Archives for posts with tag: first generation

The headline of the September 3, 2007 issue of Time magazine made me hold my breath for a moment: “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa.” In this day & age, scandal among leading figures of faith is nothing new — but Mother Teresa?

Well, as it turns out, her “secret” is that she suffered a crisis of faith. I suppose in a culture where Mother Teresa is more of a cultural archetype than an actual human being, the fact that she struggled — mightily, at times — in her faith would be a shocking “secret” worthy of an expose. I would never wish a dark night of the soul upon anyone. The pain, the emptiness, the grief — these things can almost tear a person apart. But I find myself oddly reassured that Mother Teresa was a real human being, with very real questions, doubts and struggles. It gives me hope that, by the grace of God, I can become the person God intends for me to be. As Eugene Cho writes in his post about this article:

While I have joy in my convictions as a believer of God and follower of Christ, I am not afraid to call Mystery and Doubt my friends and acquaintances. They have accompanied my journey for some timeā€¦and have actually strengthened my walk with Christ.

It is almost human nature to love the idea of a person more than the physical human being in front of us. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that is a large part of why many relationships fail — we develop this idealized version of our beloved that can only lead to disappointment and failure. I love this quote from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community, even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.

Even though I’ve been serving in a first-generation immigrant church context for awhile now, I still struggle with understanding the Asian idea of saving face. At times, it feels like we are willfully misleading people in order to maintain the dream of the community, as opposed to entering the messy reality of one another’s lives. It’s safer and simpler to keep each other at arm’s length. But what costs so little yields a similarly cheap result.

I have really struggled over the last couple of weeks because of the circumstances of a family we know. The husband and wife have been contemplating divorce — difficult in any circumstance, but made even stickier in a first-generation immigrant setting. On top of that, the husband works for their church as a member of the first-generation staff. Unfortunately, their resolution seems to be sending off the husband to another country for “mission” work. This ridicules not only the sanctity of marriage, but also the calling to cross into another culture and serve in the name of Christ. The frightening thing is that I’m sure many of us could repeat almost verbatim the same story from our own church experience — it’s not love that covers over a multitude of sins, but a holy facade.

What would happen in the Asian American church if we acknowledged, and entered into, the mess of one another’s lives? We might have to fight our inner Homer Simpson shouting “Too much infor-mation!” and deal with the awkwardness of actually getting to know each other, but isn’t it worth it? The mess could become beautiful if we lived in it together. If you need a little inspiration, or a soundtrack to your messy spirituality, listen to this track, I Live In The Mess You Are, by Zookeeper (Chris Simpson of post-rock powerhouse Mineral and shoegaze wonders The Gloria Record).

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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“why should he run the meeting in english?! we all speak korean here! he should speak korean, too!!”

i am a big believer that youth ministry is actually family ministry. there is no way a couple of hours a week at church can shape the heart of a young person. if we’re going to reach students for Christ, then we must reach their families.

and herein lies the dilemma. most of the time, i find myself completely unable to navigate first-generation korean culture. it’s not just that i cannot speak the language (although there has been perhaps a 15% improvement in comprehension over the last couple of years); the cultural gap seems to be growing larger the longer i serve in this context.

last sunday, we had a pta meeting here at church. knowing that very few people look forward to these poorly-attended meetings, the education pastors did our best to keep it short (only about 15 minutes total, between three different ministries — not bad!). we closed in prayer together with the parents and i gathered my things to leave.

it was then, about five or six feet behind me, that i heard one particular dad start ranting, loudly, to a small group of people around him about how unhappy he was. apparently, since i had made all of three announcements in english, he was about to blow a gasket. in the couple of months since we’ve been at this church, i have heard numerous comments from this particular man about how he wants things to be run and the mistakes others have made.

i really wanted to turn around and tell him to calm down. that if i could, of course i would have run my part of the meeting in korean. that there were plenty of other people here who also struggled with english, but seemed to be handling it fine. that, even if i could not communicate well with him, i am reaching his kids. but, of course, since we don’t speak each other’s language (in more ways than one) i chose not to say anything. plus, i was pretty steamed, which is not always the best way to engage a conversation with a church member.

i want to be pastoral with him. his life has been really hard — not only as an immigrant to this country, but with a family life that would make anyone bitter and frustrated. most of the time, this man is very nice, even charming, with church people. but i think he must feel the need to flex on someone. all of his disenfranchisement and disappointment with life come bubbling to the surface, and he lashes out at the youth and education ministries (on whom he must feel like he has the upper hand).

i don’t mean to bad-mouth our church. most of the people here have been very kind, and i certainly don’t expect anyone to cater to my needs. as a pastor, i’m here to serve, after all. however, i am getting worn out by this kind of attitude. it’s not like this church is unique in this. while it might only be a small percentage of people, this type of attitude has been present in almost every ministry in which i’ve served.

grow a thicker skin.
pray more.
learn korean.
i know there’s a laundry list of things i can/should do in response to all of this. but it’s still frustrating.