Before Stop AAPI Hate, there was EWGAPA

An Asian American Christian legacy story

November 21, 2021. Stop AAPI Hate is one of the most significant movements today. Co-founded by Prof. Russell Jeung (one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the world for 2021), it and the AAPI community have drawn more attention to anti-Asian discrimination than at any moment in U.S. history. But it wasn’t the only time that the AAPI community rallied to fight anti-Asian discrimination and violence. And it isn’t the first time that Asian American Christians joined the struggle. This post draws from a chapter of my forthcoming book on the history of Asian  American Christianity.

When Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz, on June 19, 1982, the lenient sentence re-ignited the Asian American movement. The earlier phase of the movement centered on universities and local community empowerment. This time, it was a broad-based, nationwide movement that focused on anti-Asian violence and stronger federal hate crime legislation.[1]

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, Rev. Norman Fong was among the community leaders who rallied the Asian American community to respond to the verdict. Representatives from Chinatown churches, the Asian Law Caucus, and other community groups met at Cameron House in the summer of 1983 and formed Asian Americans for Justice (AAJ), which was modeled after Detroit’s American Citizens for Justice. Hoyt Zia (Helen Zia’s brother) was on AAJ to help stay in sync with what was happening in Detroit. Fong, who served as secretary for AAJ, had dedicated himself to activism when his family was evicted from their Chinatown home in 1970. Support from the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown and Cameron House enabled his family find housing again. As noted earlier in the book, Cameron House and the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown played a central role in mobilizing community members to fight for affordable housing in Chinatown.

Fong’s direct experience of the vulnerability of immigrant communities and the shortage of housing available in Chinatown encouraged him to become a community organizer. Under the leadership of his longtime mentor Rev. Harry Chuck, Fong organized disempowered groups such as youth and seniors. When he decided to enter the ministry, he chose to study at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he chaired its Social Action Committee and studied Liberation Theology. After a stint as a Mission Intern in Hong Kong and the Philippines, he returned to San Francisco in 1979 more determined to support immigrants and their families. He finished up his M.Div. at San Francisco Theological Seminary, joined Cameron House’s Youth Ministries Team and served as a pastor at the PCC.

In 1983, a few of the members of AAJ were involved with Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Jackson had decided to run for U.S. President that fall and became aware of Asian American protests against the verdict. Chin’s grieving mother, Lily Chin – the face of the movement – was invited to San Francisco to mobilize the community during the second anniversary of Chin’s murder in June 1984. Jackson joined her in a press conference at Cameron House, which drew the attention of the media. “Every Chinese media covered it, too,” Fong recalled. “It brought together the whole community, not just the activists…it was a pivotal moment here in the Bay Area.” The press conference was followed by an impromptu march through Chinatown. “As I led the march through Chinatown, I held a box to collect for the Vincent Chin Legal Defense Fund,” Fong noted, “I was so touched by every storeowner, even seniors on the street – everyone donating. Total unity in a sometimes divided community.” Over $20,000 was collected for what would become the biggest movement he was ever a part of. Fong contacted other churches in Chinatown and the S.F. Bay Area and Asian American caucuses. “We got great responses from every caucus and denomination,” he noted. There was much needed “solidarity with Jewish, Black, and Latino communities.” [2]

According to Harry Chuck, Fong was a key catalyst for Presbyterian Church in Chinatown’s engagement in the Vincent Chin case. “Norman provided the impetus (and exuberance) for our participation and support of the Vincent Chin case. At the time, our clergy staff resided at Cameron House so we were able to dedicate office and meeting areas for organizing community support.” [3]

Reverends Norman Fong and Jessie Jackson at the June 2021 Rally in Chinatown: “Solidarity in the Struggle from Vincent Chin to George Floyd.” Norman still works part time for the Chinatown Community Development Corporation. [photo credit: Norman Fong]

At the same time Rev. Dr. Wesley Woo, also a product of Cameron House, was a year into his appointment as Associate for Racial Justice and Asian Mission Development in the United Presbyterian Church’s Department on Racial Justice. Having just completed his Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union, Woo had dabbled with pursuing an academic career. He taught courses at the GTU and U.C. Berkeley and volunteered with PACTS while working on his doctorate. His dissertation, Protestant Work Among the Chinese in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1920 (1983) was the first historical study of an Asian American Christian community. But ministry and community organizing commitments encouraged him to pursue denominational and ecumenical leadership roles where he felt he could make a larger impact. After serving as interim Associate for Asian Missions Development for the United Presbyterian Church, he took on a part-time role as Secretary for Pacific Asian American Ministries in the Reformed Church in America which allowed him time to defend his dissertation.

