Urbana 15 - An Asian-American Perspective

Not So Asian-American Worship

I remember that when we first went into the evening session of Urbana 12, I was so confused. What kind of worship was this?! Having been saved and starting my walk with Jesus in a Asian-American church, much of my faith has been defined in the Asian-American context.

So what is an Asian-American worship context? Well, for starters it's a deeply personal one. Raise your hands, but not too much. Pray intensely, but appropriately. Use worship as a time of deep meditation and reflection. Despite our lack of physical expression, the Asian-American worship experience is not one devoid of emotion. There are deep wells of emotion and spirituality, but expressed through our roots of honor and respect to the One of authority.

Now imagine taking that and transplanting it into the world of Urbana. I remember how quickly I fell in love with the music, especially many of the songs sung in Swahili and Congolese. There was something so uniquely beautiful about them that allowed me to engage with the Lord in ways I had never done before.

I was, however, still uncomfortable. My hands and my feet didn't know what to do. My hips don't lie, but they definitely didn't know how to tell the truth.

It took me the entire week of Urbana to immerse myself into worshiping in new ways. It was my first exposure to a fundamental understanding of how worshipful dancing and laughing and celebrating actually were. While God was deeply intense, He was also a God of great joy and love.

Not So Asian-American Ministry

Much like our worship experiences, we may often feel out of our depths when we are exposed to new concepts and ideas that challenge our walks with Jesus. For many of us, especially those of us who have grown up in the church, there is almost a natural rhythm to how we do life as believers. It becomes easy to dismiss things as being too radical or too irrelevant to our Christian story.

I have the privilege of serving and doing life with many fellow Asian-Americans while at Rutgers, and many of them have joined me here at Urbana 15.

Yesterday, when Michelle Higgins went up to speak about Black Lives Matter and how it intersected with the Gospel, I paid special attention to how these Asian-American friends around me reacted. While we were leaned in and engaged for much of the evening session, Michelle Higgins' preaching met a very different response. Bodies were leaned back into the seats. Folded arms and thoughtful frowns gave away very little about what was underneath the surface. Why was this the case?

Now, I don't believe it's because we don't care. But for many, we simply didn't know what to do with the information we were given. How does the model minority respond in a Gospel way to the plight and fight of our black brothers and sisters? How do we dispel our inherited prioritization of achievement and ethnocentrism to take up a racial cross that is not our own?

By no fault of our own, Asian-American believers were caught in a place where we wanted to be engaged in this story of racial reconciliation and foreign missions but didn't know how to care or what to do.

True Asian-American Ministry

My Asian-American brothers and sisters, my challenge to you is this: I know how you feel, and I IMPLORE you to stay engaged.

Urbana 2015 may seem like a place where we are stepping into worship and struggles that are not our own. For many of us, it is the first time where we are out of the comfort zone of the Asian-American church.

But I would declare this: True Asian-American ministry IS black ministry. True Asian-American ministry IS white ministry. True Asian-American ministry needs to include the whole family of God, or it is not ministry at all.

As awkward and bizarre as all of this may seem, there is a holy and transforming power when the depths of Asian-American faith meets with multi-ethnic mission.

Did you ever see an Asian dude dance to African music? It's happened before.

So Stay Engaged.

So don't just wait for things to click or that conviction to rain down. Want practicals?

  • Engage yourself by going to the prayer rooms, praying for God to increase your love for those you can't love by yourself. 
  • Inform yourself through seminars and research about what our brothers and sisters are going through.
  • Write things down during sessions for later, not just ride on the emotion of the moment.
  • Discuss during meals what the Asian-American Gospel response should be to Black Lives Matter or the Syrian refugee crisis or the persecution of the global church.

I'll end this post on a very relevant quote from Francis Chan, because as Asian-Americans we can be so deathly good at the study of theology that our obedience becomes immobilized by it. Imagine what begins to happen when we acknowledge our passiveness, overcome it, and begin to truly fully after Jesus in both word and deed:

"We've lost this understanding of simple obedience. Because we just study, study, study. Now, I'm all for Bible study, but sometimes we just talk it to death. We talk about it so much and keep discussing until nothing becomes concrete anymore. And then we just sit around in circles and go, "Well, what does follow really even mean?"

But when Jesus told Matthew to follow me, Matthew knew exactly what he was supposed to do: Get up. Start moving. And follow Him wherever he goes."

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Comments

I too am an Asian American and I appreciate the words in this post. Thank you and oh how I agree. Perhaps this is why Jesus called me from the Asian American Intervarsity Chapter at my University to the International Student Intervarsity Chapter in my second year. And to think that I began my college experience with an ultimatum to not join anything that was Asian specific. Ha, how Jesus turns things upside down so that they can be right side up.

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