The Dragon Awakes

“Hoping to Awaken the Sleeping Dragon.” Such was the desire of the planning team in the conference brochure welcome message. For a generation that thinks, lives, and is inspired by metaphors, the image of a sleeping dragon waking up aptly describes the 2008 Asian American Leadership Conference. With 200-plus in attendance, the energy and excitement matched the fire of a roaring dragon: Asian Americans living kingdom-minded lives, making a difference for Jesus Christ, knowing that God has called and positioned them to change the world. Can you feel the heat? The participants, an even mix of college students and other interested folk (ranging in age from mid-20’s to 50’s), gathered in San Diego on April 4-5 for two days of pulsating worship, compelling testimonies, inspiriting performance arts, captivating speakers, plentiful seminars, excellent volunteer mobilization, and empowering challenges. The conference not only integrated Asian and American, but also had a unique sponsorship, a joint effort between InterVarsity and the San Diego Asian American Ministers’ Fellowship. The partnership added a diversity not usually seen in such conferences and allowed for intergenerational fellowship. Second generation, English-speaking ministries, once seen as the step child of first generation ethnic churches, are waking up from the status quo slumber. Filled with a sense of urgency and mission, next gen pastors are making a difference with a kingdom mindset and choosing people over programs. Part of this awakening is due to a willingness to risk and dream, along with providing similar opportunities to the next generation. In a matter of a couple decades, we’ve gone from a rare Asian American conference and no Asian American IVCF chapters to many of both. Now encouraged and empowered to make a difference, the next generation is doing just that locally and globally. The theme “Called Out Called Forth” unfolded itself through the worship, performance arts, drama, media, and three plenary sessions as the speakers showed what it means for us to follow Jesus with our dreams, resources, and calling.

Our Dreams
David Gibbons of NewSong Church kicked off Friday evening with “Our Dreams.” Most could identify living in the gap between our youthful dreams of the past and our lives at present. One could almost sense that Gibbons was speaking to each of us personally. To those of us who had settled for making a living rather than making a difference, it was a wake up call. To those still dreaming, he inspired us to dream and to finish well. Building on a passage from Numbers 32, Gibbons encouraged us to live a Promised Land kind of life that God

destines for all of us. Follow the faith of Joshua and Caleb versus the doubts and fears of the Israelites when they scouted out the land. Gibbons says, “An outlook of fear sees how small we are compared to the giants. An outlook of faith sees how small the giants are compared to Jesus Christ.” It is so easy for dreams to get distorted, but Gibbons challenged us to let nothing get in the way of our dreams and God: Get as close as possible and close the gap between that liminal, in-between state of dreams and reality. In creating us as Asian and Americans, God put us in the middle of two cultures so that we can reach both. We are the new generation of Apostle Pauls. Gibbon says: “What are we doing? Playing games? Living in a bubble? Making a living? Get fire in your heart! Make a difference!” So often we have dreams, but with an outlook of fear instead of faith, we put the brakes on God rather than living out our dreams and pursuing life in the Promised Land. What are the dreams God is awakening and re-awakening in us? What is the Promised Land God wants us to enter? The conference created time and space for participants to respond as the Holy Spirit led them. Attendees were encouraged to write their dreams, hang them on a tree as a symbolic response, and allow God to grow them.

Our Resources
“When God gives us God-sized dreams He also resources us accordingly.” Seamless was the segue by Peter Cha, a professor at Trinity Seminary, in his message on “Our Resources.” Because of our myopia, the challenge for us is to step back and see the big picture of God’s work and our role. Developing his message from Psalm 126, a post-exilic ascent psalm, Cha likens the Asian American faith experience to that of the exile. But just as God chose the Israelites to fulfill his divine plans, so also he chooses Asian Americans in a similar way, using that anxiety-producing dislocation for his purposes. The oxymoron of “creative dislocation” now enables us to depend on God fully, letting Him do his most creative work in us. God is in the business of doing great things but He wants to do it through us and through the resources He’s given to us. Will we let Him? Instead of being the model minority, using our education and earning power to make a living rather than to make a difference, Cha challenged us to use what God has given us for his glory. In addition to “creative dislocation,” the other take home was using our pain as a gift. The brokenness and pain we suffer in life, the identity issues growing up, vulnerability to parental stresses - how can we negotiate between these painful places of our past with the places God wants to take us in the future? The only way to make sense of the pain is to offer it to God as our gift to Him and let Him use it. Not only does it keep us humble, but also it helps us serve the hurting in a special way. It is our job to offer what we have. It is Jesus who multiplies the five loaves and two fish. The grace of the Negev desert says that it is God who provides the rain and makes the flowers bloom. Pain plus creative dislocation equals our resources for God’s glory. For a response, we offered back to God the resources He richly blessed us with, listing them on an index card. In Asian fashion, we placed the card in a red envelope to display at home as a reminder to be faithful stewards, trusting God to turn our little gifts into big things by his sovereignty and grace.

