Archives for category: second-generation

While we don’t want to overschedule our daughter, we have signed her up for a couple of fun activities this summer. She will be a part of our church’s VBS, of course, and a really cool day camp at SeaWorld later this summer — but today marked the beginning of this fun season. My wife and I tried to play it cool as we dropped her off this morning for the start of her two-week day camp (it’s still harder on us than it is for our daughter).

We like to interact with our daughter’s teachers. As people who have been involved in youth & children’s ministries for awhile now, we value the participation and input of parents. When we returned to pick up our daughter, the main teacher (out of three) greeted us with a big smile and said that our daughter had done really well. I was relieved to hear this; some of the older kids in the Pre/K group at church are pretty mean, and it has kind of given our daughter a complex about making friends. She is still a very friendly & outgoing kid, but this stress about not being able to make friends surfaces from time to time — resulting in huge heartache & frustration for us. A quick aside: if you find time to pray for us, this is the one thing that is constantly on my mind. My sincere thanks.

My relief was short-lived, though, as the teacher completed her thought. It went something like this: Your daughter did really well… I mean, her English is pretty good. It took me a second to realize what she had said. We explained that English is actually our daughter’s first language, because she was born here. The second teacher followed this up with, “Where are you from?” With wide-eyed disbelief, my wife responded, “Well, we’ve lived here in the States our whole lives, but our parents are from Korea.” The main teacher tried to brush it off with, “Oh, I could tell you were pretty Americanized, since your daughter brought pizza for lunch. Some kids bring those Hello Kitty lunchboxes with sushi, you know.”

A couple of caveats: I realize that they probably meant no harm. I’m sure they’re nice and all; just a little bit ignorant. I also realize that they probably don’t deal with many non-white people. This neck of the woods can be a little bit like that. I also understand that this is the world in which my daughter will be living for the rest of her life — I can’t shield her from ignorance forever.

Nonetheless, I am still extremely frustrated. This line of questioning — “Where are you from?” — reinforces the idea that of course we’re not from here. I mean, how could these Asian-looking faces be American, like the rest of us? Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t want my daughter to assimilate, to feel like she has to run from her Asian-ness or push it aside for the sake of fitting in. Later, if one of her well-meaning white friends says to her, “I don’t even think of you as being Asian,” I don’t want her to take it as a compliment. I want her to be very confident in who God made her to be. While alienation and self-hatred has been the unfortunate story for many Asian American youth, I don’t believe that it must be part of the equation — and I am hoping & praying that my daughter can be spared as much of this heartache as possible. So, when her teacher asks her, “Where are you from?” and thinks it is really funny when she responds, “San Diego,” perhaps you can see why that would bother me.

On a personal level, I am really praying that I would have a thicker skin about things. Sometimes, the intensity of my emotional reaction to these kinds of situations precludes any kind of reasonable, constructive, or appropriate response. I don’t want to live with some kind of chip on my shoulder — I don’t want to give ignorant people that kind of control over my life. And, in all honesty, I think I have been better able to handle these kinds of things — at least when they deal directly with me.

For example, I am usually pretty patient with older Caucasian people who ask, “Where are you from?” just because they come from another world (these teachers from today, however, are not old at all — thus compounding my frustration). I can very politely tell these people that I think I know what they’re asking, but that it is actually pretty rude to ask in that manner (and, if they ask why it is rude, I will explain the whole alienation deal to them). I’m not sure why our racial ethnic background matters so much to some Caucasian people — I don’t often hear them asking each other, Are you German? Irish? Dutch? If one must know, then it is marginally better to ask, “Where are your parents from?” although this still carries much of the same outsider-connotation with it. Probably, it’s best simply to ask the question directly: What is your ethnic background or heritage?

However, when it comes to my daughter, my father-bear instincts kick in big time. I held back today because I don’t want to bias these teachers against my daughter just because they might perceive me as being some uppity Asian person.

Despite protests to the contrary, ignorant and racist attitudes persist today as systemic and institutional issues.

Remember the Skit Guys controversy from a little while back? I don’t mean to dredge up the past — certainly, the response of Youth Specialties, Marko, and the Skit Guys themselves showed that something good could come out of a bad situation. But, judging from the response of many people both at Marko’s and the Skit Guys’ blogs, we still have a long, long way to go. Some highlights:

Part of humor is laughing at ourselves. I hope we don’t become so sensitive that you guys can’t even minister. You guys characterize pastors, janitors, deacons, blondes, Christians, girls, boys…and all of those on purpose. And I love it! Is an Asian character not supposed to speak with an Asian dialect? I have not read the skit, but…at this rate you’ll be writing more apologies than skits.

