by Joy Wong
I recently suffered an offense in church about which I had to decide whether to speak up or stay silent. Normally, I would have remained silent, with the anger of injustice burning within me. In the past, I often chose to remain silent for the following reasons: 1) somehow I had come to believe that I was overly sensitive, so that if I was hurt for any reason, it was not the fault of the person who hurt me, but it was my fault, for being too sensitive, 2) without being sure of whether my wound was a fault of mine or of others, I felt it was safer to remain silent, so that I would be the only one who had to deal with the effects of my anger and pain, and 3) perhaps my Asian-ness decided that I would rather remain in silence than burden others with my problem.
However, in this particular instance, I mustered up the courage to speak. A spiritual mentor of mine had been challenging me all summer to be more direct with my thoughts and feelings, rather than keeping them all inside. It would be a bold and risky move for me, and simply because it was not my normal response, it caused me a great deal of anxiety. By God’s grace, the outcome was good—I was thanked for being truthful, and my words were taken seriously.
Upon discussion of the event with a friend, however, we began noticing that the general attitude of those in my church was to leave the offense unaddressed—to sweep the issue under a rug, and to act as if it never happened. An extraordinarily large percentage of those in my church are introverted, which may also contribute to this response. However, my friend was quick to point out that it was due to my experience in Caucasian management styles that I was able to even consider the option of confrontation.
In retrospect, I’m glad I spoke up. I’m also gaining further understanding about the challenge of being a leader in an Asian-American congregation, in a church still largely run by first generation Asians. The delicate balance of straddling two cultures is a difficult tightrope to walk, one that takes great skill and perhaps, many attempts to perfect. On one hand, we Asian-American leaders could view this as an opportunity to draw the best from both worlds. On the other hand, it is probable that we will often feel very unsupported, especially when the wisdom of our first generation leaders does not seem to carry well into our Asian-American ministries.
In my particular instance, with the advice and reaction of my elders conflicting with the convictions of my heart, I was able to lean on the wisdom of another woman in AAWOL, who encouraged me and supported me when few others would. I felt like a lone ranger, until her encouragement rooted me in my convictions, like a strong tree that I could lean on. It is during these times that I am so grateful to God for the network of women leaders that AAWOL has to offer for advice, support, and encouragement. We are, indeed, not alone in our struggles–we just need to find and connect with one another. My hope is that through AAWOL, we can do just that, and be mutually strengthened in relationship. As it is commonly quoted, “Together we stand, but divided we fall.” My prayer is that through AAWOL, we will be able to stand together, and in doing so, strengthen each other and God’s church, to whom we have each been called.
Joy Wong is pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Currently, she is the worship coordinator for the English congregation at Evangelical Formosan Church of Los Angeles. She and her husband live in Pasadena, California. To contact Joy, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.