When he assumed the Associate for Racial Justice and Asian Mission Development, one of his first actions was to respond to the Chin verdict and concerns about anti-Asian racism. He reached out to American Citizens for Justice, visited leaders like Helen Zia and Jim Shimoura in Detroit, and developed close working relationships with them. He also put his community organizing skills to practice by networking with other Asian American denominational leaders and activists. This resulted in the formation of the Ecumenical Working Group of Asian and Pacific Americans (EWGAPA) in December 1984. Nine denominations and three community groups attended the founding national consultation in San Francisco, namely, the American Baptist Churches, Episcopal Church, Friends, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Lutheran Church of American, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Churches, American Citizens for Justice, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and AAJ. By including non-religious community groups into the network, Woo was able to develop strong working relationships with Helen Zia, Steward Koh, and others. “I wanted to say that churches are concerned about anti-Asian violence and want to be part of [this cause],” Woo recalled. The group met two or three times a year to monitor the Vincent Chin case and other incidents of anti-Asian discrimination.[4] EWGAPA’s mission was to “focus attention of churches on anti-Asian violence” and identified four purposes:

  1. Serve as a form for information sharing, networking, and support (including publishing a newsletter three times a year)
  2. Raise the consciousness within churches, both denominationally and locally, to racially motivated violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.
  3. Support communities and groups combatting anti-Asian violence.
  4. Facilitate dialogue with other racial ethnic groups seeking to end violence and racism.

Woo’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Wally Ryan Kuroiwa, then with the Disciples of Christ, spearheaded many of EWGAPA’a activities. This included the EWGAPA News, which reprinted articles documenting and monitoring incidences of anti-Asian violence and hate crimes. EWGAPA also produced study guides“It’s Just Not Fair…” Racially Motivated Violence Against Asians in the United States (June, 1989) and Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred (1994). Hawaii-born Kuriowa converted to Christianity in college by Southern Baptist campus ministers. Later, he found his way into the Disciples of Christ and finally, the United Church of Christ, where he felt most at home theologically. He earned his Th.D. at Chandler School of Theology and was a pastor of a Disciples congregation in Ohio when he got involved with EWGAPA.

EWGAPA Resources

“It’s Just Not Fair…”,  the title of the first study guide, were Vincent Chin’s dying words. In it, Kuriowa places the issue of anti-Asian violence within a historical context, demonstrating that its root causes were not new. He then shows that economic factors were among the most important causes for anti-Asian violence. The rise and proliferation of hate groups and persistent stereotypes of Asian Americans constituted other factors. Kuroiwa then provides additional contemporary case studies of anti-Asian violence to show that Vincent Chin’s murder was not an isolated case. Thirdly, he offered some biblical theological reflections to critique racism by centering the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings, giving particular attention to the image of Jesus’ suffering servanthood, and casting a vision of all humankind as part of God’s family. Finally, Kuroiwa recommends organizing to address immediate crises and suggests three long term solutions: education, a national system to monitor incidents of anti-Asian violence, and AAPI networking.[5]

EWGAPA News

Even Renee Tajima-Peña’s 1989 Academy Award–nominated documentary, Who Killed Vincent Chin? had a touch of mainline Protestant Asian American influence! Wesley Woo’s office was the first to provide financial support for the film. Christine Choy, the co-director of that film, later told Wesley that “the initial funding made it easier or possible for her to approach others to invest in that project.”

Renee Tajima-Peña herself was raised in a Presbyterian family. Her parents attended the Altadena First Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles which was pastored by her uncle, Donald Toriumi. Her paternal grandfather, Kengo Tajima, came to the United States because of religious persecution in Japan, studied theology at Yale and the University of California at Berkeley, and spent some time as a circuit-riding preacher in places like Provo Canyon, Utah, ministering to Asian railroad workers before becoming a pastor of Japanese American churches in Los Angeles. She reflected

If I look back on my life, I can see how at each critical juncture—the decision to become a student activist, a media activist, marrying outside of my race, loving and sacrificing for my son, foregoing certain material rewards, trying to be a mensch, has been a function of Christian values I learned at home—the perception of injustice and inequality, and the responsibility of the individual to work collectively for social change. [6]