Well, I have read the original skit and, though it might be pointless to try to help this person understand the underlying issues here, there is a world of difference between poking fun at a Caucasian pastor/janitor/blonde, etc. and laughing at the Engrish-speaking “oriental” buffoon, who clearly is not from here and does not, and could never, belong.

Or how about this little gem:

I pray that you don’t let this discourage you because in today’s society everyone is offended about something. God has truly blessed you two with the gift of ministry through comedy. I have seen you 3 times at the International Church of God Youth Conventions and you were awesome. Just remember that satan will use anything or anyone he can to try to keep us from glorifying God and spreading his Word. Just keep doing what you are doing….showing the love, mercy and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ through the gift of christian comedy that he has given you!!!

Right, right… now I see — It’s the fault of uppity people of color that they are offended by blatant, degrading racial stereotyping. And speaking out for justice is obviously satanic. Our God (the same One who said, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” and commanded His people, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt”) would clearly not approve of this.

I’m really hoping this works out.

Serving in a Korean American church creates a strange sense of both being intimately connected and profoundly disconnected from the first-generation (1G) congregation. At times, I experience almost a sense of extended family when I spend time with the 1G congregants. For example, over the past several Sundays I have been playing tennis with a group of 1G families. Usually, we will end the evening by sharing a nice meal together (pho, even!). At the same time, in my ministry to second-generation (2G) students there is a deep sense of disconnection. The only time anyone seems to notice the youth ministry is if there is a major problem (or a cluster of heavy boxes to move). Other than vague notions of raising “good Christians,” there is no sense of purpose or mission when it comes to the spiritual formation of these 2G students.

In this third installment of this series of thoughts, I would like to continue to engage some of the thoughts Marko shared here at his blog. His third observation about Asian American youth ministry centers around the idea of integrating youth into the overall life and ministry of the church. As Marko notes, this isn’t really a choice for most AA youth ministries — whether we like it or not, we exist as the lopsided little 2G ear, attached to the larger 1G “Mickey” head.


Most of the churches I have served have at least attempted to organize some kind of ministry to families. Unfortunately, though they have had good intentions, these attempts ultimately failed. Perhaps the most frustrating of these programs were the ones we called “family” ministries but did not integrate a holistic sense of cross-generational ministry. For example, unless we count being in relatively close physical proximity as being a meaningful inter-generational ministry, it is wrong for many of the churches I have served to call their programs “family” retreats or “family” worship services. In my experience, at these retreats there are usually completely separate worship & activity programs set up for each group and at these worship services the 1G parents often refuse to sit with their 2G children.

I applaud the attempts of a couple of forward-thinking 1G senior pastors I have known who have tried to break through this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, they have encountered seemingly insurmountable walls when it comes to the actual practice of cross-generational ministry. For example, attempts at integrating both 1G and 2G language and culture into one worship service usually makes it very long, and not particularly meaningful for either group. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and in the end, no one is happy with the result.

After a couple of frustrating attempts (and numerous complaints), the natural tendency for churches is to stop trying. It’s easier to walk away than to work through the awkwardness.

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I want to continue to build on some thoughts I began to share here. I will continue to use Marko’s observations on the Asian American (AA) youth ministry as a framework for my response. In my first post, I tried to tackle the idea of youth workers being treated as second (or third) class citizens in Asian American churches. Today, taking on the idea of youth workers being treated as hired guns in AA churches…

68 guns
Certainly, the phrase “hired gun” is loaded (oh, the puns). Though I do have certain critical observations of AA churches in this regard, I do not believe that most AA churches intend for their youth workers to be simply hourly wage-earning automatons — nor do I believe this is what Marko was implying in his original post. Most, if not all, of my peers in AA youth ministry have had a tremendous pastoral heart for their students.

Marko is right in using a somewhat explosive (again with the puns!) phrase in highlighting his underlying point, though. It it vital to recognize that youth ministry is not simply entrusted to AA youth workers, but abdicated to them. This happens for a number of reasons, from my experience.

Perceived inadequacy & professional relevance
First generation (1G) parents often feel inadequate in raising their own children. Beyond the obvious language, cultural and generational differences, many first generation parents simply do not have the time (or, in the worst case, inclination) to sit down and spend time with their children. However, this might also spring from a cultural difference — the idea of Dad tossing around a baseball with the kids on a lazy Saturday might be idealized in the Western perspective, but not necessarily upheld in an Eastern worldview. The 1G love language can be very different, and difficult to understand, for their second generation (2G) children, and vice-versa.

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The controversy surrounding “Skits that Teach” over the last several weeks has caused me to spend a lot of time in reflection – asking myself big picture questions about race, reconciliation and the church, as well as more personal issues about calling, direction and engaging others in meaningful dialogue. It just occurs to me now that this time of soul-searching, reflecting and repentance (providentially) coincides with the season of Lent.

