Saved by My Refugee Neighbors

Oak Park Santas 2-1

Here’s my essay recently posted on Christianity Today’s “This Is our City” series.  It offers snippets of our twenty years of urban ministry in Oakland, about which I’m writing a spiritual memoir. You can read the story here.

This is an excerpt about my Mien neighbor:

Faithfulness over Effectivenesss

While it is tempting to romanticize the kids and our communal life, the city’s violence born of inequality and structural racism has worn on me.  Over 2,000 individuals have been murdered during my time in Oakland and I have witnessed my share of shootings.  Even when we organized our neighbors and won a housing lawsuit that rebuilt Oak Park, the new apartment layout unintentionally eroded our sense of community. I had to move because of federal rental guidelines, and the families preferred to remain inside their enlarged units.

When the issues of our city appear too daunting, I likewise retreat and focus on my own personal life, where I have some semblance of control. After leaving Oak Park, my wife and I purchased a home two blocks away, and we built gates to keep out the city’s dangers. But, fortunately, our refugee neighbors continue to knock at our door to teach us kingdom values.

When we got our house, I borrowed a rototiller and cleared weeds in our huge yard. After an afternoon of hard toil, I gave up; all I had readied was a small plot 5’ by 10’.   The next day, I was surprised by a small, turbaned lady sitting up in our apricot tree, like Zaccheus.  Yien Saelee, a grandmother who is Iu Mien, was hacking branches.  She had seen that the lot was empty and came to start a garden with my permission. I agreed, but doubted her strength to do the work.

To my surprise, though, she returned with two other grandmothers, each armed with only a small machete, and cleared the entire yard.  They planted the Native American Three Sisters– corn, squash, and beans—and soon, my family received locally grown, organic vegetables to meet our daily required vitamins.

Yien later joined our church’s “Young Family” cell, which paradoxically came to include five grandmothers.  As we shared and prayed together, I learned more of her story.  During the Laotian Civil War, she had lost three sons—child soldiers fighting with the CIA—and her husband was assassinated.  Moving to our Oakland neighborhood as a refugee did not make her life much easier; she remained poor and constantly felt fatigued.  Her step-parents’ spirits tormented her such that they made searing burns on her arms.

After being resettled in Oakland, Yien became a Christian when God revealed himself in a dream to her.  Since then, she claims, “My heart is light now because I no longer have to bear the burden of the spiritual world; it was too heavy.”  Not only did she pray for us and support her own local Mien church, but also she regularly taped gospel songs to be sent to Laos.

In spite of their advanced years, Yien and her fellow grandmas collect aluminum cans and hawk their produce to supplement their scant disability benefits that were almost cut by welfare reform. Her sense of social justice isn’t about asserting her rights, but taking responsibility for others.  Always chipping in for our water bill, she states simply, “I’m happy for the opportunity not to starve.”

When my father passed away, Yien, her back bent from osteoporosis, took the time to stand with my family in our grief.  Despite our communication and cultural barriers, her unceasing prayers  and faithful presence comforted me.  Growing up with privilege, I came to expect to make my mark and to effect social change in Oakland.  Unfortunately, our neighborhood has not been transformed despite our church’s best efforts.  If anything, its persistent poverty reflects the growing inequality in our nation.

Yien models for me another way to make one’s mark.  The servant who is faithful is the one who enters the joy of the master. The persistent widow who prays boldly is the one who receives justice.

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Top 15 blog posts over the last quarter

Top Asian Americans on YouTube
Jeremy Lin & Asian American Male Sexuality
Is Francis Chan a sell-out?
popular Asian American musicians on YouTube
The model minority myth is a lie.
List of Asian American Christian Bloggers
Beauty Is The Beast?
The Search for Asian-American Worship
Article: The Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907
Why Churches Split: A Family Systems Explanation
Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak
West Coast vs. East Coast Asian America
Jeremy Lin, The Civil Rights Movement, & The Empowerment of Voice
“A Silent Exodus” Leads to Freedom
The Ties That Bind Must Break

 

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Imported Entries to Join Our Voices

We’ve imported a dozen or so blog entries from another blog called “yellowfaith” – Ministry and faith from an Asian American perspective. Posted & imported with permission. Browse those blog entries here, they’re tagged “imported“. Below is the introduction from that blog (which ended in 2011.)

yellowfaith: welcome

(Posted June 19 2009 by Dave Ingland)

yellowfaith was created in response to the ongoing conversation of Asian American Christians and how they connect within the church. Should Asian Americans succumb to a Caucasian American worship experience on Sundays? If Asian Americans gather in a community of faith with other Asian Americans, should this be viewed as a form of racism? Is there an identity crisis amongst Asian American Christians, confused as to who they are in Christ–too Asian to fit in with Caucasians, yet not Asian enough to worship with other Asian Americans? When Asian Americans connect in a white church that seeks to be multi-cultural, is their culture truly recognized or are they asked to confirm to a white rather than yellow gospel? Should there even be a yellow gospel?