EWGAPA ceased operations in the mid-1990s in the face of declining mainline Protestant fortunes. While mainline Asian American Protestants have continued to address anti-Asian racism, such efforts never again reached the national level led by Woo, Kuroiwa, and their fellow ecumenical leaders. In a recent conversation, Kuroiwa told me that he didn’t think EWGAPA made significant headway into the Asian American Christian community – especially when compared with the social media savvy of Stop AAPI Hate. Furthermore, in the 1980s, immigrant Asian American congregations experienced explosive growth but did not identify strongly with mainline denominations, despite the efforts of American-born or raised mainline Protestant Asians like Woo and Kuroiwa. Most post-1965 Asian American Christians preferred ethnic independency or chose to partner with conservative evangelical networks and denominations. For his part, Dr. Kuroiwa counts as one of his happier ministry achievements the successful efforts in 1993 to petition the United Church of Christ to issue an apology for the actions of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association (which later became the Hawai‘i Conference United Church of Christ) in support of and active participation in the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani a century earlier. Three years later, the Hawaiian Conference offered a Redress. [7]

The public witness of Cameron House, Norman Fong, Harry Chuck, Wesley Woo, Wally Kuroiwa, Renee Tajima-Peña, EWGAPA, Jesse Jackson, and many others should not be forgotten. Indeed, their effort was one of the fruits of the Asian American caucus movements of the 1970s. This coalition of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and other American-born Asians within mainline Protestantism helped define Asian American Christianity as a movement to liberate Christianity from its Euro-American socio-political and cultural captivity. This little known story of Christians who spoke out against anti-Asian violence in the wake of Vincent Chin is an Asian American Christian legacy.


Notes

[1] Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).

[2] Norman Fong interview with Tim Tseng (September 17, 2021) and email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[3] Harry Chuck email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[4] Wesley S. Woo, Protestant Work Among the Chinese in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1850-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA: 1983). Wesley Woo interview with Tim Tseng (September 16, 2021) and email to Tim Tseng (November 11, 2021).

[5] Wallace Ryan Kuroiwa and Victoria Lee Moy, “It’s Just Not Fair…” Racially Motivated Violence Against Asians in the United States (EWGAPA: June, 1989); Brenda Paik Sunoo, Beyond the Crucible: Responses to Anti-Asian Hatred (EWGAPA, 1994).

[6] Rita Nakashima Brock and Nami Kim, “Asian Pacific American Protestant Women,” in Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Volume 1 (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006), pp. 498-505.

[7] Wallace Kuriowa interview with Tim Tseng (October 3, 2021); “Apology and Redress” Hawaiian Conference, United Church of Christ. Access at https://www.hcucc.org/apology-redress

Ministry Update: Reclaiming and Rebuilding

Nov 1, 2021

Dear ministry partners and friends,

I want to thank so many of you for your kind words of support since I announced my father’s passing a few weeks ago. The memorial service went smoothly and our family is gradually feeling renewed from the emotional and physical fatigue that accompanies grief. I hope to have an opportunity to personally respond to each of you in the next few weeks.

Before I share a ministry update, here’s a story about the lost and found diploma…

My brother, Stephen, found my missing diploma.
My brother, Stephen, found my missing diploma.

My mom proudly displayed her three sons’ doctorate degrees on her bedroom wall in her home in Brooklyn in the 1990s. But we thought my parents lost the diplomas when they moved to California more than twenty years ago (unlike my brothers, I gave her my original diploma). Over the years, I thought my diploma was lost forever. But as my brother and I cleaned out my dad’s garage a couple of weeks ago, we found them! Few words can describe the joy of recovering the only physical evidence of my Ph.D.! Hmm. Now I wonder why my dad never cleaned out his garage.


Reclaiming and Rebuilding

In the latest issue of the Atlantic, Peter Wehner observes that “the evangelical church is breaking apart.”

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

As our campuses gingerly re-opened, I’m happy to report that we have experienced an uptick of interest in our grad ministries. For example, New Student Outreach at Stanford, Berkeley, and UC Davis have gathered more new students this quarter than in previous years. The UCSF fellowship has added a third small group for doctoral students, post-docs, residences, and staff.

Yet, many students and faculty we talk to are also befuddled, frustrated, and – in some cases – angry at what is happening in the church (I encourage you to read Wehner’s article).

While there remains an interest in addressing whether Jesus’ claims are true, an emerging question now appears to be whether being part of his Body is desirable. Wehner concludes, “Something has gone amiss; pastors know it as well as anyone and better than most. The Jesus of the Gospels—the Jesus who won their hearts, and who long ago won mine—needs to be reclaimed.”

