing and charities. Next, pay bills and go to the movies, and the third bag is for savings. He really taught me the value of money.”
The elder Tsoi was 39 in 1974 when, with the affirmation of friends Don Campbell and Brian Owyoung, he responded to God’s call to the gospel ministry. He studied for his third master’s degree — a master of divinity — at Dallas Baptist Seminary, and at the same time was on staff at First Baptist Church of Dallas.
Tsoi was called in 1979 as pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church of Phoenix. During his 23 years there, he led people to the Lord, started churches, participated in associational and state convention ministries, earned a doctorate from Golden Gate (now Gateway) Baptist Theological Seminary and led First Chinese to go on mission trips to Hong Kong, East Asia and Malaysia. He was fluent in three Chinese dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka, as well as English.
“He was very involved with teaching and mentoring the faculty and staff at Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang,” Sampson Tsoi said. “He touched many lives. … He really loved people. That was his bottom line.”
Tsoi served for two years as interim pastor at First Chinese after he retired, and was the longtime interim at Valley Chinese Baptist Church in Mesa, which he started, until after a fruitless search for a senior pastor, Valley Chinese merged with Fil-Am International Baptist Church.
“I admire him, his boldness in sharing the gospel to anyone,” Fil-Am Pastor Jose Padilla said. “He’s not shy. What I really learned from him is his faithfulness to the Lord. I was really encouraged by him.”
Tsoi was elected the Southern Baptist Convention’s first vice president in 1994. He served on the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee in 2000 and that same year was named executive director of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship of the United States and Canada, a fellowship group that consisted of 200 (now 273) churches. Tsoi served that fellowship for 10 years, and during that time, in 2009, he served on the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
Tsoi also was actively involved with the ministry of the Transworld Chinese Baptist Mission Conference. He was its chairman from 2001-2004, and was an advisor from 2007-2020.
Accolades poured in as news of Tsoi’s death spread nationwide.
“Dr. Simon Tsoi was a giant in the leadership of our work in Arizona and the West,” said Arizona Southern Baptist Convention Executive Director David Johnson. “His influence was felt throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.
“While his ministry was expressed primarily in our Chinese churches, he was respected and loved by all,which was reflected in his election to serve as an officer,” Johnson continued. “He will be greatly missed.”
Peter Yanes, executive director of Asian American Relations and Mobilization for the SBC Executive Committee, was another who said he admired Tsoi’s evangelistic fearlessness.
“Pastor Tsoi has been one of the few Asian-Americans who has been known and well-respected in the entire Southern Baptist Convention, not only because of what he has been accomplished on behalf of the Asian churches, but because of his passion of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone,” Yanes said.
“He was a great pastor, a great, faithful and energetic minister, always very focused on evangelism and missions,” said Joe Chan, pastor of Set Free Baptist Fellowship and also active with Campus Community Church, both in Tucson. “I admire his dedication, passion and his love for the Lord, which was very evident in all he did. He was a great example.”
Tsoi, Chan and Alan Chan of Mandarin Baptist Church in Los Angeles started the Youth Summer Mission Project in 1992. It’s brought Chinese Baptist youth from across the nation each summer since to Native American reservations in Arizona. A ministry that continues annually, though not this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it “set many Chinese Baptist youth on the path to missions and ministry to this day,” Yanes said.
“My father was a great servant for God, a great husband, great father and a good friend to many,” Sampson Tsoi said. “In his retirement, he made a lot of friends at his local gym, LA Fitness. He would go at 5 a.m. and everybody knew him. Sometimes he would work out more on his social fitness than his physical fitness.”
Tsoi is survived by his wife, Christina, whom he married in 1962 in Hong Kong, and two sons: Sampson and Nathan. A small, private funeral service took place August 12. A memorial service is to be planned tentatively for next year after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, the family said.