Here at yellowfaith we hope to engage in some hard questions in the interest of gaining some understanding to the state of faith in Asian American culture today.

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Article: Orange County exports Asian American churches to the world

DJ_ChuangA recent article was released in the Orange County Register featuring DJ Chuang.  Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by Jim Hinch:

“I’m an experimenter,” Chuang said. “My heart is in the church, the Asian American church. But church is not known for being a place of research and development.”

Chuang left formal ministry and became a consultant, working for churches, parachurch organizations and Christian nonprofits, always aiming to help Asian American Christians become more digitally savvy and culturally responsive.

He’s helping Brea’s Ambassador Church expand its network of sister churches and advising La Mirada’s Talbot Seminary as it develops one of America’s first doctoral programs in Asian American ministry.

Chuang is a manic presence, especially online. He was, he says, the first person in Orange County to sign up for Twitter seven years ago (a distinction confirmed by the rankings website Twitaholic). He tweets throughout each day, blogs, produces a weekly podcast and talks by phone, Skype and Google Chat with a nationwide roster of church leaders. Callers make appointments via an interactive scheduler on Chuang’s website.

Last year, Chuang traveled 35,839 miles in 74 days on 16 trips to conferences and meetings. This information comes from the Chuang family Christmas card, which also details the number of followers (7,000) Chuang has on Twitter and the number of reward points he earned last year at Starbucks (50).

Since 2005, Chuang has edited two books on Asian American ministry, produced a report on current trends in Asian American churches, written 23 magazine articles and made 28 presentations at church conferences and seminars – achievements tabulated, in chronological order, on Chuang’s website.

Chuang has bipolar disorder. He has been successfully treated for the condition since 2001. But he attributes his numerous career changes and intellectual restlessness, in part, to manic episodes.

His periods of depression, he said, brought him near suicide. And they convinced him that helping Asian American churches become more culturally inclusive is tantamount to a life-or-death calling.

“It’s very hard for Asians to talk about their weaknesses,” Chuang said, explaining why he waited years before publicly acknowledging his condition and seeking treatment.

Chuang said traditional Asian American churches are especially inhospitable to painful personal problems because many Asian cultures prize a veneer of stoic hard work and moral respectability.

“I want to bring churches into a place to deal more honestly with the real person,” Chuang said.

“I would like to see Asian Americans become more healthy and whole as people.”

To read the full article on the Orange County Register website, visit here.

Also, DJ gave an inspiring talk at Urbana 12’s PANA lounge, called: “Step Up, Speak Up, Live It Up,” which you can find in transcript and audio format on his website, or in video format on Intervarsity Asian American Ministries’ website.

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Watch the Urbana 12 PANA Lounge Talks

During Urbana 12 (tri-ennial student missions conference), InterVarsity’s Asian American Ministries (AAM) hosted a Pan Asian North American (PANA) Lounge and platformed a speaker-series from leading Asian & Asian North American ministry leaders. Each talk was 8-minutes long, inspired by the short-form talks popularized by the likes of TED, TEDx, and Q.

One of the more provocative ones was Greg Hsu‘s intriguing talk, titled: “Asian North Americans: Divided by God?” or, more bluntly, “Why don’t non-Christian Asian Americans like our Asian fellowship?“

The IVCF AAM blog is posting a new video every day for the next 3 weeks. Watch them there >>

James Choung introduces the speakers-series and how Asian Americans can be redeeming our gifts.

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Why NextGenerAsianChurch.com started and still exists

Once in a while David Park and I (DJ Chuang) meet in person and chat about all kinds of things related to life and faith. Back in October 2010, I think it was, we recorded this conversation and our little pocket camera worked. (Yes, we can recall times when we had technology fail, too.) In this 20-minute video, we share about how this team blog came into being, what topics have been particularly painful and challenging, and our dreams and hope for the future of churches that are contextualized to better serve Asian Americans and all peoples.

And, below is a web statistic chart of the most popular pages here during the past month. What do you notice about what’s popular? What surprises you?

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“Ethnicity Matters,” by James Choung

Heaven is not colorblind.

As the title suggests, in this short video, James Choung presents a compelling biblical case for why our ethnicity matters.

I agree with NG.AC contributor Helen Lee‘s note on James’ blog, “Boy, do I wish this video had been around in the 1990s when we were wrestling with this on our campus!” For me, this would have been really helpful while studying in seminary where, in retrospect, the amount of ignorance about race and reconciliation was staggering.

For many of us, whether it’s in church or on campus, it is altogether too common to hear phrases such as the following thrown around:

Race doesn’t matter in God’s Kingdom.

I don’t see race, I just see people.

Why do you people exclude yourselves?

As James notes on his blog, “Ethnicity Matters is a seven-minute reflection on the biblical foundations for ethnicity. In this short amount of time, it can’t cover everything. But I hope it’s a helpful conversation starter.” Keep an eye out for a discussion guide, which is on its way.

I’m seriously considering keeping this video bookmarked on my phone so that I can watch it with folks who raise the aforementioned objections (or, they can read the FAQs here).

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