What could happen as a generation of Asian American Christians arises and responds to the needs of their families, on their campuses, and in the world? This weekend I will be volunteering at the regional InterVarsity Asian American student conference Arise (which has been around for a while, but this is the first time it bears this particular moniker), where we will explore this theme together through the story of Esther. Please pray for the 200-some students who will be gathered to explore their ethnic identity through the lenses of their faith. Please pray for the plenary speaker, the seminar leaders, and all the other staff and volunteers to be attuned to God and to lead/serve the students well. Please pray for God to prepare the hearts of the students to hear from His Word. Please pray for healing. I think there will be students who come to the conference with deeply seated wounds.
In light of this upcoming conference, I’d like to share a bit about my own journey in this area because InterVarsity has played a huge role in my own ethnic identity formation. I can’t remember the exact years, but throughout at least all of high school and half of college I had basically been in denial of my Asian-ness. I know most bear graciously with the difficulties, but for me there came a point where the pain caused from within the culture and the racism I encountered from without caused me to hate being Asian and to effectively deny and reject my ethnicity. I effectively functioned as if I were a white person who was racist toward Asians (I know, this is really messed up). Since this story overlaps with my salvation testimony, I should also mention that I was a staunch atheist/naturalist during my whole B.C. life.
Well, towards the end of my second year at Case the Lord miraculously, sovereignly, and in one encounter saved me. And, what do you know, the girl He used to bring me into the kingdom was Asian American, and she was involved with the Asian American fellowship on campus (which is now affiliated with IV). So,of course, she started inviting me to events, and of course, I went. But at first I felt incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. I felt like a fish out of water, when, ironically, I was actually a fish returning to the water. There was also a part of me that just did not want to be there hanging out with a bunch of Asians. But gradually, as I experienced both profound vertical as well as horizontal love in the context of that community, I began to care less and less about the fact that they were Asian. This probably sounds absurd, but I was being reconciled to my own race (IV talks a lot about racial reconciliation and harmony between different ethnic groups; I had to first be reconciled to my own).
So that was one breakthrough – embracing the community that I had years ago rejected. Then came the harder part. I bore the scars of so many wounds – from the racism I had encountered from without to the brokenness experienced within the culture from my own people. All I could see were all the things that sucked about being Asian; I could not see anything good. But gradually, over the course of several years, the Lord healed those wounds and helped me to come to see and truly believe that He had created me Asian (American) for a purpose; that my ethnicity was not a mistake; and that in the way we are wired culturally (and also by nature of being bicultural), there are unique gifts for the kingdom and unique avenues through which we can glorify Him. Unique trials and burdens and pain, yes; but also unique joys and privileges and gifts to steward.
One tendency of our culture is to be modest and quiet, to not speak up, to not stick out. Therefore, to arise for us is counter-cultural. Yet the Lord is calling this generation of Asian Americans to run against our earthly culture and in step with our heavenly culture. For our citizenship is in heaven, and therein lies our primary identity. Our culture might be telling us to stay down, but God is telling us to arise.