Photo by Sharat Ganapati

By Sharon Lee Song

A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a reconciliation meeting because I am Korean American. Our church had been leading the congregation through a sermon series on reconciliation and had recently shown a video featuring some of the atrocities committed by the Japanese toward Koreans during World War II.  One of the men in our church is Japanese American and felt really convicted, along with a sense of shame about what the Japanese had done, and wanted to seek reconciliation by proxy.  My church values racial reconciliation highly, which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to this church community.  I decided to attend but I didn’t know what to expect.

Two other Korean Americans attended, as well as another woman who was Okinawan Hawaiian American.  Outsiders would look at this meeting, and see five Asian people gathered.  They might have even assumed that we were all from the same country, or that we were related.  What struck me was that within a group that shared the same ethnicity, we were all so very different just between the five of us.

One man was Korean American, and grew up in Washington state amongst a mostly White American community.  He came to Southern California for college, and for the first time was surrounded by a majority of Asian Americans.  One woman was Korean American and had grown up in Hawaii where the majority of the population is Asian American, and then came to college in Northern California where she was in the minority for the first time in her life.  The woman who was part Okinawan also grew up in Hawaii, and was part Hawaiian as well.  The man who initiated the reconciliation meeting who was Japanese American grew up in Southern California and was third generation Japanese American.

I was born in Southern California, but moved to the DC area when I was three years old.  Then my family moved overseas to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I grew up there for four years while attending an international school where I had friends from all over the world.  It was an amazing, formative time, and when I became a Christian I looked back and knew that God had shown me a piece of the Kingdom through that international community.  I grew up with people that were all from different countries, and were of different ethnicities.  It was a rich time, where I was hungry to learn more from all of these people, with questions about the languages they spoke, what their countries of origin were like, what they ate, and more.  After four years in Malaysia, learning in an international community, I came back to the States for high school.  I experienced reverse culture shock initially, and then what followed was some pretty significant ethnic identity confusion.  I am Korean American but having grown up overseas for part of my life, and then thrusted back into my home culture which was a mostly Jewish American community near Washington, D.C.  I found out soon after moving back to the States that there was a term for someone like me:  Third Culture Kid or TCK.  A Third Culture Kid is a person who grew up in a different culture than their original home culture in which these multiple cultures create a “third culture.”  I felt like I fit in nowhere and everywhere.

It was quite an ethnic identity struggle that lasted throughout my teenage and young adult years.  In college, I hoped that I would finally find a way to fit in with other Korean Americans but was sorely disappointed.  I attended Korean Student Association meetings only to find that I didn’t think or talk like these mostly Southern Californian Korean Americans.  In my ethnic identity exploration, I even decided to research and write my senior thesis on my journey:  Ethnic identity formation and the internationally mobile lifestyle for American ethnic minorities.  It was not until after college when I worked at a non-profit for the Koreatown community that I came to terms with my ethnic identity more significantly.  Surrounded by other Korean American coworkers, I realized that there wasn’t just one way of being Korean American, and there was so much diversity in the Korean American Diaspora.  Within an ethnic group, there are subcultures and even multiple cultures, and it took me a long time to recognize that there was strength and beauty in this.

The strength in being multicultural also became profoundly apparent as I studied more the theology of racial reconciliation when I was an intern with an urban missions organization called Servant Partners.  We received this table (below) that opened my eyes.  I never realized that all of these key people in Scripture were all of the same ethnic group; they were all Jewish yet they were bicultural or multicultural, and they were all called into leadership roles.  Jesus was an ethnic Jew, but grew up for part of his life in Egypt in order to escape King Herod wanting to kill the prophesied King of the Jews.

