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It’s in the blood

While I am not Korean, I have been to South Korea 15 times from 1999-2004 on business trips. While I was a total foreigner in Korea and their culture was completely new to me, I did learn some things. For one, I learned that the stereotypes and prejudice my Japanese mom had for Koreans was unfounded. In fact, I came to recognize that most of her issues with Koreans was due to the elitism that many Japanese have. I also learned that instead of looking at commonalities, we as Asians tend to look at what separates us.

From my experience in my secular, atheist worldview I one day found myself a Christ follower and youth pastor of a Korean-American church. I led a monthly youth ministry of praise & worship nights where several local churches would bring their youth groups to in a spirit of unity. However, I went outside cultural lines and invited everyone. One night there were several teens there that were not Korean and the church that was leading the worship music sets were Hmong. Once one of the Chinese teens realized that the group leading were Hmong, she got totally offended and exclaimed that didn’t we know what the Hmong did to the Chinese? It was said quietly to her friends that brought her and I heard about it later, but I had to admit that I had no idea what the issue was. Hmong people reside in China and I had no idea there were tensions. Kind of like I had no idea beforehand that there were tensions in Korea between Koreans and Japanese.

While on one of my business trips I was in the car with a Korean business partner and were talking about something. It was in the context of something being Korean and I mentioned again that I was not Korean. He told me that I didn’t have to be, but that it was in my Asian blood. In other words, from his perspective there was something that united us as Asians, rather than separate us as Korean vs Japanese. I understood what he meant, yet in my own mind there was still a difference. Culturally Koreans and Japanese are different. Just as Chinese and Vietnamese or Thai and Filipinos. If we add Indians as part of being Asians then it gets even more diversified.

With the pride and felt need that ethnic churches must exist to serve first generation Asians coming to America, why does the ethnic church have such a problem with ministering to second and third generation Asians? If many second and third generation Asian-Americans are migrating into the predominantly white church, then what about those that stay in the English ministry of their ethnic church? Should we speak to us all having Asian blood that unites in some way and move forward collectively as a pan-Asian church or should we look to change the perspective of the ethnic church to better meet the needs of second and third generation people? Will we always have English ministries in the ethnic church, yet find some second and third generation people migrating and congregating with those outside of their own ethnicity?

About Dave Ingland

9 responses to “It’s in the blood

  1. daniellui ⋅

    good post highlighting the tendency for Asian-Americans to gravitate towards cultural proximity- in that there is a pan-asian identity that is formed in Asian Americans for the sake of being near those like us- while contrasting that in our countries of origin, having similar colored hair isn’t enough to form a coherent pan-asian identity.

    Is there something about the immigrant experience that seems to draw Asian-Americans from all different countries of origin towards a singular identity after a a couple generations (similar to the latino concept of “Atzlan”)? Good questions on how this applies to ethnic specific churches- I question with you- how do ethnic-specific churches (which in the end are about the preservation of originating identity) engage with the formations of new blended pan-Asian, and even multi-cultural identites? Besides being a gateway for people to enter the multicultural society of “America”, can they have a role beyond simply cultural preservation? What is the role of role of God in identity? Would he want the preservation of identity or the creation of new identity? And if He desires both, how?

    • Daniel: Thank you for the reply and for continuing the questions. Answering the question as to who God is within our ethnic identity is one that I am not sure anyone can really agree upon, but one I have no idea where to begin answering.

  2. Cliff

    Hi Dave,

    When i read this post, it reminds me in Acts when there was a dispute between Christian Gentiles and Christian Jews. I don’t have a lot of answers nor do I speak to be an expert in this. But I always think the power of Christ….or the brother and sister in Christ transcend over everything.

    I mean, if we take a look at the 12 disciples, there is a zealot (equivalent to today’s terrorist to bring down the government) and we have a tax collector working for the Roman Empire. I remember a theologian once said these two parties are so separate and distance they should be knifing each other. Instead, through Christ, they are able to sit down and share a meal with one another.

    That’s pretty nuts. That’s almost like today a marine will sit down with a terrorist in Iraq to eat. But that’s the power of the Gospel.

    With the asian culture, I do not know. Maybe we lost or give up on having the faith to love our enemies. Maybe we focus so much on the ‘culture’ aspect that we lost the fellowship through Christ in the process.

    And being in a Chinese church, I still discern and see how the Holy Spirit is working among the Chinese congregation as well as the English Congregation. Yes, there are times when I think we should go separate ways. However, if it is in the blood, it is from the blood of Jesus who wash all our sins.