The church in America (evangelicalism, in particular) is paying the price of willful ignorance of its hunger for status and power. As many ministry leaders look to restart their ministries, it behooves us to reclaim the Jesus of the Gospels and support this generation’s efforts to rebuild faith.

I recognize that not every ministry or lay leader has the luxury of engaging this reclamation and reconstruction effort, but InterVarsity’s Grad and Faculty Ministries is uniquely positioned to help. Would you be interested in a conversation about this? It’d be great to have partners in this endeavor!

Ministry Updates

Discipleship of the mind

Dan Stringer, our Hawaii GFM Team leader, has written his first book, Struggling with Evangelicalism:Why I Want to Leave and What It Takes to Stay. Preorder now at InterVarsity Press. It will be available November 16.

Darren Hsiung, campus staff minister at U.C. Berkeley, shared a three-part series on postmodernism at the Stanford IV Gra Developing a Christian Mind (DCM) Small Group. This small group seeks guidance from God’s word and each other on topics that intersect with their lives and vocations as Christians within their respective disciplines.

I shared a draft chapter from my book on the history of Asian American Christianity with the Stanford IV Grad International Students Small Group in September.

I am also facilitating book club conversations about 20th Century American Christianity. Ministry partners, doctoral students, and IV staff have met twice already.

Faculty Ministries

There will not be a Spring Nor Cal Faculty Conference next year. Dan Stringer and Brennan Takayama, however, are continuing to support and strengthen the island-wide faculty ministries in Hawaii.

Rev. Ryan Bradley, our newly appointed Staff Associate for Faculty Ministries is gathering faculty at UC Merced.

Next Spring, we are planning on coordinating Faculty Roundtables at Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Other updates

Pray for the Stanford IV Grad Fall Retreat next weekend (Nov. 6-7). Sophia Maganalles-Tseng, adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary, will guide us to reflect on “Embodied Witness and Spirituality.”

Field Op Director, Michele Turek, has returned from maternity leave.

We welcome newly appointed volunteers in the area:

Rev. Ryan Bradley is Staff Associate (volunteer) for Faculty Ministries at U.C. Merced. He is also a Pastor at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Merced and was an Assistant Professor in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University

Lori Chang is Staff Associate (volunteer) at U.C. Davis. She grew up in San Jose, California. She is a graduate of UC Davis with a Bachelor’s in English Literature and as well as a secondary teaching credential. Lori spent 20 years as a pastor’s wife in Chinese churches in northern and southern California. She is the spouse of Team Leader, Howard Chang, and the proud mom of 3 adult children. She enjoys gardening, taking deep dives into Scripture, and discipling graduate students.

Rev. John Woo is soon to be appointed Staff Associate at Stanford IV Grad. John was formerly Pastor at Millbrae Bible Church and has twenty years of pastoral experience in Northern and Southern California. He also served at Ethnos Asia Ministries, a ministry for persecuted churches. He is married to Cynthia and they have two high schoolers Caleb and Kira.

Ministry Update. In Memoriam: Rev. Paul F. Tseng

I’ve lived long enough to know that there will be seasons of stress. Since early summer, the stress related to my dad’s rapid health decline has occupied much of my spiritual, emotional, and physical space. My book project has slowed considerably. I have not had opportunity to remind my financial partners to renew their gifts, so I now face what I hope is a temporary budget deficit. On the other hand, there have been a lot of surprisingly good news in the GFM Pacific Area. I’ll share about these in a couple of weeks.

But for this update, I’d like to invite you to pray for me and my family as we grieve the passing of my father.

My dad passed away on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. He died while doing what he loved, namely, spending time with his grandson while visiting my step-sister in the Bay Area. The last time I spoke with him was after I preached at a church in Sacramento last August. I also preached the Sunday he died. Ministry is one of the few areas my dad and I clearly overlapped. Though he was more interested in the church in China than I was, he always expressed concern about me – especially after I was pushed out of the ministry of theological education and academia. Perhaps he felt a bit guilty about the pain that my family and I endured afterwards. But I’ve reassured him repeatedly that everything has worked out for good. Though I will miss him greatly, I’m grateful that his life was a testimony to the goodness of God in the midst of adversity and suffering.

Visiting Tim’s dad in July 2021

In Memoriam
Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng 曾凡平牧師 (1928-2021)

My photo tribute to my dad can be viewed at this link.

The Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng (曾凡平牧師) died on September 26, 2021, from natural causes while visiting family in Milpitas, California. He was 93 years old. Part of the pioneering generation of immigrant Chinese church planting pastors, Rev. Tseng founded the Brooklyn Chinese Community Church in 1970 and helped plant Touch Community Christian Church in Queens and the Suffolk Christian Church in Long Island. In retirement, Rev. Tseng continued to preach and teach the Christian gospel to an ever-growing Chinese audience. His books and online broadcasts touched thousands. Beloved for his spiritual leadership and vision, he nevertheless attributed his blessed and hope-filled life to God and his fellow Christian colleagues.

Paul Fan Ping Tseng was born to an influential and educated family in Wuchuan in China’s Guizhou Province on February 15, 1928, lunar calendar 公元一九二八年  農曆閏二月十五日. As a youth, he opposed the foreign influence of Christianity. He enjoyed telling the story of when he led a group of young people to throw rocks at the stained-glass windows of a local Catholic church. He married Mao Xiang Shen (申茂香) in 1944, who passed away in 1961. In 1948, their only surviving child, Rong Zeng (曾容), was born. They also had two sons who died young.

Paul Fan Ping served as an engineer in the Nationalist Chinese Air Force during the Chinese Civil War. In the wake of the People’s Republic’s takeover of the Chinese mainland, he relocated to Taiwan in 1949 instead of returning to Guizhou. While that decision meant that he would not see his family for many years, it also led to his conversion to the Christian faith. In Taiwan in the 1950s, Paul converted to Roman Catholicism during his recovery from tuberculosis. A caring priest and the near-death experience persuaded him to embrace the Christian faith. Paul later joined the Seventh Day Adventist church and entered the ministry as a chaplain at the Taiwan Adventist Hospital in Taipei. There he met and married a nursing student, Anna Hsieh (謝慧貞), in 1961.

In 1965, Paul, along with Anna and their first son, Timothy, left Taiwan and journeyed to Worcester County, MA, to complete his theological studies at Atlantic Union College. Their second son, Paul Charles, was born in Clinton, MA, at this time. Feeling led to plant Chinese churches, Rev. Tseng moved his family to New York City where their third son, Stephen, would be born. In 1970, the Chinese Christian fellowship that met in the garage of his family’s Brooklyn home was officially organized as the Brooklyn Chinese Christian [now Community] Church. Pastor Paul and Anna faced the hardships of the fledgling church during its early years with determination and faith, all the while devoting themselves to raising three boys.

Under his leadership, the small church sponsored dozens of ethnic Chinese refugee families from Southeast Asia displaced due to a border war in Vietnam in 1979. The church, at the time, also shared facilities with a Haitian, Puerto Rican, and White (transitioning to African American) congregation and became an early model of multicultural ministry at the Baptist Church of the Redeemer.

As the church grew in the 1980s, the Tseng family experienced a bit more stability. They were reunited with Eunice’s family, who immigrated to New York City. Pastor Paul then embarked on efforts to plant churches in Queens and Long Island, New York. In the 1990s, BCCC was able to acquire its own facilities. During that time, Pastor Paul visited China frequently to teach, train, and connect with the local church leaders. He became known as an insightful biblical interpreter and expositor.

Rev. Paul Tseng retired from full-time ministry in 1999, shortly after Anna was diagnosed with ALS. They moved to San Diego, California, where he cared for Anna and continued to reach out to the Chinese community with the gospel. Anna Hsieh Tseng passed away peacefully with her family by her side shortly after moving to Elk Grove, California, on September 9, 2003.

Paul married Amy Meng Xiao (蒙霄) on October 24, 2004 and settled in Elk Grove. He was finally able to enjoy traveling for recreation and treasured spending time with his family. Writing books, preparing lessons, and teaching, Pastor Paul served the local Chinese community and supported ministries in China. When he could no longer travel to China, he trained Christian leaders throughout Asia by teaching and broadcasting online. He continued serving until his death.

Rev. Tseng is survived by his wife, Amy Meng Xiao (蒙霄); his three sons and their spouses: Timothy (曾祥雨) and Betty, Paul Charles (曾祥霖) and Katie, Stephen (曾祥雷) and Vivien; his two daughters and their spouses: Rong Zeng (曾容) and David Mei Lun (王美伦), Peggy (孙湉) and Xiao Li (李潇); 11 grandchildren; 6 great-grandchildren; and his younger sister and her spouse, Fan Xuan (曾凡宣) and Rong (胡榮).  He was preceded in death by his first wife Mao Xiang Shen (申茂香) in 1961, his second wife Anna (謝慧貞) in 2003, and his younger brother Fan Zao (曾凡藻) in 2021. 

