A Letter to My White American and Asian American Brothers & Sisters

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

(This letter was written by another one of our staff on the trek Spenser, and despite his many disclaimers, he is an incredible writer and this letter gives you a taste of what a blessing my team was to me in shaping my faith and perspective)

My Dear Friends,

The original intent of this email was for my White American friends. I’m writing this email because I care about you and I want to share with you about what’s been on my mind lately. I’m not a great writer and English is my second language, but I will try my best to articulate my thoughts. I also acknowledge that the topics of race, racial identity, and racial dynamics are relatively new to me. As I share, I ask for your grace as I continue to work out my own identity and how I should interact with my brothers and sisters from different racial backgrounds.
First, I do recognize that I have been blessed with my White brothers and sisters who are willing to listen to me and read this email. The reality is that many others from Majority Culture don’t care about what I have to say. So thank you for listening.
One of the things I learned in Thailand this summer was discovering my own racial identity and having my eyes opened to racial dynamics both cross-culturally and within our American team. During debrief and orientation, I saw how people from Majority Culture, though unintentional, easily assume what is correct and what is the norm. These include how the Gospel is interpreted, what Justice is, how to live justly, and assumptions about our upbringings. I saw this especially clearly as the top leadership of our program were all White Americans. Without seeing these situations through the racial lens, I saw many of our students of color accommodated to majority culture. This is especially true when indirect collective culture interacts with direct individualistic culture. As a person of color myself, this really sucks. It sucks because by vocalizing and explaining ourselves, we are still accommodating. In order to be heard, I have to adjust myself to majority culture. It does make me wonder about what the world would look like if the privileged and powerful majority culture were not so individualistic. What would our world look like if the majority culture were collective and more considerate to the people around them? This is in no way to say that there are no brokenness in indirect culture and that White culture is bad. Nonetheless, I am sharing this with you, my White friends, because I want to ask you to listen. Some of you already do this exceptionally well, but I still ask that you continue to listen to the people around you. Listen well to the minorities around you. Listen to your Asian brothers and sisters. Listen to your Black brothers and sisters.
Since my time in Thailand, I am realizing how real racism is and how we need you, my White brothers and sisters, to not stay silent. As you may know, Mike Brown, an unarmed black 18 year-old who was two days away from starting college, was fatally shot by a police officer while he had his hands in the air. As an Asian American, I know how easy it is for me to be apathetic about the situation. Quite frankly, I feel the same apathy from the White community as well. We tell ourselves, this is not our issue. A black kid died in St. Louis, big deal. Nonetheless, I do plead that you would take a moment to grieve, mourn, and empathize with the situation. An innocent 18 year-old young man was killed because of the color of his skin. An innocent young man….because the color of his skin. This is not news to America. We are all familiar with the case of Trayvon Martin. Just in July, Eric Garner, an African American male, died from an illegal chokehold by the police for breaking up a fight. You can watch the whole incident here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ka4oKu1jo . Three weeks ago, John Crawford, another black man, was killed for holding a toy gun at a Walmart in Ohio. The reality is that the outcomes of these stories would be very different if the persons involved were their White counterparts. These stories are sad and disturbing, and we need you, my white friends, to speak up and be on our side.
Just last week, I was waiting in line at a breakfast cafe when a White man pushed me with his elbow while saying that I should give him space to eat his breakfast. Maybe in this case I was too sensitive, but I doubt he would have acted in this manner if I was White. I also doubt that this man is straight up racist. Most definitely, he has good friends that are non-white or even Asian. But at that moment, I was another skinny Asian man that can be pushed around, and he knew there was no consequence to his actions. Maybe you’ll say that I was too sensitive, and maybe I was. I saw this situation through the racial lens. But friends, the case of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, or John Crawford are real racial situations. I am not being too sensitive for my Black brothers and sisters. As an Asian American, I can walk around a police car in my low-income neighborhood at night and feel at peace. My Black counterparts, however, has to fear that he would get stopped or even shot.
Just yesterday, I was researching about real estate developers at work and I found that all the executive directors are White. Friends, do you see what I see? The whole system, in every aspect of life, is set up for White Americans to succeed. Media, news, magazine covers, police, and the working world. After work, I read an article by Arthur Chu, a 2nd generation Chinese American journalist who wrote about his experience as an Asian American trying to fit in to majority culture. You can find the article here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/12/men-without-a-country-mike-brown-trayvon-martin-my-father-and-me.html. My emotion is stirred as I read this article. I deeply identify with the author. At the same time, I also know that racism becomes a whole different level for my Black American friends. Arthur Chu said it well. “The white racist looks at me and sees a stolen job or the slow decline of national prominence, but he doesn’t see a rapist, a thug, a barbarian at the gate. I fear being snubbed and sometimes spat on but rarely shot. And that is a very important difference.”
Today in 2014, racism still exists. It does not exist like the way it did before. Relatively few Americans would admit that they are straight up racist. But modern day racism is subtle, and it is masked in day to day racial stereotypes. Nonetheless, it is real and it still takes lives and destroys the future of many people of color.
So friends, if you are White, I pray and hope and ask that you would break the apathy and speak up for your brothers and sisters. You are truly privileged and you have the access to power structures. You have the protection of the police and the law. When you speak, people hear. When you tell other White folks that this is a racial issue, they actually listen to you. So please, learn to listen well to people of color, and speak on their behalf. If fact, if you don’t speak, that communicates something too. It communicates that we minorities are just crazy and ultra-sensitive people. This is how power dynamics work, friends, whether you speak or not, something is being communicated. This is because you have power, and again, people listen to you. To my Asian American friends, this is our business too.
So do something. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to do either. Sending out this email is my attempt of doing something. At times, I feel like a fool writing this email. But we must do something. Justice for the oppressed is everywhere in the Bible. So please, talk to a friend, tell your families. Follow what is going on in Ferguson, and be educated. Listen to your minority friends, and speak for them. As Christians, let us not pretend that this world is ok, that racism does not exist, or that it is not our problem. Let us mourn, grieve, and cry out to our God. May we hurt with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson, St. Louis as Apostle Paul urged us to be one body.
If you need to read up on what is going on in Ferguson, this is a good summary about what happened: http://sarahbessey.com/things-tell-ferguson/
Also, if you would like to talk more, please feel free to call me or email or text or facebook me. Thank you for listening, my friends.
May His Kingdom Come,
Spenser

