Sowing Seeds for Virtual Campuses. A Ministry Update.

Sowing Seeds for Virtual Campuses
Tim Tseng | September 13, 2020

Photo by Dương Trí on Unsplash

It has been a summer of discontent. It has also been a summer of possibilities. The pandemic and protests have plowed soil that had lain fallow far too long. In response to where we believe the Spirit is leading the church’s ministry to campuses, our GFM Pacific Team is transitioning to digital platforms in anticipation of virtual campus life. Moving on-line also gives us flexibility to increase outreach and jump start hybrid ministries when we return to in-person gatherings. It has been hard work for our staff, grad student leaders, and faculty. Because there is uncertainty about the effectiveness of these changes, it feels more like sowing than planting.  But it also feels like spiritual renewal.

Most of the heavy lifting has been done. But to be honest, I think we’ll be quite busy for the remainder of the academic year as we learn from these experiences and tweak our digital ministries. Anyway, have a look at what we did. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

1. We created a website for the Pacific Area GFM. The website serves as a portal to our grad student chapters, faculty/staff ministries, and student blogs.

2. We created social media accounts for communication and marketing:

3. We appointed Esmond Lee to serve as the volunteer Dean of students for the Pacific GFM Area. Esmond is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University. He has brought together student leadership from our six grad student chapters (Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, U.C. San Francisco, U.C. Santa Cruz, and University of Hawaii Manoa) to plan student-led digital events.

Speaking of which, our grad students are organizing Square Inch Stories (SIS) Exchanges and other on-line events. The SIS provide opportunities for grad students and postdocs to share how they see God working in every square inch of their lives (including their academic disciplines). The name draws inspiration from the declaration of Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920):

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’

Kuyper’s quote is not about Christian colonialism. Rather, it speaks to the conviction that God seeks to redeem every area of life – all of creation – for good. I’m delighted that our students are affirming Christian discipleship that includes the integration of faith with their professional vocation and academic disciplines.

Pacific Area GFM student zoom-inar

We anticipate more student-led zoom-based events this fall. Many of them will be open to undergrad students, faculty, and ministry partners, too! So check our Facebook pages and Instagram regularly for more information.

4. The digital platform has also enhanced our ministry with faculty and college staff. Some faculty/staff chapters have experienced an increase in participation because the zoom app makes it easier to meet. We have improved collaboration with the InterVarsity Pacific Region staff (who minister to undergrads and faculty) and with Cru’s Faculty Commons. In Hawaii, thirty faculty/staff participated in a virtual lunch gathering on April 24 and a virtual retreat on August 13-14. Thirty also joined the Northern California faculty/staff “meet and greet” on August 12. Even more participated in the GFM West Coast Virtual Faculty Conference on July 28-29 and a digital Camino spiritual pilgrimage over the summer (sponsored by IV’s National Faculty Ministries). These summer activities for faculty more than made up for the postponed Nor Cal Faculty/Staff Conference. I sensed that our faculty/staff were spiritually refreshed, enjoyed connecting with and praying for one another, and energized to bear witness to Christ on their campuses this fall.

I hope to see some of our faculty work on projects that can inform students, colleagues, and the Church about ways to live out Christian faith in the midst of change. I believe their expertise is much needed for our times. (For some examples, see the Venn diagram project of So Cal GFM, the Carver Project, the Consortium of Christian Study Centers)

5. Also, on July 13 and 17 we hosted a virtual watch party for Chinese Church ministry partners to view “Gimme a Faith,” a PBS documentary about the experiences of students from China who were met by a Chinese church in North Carolina. The after party conversation led to some substantial reflection about how to connect with and reach students from China during our very challenging political climate. We hope to offer more opportunities to share and learn from our ministry partners. Special thanks to Darren Hsiung, our campus staff at UC Berkeley (and who is now fully funded!) and Callie Chaspuri, International Student Ministries in Las Vegas, for organizing the watch party!

