NEW YORK - Chinese immigrants travel to the United States to fulfill the American dreams of freedom, wealth, and a new way of life.
Yet, when they reach America's shores, many find something far more valuable than riches.
Chinese worshippers often gather at the Church of Grace to the Fujanese in New York City. Some congregants have traveled from Boston, Philadelphia, and as far away as Ohio and Tennessee to attend the church.
Many of them are illegal immigrants, paying human traffickers as much as $80,000 to get from China to New York. It's a long, dangerous journey that includes hiding in cargo containers, risking imprisonment, or being thrown overboard.
Amazingly, most have no difficulty paying the money, which is regarded as an investment. Families and relatives pool their money together with hopes of big payoffs in the future.
It's estimated that about 30,000 illegal Chinese immigrants enter the U.S. each year.
For those fortunate enough to make it to America safely, their top priority is making money to pay back their smugglers. As for religion, most arrive as Buddhist, Confucians, or with no religion at all.
But, it's often in the U.S., working in the sweat shops or restaurants, that they hear about Jesus.
Yoyo Zo came to America 12 years ago and now runs a Chinese take-out in Brooklyn with her husband. She said in China, God felt distant, but here she feels closer to God.
"This church has helped me understand more about the Bible and gave me classes that I can take to increase my faith," Zo said.
Yala is another immigrant who paid $66,000 to get to America and arrived with no religious knowledge or background. Once here, friends brought her to a local church where she heard about Jesus.
"Jesus Christ really attracted me because of how he died for me on the cross," she said. "That moved my heart."
Bao Ping helped start the Church of Grace to the Fujanese some 30 years ago. He says many congregants face visa battles and are unsure of their future in America.
"When you come here ... you need to know about Jesus," Ping explained. "We can help you to pray to the Lord, whether you are going to court or not. Because God is in control, not us."
"You have hope, and once you have hope, they know that everything that happens to them they can kneel down and pray," added Church of Grace Pastor Eliyah Shira.
Shira said the Chinese church population in New York is exploding. His church has seen more than 10,000 people in the past 10 years. Last year alone, more than 500 Chinese believers were baptized.
"To grow their spiritual strength is a lot of prayer," he said.
The church provides discipleship classes for those interested in salvation, baptism, and Christian disciplines.
Yoyo said she's thankful everyday to be in America, but is hoping her husband, a non-believer, will soon come to know Christ as well.
"I'm praying for him and also for my children," she said. "I used to think that bringing people to Christ is easy, but it's not. But I believe that one day he will become a believer."
* Originally aired June 17, 2011.