Our Call
God has put a call on everyone, some to be a revolutionary inside the machine, others to start something new. But what is it about Asian American churches: we talk a good game, sing the good songs, but don’t live up to half of that? These were the opening words of Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Los Angeles, wrapping up the conference with “Our Call.” We try to blend in and not stick out. We also give ourselves a pass as a church on what God doesn’t. Our call is to be a kingdom people, not a bunch of nice people hanging out every Sunday doing various activities and programs. Our call is to intentional living, a people desperate for grace, a redemptive community tied to Jesus Christ. In his talk, Fong shared his own experience of church and his education in the church growth movement. To grow a church, he was taught to cater to a homogenous people group, to not make them uncomfortable, and to not make them cross social barriers. Things began changing for Fong at Urbana ’90, when he realized that Jesus was from the Mediterranean region and not from Malibu. And Jesus makes people uncomfortable when He crosses social barriers, when He loves the poor, when He welcomes the unwelcomed. We’ve settled for the comforts of American Christianity, missing out on the heart and soul of the gospel, seeing no supernatural work going on at all. Fong closed with a plea for the Holy Spirit to change us, to forgive us of our disobedience, and to bring about a revolution in our choices and attitudes. Our call is to be a kingdom people, a kingdom that includes rather than excludes.

Our Response
“The nail that sticks up gets pounded down. But not in this place.” These were the words of Nikki Toyama-Szeto as conference emcee. The weekend proved just that: time and space to dream, permission to be who God created us to be. During the extended worship sets, attendees could respond tactilely through art, poetry, or other creative mediums. On one end of the worship center stations were available for people to draw and color their dreams, make a bracelet as a reminder of what God said to them during the weekend, write and post a prayer, as well as spend time in prayer with Participants also responded by giving someone from the prayer team. $1293 to LOVE146, an organization dedicated to combating child sex Realizing that God has created and wired all slavery and exploitation of us differently, the conference allowed us to respond to God as led in all of our diversity and creativity. At the last session we were given the opportunity to respond to several calls of Christ: To dream or revive a dream for God; to reclaim a resource given by God and seek to use it in a specific way; to bring forth a revolution, not settling for the comfortable but going for the transformative; and lastly, to repent for settling for the small things and recommit to following the call of Christ. As the worship team led us in singing “Consuming fire, fan into flame, a passion for your name…Lord, have your way with us,” many went forward, receiving prayer for courage to “go forth” from this place.

Our Challenge
Asian Americans have come a long way in a meta-narrative that includes themes of selfhatred, incessant teasing, vulnerability to parental pressure, and a silent, model minority

stereotype to a generation that is re-writing new themes on top of these old ones. Like the advent of the Holy Spirit in the 1st century, the power of the same Spirit is in us today kindling the flame of yet a new era in Asian American history. Instead of spending weekends pity-partying, we can and are using those hours to fight social injustices in all corners of the world. Instead of licking our self-inflicted wounds of inferiority and loathing, we can and are embracing our Asian American-ness as a bonus, following Jesus holistically as Asian American disciples. Instead of simply settling for the default career-family-mansion storyline, we can and are dreaming God-sized dreams and impacting His kingdom. Several ingredients are coming together to create and enable change and transformation in the Asian American narrative. With college being the prime time to individuate from parents and take ownership of faith and life, college ministries in churches and Asian American IVCF chapters are doing the important work of discipling and mentoring students to become apprentices of Jesus Christ. When they see how their education and talents intersect with the needs of the world, when they are compelled by God’s calling on their lives, and challenged to do something more, they will follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Venues like Asian American Leadership Conferences inspire people to move in that direction. In addition to writing a new story, it is also interesting to note similarities between the biblical narrative and the Asian American story that God continues to write and unfold. The creative dislocation throughout Israelite history that eventually led Queen Esther to seize “for such a time as this” and save God’s people from annihilation is also part of our story as our families came to the States from another place. Yet rather than opt for the American dream, Asian Americans are stepping into “for such a time as this” and willingly dislocating themselves to bring a cup of water in the name of Jesus to other parts of the world. The Apostle Paul, as a Jew and Roman citizen, straddled both worlds in spreading the gospel. Asian Americans are the new generation of Apostle Pauls, spanning East and West as part of their apostolic mission and call to follow Jesus. Queen Esther, Apostle Paul, and many others used their God-given resources, took a risk, and made a difference in the kingdom. With the Holy Spirit leading Asian Americans to write a new story, they can be just as unstoppable—kingdom followers and changers of the world. Personally, this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been excited at what the future holds for next generation Asian Americans and can’t wait to see them unleashed in the world. I also can’t help but liken this movement to the Wesleyan revival in 18th century England. The church was in a state of deterioration as the rich got richer and the masses got poorer. But John Wesley, through his class meetings of small groups for fellowship and discipleship spawned a holiness movement that awakened the people and shook the nation. If we can learn something from history, perhaps it can be our trajectory as well—through a renewed focus on discipleship and mentoring in our church and on our campuses, the next generation of Asian Americans can unleash a spiritual transformation for the kingdom of God. The dragon awakes!
Cindy Hong is a contributing writer for L2 .Foundation. She graduated from Dallas Seminary in 2003. Now on staff at Houston Chinese Church, she gets to relive her childhood every week with the kids there. After years of Asian American angst, she now looks forward to going to bed every night and dreaming God’s dreams for the next generation. Current interests include learning the ukulele, folding origami, and taking classes at Fuller.