I have had the opportunity to serve the Lord in a number of capacities over the course of my life. I am a Korean-American evangelical Christian pastor that has been empowered significantly by the majority culture of the American evangelical church, and it’s been a blessing throughout my time as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While I realize that not every Asian-American has experiences like mine, I think we can all agree that the body of Christ would be better if we were willing to invest in each other. Each of us is a byproduct of the people that have invested in us. As I think about how we can move forward together in a multicultural society, I want to suggest four things to remember as we work together for the kingdom:
1. Christ and His gospel are our primary focus. It’s critical to “keep the main thing the main thing.” Our racial and ethnic identity is a part of who we are, and it is to be celebrated. However, we must not lose sight of God’s mission of making disciples of all ethnic groups—all people. This is what unites us.
2. We are all created in the Imago Dei, yet we are fallen. We are all created in God’s image with the same need to be loved, to believe and to become. But we are also fallen people who are in a desperate need of a Savior. Our culture and ethnic background color our perspectives, but nonetheless, at the core we are part of the same fallen humanity. This means we must treat one another with grace and forgiveness, especially when we see things differently.
3. We must first walk in grace and humility. Whenever race becomes an issue of injustice, there are no winners. Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, described it this way:
“When I was at the Urbana 2000 speakers’ retreat [in 1999], we all got a chance to hear from the new apologist for our upcoming missions conference. I believe his last name was something like Raminchandra—he was the former top nuclear physicist for Sri Lanka, I believe, but was now serving as the head of the IFES movement in that part of the world [InterVarsity outside of North America]. A quietly brilliant and humble man. He told us that our greatest apologetic is the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. The pursuit of justice, he said, will never result in lasting peace. Why? Because those who have been wronged will pursue their oppressors, calling for justice, and often themselves committing acts of violence and aggression towards them. As a result, their oppressors feel like victims of injustice and cry out for justice. And on and on and on. Only the cross of Christ can break this cycle—even though seeking justice seems righteous and justifiable and worthwhile. For only by bringing our pain to the cross of Jesus and leaving it there for Jesus to handle will any of us ever find real and lasting peace.”
These are pretty profound words. The default mode of any oppression is to rely upon God’s ultimate vindication and justice. Romans 12:19 reminds us, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (NIV).
4. We must intentionally seek to invest in others who might be different than us. One of the lessons from my own life is that people from outside my culture, context and heritage invested in me. It was at the intersection of two cultures that we both learned more about the other person—but also, we learned about ourselves. We learned what is appropriate, what is funny, what is offensive. But most of all, we learned to overlook our mistakes, forgive and move beyond.
Interestingly, my current pastoral staff is now a mixture of different backgrounds, ethnicities and races. Most of my staff of 13 pastors, interns and staff are non-Asian. We have a ratio of 60/40 (white/Asian). By learning to live in community together, we learn that while we may be different in our backgrounds, at the core we really are the same.
Continuing the Journey
Reflecting on my experiences of being a recipient of so much grace from the larger and broader white evangelical community, I realize my experience might not be the normative experience for many Asian-Americans. Some may have experienced constant oppression, intentional or unintentional, from the majority culture. My encouragement for all of us is to demonstrate lives of humility, grace and being conformed to the image of Christ, loving and serving one another. Partnership as co-laborers in Christ for the sake of the gospel will ultimately bring about true unity and racial harmony.
When all’s said and done, this is what heaven will look like: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).