6. Finally, I want to officially welcome Howard Chang to our team! Pastor Howard pastored the Davis Chinese Christian Church since 2014. Prior to that he had over twenty years of pastoral ministry experience in Chinese churches in Northern and Southern California. He completed his D.Min. in Leadership Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2016.

This past year, Howard served as Staff Associate (volunteer) at the Grad and Professional Students Fellowship at U.C. Davis, along with his wife, Lori. Howard will be a Team Leader for the California Central Valley. As soon as he completes support raising, he will lead our grad and faculty ministries at U.C. Davis and explore collaborative efforts in Sacramento and U.C. Merced. His passion in ministry is equipping Kingdom-minded leaders through personal mentoring and team building.

Howard is also an active patient health advocate and blogger. He is motivated by empowering and inspiring those living with chronic illness to thrive emotionally and spiritually. He draws from his experience living with severe psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune skin disease, since childhood. His award-winning column, The Itch to Beat Psoriasis, has been hosted by Everyday Health since 2007. WEGO Health, a patient leader network, named Howard to their Top 10 List: 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his advocacy work.

Please pray for him as he raises support this fall!

Unlike planting, the sowing metaphor implies a willingness to relinquish control over the end results. Jesus used this metaphor in his well-known parable. Some seeds fell on the wayside or were choked by thorns and thistles, unable to produce fruit. Others fell on rocky soil and never grew deep roots. Yet, some fell on good soil and bore much fruit. We don’t know if our efforts this past summer will yield good fruit, but we trust God to provide the growth. I’m confident that God will bring about renewal. Thank you, ministry partners, for your prayers and financial support!

Would you consider making, renewing, or increasing your financial support for my ministry this month? Just go to http://givetoiv.org/Tim_Tseng and login or set up an account in order to make a secure on-line donation. Let me know if you prefer to contribute by other methods.

Battling my imposter syndrome

Over the past three months, I’ve been busy transitioning our Grad and Faculty ministries to on-line platforms in anticipation of a challenging new academic year. But, I’ve also had the privilege to talk and teach about anti-Asian racism and Asian American history and theology.

I’m not comfortable promoting my work or myself. Some may think that the diversity of experiences I’ve had would boost my self-confidence. Actually, the opposite is true. It’s not really humility, either. Since the trauma of leaving theological education and the academic community fifteen years ago, I’ve wrestled with “imposter syndrome” in almost everything I’ve done.

But reconnecting with my academic peers at last year’s American Academy of Religion meeting, being invited to re-engage anti-Asian racism by the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the Alliance of Asian American Baptists, and having a chance to provide a reflection for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary has renewed me spiritually and intellectually. I still don’t like seeing or hearing myself on video, but what the heck. I need to hear the advice that GFM gives to grad students and young faculty when facing imposter syndrome – trust God because he has placed us in these stations of life for a bigger purpose. And, for me, the larger purpose is giving voice to Asian Americans and reforming Christianity to face its global and multi-racial future. So, here is a little bit of my passion…

I. Having my academic work mentioned as recommended summer reading!

I’m grateful that some of my academic publications were referred to by Dr. Jane Hong in Melissa Borja’s blog, “Asian Americans and American Religion: Recommendations for Your Summer Reading and Fall Syllabi.” The field of Asian American religion has really expanded since I was active in it. I’ve been focused on a history and theology of Chinese American Christianity project, but working with Grad and Faculty Ministries has justified re-entering the wider field.

II. Giving a video devotional for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center invited me to give a reflection on Panethnicity and the Bible for their Centered Blog. Three other scholars also shared their devotionals during AAPI heritage month. Please have a look at the blog!

