By Victoria Kazarian
If you’ve been at the Vineyard for more than a few months, you’ve probably seen Anthony Chan leading worship on Sundays and seen his wife Isabella at the back of the church, a big smile beaming from her face, quietly worshipping. Maybe you’ve heard Anthony’s CDs. Or you’ve heard about the couple’s organization, joyful noise Xpress, and their mission trips, to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and India, teaching local churches how to lead worship.
The road to the couple’s growing ministry has not been an easy one. It started with Anthony and Isabella asking God: What do you want us to do with our lives? Through periods of hardship, waiting, impatience and financial struggles, God answered their question in a big way, teaching the Chans the basics of life “on the edge” of faith.
The adventure began in 1990, when Isabella and Anthony attended a prayer meeting at a peninsula church, at the suggestion of a friend. A prophet from England was speaking. At the end of the service, the Chans went up for prayer for God’s direction. Three people including the prophet prayed for the couple. Words spoken over the couple filled four pages when typed up later. The prophecy could best be summed up: The Chans would “become a team.” They would “travel from island to island and nation to nation to build training centers.”
The Chans were excited at the prospect, but not sure how the prophecy would come to pass. Four years crept by. Isabella and Anthony began to wonder. Were they supposed to be doing something to make this happen? Feeling that they should be doing something to work toward the ministry, Anthony started his own business to earn money to fund it. The business failed. “I got impatient,” Anthony says. “I wanted God’s prophecy to come to pass.” By taking matters into their own hands, they had incurred a six-figure debt. They immediately shouldered the monumental task of repaying the debt: both began working multiple jobs for a minimum of 12 hours per day, seven days a week.
God has a habit of working in miraculous ways when we know we’ve reached the end of our resources. It was at this point, when it seemed most impossible, that God began to reveal the path to the ministry He had planned for them. Tired and struggling under a financial burden, Anthony and Isabella began to see God’s great love and provision.
Isabella personally experienced several miracles during this difficult time, including two physical healings.
In 1991, Isabella heard several promptings from the Lord to see a gynecologist. She didn’t understand why, but out of obedience, she made a visit to a gynecologist who told her she had a cyst in her uterus. Since the couple had no health insurance, Isabella took the advice of a friend and went to a healing meeting. The preacher asked those who had cysts to go up. Isabella felt the inside of her body shake as she went up for prayer. She went to another gynecologist for a second opinion. “The gynecologist said that it looked like something had been there,” Isabella says, “but it had disappeared.”
Then the next year, Isabella fell on a slippery floor and fractured her sacrum bone. She couldn’t walk and the intense pain kept her bedridden. Again, the Chans could not afford to pay for treatment, and Anthony’s work situation didn’t permit him to stay home to care for her. Isabella lay in bed for a week, listening to worship music and praying. One afternoon while she was sleeping, she woke suddenly because her bed was shaking. She thought it was an earthquake and wondered how she would possibly escape, when she couldn’t even walk. Then she realized that everything else in the room was still; it was only the mattress that was shaking. She felt warmth down her back. Within one week, she began walking again.
Another miracle of God’s provision touched Isabella in a very personal way. In August of 1998, Isabella learned that her mother, a non-Christian, was dying in Hong Kong. Flying back to be with her seemed impossible: Isabella’s Hong Kong passport had expired and she had not yet gotten her US citizenship. And there was no money for a plane ticket or time to go, since the couple had to work long hours. Yet, somehow Isabella was granted a reentry permit within several days, and received money for a ticket as a gift from a pastor. She would be allowed to stay in Hong Kong for seven days.
Isabella spent most days in the hospital by her unconscious mother, sharing the gospel with her and praying for her. Then, on September 3, Isabella’s birthday, her mother briefly regained consciousness. Since her mother couldn’t speak, Isabella asked her to blink her eyes if she wanted to receive Jesus as her personal Savior. She blinked. Isabella asked her to do it one more time just to make sure. She blinked again. Her mother slipped back into a coma, but Isabella had assurance that her mother had accepted Christ. One month later she died.