Old Testament

Character Leadership Role Cultural Experience
Abraham Central patriarch Multicultural: Jewish/various
Joseph Central figure in Israel’s salvation from famine Bicultural: Jewish/Egyptian
Moses Central figure in the Exodus Tricultural: Jewish/Egyptian/Midianite
Ruth Figure in Jesus’ lineage/David’s great-grandma Bicultural: Moabite/Jewish
David Central king in Israel’s history as a nation Fairly bicultural Jewish/Philistine
Daniel Central figure in the exile Bicultural: Jewish/Babylonian
Esther Central figure in preventing Jewish genocide Bicultural: Jewish/Persian
Zerubbabel Central character in rebuilding of temple Bicultural: Jewish/Persian
Ezra Central character in rededicating temple/revival Bicultural: Jewish/Persian
Nehemiah Central figure in the rebuilding of Jerusalem Bicultural: Jewish/Persian

New Testament

Character Leadership Role Cultural Experience
Jesus Messiah Multicultural: Galilee area
Paul Central figure in establishment of the NT church Bicultural: Jewish/Greek
Peter Central figure in establishment of Jerusalem church Bicultural: Jewish/Greek
Timothy Early “apostolic team member” Biracial/bicultural: Jewish/Greek
Titus Early “apostolic team member” Bicultural: Greek/Jewish
Silas Early “apostolic team member” Bicultural: Jewish/Greek


How does God use being bicultural or multicultural to shape the life of a person?  I can say that even with the pain of feeling rejected by my own ethnic group at times, and feeling confused about what it means to be Korean American and a TCK, I see the strength that comes from having different life experiences and perspectives.  I realize that growing up among people from different countries actually drew me to diverse groups rather than a monocultural ethnic group, and therefore brought me into greater understanding of the Kingdom of God where every nation, tribe and tongue is meant to come together for eternity, the new heaven and the new earth.

The reconciliation meeting that we had was a powerful one, where we shared about our diverse backgrounds, spoke about different painful experiences that our families had gone through and how it connected to the war.  We each confessed and spoke intentional forgiveness over what happened between our people groups from the war.  The strength of our multicultural experiences within our ethnic group and how that contributed to the Kingdom of God was dynamic, and deepened our experience of the power of reconciliation.  Through this, we could see that reconciliation and unity were bolstered by this strength, and how true reconciliation is central to the power of the Gospel.

Sharon Lee Song lives and works in South Los Angeles with an urban ministry community.  Inspired by her own transformation through self-care and soul care, Sharon became a certified personal trainer, Holy Yoga instructor, and spiritual director.  She’s committed to using what she’s learned from her training to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

Photo by Dennis Hill

By Ajung Sojwal

It is sad that in 2017, I find myself still waiting for the realization of what Apostle Paul declared in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The full force of the issue of ethnicity within a church context took hold of me after I got ordained as a priest. Continue Reading »

Photo by keico taguchi

By Jerrica KF Ching

If I am to be completely honest with myself, I only became passionately interested in the topic of ethnicity within the past seven years.  Although I am Chinese American, it did not click to me that I was an ethnic minority until I moved from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii where I was surrounded with people who looked very similar to me. In school I was part of the majority ethnic population, and I never questioned anything about being an Asian American. Continue Reading »

Photo by Kamil Kaczor

Greetings, readers! We hope you have enjoyed our last several months of blogs reflecting on Daniel Goleman’s five components of EQ (Emotional Quotient).

For the summer, we will be embarking on a short series reflecting on the themes of Ethnicity, Generation, and Gender, or the acronym EGG for short, coined by Young Lee Hertig, executive director of ISAAC. As an introduction to our series, below she shares her own reflections and thoughts on how the themes of Ethnicity, Generation, and Gender play complicating and intersecting roles in her own life, vocation, and identity as an Asian American woman in leadership.

–Joy Wong, editor and administrator of aawolsisters.com

By Young Lee Hertig

They say that more than 70% of communication is nonverbal and that the messenger determines the message.  In other words, the medium is the message.  This means that a triple marginal medium of EGG (Ethnicity, Generation, Gender) such as myself poses multiple challenges of misconstrued messages.  As a minority/woman/generational ‘misfit,’ people relentlessly reduce me to such categories.   For example, a new staff member at YMCA started greeting me in Korean both when I entered and exited.  I just smiled at the beginning, but it got to be too much after a while, though this young black lad thought he was being hospitable.  The YMCA is a place where I just want to go in and get exercise and not be pegged by my ethnicity.