Panethnicity and the Bible

III. Addressing Anti-Asian Racism during the coronavirus pandemic

The Alliance of Asian American Baptists invited me and Katharine Hsiao to discuss racism against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rev. Florence Li, National Coordinator of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies hosted the conversation. Katharine discusses how Asian American Baptists are responding to reports of anti-Asian racism. I provided a historical overview about how anti-Asian attitudes and ideas permeated American society. Something that I hope to share more is about how Christians have been complicit with racism and how some Christians have also fought against racism. Each generation of believers have a choice to make.

Rev. Florence Li interview about anti-Asian racism during COVID-19

Here is a short interview with Kwok Pui Lan on “Why I signed the AACC Statement” for the Asian American Christian Collaborative. It was hastily organized, but I was blessed to re-connect with one of the leading Asian theologians of our generation!

A conversation with Dr. Kwok Pui Lan

I also was on a panel at U.C. Diego’s Asian American InterVarsity chapter with Jenn Louie (InterVarsity’s California Central Valley Area Director). We discussed the effects of Anti-Asian sentiment and some practical ways to respond to it. Thanks, Zach Wong, for inviting me!

We now resume regularly scheduled programming…

Asian Americans Documentary – initial thoughts

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I’ve eagerly anticipated the new Asian Americans documentary that aired on PBS the last two days. I viewed the previews and promoted it heavily among my friends. And I was not disappointed.

Asian Americans is a five hour patchwork of intriguing personal and family stories woven into a long, complex and rich history. Under the shadow of white supremacy in U.S. history, various Asian Americans have struggled to survive, fought for civil rights, and refused to be silenced. The documentary’s dominant meta-narrative is that of heroic Asian Americans who battled racial exclusion and marginalization to prove that they are Americans. Thus, resilient victims, vocal social activists, conscientious political leaders, achievers and celebrities who reflected on their Asian American identities were the given the most attention in this documentary.

One of the participants in a post-air watch party wondered who this documentary’s audience was. Many thought that it was primarily for Asian Americans and questioned whether non-Asians American would be much interested. I agreed that Asian Americans would be most interested in the documentary. It resonated with me and many of my friends who can identify with the experience of being marginalized and silenced. There were many cathartic moments in the documentary that left me in tears: the devastating impact of the World War II concentration camps on one Japanese American family, the trauma of the Southeast Asian refugee experience, or the all-too familiar images of Vincent Chin’s grieving mom. Indeed, the recent surge of anti-Asian racist incidents in the wake of COVID-19 is a visceral reminder that anti-Asian sentiment, despite recent Asian American progress, lie just beneath the surface, waiting to be sparked. So, yes, this documentary is an important reminder to Asian Americans that despite our “breakthrough” (the title of the final episode), the hard fought victories of the past can be easily snatched away.

But the documentary was also for a mainstream American audience. This is not just our story, but an American story. Rather, a revision of the American story that centers the narrative on a racialized people. Those who despise multiculturalism or bemoan the deletion of Western Civilization in the curriculum cannot escape the truth of the whole story of America. This is a truth that I’ve engaged in my scholarship. This is the truth of “The 1619 Project” that the New York Times featured last August to commemorate the 400 anniversary of slavery in the U.S. Namely, that the United States was build on the backs of people of color. Or more generously, America was built by people of color.

I spent much of my adult life trying to persuade Asian American Christians that this truth needed to be part of our theology and ministry. As long as American Christianity is complicit with perpetuating a narrative that centers on Euro-American heroism and leadership, we’ll never see how truly global Christianity has become. For example, Douglas Jacobsen notes that

When the twentieth century began, Christianity was still a predominantly European faith. Today, two-thirds of the world’s Christians live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. No other religion has ever experienced so much change in such a short period of time. Global Gospel (2015), p. xv

But, in the end, despite its efforts to speak a broader truth to mainstream Americans, Asian Americans is still quintessentially patriotic and doesn’t question the American dream all that much. I appreciate the nuanced and honest snippets that appear occasionally (e.g., the mystery of Buddy Uno, the Korean and Black conflict just prior to the 1991 Los Angeles uprising, the huge economic divide among Asian Americans in Silicon Valley, etc.). But the core values of equality, inclusivity, and opportunity drives the documentary. As one of the interviewees noted, “Asian American can become whatever they want to be.”