Bangkok, Thailand

October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

A summation of a summer’s worth of lessons:

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1. Stop trying to “fix your life” to be closer to God- learn how to turn to God and be quicker to repent. God is the one who can change hearts, not you.

2. Stop idolizing “the call.” You know God’s heart, so take actions. Don’t sit in periods where you are waiting for some divine sign to plan your trajectory, rather don’t be afraid to make right/wrong decisions. The gravity of your decisions aren’t important, what’s important is your flexibility.

3. Love simply. Do small things with great love. It isn’t necessary to have wisdom before love- we don’t have to know all the theology behind the bible to share the good news of the gospel. God works fully through love and most of the time that just means being with people and sacrificing your time.

4. Lose the control complex. As you draw near to the Kingdom, the Kingdom will draw near to you and restore all the broken parts of your life. You need to trust God more than you trust your own plans. You need to trust Him with the lives of your family, relationships, friendships, and you need to trust that restoration comes from obedience. Seek first the Kingdom of God anyways.

5. Lament. It’s okay to not be okay and be in periods where you demand God to be who he says He is. Affirm God’s character by crying out to Him and lamenting for the ways that humanity has broken His image.

6. Reorient your perspective of God’s provision. See your “talents” as gifts you’ve been entrusted with from God for a purpose, and money as being given to you for opportunities God has in store. Bring all of who you are to God– if you are a musician worship loud, if you love to cook then build community through potlucks, whatever it may be there is a way that you can bring glory to God through your talents. Stop seeing everything as yours, it’s not about you, it’s about the Kingdom.