    Disclaimer..not here to preach or to be super Christian..i am still working on how to encourage more and really see where God is working in this multi culture, first-second generation church. Don’t think I offer anything too practical. I too have to be less prideful….

  3. gracex2 ⋅

    I really appreciate your insight and questions. (and this blog!)

    With regard to your first question of – why does the ethnic church have problems ministering to the 2nd/3rd gen, … My husband and I saw these problems distinctly with both of our college fellowships. About 75% of the members of our fellowships no longer identify as committed Christians. We’re both very sad about it. I felt that perhaps there was something lacking with the older generations’ lack of mentorship and discipleship, and this was why students found no reason/motivation/help to stay in the church post-college. Perhaps it was a culture gap between their first generation parents and them… For both my husband and I(and we grew up in completely different regions/college environments), it wasn’t that these individuals migrated toward white churches, but that they completely left the church.

    In regards to the role of ethnic churches for the 2nd/3rd gen, I’ve been wondering some of the same things myself, thinking about this largely in part because of my son (chinese/korean). Outside of where we live now, the majority of our friends and family’s kids are multiracial and it will be interesting and exciting to see how the “ethnic” church changes to meet those changing demographics and needs and whether these kids feel any connection/need for a single ethnicity church or a pan-asian church. Our friend was commenting the other day on how 3rd gen-ers feel a stronger pull to ethnic churches than their parents! It will be exciting to see and I hope that you all continue this conversation b/c I think it is so important.

  4. djchuang

    This is a very very good question. As I read it, we all should more seriously consider what kind of a future the ethnic church has in 80-100 years.

    Perhaps it can lead to some new perspectives that is beyond the short-sightedness of defaulting along the lines of, “we need an ethnic language church because immigrants are still coming.” While that may be true to varying degrees, there is ALSO a need for new kinds of churches because the children of immigrants are growing up in America, and ALSO a need for churches to reach ‘non-ethnic’ people in America because Jesus said we are to make disciples of all nations.

    I’d like to think that God could and would use any ethnic group to reach those who are different than themselves. After all, if it weren’t for the Jews that reached the Gentiles with the Gospel, and the missionaries throughout the ages, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.

  5. anakainosis ⋅

    I’d like to comment on the pan-Asian church aspect.

    One culture-shaping force (indeed, perhaps the most powerful one) that Asians face in the U.S. is shared adversity. Even though we may have vastly diverse ethnic stories, we share racial similarity, and therefore, racial adversity through stereotypes and discrimination.

    I think I’ve read of similar trends among other races. On average, a Jamaican immigrant may evoke similar responses from the majoritarian consciousness as a fifth-generation African American or a second-generation Kenyan, although they couldn’t be more distinct from their ethnic culture. Consider even Eritreans and Ethiopians, recently emerged from a border war, or Indians and Pakistanis, or orthodox Sunnis and Shiites Muslims. In the States, they all look the same. Anecdotally, I know there’s been instances of reconciliation between people who are supposed to hate each other, because there is a shared experience.

    There’s an incredibly powerful scene for me as a Korean American from the prophetic Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”. It’s towards the end, when the rioting black mob approaches the Asian-owned store and the Asian confronts the mob, crying out “I not white, I not white, I not white! I black! I black… you and me, same!” The mob laughs, and Coconut Sid tells M.L., “Leave the Korean alone, he’s alright.” They disperse away from store. (start it from 0:55 until about 1:33)

    Of course, history tells a different story, when hauntingly, 3 years after the film, there were riots on L.A. and Korean- and Asian- owned stores were targeted… that’s discussion for another day. But there is something about shared adversity.

    We share our adversity because of our race. To most non-Asian Americans, we are all the same. Ask any AA how many times they have been confused for the wrong Asian ethnicity.

    I don’t make light of our cultural differences, not at all. But where there is a shared context of adversity and common pain, perhaps there is some quality of commonality in how a life-restoring gospel of reconciliation and peace is imaged into that context.

  6. Japanese mother had uptight personality toward Koreans. Its not your fault.

  7. Your blood is Korean.

  8. Read and study Japan and Korea history. It’s allot closer then you might imagine. Biggest problem is Japanese don’t want to accept the truth. Educated Japanese know the reality and fact, Uneducated Japanese on Historical, Cultural, Racial denial. It’s not your fault. Blood of your family at fault.

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