How far has the Asian American church community come in the area of community development? According to about 30 leaders of churches, non-profits, and seminaries who gathered to discuss the topic, the Asian American church community still has a ways to go.
The gathering, which convened in Cerritos, CA on June 30, was hosted by the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) as a pre-cursor to its national conference, which will be taking place in Los Angeles in August.
“We want to be a part of God’s transformation in this parched land. But how can we keep the flow of God overflowing into our respective communities?” Michael Mata, the Los Angeles Director of the Transformational Urban Leadership Program at Azusa Pacific University, asked those who gathered. “How can we help one another? What are the issues affecting your community?”
As Mata posed these questions, the attendees — gathered in six tables of about five to six — discussed their thoughts.
At one table, the discussion started with some saying that even the awareness of community development is low in the Asian American church community.
“Even talking about community development is hard and a gathering like this is rare to find,” said Jane Hong-Guzman de Leon, the education department pastor at Tapestry LA, and one of the organizers of the lunch gathering.
“To be honest, I had no idea what community development was until I got involved with the Fuller Youth Institute,” Irene Cho, program manager of the Fuller Youth Institute, said.
But now that they have been made aware, they say that they see the need for Asian American Christians to become involved in the community. The problem is spreading that awareness, getting the church community to become interested and involved in community development, and determining how exactly the Asian American church community should get involved.
One of the reasons it may be difficult to motivate churches to become more involved with the community is that they “already have their hands full,” in the words of Jackson Fong, pastor of student ministries at First Baptist Church of Downey.
What many churches may not realize, however, is that churches can do community development work starting from within their own congregations, the attendees shared. Irene Cho shared examples of problems that may exist in an Asian church, but leaders may be uninformed about, such as getting immigration visas, bailing minors out of prison, and marital problems.
“Having an awareness of community development, and having people who are designated for that ministry, could help to provide resources so that church staff won’t be burned out trying to do everything,” Cho explained. “For things like getting kids out of prison, or helping people with their immigration documents, many of the church leaders just don’t know how to deal with these things."
Though these kinds of needs exist within the congregations, when thinking of doing ‘outreach projects’ or ‘community development,’ Asian American church leaders may first think of reaching out to people outside of their church, who live in a different culture and context than their own. This may be impractical, said Jane Hong-Guzman de Leon.
“I think there’s a need to re-envision how we can do community development,” said Hong-Guzman de Leon.
“There are two Asian Americas — one is the well-off Asian America, and the other is the non-Model Minority Myth Asian America, the one with financial and other problems,” said Jeff Liou, an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. “But these two Asian Americas don’t talk to each other.”
One way that the Asian American church community can be more inspired to be involved with community development, attendees at a separate table shared, is to have more gatherings of leaders of churches, non-profits, and various fields.
Such gatherings allow for leaders to learn about other churches’ and non-profits’ work that they may have otherwise not known about, and may spark ideas on how their own organizations can serve the community or partner with another group to do so.
“Seeing examples of how Asian Americans are already doing community development work can serve as models for others to follow,” said Sharon Mo, co-founder of For the World ministry, who spoke as a representative of one of the tables.
Another attendee shared an example. Non-profits that offer counseling or support groups for women who are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking may face the barrier of having the women actually seek out those organizations for help. But if a church learned about some of the ways these organizations offered support and built trust — such as holding jewelry or soap making classes — they could offer these programs for their own congregations, where women already feel safe and in community.
“But I think this is a good start,” said Shou Mo, co-founder of For the World, “because everyone is being heard.”
“It’s not a sprint,” said Michael Mata, encouraging the leaders to continue their efforts. “It’s a marathon.”