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I spoke with the ubiquitous Ken Kong over Skype in January. Cross-functional, cross-cultural, cross-generational, Ken works across ministries too, as he had just come from a long breakfast orienting new Cru workers to his home of Long Beach, California. What hasn’t he done? The planter of churches, prayer movements, and most notably SEAC (Southeast Asian Catalyst) and its conference wing, SEALS (Southeast Asian American Leadership Summit). He’s full-time with the Navigators and is also currently serving as National Conference Director for the Asian American Leadership Conference, to be held in Los Angeles, March 11-13.
So Ken, what’s the biggest thing on your heart?
Well, I can tell you that the hottest thing on my heart is to see our families become Christian. I think that’s what God is doing. We think of evangelism on such an individual level, we don’t think of things collectively. We don’t ask, what about my family? We forget that we’re still from a collective culture even though we don’t necessarily think about it that way.
What’s big on my heart is how to be a missionary to my family. Clans come to Christ [together]. The classic story of Hmongs coming to Christ, what was it in 1953? One shaman came to Christ from a missionary, and then that missionary left, and 5000 more came to Christ. It took one very influential person to become a Christian, and look, now a high percentage of Hmong know Christ because the clan system is a gateway for the gospel.
We’re Cambodian, and inspired by examples like that, my family’s been going back to see family.
When did you guys go back?
My first trip was in 1999 when I was in my early 20s. I brought three Bibles and gave them to my three aunts who had traveled two hours from their village to see me in the city. I hung out with them, took them to dinner, and then [it got too late for them to go home so] they offered to sleep anywhere, but I said no, and got them a hotel, had breakfast in the morning with them, tried to share the gospel with them in the little Cambodian that I know, and gave them a Bible and went off.
In 2009, I saw them again, and one had read her Bible and come to know Christ. I don’t know what happened to her in the ten years in between, but she had somehow gotten to know Christ. The second aunt used the papers of her Bible to roll cigarettes, and the third, we prayed with her [in person] to recommit her life to Christ.
Were you alone?
No, I was there with my mom and dad. We started to make regular trips home yearly after that. This past year back, my uncle became a Christian, and then 14 through him in his village.
Have you always so purposefully cared for your family in this way?
No. I used to be very involved in ministry and I neglected my family [even the ones in America]. I was busy doing “Christian” work and I needed to learn and repent because my priority was not my family.
So with SEAC, I learned to watch my travel schedule, and I learned to be more available and around. I need to be around for them to ask questions, to be more open. I realized that “Wow, my siblings need me.” If I’m not around, I can’t answer their deeper questions.
You’re the oldest?
I know a lot of people who turn away from their family after they become Christian.
Yes, I’ve seen this too. We pluck people out of family and put them into a new community instead of empowering them to love the old community. I’m convinced there will be more impact if we [empower them to love their families]. It’s a matter of calling, of course, but we should not take people out of their context.
What caused your heart to change in this way?
I was really impacted by family in Scripture. I started noticing Lydia and Cornelius and the Jailer and his household. Even Paul’s nephew was involved in ministry. Timothy’s mom and grandma were also Christians—-his dad was an unbeliever, but look how God used him. Jesus and his brother James. It’s not just a Biblical conviction, it makes sense.
Was there an event that turned your heart this way? How long has this been your conviction?
Since 2006, I was at a Navigators’ Conference in San Francisco, at the Redwoods Camp, and the keynote speaker’s talk was on the “Keys to the Kingdom.” He mentioned a bunch of keys, and one of them was family, that God always uses family. That really stirred something in me. He then showed a map of the world and my heart just broke. I went away to be alone and let God speak to my heart.
In 2008, I went on retreat and had a dream. I saw myself reach out to Cambodia and that convicted me to go to my family back home. I started mapping out family trees—that’s something we have people in our ministry do—we figure out where our families are and map them out to pray.
In 2010, I went back with my dad to Cambodia, and we went to my great, great, grandfather’s grave site in this area where a lot of Chinese settled. He was from Guangdong, China. We went there with other relatives, and though they were not believers, my dad asked if he could pray. And my dad prayed right there over his grave site for all Kongs to be saved, right in front of my unbelieving relatives.
Then we went back to my aunt in the village who was terminally ill, and she got healed and became a Christian. We gave each leader in the village a Bible, and we are trusting that when each of them open it and read it, he will come to know Christ. We want to see the movement of the Gospel, to see Jesus’ heart in Scripture. It’s simple really, we just really want God to work.
How amazing to do ministry with your family, especially with your father!
Yes, we go now once a year. I’m excited to go this year. Last year, we planted several ministries in Cambodia. I want to follow up and just serve them, love them.
My mom and dad and I became Christians at the same time. I was 15.
Is your family mostly in Cambodia?
No, we have lots of family all over, even in Paris, [France] and all over the States. I have an aunt in Minnesota, and an uncle in Lexington, Kentucky and one in Staten Island, New York. It’s a blessing to meet them and see them.
Wow! Your ministry is really cross-generational.
Yes, but that is because of my partnership with my dad. He’s the one that knows the language and culture. I pray.
Is the culture different?
Yes, different. I’m Cambodian American, and they are Cambodian. There are lots of nuances I’m not aware of. They definitely view me differently. They assume that I’m Cambodian, but I can’t speak Cambodian that well. But I am the link [between] my family and Southeast Asia. When my parents die, who are they going to relate to? Their link is me.
What about for your dad, is Cambodian culture different from the one that he left?
Yes, he says the culture used to be very friendly, but now it’s very materialistic. If they know you are from the US, they will charge you an arm and a leg more than a native Cambodian. They think we’re made of money but we’re not. They just think we make a lot more than them. They don’t understand cost of living, that we have to pay a lot more then them for insurance and rent and things too.
Anything you want to say to close?
You know, this is natural, this is organic, your family becoming Christian. All of life is ministry and this is nothing out of the norm. We live life on life.
. . .
This is not a strict transcript of the conversation. While preserving as much of the interviewee’s voice as possible, this interview has been edited for clarity.
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