By Joy Wong
I had the special privilege of having breakfast yesterday with Tim Tseng, executive director of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and Young Lee Hertig, the regional director of ISAAC-SoCal. While I had understood ISAAC’s mission to be aimed at strengthening Asian American churches, Tim was able to clarify for me that part of ISAAC’s mission is also identify formation for Asian American Christians so that they feel they have something to contribute in non-Asian American ministry settings, rather than feeling disempowered or settling in mere consumer roles in the church. This made me wonder, Do I believe that Asian Americans have something to contribute in a non-Asian American ministry setting?
This question is crucial for me now, as my husband and I are currently attending a multi-ethnic church. This is a very new kind of environment for me, since for the vast majority of my life, I have only been part of Asian American ministries. Occasionally, for short seasons, I have been in non-Asian American ministry settings. However, I do see a noticeable pattern: In every Asian American ministry setting, I was a leader in some capacity; in every non-Asian American ministry setting, I more or less became a silent follower, and I never even considered leadership.
Although it has never occurred to me until now, I suppose that deep down inside, I have never really believed that my identity as an Asian American can bring value to non-Asian American ministries. During my year in hospital chaplaincy, I was trained in skills that helped me to minister
to patients of many different ethnicities and backgrounds. However, if I ever had any ministry success, I always coughed it up to the skills I acquired or my personal set of spiritual gifts. I would be hard-pressed to name something about my “Asian American-ness” that brought value to my patients or fellow chaplains. In fact, I more often saw aspects of my Asian background as a liability to overcome, rather than an asset that I could contribute.
This is a sad realization about myself and my underlying, subconscious beliefs. But lately, I have been blessed to read about and hear from Asian Americans who affirm the value of their identity, and I have been pleasantly surprised to hear Christians of non-Asian ethnicities affirming the value that Asian Americans bring to the universal Body of Christ. It is a perspective that I hope to share more and more, as I learn to accept my identity and heritage as gifts from God — not to be disowned, but to be embraced; not to be ashamed of, but to be celebrated.
Joy Wong completed a Masters of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. She and her husband currently attend New City Church of Los Angeles. To contact Joy, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.