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Our goal is to present an idea, the idea of AsianAmericanChristian.org
AsianAmericanChristian.org is a proposal for a ministry that offers a framework to gather and grow Asian American Christians.
THESE ARE HYPOTHESES
While I’d like to think these ideas have some basis in observation, theology and research, they are mainly hypotheses, educated guesses.
Many think that the field, the movement of Asian American Christianity is much further along that it actually is. Our popular Christian titles barely take up a shelf. And Asian American ministers have not had easy access to secular Asian American Studies academic articles either. Moreover, most Asian Americans are still relatively new to this country, and Asian American ministry is perceived by many to be irrelevant. Our perceived irrelevance makes it difficult to find funding for research, to understand and go deeper.
AsianAmericanChristian.org is largely a plea for more examination, thinking and research.
AsianAmericanChristian.org is a proposal not only for more thought, but I hope it offers a way forward, a way to be different and disagree, and still be centered in Christ. Christ is our end goal, and our way. AsianAmericanChristian.org is needed because Jesus calls us to love God and neighbor likewise, as we love ourselves—as Christ first loved us, where we’re at.
If you think I am gravely in error—please let me know. I greatly appreciate and will consider your feedback. There will also be several feedback sessions organized in the Fall. Please join our mailing list to find out more.
WHY I USE “WE”
When I say “we,” I suppose, I really mean “I,” Grace Hsiao Hanford. I do the bulk of the work, from writing to thinking to fact checking to emailing to graphic design to web maintenance. And I do stand by my thoughts. However, I use “we” because I have not completely worked alone, my ideas were not formed without the input of others, and I do not plan to continue working alone. I am greatly indebted to my advisors, prayer partners, my family and donors and others who are shy about me crediting them. My hope is that this proposal for a ministry allows all other ministries to shine, able to be themselves on their own terms. My prayer is that this would be a gift to the greater body of Christ. Using “we,” reflects my aim and my deepest hope.
Any errors, however, are entirely my own.
WHERE I’M COMING FROM
These ideas are from observation, conversation and life.
My freshman year at Stanford, I met God through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. At roughly the same time and at the same institution, Sociologist Rudy Busto noted that Asian Americans at elite colleges seemed to be bucking a common trend. While most at elite colleges seemed to be losing their faith, Asian Americans were embracing it—and this was my memory of college, too. While I remember plenty of Asian American non-Christians, I remember a non-Christian friend cornering me one day, and asking me if my InterVarsity chapter exclusively targeted Asian Americans. Between 1994-8, it did not. [Though it seems to have acquired a race-focus a few short years later, when Dr. Judy J. Park visited, as described in the preface of When Diversity Drops (Rutgers, 2013).]
Unlike what Dr. Busto hypothesized, I did not become Christian to bolster any ideas of becoming a “model minority.” I became one simply because I encountered Christ. Two songs reduced me to a trembling waterfall of tears: “Only the Blood of Jesus” and “Forever” as something simultaneously clicked in my head and heart, something so different and new and awesome and overwhelmingly satisfying: Jesus knows me and loves me. That-–the feelings and thoughts that came with that experience, and others since—that has since preoccupied my college years (and my life). It’s that, and other like experiences that have fed my thoughts, my prayers, my study of the Bible, my attentive listening of Christian teaching. Christ’s love compels us, as Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 5:14,and it’s that love that demanded a reordering of my life, a re-understanding of my life. Christ demanded my whole life.
Those experiences also made me very interested in Christianity and church. I still remember one experience after listening to John Stott preach on Luke. The only seat left in the sanctuary was behind a column, and afterwards, I couldn’t seem to move from it. My heart felt full and heavy, my mind in awe—that Jesus was the savior of the world—that the people who were sitting around me were my brothers and sisters!
It was those experiences too that made me confused when I saw discrepancies. Why couldn’t I just read any book with the label “Christian?” Why was I warned not to go to just any church?
As I traveled the country promoting the Urbana Student Mission Convention after college, I became more and more confused as I met more and more Christians. Why does faith seem compartmentalized? Why do some Christians seem to lack a curiosity about others when it purports to highly value evangelism and loving its neighbor? Why does Christian scholarship seem so lacking compared to the texts I read in college? Why do so many Evangelicals seem to be coming from a different world, so different from my own?
