‘Third culture’ churches unite Asians with diverse expectations_63003

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Posted: 6/27/03

'Third culture' churches unite
Asians with diverse expectations

By John Hall

Texas Baptist Communications

Society and family pull many first-generation American-born Asians in different cultural directions.

But the Texas Baptist Asian congregations are easing these tensions and overcoming cultural and language barriers to unite multiple generations of Asian-Americans in Christ.

Many first-generation Asian-Americans have embraced western concepts and culture and are striving for individual success in an English-speaking culture, said Coleman Chong, pastor of Asian American Baptist Church in Houston, and Arnold Wong, pastor of Asian American Baptist Church in Dallas.

Asian-American Baptist churches are bringing multiple generations of Asians together in worship services by focusing on what they have in common.

“I was born here, raised here, grew up here,” said Stephen Ku, a member of Wong's Dallas church. “I consider myself an American with Chinese heritage. Just like the Europeans that have come over, the Mexicans who came over, they would say they're American.”

However, first-generation Asian-Americans feel family calling them toward a traditional Asian lifestyle, with an emphasis on parental authority, extended family and the native language, the pastors said.

“China has such a long history of tradition,” explained Ku's mother, Soy-Kay. “They should be proud of their heritage and be proud to be American. I hope by passing down Chinese tradition they are proud. I am proud.”

In harsh instances, a person is not considered “Asian enough” or “American enough” to fit into either category, Wong said.

“We work and live in a western culture, but when we go home it is completely different,” Chong said.

Asian-American Baptist churches, which prefer to leave the hyphen out of their names, are bringing multiple generations of Asians together in worship services by focusing on what they have in common.

Asians have a strong ethnic bond and desire to worship together rather than at an Anglo-American church, Chong believes. People tend naturally “to drift toward people that look like them,” Stephen Ku added.

That does not mean all generations of Asians agree on what they would like church to be. Soy-Kay Ku is more comfortable speaking Chinese than English and has asked Wong to include hymns in the worship service because she believes they are more spiritually helpful.

Stephen Ku is not fluent in Chinese and purposely sought an English-speaking Asian congregation. While he wants spiritual nourishment, he is concerned primarily about the development of his children.

However, a close family setting unites Asians, the Kus noticed. Stephen and Soy-Kay said they have busy lives and would only see each other once a month if they didn't go to church together. Church is one way for Soy-Kay Ku to be involved in her grandchildren's lives.

Pastors encourage older generations to continue caring for their children and ask younger people to keep the door open to their families. Many parents understand their children will become Americanized, but they want to make sure a close relationship continues, Chong said.

The Texas churches have attracted a significant number of young families and middle-aged adults, a demographic that traditionally has been tough to reach, according to the pastors.

Generations intermix and combine the best of traditional Asian culture and contemporary American culture with Christian faith in raising their children, Wong and Chong said.

Many Asian cultures enter the sanctuaries, and the pastors make conscious efforts to respect each tradition and try to use illustrations everyone understands, like sports or movies.

While the churches do not celebrate particular Asian holidays, such as Chinese New Year, a pastor may attend a celebration held by some of the church members.

“I think each individual has their own outlook,” Soy-Kay Ku said. “I respect their outlook, and they need to respect mine.”

The congregations do celebrate American holidays together, however. The Thanksgiving dinner at the Dallas church is one of the most popular times of fellowship.

“We respect differences, but we treasure what we have in common,” Wong said. “We just congregate together. Whoever you are is who you are.”

The ministries have expanded with an increase in interracial marriages. Now, the churches include many non-Asian cultures in their services. Although an ethnic core remains, the churches' scope has stretched to welcome all people, the pastors said.

“I don't see us as an different from an Anglo church that is trying to reach out to the culture,” Chong said.

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