The one major shortcoming that I see in the documentary may be self-serving, but I think it is important. Religion is virtually no where to be found. Sure, Alex Koh talks about going to church in Koreatown before the 1991 L.A. uprising. Erika Lee nonchalantly equated being Christian with trying to quietly fit in to America during the 1950s. But the omission of religion, something that would be unthinkable in documentaries of African Americans and Latinx, continues despite more than twenty years of rich scholarship about Asian Americans and religion. The most obvious erasure, in my opinion, can be found in the discussion about Joseph and Mary Tape’s fight against the exclusion of their daughter from San Francisco’s public school in the 19th century. We are shown their protest letter that was published in a local newspaper. While the letter explicitly appeals to Christian values as a reason to include their daughter, that part was completely ignored.

Asian American studies is no longer as dogmatically anti-religion (though there continues to be a feeling that ethnic studies is hostile to Christianity, largely due to its association with Western colonialism. See Robert Chao Romero, “Towards a Perspective of the Christian-Ethnic Studies Borderlands and Critical Race Theory in Christianity,” Christianity Next (Winter 2017), pp. 45-66). Since the publication of the 1999 issue of AmerAsia Journal that was dedicated to religion, a generation of scholarship have highlighted the richness and nuances of AAPI religion. I wonder if any of the scholars who participate in Asian North American Religion and Cultural Studies group (ANARCS) at the American Academy of Religion or the Asian Pacific American Religious Research Initiative (APARRI) were consulted in the making of the documentary? If they were, the producers would have had to contend with Josh Padison’s important point:

religion was central to the formations of race and citizenship in the post-Civil War United States…Most studies emphasize economics in the development of race…Though the strength of such economic forces is undeniable, attention to the public and private discourses of the nineteenth century – the way in which Americans talked, wrote, and thought – shows the powerful ways religion shaped the day-to-day expression of those forces. — American Heathen: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California (2012), page 4

But, by erasing religion, intentionally or not, a very big part of the AAPI story is missing. Recent studies have revealed how religion (in particular, Christian faith) has provided inspiration, philosophical grounding, and the moral impetus for much of AAPI social activism. Religious institutions and facilities were often centers for assembling workers and gathering places for communities to organize. Religious leaders – Asian, white, Black, and Latino – joined, and in some instances, led campaigns for civil rights, Native Hawaiian resistance, immigration reform, and Japanese American internment camp redress.

Despite this critique, Asian Americans, is, to me, a remarkable achievement. We are witnessing a new generation of AAPI scholars, community leaders, artists, and workers who can build the United States of the future, a nation that will, hopefully, be more true its democratic vision. I especially pray for a new generation of AAPI Christians who will not only contribute to the common good, but, through their witness, also be the conscience of the nation.