Rev. Paul Fan Ping Tseng leaves a grateful family and an inspiring legacy of faith in God and devotion to the Chinese church worldwide.

A viewing, open to all friends, will be held at East Lawn Memorial in Elk Grove, California, on October 14, 2021, between 5pm and 8pm.

A private viewing and memorial service will be held for family members on October 15, 2021. The service will start at 10am and will be livestreamed from the East Lawn obituary website: https://www.eastlawn.com/obituary/pastor-paul-fan-ping-tseng/

In lieu of flowers or non-monetary gifts, please consider making a gift to these two organizations. Their missions represent the lifework of Rev. Paul F. Tseng. Gifts may be made “in honor of” or “in memory of” Rev. Paul F. Tseng.

Overseas Missionary Fellowship
10 W Dry Creek Circle
Littleton, CO 80120
https://omf.org/us

The Alliance of Asian American Baptist Churches
Seminarian Scholarship Fund
c/o Japanese Baptist Church
160 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122
https://allianceofaabc.wixsite.com/mysite

Virtual Campuses Bearing Fruit (A Ministry Update)

Matching Grant Update (June 18, 2021): I qualified for a $3,000 matching grant from IV’s Staff Stabilization Fund. This grant is meant to offset funding losses to my budget as a result of the economic downturn from COVID. Thanks to several new ministry partners, I was able to receive the matching grant! I’m so grateful to God and everyone who is helping us gear up for the summer and fall!

May 19, 2021

As the 2020-21 academic year draws to a close, I look back and marvel at God’s grace in the GFM Pacific Area. In a year where the soil of campus ministry was parched, I am grateful for the fruitful harvest. God has provided in the midst of scarcity!

The struggle to see

InterVarsity’s unique contribution to the church is to point to God’s big vision for the university and the world. The seeds of almost every modern renewal movement in the church and society were planted among students and faculty who became world changers. But this year, it was very challenging to cast God’s big vision to students and faculty. We could not meet in person or be physically present on the campus.

Hello boomer

Another challenge came from the racial reckonings and political polarization. These compelled many Christians to do some soul searching about their silence and complicity. While most young adult Christians sought to engage these issues, there was also a strong backlash from other Christians (usually older). At odds with one another over issues like Critical Race Theory, President Donald Trump, religious liberty, etc., confusion reigned and has made efforts to bear witness to Jesus very difficult.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to report that the students and faculty in the Pacific Area have made a valiant and successful (I would argue) effort to built communities and engage this cultural and historical moment. For some, the digital platform actually enhanced community and learning. Here are some examples of how God has been at work in our area:

Laboratory for World Changers

As our team and students worked diligently to produce digital community and learning opportunities, it gradually dawned on me that we were becoming a laboratory for world changers. In addition to our on-going efforts to build communities of disciples, we were able to introduce a number of relevant topics for the discipleship of the mind and world engagement.

All of our recorded learning spaces (e.g., student-led Square Inch Stories) can be found at the GFM Pacific YouTube channel but I’d like to highlight some here:

  • Hawaii GFM Team Leader (starting July 2021) Dan Stringer led an online discussion about his forthcoming book, Struggling with Evangelicalism (IV Press, 2021) and offered frameworks for understanding and navigating American evangelicalism (all the good and bad).
  • Ron Sider, past Executive Director of Christians for Social Action (formerly Evangelicals for Social Action) spoke to us about Christian engagement in politics in light of the 2020 Presidential election.
  • We co-hosted with Black Scholars and Professionals Ministries In Search of Shalom, a seven-part webinar series exploring Christian perspectives on a variety of social justice issues.
  • During the annual grad winter conference, speakers from different parts of the world (Fletcher Mantandika, Jenna Sanchez, Dr. Tan Lai Yong, and Dr. Grace May) helped our students consider how to share the gospel in a changing (post-pandemic) world.
  • At our faculty/staff conference, Dr. Timothy Muehlhoff (Biola University) offered challenging, yet encouraging, ideas for Christian faculty and university staff to engage the post-Christian campus with winsome hospitality. A religious liberty panel (which included IV’s Greg Jao) discussed how Christians can navigate the muddled line between advocacy for religious freedom versus Christian privilege.
  • Jamie Duguid, a Ph.D. candidate, led a discussion about engaging Systemic Evil in Genesis 47:13-27 and challenged dualistic thinking about good and evil in society and in the church.
  • Tony Payne from Australia, and author of The Trellis and the Vine, led a discussion about the raison d’etre of Christian life – namely, to help all people move closer to God’s redemptive purpose in the world through Jesus.
  • On June 18, David Moe, Ph.D. candidate at Asbury Theological Seminary, will discuss how the current political crisis in Myanmar unfolded, how people of faith there are responding to the military coup, and how we can help. Register at tinyurl.com/DavidMoe.
  • This summer, our team is developing Summer Connections, a lab for grad students who seek to become world changers. A mini-conference and a series of electives will be offered. More details are forthcoming.

