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Hawaii Baptist leader Dan Kong, dead at 76, had 50-year ministry

HONOLULU (BP)–One of the most influential leaders in Southern Baptist work in Hawaii, Dan Hen Chong Kong, died March 14 in Honolulu after a brief illness. He was 76.

Kong’s ministry spanned more than 50 years, including his service as pastor of local churches, executive director of the Hawaii Baptist Convention (now Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention) and president of Hawaii Baptist Academy. His ministry extended throughout the U.S. mainland as he preached in hundreds of churches during his extensive travels for the state convention and the Baptist academy.

The current executive director of the state convention, Veryl Henderson, described Kong as “a role model and a great encourager for innovative ministries in Hawaii.”

“Dan’s personal charisma, dynamic preaching style and obvious love for people and for God endeared him so quickly to others,” HBA President Richard T. Bento said. “Through these relationships, he was a bridge connecting Christians all across the nation.”

“He had a natural gift for leadership and preaching,” Mori Hiratani, a retired Southern Baptist pastor in Hawaii and lifelong friend of Kong, told The Honolulu Advertiser.

Kong’s impact was obvious as more than 700 people filled Olivet Baptist Church in Honolulu March 20 for his funeral service. At a February dinner honoring Kong, he said that after hearing all the wonderful things people had said during the evening he did not want a eulogy at his funeral, only music. After his unexpected death just three weeks later, his wishes were honored in a service that featured all music except for two video clips of Kong speaking at the earlier dinner.

In 1954, Kong became the first Hawaii-born pastor of a Hawaii Southern Baptist church when he was called to First Baptist Church in Wahiawa, the oldest SBC-affiliated congregation in the islands. He moved to Olivet Baptist Church in Honolulu in 1960 and remained there until 1973 when he became development director for Hawaii Baptist Academy. After serving as executive director for the state convention from 1983-88, Kong returned to the school as president.

During Kong’s time at HBA, he was instrumental in helping the school acquire the high school campus and he helped start and develop the Mainland Advisory Council, a group of more than 300 mainland supporters who have contributed about 75 percent of all donations to the school over the past 30 years.

“Dan was tireless in his travels, covering thousands of miles and preaching at more than 100 churches,” said Bento, who served with Kong at HBA. “His passion for God, for people and for sharing the Gospel was so evident in everything he did. He served HBA well and had the respect of his colleagues.”

Many of the supporters, most of whom are Southern Baptists, were first introduced to the school by Kong on trips that took him throughout most of the southern states. Kong had continued his travels on behalf of HBA and had been planning a trip to Kentucky in May.

Through the ministry of Southern Baptist missionaries, Kong became a Christian in Wahiawa at age 12. After high school, he attended Michigan State University before earning his undergraduate degree at Georgetown College, a Baptist-affiliated college in Kentucky. He then went on to earn a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. While at seminary, he was the first pastor of Shakertown Baptist Church in Kentucky.

Kong was to have received an honorary doctorate from Georgetown College in May. Earlier, he received honorary doctor of divinity degrees from California Baptist University and Wayland Baptist University.

After retiring from his HBA post in 1993, Kong continued to serve as interim pastor for Central Baptist Church in Honolulu and as the minister for the Ilikai Protestant Church, a ministry that he started in a Waikiki hotel in the 1960s while at Olivet. He retired from these ministries in December 2004.

In addition to his love for the Lord and for people, Kong will be remembered most for his unique, persuasive style of preaching.

“[When Kong preached] his arms seemed to reach around the pulpit as he gestured about an important point in a sermon,” recalled Faith McFatridge, the convention’s administrative assistant and member of Olivet and First Baptist Wahiawa when Kong was pastor. “He was so eloquent and passionate about Christ that you couldn’t help but listen to him.”

Kong is survived by his wife Mary Eleanor; four daughters, Danette Poole, Mary Verdine Kong, Edna Marie Kong and Betty-Jo DeFries; and three grandchildren.

The family has asked that memorials be made to the Central Baptist Church building fund, 1217 Nehoa Street, Honolulu, HI 96822; the Kong Scholarship at Hawaii Baptist Academy, 21 Bates Street, Honolulu, HI 96817; or the Maui Economic Opportunities BEST Reintegration Program, 99 Mahalani Street, Wailuku, HI 96793.

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  • Matt Sanders