(Nota Bene: I am excepting California from any statements in my post here on out. The California ABC experience does not represent the Chinese-American experience in the church or larger culture because they are almost and sometimes are the majority in their community setting. All ABCs are minorities. Maybe I’ll address the CA vs. everyone else difference another time.)
As some of you know, I spent Dec 26-30 in King of Prussia, PA at Chinese Missions Conference 2010 — the Chinese church in America’s Urbana equivalent. Hosted by Ambassadors for Christ (AFC) it is a major influence/force in mobilizing Chinese immigrants to go into missions. Originally affecting mostly the east coast American Chinese, they are now growing — hosting a conference in San Diego and one in the UK.
I’ve been once before in 2007 but this time was a very different experience. Instead of a sophomore, I’m a college graduate. Instead of a student, I’m a vocational minister. Instead of being resistant to issues & question of ethnic (Asian/Chinese) identity, I am increasingly aware and convicted of them. It’s in the last area – ethnic identity – that the Lord spoke most powerfully to me.
I’m not ready to share or talk about all of it yet but I will say that for me personally the Lord is increasingly putting Asian-American issues into my life, both personally and ministerially. They are unavoidable, I am constantly seeing them, not with some neurotic imposition of my own ethnic crises, but because the Lord is highlighting questions, issues, needs all around me. Throughout this staff journey, God has been bringing them to me and asking if I’ll be led into it.
At this conference, I was affirmed again that one of the major needs in the Chinese church (maybe in other Asian churches too, I wouldn’t know personally) is help dealing with the 2nd generation in every way imaginable. I’ve repeatedly experienced/come across the following TWO issues pertaining to the 2nd generation church experience.
- Family issues: I, young/inexperienced 23-year-old, have been asked a half-dozen times about “how can I help/lead/guide my son or daughter?” by parents who are desperate for insight; I’ve also repeatedly been in the place of counseling Asian-American students (both at Duke and after) about how to deal with their parents’ cultural and spiritual views. In any case, the 1st and 2nd generation don’t know how to relate to each other in Biblical, healthy ways. Expectations, rebellion, spirituality, etc. are all confused and nobody knows how to talk to each other.
That’s why I keep getting asked questions that I’m generally unqualified to answer. I don’t say this with any malice, please understand it as grief, but why on earth am I, the just-graduated-not-even-married one that parents are asking? I am glad for the opportunity to serve. But something is seriously wrong. I am glad to share what I know, but how can there be nobody else, wiser, better qualified, more certain than I? Or maybe there’s nobody in the position even if they are qualified.
I’m not passive-aggressively suggesting that ABC youth ministry is inadequate; I think many of these issues are not easily solvable by programs. They begin/exist in the home. And they are complicated. But clearly there is a dearth of training, which exists because there is a dearth of vision about what is actually happening. Many church-going 1st generations assume all is well. Many of their children assume so too (if someone older says something then it’s so). This is patently untrue – the brokenness is rampant. The horrific attrition rate of ABCs leaving the church is related to this I’m sure.
- Missiological/ecclesiological issues: the 1st generation doesn’t actually know what to do with the 2nd generation in terms of their role in the church/mission of the church. The traditional 1st-generation mission is to be the body for immigrant Chinese, building up immigrant believers, and sharing the Gospel to non-believing immigrants. They are clear about this, and it has been a successful endeavor generally.
But the assumption is that the 2nd generation, once graduated from high school/college, ought to come back and serve (in youth program or English congregation — any ABC knows the dreaded request to help with summer VBS). But the issue is that the Chinese church doesn’t have a place to feed, teach, or build-up the 2nd generation even if we do come back. Our English congregations almost without fail lack purpose, vision, energy, and vigor; not because they are Biblically weak, but because they are missiologically/ecclesiologically confused.
What are 2nd-generation bicultural Asians doing in an immigrant church? While we can partner in that immigrant-reaching endeavor, the questions/callings/convictions we have still go unanswered. For instance: what do we do with our minority/bicultural identity? Even if we go along with the 1st-generation assumption, our place in the Body still is unresolved. So we are listless. We are confused. And we feel harried. But we shouldn’t be. Right? Wrong? I met a Chinese-American pastoring the English congregation of a Chinese church in VA beach. He said “We didn’t know who we were supposed to reach so we ended up reaching nobody. So now we’ve just decided to try [a certain missional outlook].” I was glad to hear that someone in similar shoes is wrestling with the same questions and pressing forward in Jesus.
These two problems in my view are cyclical. What the ABC Christian needs is a vision and guidance through other ABC Christians. The pastor from VA Beach is a big deal because as he and others like him try new things, the confused people like me will start to have models to think about, ask about, compare, and pray about. We’ll see what God is doing, and discern this together. But we are not going to have any 2nd-generation church to speak of unless we start dealing with the home issues. And to deal with the home inter-1st-2nd-generational issues (of miscommunication, different expectations, different views of God), we need intermediaries to help both sides understand the other, reconcile, and grow in Christ.
At CMC 2010 I was an intermediary for both sides of that divide. A 50-year-old man I’d seen before very humbly asked me how to help his son. I gave him my best answer — “encourage sharing, ask open-ended questions” instead of “check-point parenting, like did you eat/sleep/do homework/go to church.” He sounded slightly desperate, or grieved when he asked. I also helped to share and encourage a fellow ABC about her own family pains. The common physically and emotionally absent father leaves a back/heart-breaking vacuum in the lives of his family members. What to do? I shared my best answer – pray and go about the slow hard work of regrowing the fabric of relationship (saying thank you, faithfully doing chores, trying to engage in conversation even if it seems fruitless).
The role of intermediary is the role I’ve repeatedly been called to play. But I see myself taking up the role of pioneer as well, maybe even very soon.
I’ve shared a bit more personally than I typically would, but since this blog is about both my personal and general ministry issues, there you have it.
If you’ve been praying for me, pray that the Lord would continue to guide me in how I can faithfully answer His call to use my gifts and identity as an American-born Chinese to serve others (whether Asian or not). I very much feel that God is trying to make this a bigger and bigger part of my ministry outlook. I never thought I’d feel this way, but I willingly welcome it.
12/27 - Evening speaker session at Chinese Missions Conference 2010