In this video, Stephen Um, Alexander Jun, and Julius Kim address dangers for churches to avoid when ministering to Asian-Americans as well as the need to disciple “Gospel Rich Asians.”
The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.
Stephen Um: Great to have you guys here and at this roundtable discussion, Alex and Julius. What would you like to say to our non-Asian friends about doing Christian ministry to Asian-Americans?
Julius Kim: That’s a good question. I think I would start off by saying, just be careful what you mean by “Asian-American” to begin with. We should caveat that “Asian-American” is such a broad category, and I think it’s important for us to remember that there are different types of Asians. There are multiple histories, cultures, and ideas that come into play when we talk about ministry to Asian-Americans. So there’s a difference between Far East Asians and their culture to South Asians, to Southeastern Asians and even their immigration patterns to United States, their education background, their socialization, even their world views, which clash with a lot of the American worldviews. So the first thing I would say is, be aware that “Asian-American” itself is such a broad category that needs to be a little bit more precise.
Secondly, I think non-Asians especially here in North America may not be aware of some of the implicit biases they may have with Asian-Americans. For example, growing up here in America I was either viewed in one of two ways. I was either viewed as a model minority which essentially means you’ve learned the language, you’ve gone to our schools, you’ve got the good grades, you get the best job which means I have reached a standard of, let’s face it, the majority culture which is white. So you’ve made it as a model minority which means you’ve become white.
Stephen Um: You’ve assimilated.
Julius Kim: That’s right. I think we need to be careful of that implicit bias there—frankly implicit racism.
Secondly, it’s either that, the model minority myth, or I’m always going to be viewed as a perpetual foreigner. It doesn’t matter that I actually speak the language, know the culture, actually teach in a Western institution, nonetheless I’m always going to be viewed with a lens that I’m a perpetual foreigner.
And so I think we need for those doing ministry to Asian-Americans or working with Asian-Americans to be careful of implicit biases that may color the way they think and react and act toward Asian-Americans.
Alexander Jun: Julius I want to build on this idea of the perpetual foreigner and say what is it that non-Asian-American Christians can learn from Asian-American Christians?
In that sense, it is learning how to suffer well. I could take this idea of the perpetual foreigner in the dominant majority gaze in the United States and by extension the church in America for Asian-Americans always being seen as a perpetual foreigner often overlooked, underrepresented, and there are burdens there that they carry. But I think the Lord can even use that to help us understand what it means to be a sojourner in the world, spiritually speaking. We live in a world that hates Christ, that finds Christianity offensive. I think there’s a natural connection there for Asian-American Christians to relate their ethnic minority experience in the United States and parlay that easily into what it means to be a Christian. We are longing for a home where you no longer feel like a foreigner. It reminds us of what it means for us to ultimately find our rest in heaven.
Stephen Um: So New Testament idea of a resident alien. We are citizens of the Commonwealth of Heaven and of the Kingdom of God, but at the same time, we have been placed here as temporary aliens here on Earth.
Alexander Jun: Dual citizenship.
Stephen Um: Right.
And we’re here in order to accomplish the mission of God.
To follow up on that question: As Asian-American Christian leaders, what word of encouragement would you have for other Asian-Americans?
Julius Kim: That’s a good question. I think I’d start by saying that doctrine matters. We could talk more about our race and our culture and our identities of multiple realities, I know you’ve talked about this Alex, but our understanding of who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ actually is the foundation and the bedrock for who we are and what we would ever do.
And so for Asian-American brothers and sisters in the ministry who oftentimes feel isolated, lonely, and marginalized, there’s a God who’s sovereign, he’s in control of all things, and we can’t forget that. But he’s also providentially good in all things regardless of the suffering, the marginalization, the loneliness that we may feel in this type of setting. God is still our Father, and we know that because of the work of his Son our Savior and our elder brother. We have a brother who loved us so much that he died for us and so we could approach all the challenges and difficulties that we face in this bi-cultural marginalized existence knowing that we have a Father and an elder brother who love us to eternity. And that actually matters. It’s actually that’s what keeps us grounded but also keeps us going in what we’re doing.
Stephen Um: That’s what shapes our identity. Ultimately our race or our home cultural experiences do not shape our identity.
Alexander Jun: Right.
Stephen Um: Those are gifts that God has given to us that we ought to celebrate and to share with others, but it is the fact that we have been chosen and that we have been selected and given the right to become the children of God.
Alexander Jun: Let me build on this idea of identity and again holding onto multiple realities, this idea that we find our identity in Christ. Man did not create diversity; God did in the way that he designed birds of the air and fish in the sea all the different shapes and sizes and even his people. But he made us in his image. So we have this idea of imago Dei, being made in “God’s image.” And we want to embrace that.
This is the year of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and it’s great to see Asian-Americans represented on the silver screen and on television and on cable and whatnot. And while I love the representation, I want to say maybe it’s a twist on “Crazy Rich Asians” it’s “Gospel Rich Asians.” Christians have this idea that our identity and ultimate satisfaction are not found in better representation. We don’t need Hollywood to tell us who we are. We don’t need to find validation through what a dominant majority says we are. Our identity is firmly rooted in Christ who made us fearfully and wonderfully. We embrace that reality while holding in tension that here and now in the United States—and by extension the American church—we are still overlooked and underrepresented.
So how do we hold those two things in tension as we move forward? That’s the great challenge as we work through it as Asian-Americans with the rest of the watching world seeing how we respond to this in a way that is winsome in the gospel.
Stephen Um: And that’s what’s beautiful about the gospel as Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2 that we find unity in diversity. When the culture tells us in order for us to be able to be civil and to get along that we need to have uniformity, which essentially minimizes the uniqueness of different racial cultures.
But the gospel says that you can still celebrate your unique racial culture but not to make that the center of your identity. It is a unity in diversity because we’re all in union with Christ; therefore, we have communion with one other as body of Christ. Thank you, men. That was really helpful.