Strangers often look shocked when they find out that I am a “Rev Dr,” not just an “ethnic woman.”  You don’t get to be seen by your professions dominated by white and male.  Almost daily, I notice contrasting experiences between me and my gray-haired white male husband in the way people perceive him and me.  There’s a huge image gap in the way a triple marginal woman is perceived by people.  To document the sharp perception gaps, even when my husband was a student, people treated him as a professor and/or a pastor whereas I, as a faculty, was treated as a student.  I was even told by a colleague, “You have the wrong hair color.  You might want to dye it gray!”  To this day, my hair remains mostly black at my age!

Another example came from a man who appears to be white at a church I was visiting.  From behind where I was sitting, the man suddenly asked, “Do you speak Tagalong?”  “No,” I replied.  Then he started telling me all of his ethnicities — quarter Dutch, quarter that…..”  to locate my ethnicity.    The Bible class was about to start and I simply said, “I am an American” which baffled him.  These social interactions are taking place in Southern California, not in Mississippi.

Regarding generational differences, I am a generational misfit moving across multiple generations in my daily interactions. Sometimes I connect more with the millennials, and other times, with the boomers.  Defying the magnet of the similarity-attraction, expressed often with phrases such as “our very own,” this does not apply to my life as I am restless when pegged to belong in one category.

Yet, the challenge remains in such an intersectional space:  How do we negotiate when we juggle EGG simultaneously?  Sometimes I choose ethnicity at the expense of my gender, and other times, I see women clergy choosing gender equality in the Caucasian church at the expense of ethnicity.  In English Ministry settings, the generational divide between 1.5 and 2nd is also striking.  In diverse Pan-Asian American settings, I also noticed how complex and fluid EGG dynamics play out in communication. As a generational misfit, I often notice the same generation tends to give more credence to their own generational messengers.

Gender differences and messenger issues were displayed raw during the 2016 presidential campaign.  While watching the 2016 presidential election, what was notable was the double standard between male and female candidates.  For example, the male candidate got away with offensive remarks whereas the female candidate’s words were parsed and scrutinized for being too smart and assertive.  This means the measuring stick for the woman was softness whereas the man’s was toughness.  In no way am I advocating for equality to be synonymous with sameness when it comes to gender equality.  Rather, I want to see more of a fairness in judging female and male leaders when the messenger matters more than the message.  About 36% of Americans dismissed Clinton’s message as they disapproved the messenger, a trailblazer, who for the first time carved out an image of female presidentialness.  The question I have is, how do we leverage differences of EGG without being penalized for deviating from the norms defined by the dominant groups?

There seems to be no tribe on earth where I feel full belongingness as the multicultural person that I am.  Just like many TCKs (Third Culture Kid), I feel belongingness in a multivocal space that intersects with EGG.

Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is executive director and a founding member of ISAAC (Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University and is an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.

Photo by Kristoffer Trolle

By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

My high school chemistry teacher ribbed me constantly about the one thing I thought teachers should never complain about: I was, according to her, too quiet.

She wasn’t referring to my conversational abilities or my participation in class. I was just generally too quiet, which in her mind meant too serious and dull. She told me I needed to have more fun, to let loose. She got on my case when I didn’t have any plans for the weekend or wasn’t planning to attend a school dance (my parents didn’t allow me to).

My teacher and classmates seemed to find her teasing hilarious. I found it upsetting — but of course I was too polite and respectful to tell her so. And, as I struggled through my awkward adolescent years, I couldn’t help wondering if there was something wrong with me.

As an adult, I finally understood what it meant to be introverted — and I really disliked being that way. It seemed like I was respected less and appreciated less, especially in professional settings, because I spoke up less. I was seen as passive, inarticulate, and without strong opinions.