Understanding God’s Greater Church became my preoccupation, especially after I heard God call me to love Evangelicals in America. I went to seminary, and thanks to church history, I was convinced that most of American Evangelicalism’s problems stemmed from its break with Mainline churches. [And affirmed when I heard Operation Mobilization’s founder George Verwer mention this in a recent sermon.] I just didn’t know why, and had given up wondering why until I came across Amos Yong’s paper on Asian American Theology—but I now am jumping too far ahead.
After seminary, as I was exploring ministry options, God led me to Tim Tseng, a founder of ISAAC, Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity. It was a strange connection—I had never felt called to Asian American ministries.
I knew about Asian American ministries, however, because I was strangely pulled into it when I worked on Urbana at InterVarsity’s national office in Madison, Wisconsin. This was my first job after college, and at my very first office-wide meeting/chapel, this was the program: a presentation of the very disappointing results of a year long task force that concluded that the national office was not ethnically diverse. And minutes after, I was introduced to the whole office for the first time, quite literally, as “the diversity.” It was my crash course into Asian American ministries and the multiethnic church, and God made it a very rich season for me. I learned that I did not really know myself, that representation was near impossible, and racial reconciliation was a calling and a most worthy one.
Since then, I had kept tabs on Asian American ministries and I found myself asking Tim many of my questions. To my surprise and delight, Tim willingly engaged with me. Instead of being offended by my questions, he encouraged me to articulate them, and to wonder and investigate. And as I did so, I found myself startlingly called to Asian American ministries. As I prayed, I realized that this did not negate my previous call. To reach American Evangelicals, I needed to start with people who were the closest to me, the people who were easiest and also hardest to love, the people most like me: Asian American Evangelicals. What right would I have to reach American Evangelicals if I did not start at home first?
ISAAC gave me the opportunity to have countless conversations, to meet and hear from different Asian American ministers and to see the movement as a whole.
ISAAC also gave me exposure to scholarly works, most notably Amos Yong’s paper on Asian American Theologies. Yong argues that there isn’t one, because Evangelical theology doesn’t allow for it. Evangelical theology’s defensive posture against Liberal theology makes it favor universal propositions—and within such universal propositions, there’s no room for what Yong calls “historicity, particularity and culture.” We’re all thus suppose to be the same as Christians—which leads to compartmentalization and hypocrisy. His paper was a watershed moment for me. To me, it explained the bulk of my questions about Evangelical America. [If you are interested: my 2011 response to Yong’s paper.]
Coming from the outside, coming from a historical perspective on American Evangelicalism, Asian American ministry’s strengths and weaknesses were apparent to me. And when I encountered Yong’s article, I felt like God was confirming my wondering all along, and encouraging me to do something about the things I saw. I felt like a framework was needed, for the purposes of organization and understanding, to eliminate unnecessary judgements, to honor all Asian American ministries past, present and future. AsianAmericanChristian.org is the result.
In the time I’ve spent praying, thinking and working on this—I suppose I’ve been thinking about it since 2010 or 2011. (Asianamericanchristian.org officially launched Jan 21, 2013.)—-I find myself resonating with TS Elliot’s famous line: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I feel like I am just starting to see things anew and a fresh—and yes, for the first time. I am the same little girl who moved from Syracuse to Buffalo to Dallas to Chicago to New York, all before the age of 10, and the peripatetic adult who ping-ponged between the San Francisco Bay Area, Vancouver, Madison and now central Illinois. I am the same girl who from an early age devoured history to understand her complicated present. I am the same undergraduate who was touched at an InterVarsity Large Group meeting by a God who deeply knows me, my family and the ones around me. I am the same girl who yearns for His Kingdom to come, who yearns for the more God has for us. And I am seeing so many of these connections, so much more richly for the first time. How God loves! How much God has blessed us! How much more God has for us!
ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG is a proposal, it’s what I think is needed for the entire Body of Christ to move forward. It is the result of more than three years of prayer, study, observations and some unholy (and I hope somewhat holy) fear and trembling. It asks more questions than answers, and I pray that God would use it to open even more His way.
To God be all glory. Soli deo gloria.
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