Honoring Our Students

Our students have been so impressive this year! I’d like to draw attention to just a few of them, especially those who are completing their studies (my apologies for leaving out many other wonderful leaders).

  • Anna Dahlgren and Jackson Yan carried the torch and kept the Grad Fellowship at UC Davis alive through some very lean years. Over the past two years, the fellowship grew and new leaders are ready to step in now that Anna and Jackson have completed their studies!
  • Stanford’s IV Grad has had a history of leadership excellence and the past two years was no exception. Even after campus staff minister Wendy Quay’s departure, the students have continued to cultivate a thriving presence. Jonathan Love, who has served as President for multiple years, is completing his studies. Kudos to him for his impressive leadership!
  • Janice Goh has effectively led the scattered fellowship groups at UCSF for the last three years. She has cast a vision for a unified student witness on campus while engaging the grad students in the Pacific Area. As an international student from Singapore, her enthusiasm for building Christian witness has been infectious even as she has joyfully provided leadership at the Winter Grad conference.
  • Finally, another international student from Singapore, Esmond Lee, will conclude his first year as Area Dean of Students. He anticipates finishing up his studies at Stanford at the end of the year. We have been blessed by his gregarious spirit as he connected grad leaders from our six chapters and helped coordinate our area-wide initiatives.

God is cultivating an emerging generation of Christian world-changers in the Pacific Area who can respond to the most urgent concerns in the church and the world. It’s such a blessing to be a part of this growing spiritual eco-system of grad students, faculty, alums, friends, and churches!

Prayer Requests

  • I’ve enjoyed the many conversations I’ve had with ministry partners this past year. We’ve discovered that so many of our fellow Christians are feeling alienated from the institutional church. Please pray for us as we attempt to find more opportunities to minister to alums and peers who are feeling “done” with the church.
  • Dr. Jane Hong (Occidental College) and I co-hosted this season of Centering, the Podcast of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center. The ten episodes that aired this spring gave attention to the history of Asian American Christianity. I’ve posted summaries and links to the podcast here. Please pray that these episodes will be a helpful source of encouragement!
  • On my birthday, I received a book contract from IV Press Academic to write a history of Asian American Christianity. The book is tentatively titled, Asian American Christianity and the Quest for a Better Country. Please pray for me to complete the manuscript on time!
Working on new book!

I’d like to conclude with some words that have encouraged me this year:

When we suffer anything for Christ’s sake, we should do so not only with courage, but even with joy.
If we have to go hungry, let us be glad as if we were at a banquet.
If we are insulted, let us be elated as though we had been showered with praises.
If we lose all we possess, let us consider ourselves the gainers.
If we provide for the poor, let us regard ourselves as the recipients.
Do not think of the painful effort involved, but of the sweetness of the reward;
And, above all, remember that your struggles are for the sake of our Lord Jesus.

John Chrysostom

Transform our memory, Lord, so that whenever we encounter suffering for your sake, we will recall all the saints who have gone before us whose courage and faith brought us this far. Amen.

To make, renew, or increase your contribution to my ministry, go to: http://givetoiv.org/Tim_Tseng

God Sees AAPI Essential Workers: An Easter Reflection

For Faith in Action‘s Keeping Faith Series

April 5, 2021

God Sees AAPI essential workers – an Easter reflection

As we remember essential workers who have disproportionately experienced illnesses and deaths during the pandemic, I want to recognize the Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have also borne the risks and have yet to be fully acknowledged. Many are just beginning to learn about this nation’s long history of anti-Asian hatred and violence. During this pandemic, members of the AAPI community have been victims of a horrific rise in discrimination, violence, and hate crimes. More than 3,800 attacks on Asian Americans have been reported. Then there was the shootings in Atlanta.