Russell M. Jeung, Ministry Partner

May 11, 2020
Russell JeungOne of my ministry partners, Dr. Russell Jeung, has been very busy lately. As the media covers reports of increased anti-Asian attacks in the wake of the corona virus, Russell has become one of the most interviewed and quoted experts. He is the Chair of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State and since March, his team has been tracking reports of these incidences.
     It’s no secret that Russell is also a committed Christian who devotes as much time to his church community as he does to his scholarship and social activism. In fact, he is a living example of a Jesus follower who brings every square inch of his life under the Kingdom of Christ.
     Two years ago, Russell led a workshop at InterVarsity’s NorCal Faculty/Staff Conference. This year, he donated to the same conference a bunch of granola bars made by Beautiful Day (beautifuldayri.org), a refugee agency based in Rhode Island. When the conference was cancelled because of the COVID-19, he diverted them to City of Oakland’s Turning Point Community, a response to homelessness.
     Russell is one of the leading sociologists of Asian American religion in the United States. His most recent work is Family Sacrifices: The Worldviews and Ethics of Chinese Americans (2019) which he co-authored with Seanan Fong and Helen Jin Kim.
Family SacrificesA large part of our friendship have been as colleagues in academia. In the late 1990s, Russell was a part of a cohort of doctoral students who started the Asian American religious studies network. Unlike the previous generation of Asian American theologians who are based in mainline Protestant seminaries (see Jonathan Tan’s Introducing Asian American Theologies (2008), this network was based in university religious studies departments. Russell’s dissertation was published as Faithful Generations: Race and the New Asian American Churches (2005). Because Russell and I both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was easy to connect and talk about our mutual scholarly interests, such as the intersection between Asian American studies and religion (and Christian faith, in particular). When I no longer had an academic platform, I’ll always be grateful for his willingness to remain connected. Our mutual concern for Asian American churches and ministry made it easier to stay in touch.faithful-generations-cover
     Indeed, Russell’s involvement with the ministry of community organizing was how I first met him. In the mid-1990s, while I was on faculty at Denver Seminary, I helped start Christians Supporting Community Organizing (CSCO), a group that encouraged Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Holiness churches to join faith-based community organizing groups (though CSCO no longer exists, its website of resources is still available at http://www.cscoweb.org). At the time, Russell was part of At Home in Exile Coverteam that organized impoverished Southeast Asian refugees in East Oakland. Russell’s commitment to biblical social justice and empowerment of the poor has always inspired me. He turned down an offer to a stable faculty position on the East Coast in order to remain with his community in East Oakland (this was before he went to San Francisco State). Fortunately, Russell has shared his story in At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors (2016). I encourage you read it!
     I’m grateful for his support for my ministry with InterVarsity, but even more thankful for over twenty-five years of friendship and collaboration. I look forward to many more years of Russell’s leadership in academia, social justice activism, and Christian ministry!

2019 NCFSC 22 Russell Jeung

Russell Jeung leads “Navigating As a Person of Faith in a Secular, Anti-Colonialist Academic Settings” workshop.

2019 Ministry Highlights

2019 was an incredible year. It was evident to me that God’s Spirit is moving among graduate students and faculty in the Pacific Area. Much appreciations to everyone who has been supporting us through prayer and finances!

Join my Ministry Facebook Group and view the Christian Graduate Students in Nor Cal and Hawaii Facebook Page for more highlights and photos! My ministry updates are archived here.

Tim and Shinwei Lin

Shin Wei Lin completed her grad studies in law at U.C. Berkeley this summer

Here are brief highlights from 2019:

  • We appointed 3 new staff and 2 campus volunteers
    — Darren Hsiung (U.C. Berkeley, campus minister)
    — Michele Turek (Area Field Operations Director)
    — Howard Chang (U.C. Davis, volunteer staff)
    — Prescott Bliss (Stanford University, volunteer staff)
    — Kaia Wang (Stanford University, campus intern)
  • New faculty and grad student ministries at University of Hawaii – Manoa
  • New ministries at U.C. San Francisco
  • Renewal of grad ministries at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, and U.C. Santa Cruz
  • Formation of Stanford University GFM strategic growth team
  • Faculty Ministry Collaboration with Pacific Region – identified seven new faculty ministry opportunities
  • 2019 Nor Cal Faculty/Staff Conference in Sacramento (Richard Mouw, keynote speaker)
  • 2019 Grad Winter Conference: “Going Deeper into the Trinity” (Wendy Quay and Bruce Hansen, speakers)
  • Inter-Campus Grad Student Leaders retreat
  • Evangelism webinars for grad student leaders
  • New ministry partnerships with Luke Christian Medical Missions and S.F. Chinese Alliance Church

Tim 2019 Ministry Snapshot

Please continue to pray for our Area Team as we prepare for 2020!

Pacific Area Staff all

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