As Susan Cain records in her bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, this is the challenge that many introverts in the U.S. face. We live in a society in which the Extrovert Ideal dominates. Those who talk more, and talk faster and more aggressively are seen “as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends.” Introverts are stigmatized as just the opposite.

On top of all this, I felt like I was living proof of the stereotypically passive Asian female. This bothered me to no end, but I just couldn’t shake off the reality of who I was.

But a strange thing happened as the years went on, as my path crossed with more and more people. I noticed that others tended to open up to me, often with very little prompting. Colleagues, acquaintances, and even strangers would look into my eyes and unload their burdens. Over and over again, I was entrusted with stories of worry, heartbreak, betrayal, grief, and acute suffering from people who were clearly in need of a friend.

Interactions that I would begin with a simple “How are you?” or “Tell me more about that” would often end with tears, hugs, and a heartfelt “Thank you for listening.”

There was, I discovered, a secret power in being quiet, one which almost all introverts have: the power of listening.

In a world in which many are clambering to make their voices heard, there are, it seems, too few of us who simply stop and listen. I have been amazed at the number of people around me who seem to be starving to be heard, to have the time and space to share the entirety of their stories, to have someone be their friend through nothing more than attentive quiet.

I have gone through many seasons in which I tried to force myself to be more social, packing my calendar with appointments and pressuring myself to put myself out there more. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they weren’t right for me. I became exhausted trying to live up to the Extrovert Ideal and lost sight of the valuable gifts that I could provide.

I might not ever be the loudest person in the room, but I can listen closely to both the substance and the tone of what others share. I can ask good questions. I can get to know them on a deep and meaningful level. I can offer heartfelt affirmation and counsel.

I can, in short, communicate to others that I value them through my willingness to hear them out.

The act of active, attentive listening is one of the most powerful tools I know of to build relationships and to grow trust. It is also an act of service, one that keeps me humble and deeply connected to others. Listening begets empathy and compassion, and crowds out judgment and self-righteousness. As the apostle James instructs us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (1:19b).

These days it’s still pretty common for me to find myself in rooms in which the loudest voices seem to prevail. I can’t help but feel daunted in such situations, worrying about how I am perceived or what I am contributing.

But then I remember something my former high school English teacher told me: After she had me as a student, she actually changed her participation requirement for future classes. She remembers my speaking up only about four times in class (I remember it being far more than four times!), but she found each of those contributions particularly insightful and memorable. As a result, she decided to grade future students not on the number of times they spoke but on the substance of what they said.

Being quiet isn’t, it turns out, just a recipe to being boring and forgettable. When I am willing to listen, to truly understand, and to speak only when I have something meaningful to say, I can serve others in a meaningful way. This way of interacting is very different from the social skills that extroverts utilize, but it is a beautiful way to build up those around us.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is the author of a forthcoming book on how to balance marriage, family, and entrepreneurship (Hachette Center Street, November 2017). She is a columnist for Inc.com and regular contributor to Christianity Today and The Well. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, RELEVANT, and more than a dozen other publications. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the U.S., Asia, and Africa. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her online at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.

Photo by Chris Murtagh

By Melanie Mar Chow

As a psychology major in college, I wish I seized the opportunity to take more sociology classes.  For my work with college students, one of the most perplexing experiences I have working with my students is observing how leaders get students out of the parking lot after the meeting to congregate for more fellowship over a meal.  What sociological advances can inform and educate not only me, but our student leaders to navigate group decision-making? Continue Reading »

Photo by craftivist collective

By Young Lee Hertig

While reflecting on the five dimensions of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, I am struck by the impending disruption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) that would replace large numbers at the workforce. Will we be vulnerable to artificial emotion?  It seems feasible sooner than later.  How then do we decipher authentic emotions from artificial emotions?  These issues merit a series of blogs for later but for now, I will reflect on human social skills. Continue Reading »

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