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to sit down and meet with Marko from Youth Specialties. I have been meaning to share for a little while now, but I’ve been struggling to pull together all of my thoughts. However, given that I might never get it all completely together, I want to begin sharing some of my thoughts and reflections.

I was very encouraged by the time I spent with Marko. He is a sincere, down-to-earth and caring individual. I’m not sure how many presidents of other companies (Christian or not) would sit down for a couple of hours with some random emailer, but that’s exactly what Marko did. It was powerful to see an influential person take these issues to heart — Marko had just finished reading Asian American Youth Ministry (edited by DJ Chuang) as part of his desire to engage these issues on a deeper level. He posted some of his observations here on his blog.

I am thankful that Marko has added his voice in this conversation. His perspective is unique in this context — he is both an insider (as someone who is fully invested in the lives of students, youth ministry and youth workers) and an outsider (as a non-Asian-American person) to the situation.

This is a significant dialogue, for the future of Asian-American youth and youth ministry as well as for the broader Church. Marko’s three observations about Asian-American youth ministry are important, and I will interact with each of his insights on this blog for a little while in a series of individual posts.

First, Marko points out that youth workers are often treated as second or third-class citizens in Asian-American churches. While this is not true in every Asian-American church (and is a struggle outside of our community as well), many of us have encountered this ugly fact of life in our ministries. It is not uncommon for Asian-American youth to have gone through three or four (or more) youth pastors during their middle and high school years. One of the first questions I heard from many of my students once I arrived at this church was, “How long are you going to be here?” A youth teacher at our church fired a warning shot over my bow on the first Sunday I was here, saying, “I hope you’re not treating youth ministry as a stepping stone.”

While there are positive aspects to the Confucian ideal of respecting our elders, there is also a dark side to it as well — as evidenced by the poor treatment of many youth workers. Sadly, youth ministry is often treated as either an after-thought or as “ministry lite” by many of our churches because it deals directly with younger people. This translates into an environment where there is no future for youth workers. As Marko rightly points out, “the pay sucks.” None of us entered youth ministry (or ministry in general) believing that we would become wealthy, but there is something wrong with the system.

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with a nod to david park over at next gener.asian church and his series of posts on unique korean virtues that em’s aren’t teaching our kids, i will share a couple of things that i love and/or appreciate (though sometimes from a distance) about the korean-american (k/a) church.

like many pastors in the k/a setting, i experience a sort of delirium every weekend. the weekend is, of course, the only time many congregants have available — and so we squeeze every minute out of it with meetings, practices, Bible studies and various other programs (but let me stop before this devolves into some kind of rant about the potential counter-productivity of such an approach).

my weekend begins, as it does in many other k/a churches around the country, with early morning prayer.

there is something strangely romantic about early morning prayer (emp). maybe it’s the idea that we are following jesus’ example in going to a lonely place at the crack of dawn to pray. i’ve heard many people describe emp as the foundation of the k/a church. there really is something amazing about a church that prays so faithfully — gathering in community every morning to seek God.

i must admit, though, that i appreciate the practical reality of emp far less than the concept of it. there are numerous reasons for this: laziness (i think the “loves suffering” gene must have skipped me), my inability to speak korean (it’s hard enough getting there by 5:30 am, let alone sticking with a thirty minute sermon in which i can only glean about ten percent of its meaning), and my growing introvertedness (i had no problem praying myself hoarse in group settings ten years ago, but i’ve changed since then)….

i wonder, though, if my biggest struggle with emp doesn’t come from my westernized perspective. our senior pastor recently asked our second-generation staff about how we, as second-gen people, experience spiritual growth since emp doesn’t seem to be a large part of the equation. while i’m pretty sure this was a not-so-subtle suggestion to start attending emp more than the twice-a-week i’ve been going, this gets at some key issues.

the daily devotion/quiet-time model for spiritual growth is perfectly suited to the highly individualized western mindset. i’ll take my bible and my ipod and spend some quality time with jesus – alone. for many first-gen believers, the value of community is so deeply ingrained that the idea of spiritual growth apart from the community is almost unthinkable. thus, the emp model fits well in the community-minded first-gen perspective.

to be certain, we need balance. spiritual growth requires careful cultivation in both individual and corporate settings. i wonder if there is a way to capture the best of both worlds. it’s sad that, in the past, when i have suggested to second-gen people that we gather for emp (even once a week), they laugh out loud. and then, after realizing that it was not asked sarcastically, they start listing the reasons why they cannot do it.

i don’t think this is an issue of forcing second-gen people to set up more emp meetings. i’m not sure that would be the most effective model for building community and fostering spiritual growth in our churches. but we cannot afford to ignore the values that go into emp: earnest belief in the power of prayer, valuing the community so much that we’re willing to sacrifice for it, making the church community a part of everyday life.