What Are You?

“What are you?”
“Don’t you mean who?”
“No! What are you?”

This is the question I get asked most often when meeting someone new. Some are bold enough to just come out and ask while others are a bit more circuitous, not unlike the “So where are you really from?” question. But as grammatically incorrect as “What are you?” is, theologically it is the right question. As a noun I am a Christian. As an adjective, now that’s a little more complicated. Here is what makes up my who.

I am Daniel (Dan, Danny) Sung Un (Spirit Grace) Pyon. As was true in the days of old, my name defines me in many respects. Due to circumstances surrounding my birth, my father prayed that if God would save me he would give me back to Him as a pastor, thus my name. Such a decision would cause him to go from riches to rags. When I was 5, my parents decided to leave S. Korea and we (me and my 3 older sisters) moved to the US (NY). I grew up in the suburbs of NY where we were one of the few minorities in our neighborhood. My best friends were all white and I recalled spending most of my summers sleeping over and even attending their family reunions. But I never really felt out of place. On the weekends I would see other Koreans at church, but we had to drive over an hour to get there.

My personal calling to ministry was confirmed early on and since 14 I have been doing urban and youth ministry. I experienced my first ministry burnout at 17 giving you an indication of the level of commitment. From early on I have had the privilege of being mentored by some of the top thinkers and practitioners in the areas of urban and youth ministry.

So what makes people ask, “what are you?” Well, I guess it’s because I am a Twinkie from the suburbs of NY who ministers to both the suburbs and the ghettos, whites, blacks and everything in between, have a number of degrees: BA from Brandeis University (MA) (majoring in African American Studies, History, and Sociology), a M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a D.Min (Urban Missions) specializing in Glocalizing Urban Youth Culture from WTS (PA), consultant for academic institutions, churches, and NPO yet still love doing youth ministry. I think you get the idea.

Currently I run a ministry called OURS where much of our work is in the area of consulting. Michael Mata (former director of urban development and corporate engagement for World Vision) and I provide consulting for churches, universities, and NPOs in the areas of community, urban, and youth engagement.

My top 5 strengths are Ideation, Achiever, Strategic, Activator, and Input. But simply, I hope to convey my heart as a pastor, my mind as an academic, and my hands and feet as a Christian trying to best live out the high calling of loving God and loving others.

2 thoughts on “What Are You?”

  1. Danny, so happy to have you as a part of this online conversation here at nextgenerasianchurch.com – it’s great that your ministry context spans both urban and suburban, and I think that echoes what’s happening with how life is both local and global, what some call glocal, too. And that bi-cultural span is also an asset for crossing-over between Asian and non-Asian contexts; it’s not about an either/or.

  2. Excellent post. As an African American female with some Hispanic heritage, I get asked this question also, although I don’t believe I look that unique and my facial features come from my Black American heritage and not my 1/8th mestizo mix. I love your response and how you define yourself by who God created you to be and the gifts and calling placed inside of you. I think I may steal this approach :). I frequently ask about other’s heritage, not because of surface curiosity, but because I have a genuine interest in learning about other cultures and I enjoy interacting in multi-cultural settings. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this website, but thanks for the thoughtful posts and I hope more non-Asians come to this website.

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