But Asian American and Pacific Islander essential workers have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID:

— Filipino nurses make up 4% of all the nurses in the United States, yet they make up 31.5% of the deaths of nurses from COVID. And one of those nurses was Rosary Castro-Olega. Rosary came out of retirement at the start of the pandemic because she really wanted to help out, but she was one of the first Filipino nurses to die from COVID.1

— Last year, data about the COVID infection rate of South Asians essential workers in New York City was initially under-reported. These workers compose a large part of the essential workforce (with high concentrations in low-wage, service sector jobs such as taxi driving, restaurant work, and managing grocery stores). A deeper analysis showed that South Asians had the second-highest infection and hospitalization rates for COVID-19, second only to Hispanic Americans. And Chinese Americans had the highest COVID-19 mortality rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.2

— In addition, AAPI women who are essential workers have continued to face an alarming and unacceptable pay gap. The pay disparities are largest among elementary and middle school teachers, with AAPI women being paid just 79% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. AAPI women registered nurses are paid 82% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Lastly, AAPI women cashiers and wait staff make 84% and 89%, respectively, as much as non-Hispanic white men in those occupations.3

AAPI essential workers are seen, yet not seen.4

But despite the history of exclusion and erasure, AAPI essential workers and others who have been rendered invisible can draw encouragement from the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.5 Not only was God the God of Abraham and Sarah, God was also the God of Hagar, the Egyptian. In Genesis 16, Hagar, whose name literally means “immigrant,” was abused in her adopted family. One might call Hagar an essential worker, for her pregnancy was key to the childless Abram and Sarai’s legacy. Instead, she was rewarded with spite. So she fled into the desert to nurse her indignity, and I believe, was sorely tempted to normalize her invisibility. But God would have none of that. An angel met Hagar at a desert wellspring and delivered a powerful message – God’s promise of a great progeny. And that is how God received the title, “El-roi,” the One who sees me, for this was the name Hagar gave to God (v. 13). God is “El-roi” for those who are rendered invisible in our society, too.

What is more, Christians believe that Jesus invites his followers to also open their eyes and see. In Luke’s accounts, two of Jesus’ disciples left their peers, who were still shocked by his crucifixion and death, and made their way towards Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They had heard reports from some women disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The women also reported that the angels at the tomb claimed that Jesus was alive. Yet, instead of staying to find out what happened, they chose to walk away. Perhaps they no longer wanted to be associated with Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to hide and make themselves invisible. But when Jesus joined them on their journey, the disciples did not recognize him. This is pretty strange, when one considers that they spent the last three years with Jesus. Despite clear signs of hope, including Jesus’ living presence, they saw only death. Faces downcast, they never recognized that it was the resurrected Jesus who had accompanied them all along. Not until dinner time, when they broke bread together, were their eyes finally opened.

Essential workers are not seen and recognized because doing would require opening our eyes to the injustices and inhumanity of our social systems – and our uncomfortable complicity. Similarly, the AAPI community is not seen and recognized because we would then have to acknowledge a more complex history of racialization in the U.S. than many of us are ready to embrace. But people of faith can trust that their God is One who sees; their God is One who invites others to see. May we draw strength from our faith traditions, knowing that God sees us. May we keep our eyes open to those rendered invisible among us. Let us hang on to hope and continue to work towards greater equality and dignity.


Notes

[1] “Why Are We Here?Codeswitch Podcast (March 31, 2021); “4 Percent of Nurses, 31.5 Percent of Deaths. Why Filipino nurses have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemicThe Atlantic Podcast (February 25, 2021).

[2]  Sojourner Ahébée, “‘Without data, there’s no equity’: Deficient Asian American COVID-19 data masked community-wide disparities.” WHYY (PBS) (March 14, 2021).

[3] Nick Kauzlarich and Daniel Perez, “AAPI Equal Pay Day: Essential AAPI women workers continue to be underpaid during the COVID-19 pandemicWorking Economics Blog (March 8, 2021).

[4] AAPI Frontline NBC News (an attempt to give visibility and to honor AAPI essential workers).

[5] Olivia B. Waxman, “A ‘History of Exclusion, of Erasure, of Invisibility.’ Why the Asian-American Story Is Missing From Many U.S. Classrooms Time Magazine (March 30, 2021).

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