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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 self-
hatred, 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.