Not long after Isabella’s mom died, Anthony was asked to go on a short-term mission trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan with a Christian organization. The idea of taking an expensive trip for 25 days in December, while they were still working and paying off debt, seemed completely impractical to Anthony. “It didn’t make sense to me. We had no money for this. How could I do this and still work? But I felt the Holy Spirit told me to go,” he says. So Anthony went, and while he was singing on stage on Christmas Day in Taiwan, he heard clearly from God that this was what he was made to do. The ministry that would become joyful noise Xpress was launched. Eight years after the prophecy about their ministry, Anthony was finally headed to an “island to do God’s work.”
As Anthony began to get more requests to do ministry trips, Isabella asked God what He wanted her to do in the ministry. Anthony did the music, but what was her role? In 1999, Isabella had a chance to go with Anthony to Singapore, and asked God how she could team up with Anthony to serve. At this time, the Chans had made the decision to pursue their overseas ministry, no matter what their finances looked like. “We said, whatever You need us to do, wherever You lead us, we will go,” Anthony says. Once they had made this decision, Isabella and Anthony saw one of the most interesting and amusing miracles they’d seen yet, when Isabella tried to get her citizenship and passport to travel to Singapore.
A full 18 months had passed since she sent in her application for citizenship, and Isabella had still not heard from the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Then at 8 a.m. on the morning of April 23, Isabella received an extremely polite and apologetic call from the INS asking her if it would be “convenient” for her to come down for an informal meeting. The official even let Isabella pick the time and the date. (Anyone who has dealt with the INS knows this is not their usual way of operation.) On Monday April 26 at 7 a.m., The Chans went to the INS office in San Francisco. The officer even graciously allowed Anthony to accompany Isabella throughout the interview.
Isabella was still in shock at their sudden good fortune, and when the interviewer asked her a question for her citizenship test, she gave the wrong answer. But the interviewer said he knew Isabella must know the answer, passed her anyway and informed her of a swearing-in ceremony at Masonic Hall in San Francisco the following week. Several days passed as the Chans anxiously awaited confirmation from the INS for the ceremony. Then Isabella got another friendly call on Thursday from the same officer, saying he would fax her the confirmation and reminding her to “be there.”
So Isabella was sworn in as an American citizen on Tuesday, May 4. A week later, she received her US passport. She was now free to travel with Anthony, to take on administration and planning for the team.
The Chans’ overseas travels continued, as more churches worldwide sought their help for worship training. In 2000, the Chans were asked to bring a team to go to India, to help develop 100 praise teams at churches in northeastern India. On the same 28-day trip, the team would go to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. They needed musicians and money to go through with the trip, and God provided: within a week, they put together a team and all team members could commit to the entire trip.
But by the time they left, the Chans had received only $5000 in donations, when they needed $15,000. “In faith, we went,” Anthony says. “When we came back, the total donations received covered not just the India trip, but the ministry’s next trip to Hong Kong as well.”
Since then, joyful noise Xpress (jnX), which was registered as a nonprofit organization in 2001, has received requests from all over the world to go and train worship teams, including recent inquiries from Africa, the Philippines and Brazil.
In addition to the mission trips, Anthony felt God calling Him to record a CD in three language versions, English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Anthony had first heard this calling during his trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan in 1998. The CD, Love Journeys, was a walk of faith in itself. Donations from various surprising sources, including non-Christians, covered the entire cost of duplication and printing. Since then, they have produced two more CDs.
The past 15 years have taught Anthony and Isabella the truth of God’s faithfulness and provision. In Silicon Valley where profit and material success are the highest ideals, they are following God’s priorities and as they say, they are living out their dreams and living the abundant life. “We are living by faith,” Anthony says. “We have no savings plan. God provides for us. People give us clothes. And we eat at people’s houses,” he says with a smile, as he and Isabella eat corn chowder at my kitchen table.