I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1980. My parents were already Christians during this time. In 1987, my family got sponsored to come to America. The first city that we lived in was in Merrill, WI. After a year there, we moved to Wausau, WI. I ended up going through the entire educational system in Wausau. In spring of 2000, I graduated from Wausau West High School. During this same time, I met my wife and got married to her.
I went to UW-Stevens Point that fall of 2000 for college. I wanted to study television broadcasting. I was very ambitious educationally, but was only a luke-warm Christian during this time.
While attending college the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 really changed me. I wanted to do my part to make America a safe place. In November, 2002, I signed up for the Wisconsin National Guard. During the fall of 2003, I went to basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. After this training, my plan was to come back to UWSP to finish my college coursework. That was not going to be the case. During the spring of 2004, I received my active duty orders to go and support Operation Iraqi Freedom. From June to November 2004, my army unit went to Camp Shelby, MS to train up before going to Iraq. On Thanksgiving Day of 2004, we were boots on the ground in Kuwait. On December 12, 2004 we arrived in Samarra, Iraq (Saddam Hussein was captured 15 minutes away from our city). On December, 26th 2004, my squad leader died from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that had detonated very close to him. I was no more than 5 yards away from him when he was killed. I consider myself blessed that I did not die that night. His death really changed me. A few months later, another soldier passed away. As a 24-year-old, before the war I felt very immortal and now for the first time in my life I realized that I could possibly die. In desperation, I decided to make a deal with God. My deal with Him was that if He could get me out of Iraq alive, when I came back to Wisconsin I’d be willing to do whatever it is that He wants me to do for Him. God followed through and by November 2005, I was back home safe in Wisconsin.
Iraq had changed me greatly and no longer did I want to be a TV reporter. Instead, I graduated in 2008 with a teaching degree. I ended up getting a job at the D.C. Everest Middle School as a 6th grade social studies teacher. Life was good now. I now had a job, a home and a growing family. I felt content that being a Sunday churchgoer was enough for what God had wanted me to do for Him. I started to just go through the motions of life. In 2013, I was asked by my senior pastor to be in charge of discipleship at my church. The more I did this work, the more success stories we were seeing with peoples’ lives being changed for Christ. My pastor encouraged me to consider going into the full time ministry. In 2015, he suggested that I should look into church planting. Another local pastor also suggested that I should consider becoming a church planter. During this time of much confusion, I asked God many questions. One of these questions was, “God, if I was to start a church for you in this city, what would this new church look like?” One day while I was teaching in my classroom, God started to speak into my heart. God said that I should look at my classroom of students. I observed that I was teaching an ethnically mixed class of students such as Caucasians, Hmong, Blacks and Hispanics. I was also teaching students that came from rich families, but also poor families. God convicted me that this church plant should be multi-ethnic (there is not a single church in all of Wausau whose focus is on opening a church to all races). For too long the churches in Central Wisconsin have been ethnically divided. I’ve always just gone to an all-Hmong church and God spoke to me in Matthew 28:19, which says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sometimes we think that because we are of one ethnicity, that is the only group that we can go to church with or share Jesus with. This new church plant needed to be for all people of all color and backgrounds. God also convicted me that not only are the churches divided by race, but also by denominations. For too long churches have not been able to unite together because of petty little denominational differences. For these reasons, I decided that the new church that I would plant in Wausau would be multiethnic and non-denominational. We are all one body of Christ and therefore we could be one church, despite some of these differences.
In January, 2016 I started the church out of my living room in Weston, WI. We had about 7 Hmong families (these were really the only other Christian families that I knew who would be willing to start with me) that gathered there for this first service of The Cross. Although having “house church” was okay, we felt led to eventually find a public building that we could do public church services. During Easter of 2017, we were able to have our first public service at the Bridge Street Mission building in Wausau.
About a year later, during March 2018 we were able to find a larger facility for our growing church. This next building was the YWCA building located at 613 North 5th Street in downtown Wausau. We are currently located there. Our church service times are from 10-11:45 AM every Sunday morning.
Starting in 2019, our church as asked to take the lead in running The Joseph Project. The Joseph project is a faith-based job program that connects people looking for jobs with businesses that are looking to hire. Through a one week session, students in the program are able to take some classes that will give them some life skills, job skills and Christian spirituality. If they get hired on, the Joseph Project gives them free transportation to their place of employment for up to 30 days.
The people that have been attending The Cross are not your typical churchgoers. We have many people in our church that struggle with addictions, homelessness, unemployment and/or incarceration. It has been a humbling experience being able to lead these down and out folks to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Our hope for the future is to be able to continue our work with a diverse population in Wausau that really needs the gospel message to penetrate their hearts and lives.
Updated: 9/6/19 by Pastor Yauo Yang