7. “I am because you are”- apply this mindset to everyone you encounter. There is a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. “A person is a person through other people,” so treat one another accordingly.

8. Honor the Sabbath. It is a command for a reason. Allow for boredom and allow for time to sit at God’s feet and just be with Him. Work from rest, not for rest.

9. The paradox of who Jesus is makes Him real. We would never worship a God we could figure out. Appreciate God’s mysterious ways, even when they challenge your perspective of His goodness. He gives and takes away for His glory.

10. The moment is now. Living in the moment doesn’t mean that you live like there’s no tomorrow- or that you gratify all the desires of your flesh for temporary satisfaction. It means living in the faith that God has our futures perfected and that He cares deeply about each and every one of us to where we don’t have to worry about our future in the present. We just need to be present to His presence.

Global Church

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

24 things World Christians wish North American short term missionaries would quit doing:

1 Talk about your “rights” in our country

2 Making sure you know how privileged you are compared to us

3 Act like you know more about our own country, city, town, or neighborhood than we do

4 Make us feel like we’re getting a free ride, lunch, or the true offer of the gospel because of your good graces

5 Demand we keep your schedule

6 Impose on already present ministry because “your way is better”

7 Give more glory to being North American than Christ

8 Truncate the gospel with short sighted quest for “soul winning”

9 Minimize our challenge while grumbling about yours

10 Offering up bobbles, beads and trinkets so we’ll listen to you

11 Be loud

12 Use fear tactics which are contrary to God’s grace

13 Speak ill of other Christians

14 Create a sense of obligation through your generosity

15 Overstay your welcome

16 Use high pressure sales tactics

17 Talk more than you listen

18 Plant your flags on our soil

19 Asking us to submit to you

20 Lie about how you will help us in the future

21 Dismiss our search for truth by insisting we accept your version of it

22 Pretend to be our covering

23 Making us make short term salvation decisions

24 Making discipleship exclusive by addicting us to your resources, materials and methodologies

 

This question was posed by my mentor Janna, and these were the responses read to us after becoming short term missionaries ourselves. Cultural sensitivity is important. As we take a posture of listening to the cries of the global church, I pray they would continue to humble us by teaching us how to steward our privilege well.

Who do you say I AM?

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

July 22,2014

It took a partially paralytic grandfather sharing his testimony with me to make scripture come alive and teach me the true value of what we hope in.

Today, as a special treat, we had “A” come visit us for our last team times with all the grandmas and grandpas. This made our visits a little more special because since “A” can speak Thai and English, there were finally no communication barriers and we weren’t mostly using our sense of body language or limited Thai knowledge to communicate. So today, I heard Da Tam’s story of coming to faith, and it was so beautiful I actually cried.

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said,” Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 5:17-20

I have read that story countless times- I’ve even performed it in Sunday school plays, yet I don’t think my eyes were ever opened to the truth of the hope present in this story until I heard Da Tam’s testimony. He had the noose ready and was ready to commit suicide until P’Noi shared the gospel with him. 10 years ago a leg surgery left him basically paralyzed below the knees, and he said that most of the reason he came to Christ was because of the story of Jesus and the paralyzed man. He told us that everyone wanted so desperately to see this Jesus because they had such a strong faith (strong enough to lower their friend from the roof) that he could heal the man, and he needed to see Him too. To hear that from someone on the brink of suicide, and who spends his daily routine struggling to get around, that because of Jesus he still has a reason to live and that he knows through Jesus there is healing, man that just gives me overwhelming hope. It’s amazing the implications that reading scripture in different contexts, or seeing it come alive through others’ eyes can have on our own faith. Scripture is so rich.

This whole experience reminded me of a bible study we had as a team during our mid-project retreat on Mark 8:27-38.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Mark 8:31-32

Suffering. Rejection. Death. Resurrection. 3/4 of those terms is not what the Jews expected their Messiah to look like at all. So much so that Peter rebukes Jesus after he begins teaching these things, which is also ironically after he also proclaims that he believes Jesus is the Messiah.

 Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.
Mark 8:33

What does Jesus really look like to us? Or more importantly, which Jesus do we know? Do we focus on divine things like submitting to God’s authority and denying ourselves and taking up a cross, or do we focus on human things like following Jesus without suffering, wanting power and control, and to fix the broken systems in our world?

I think about Da Tam and the suffering he must be going through to want to take his own life, and yet, what he hopes in is worth so much more. I’d say most of us are stuck on focusing on the suffering, the rejection, and the death pieces that we ultimately forget to look towards the end where it mentions the resurrection- the promise of life. As I continue to ponder on these things, I am reminded that the idea of the Messiah becomes superior to me in itself because these are in no way human fashioned ideas of what a God looks like.

Sunflowers and Repentance

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

July 20, 2014

Today during listening prayer I remember getting an image of sunflowers in a field. Not wanting to share that image with the group because it made no sense to me, I quickly asked God for another image…and instead He gave me a verse:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing
John 15:5

Later, after receiving this verse, I was really surprised that I had been so demanding with God in that moment. I began to ponder on the original image, thinking that it had been really rash for me to dismiss it so abruptly, and only one word seemed to connect the dots between both messages: grow. I sat back, closed my eyes, and began to reflect on my weeks with Yaay Noi and The Ruth Center. And all of a sudden, I was filled with so much overflowing joy. Real, concrete joy- so much so that in this moment I knew exactly that joy was the perfect word for this emotion. In my impatience to jump to the next image, or arrive at the revelation without the lesson, I realized I almost missed the joy in the picture that God already had for me. My restlessness was causing me to miss God.

I spent time thinking about how much joy my growth in God had given me this summer. There is so much beauty and mercy in the fact that we can grow in our God- that this relationship is two-sided. Even though this summer has been all about being and living in the present, and being intentional with communities, I still skip over that fact too much. My mind is always in the future, yet God has so much more for us right now.

There have been so many ways I have tried to “grow in God” in the past- whether it be through  fasting, making promises to try and be better, or trying to be more in scripture, but now I honestly think that God is the only one that can draw me near to Himself. I have learned to be so dependent on grace because the ways I try to work for my salvation don’t work. Instead, they leave me with a false perception that any work I can do could somehow be worthy of God. As if He doesn’t love me the same on my worst and best day.

This is the peace we inherit- trusting in God’s power to draw us near to Himself. Instead of trusting in my own abilities to bring me closer to God,I just need to invite Him to do His will. God loves us in our sin, our filth and brokenness, and instead of trying to “be better,” I want Him to teach me how to practice repenting quicker and turning to His power to heal my broken life faster. What a joy it is that He desires to meet us right where we are, right in this very moment.

What a joy that we grow.

Gospel Delusions

October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

(This post was written by my team’s staff worker: Christine Brinn about halfway through the Trek)

Many thoughts are swimming in my head and I find myself trying to find answers to the systemic problems that surround me. I’ve been here before, feeling stuck inside myself, yet the familiarity doesn’t make it any easier to confront. Every day, I see the broken systems with more clarity. How do I respond knowing that I’m part of the dysfunction? I am propelled into deeper questions to a battle in my being to either rid myself of my skin and privilege or to use my power to solve and change all that I see. At this moment in time, I feel stuck and unsure if my presence in Bangkok as a white American Christian is a good idea at all. Lord, open my eyes to see.

Yaay Noi (Grandma Noi) said that she goes to church because the “pu chai falang” (foreigner white men) give her hugs and dote on her. Is it good news that Yaay Noi’s experience of Christian community perpetuates perceptions of an American Jesus?

When P’Noi became a Christian, her family rejected her for following a “foreignher’s God.” And Yaay Pensri’s walls are covered with 13 posters of a light-skinned Jesus. Is it good news that the Messiah is known as the white man’s God?

Today I joined a group of blonde South African students as they spoke in the park to a gathering of Thai children – most of whom were wearing Buddhist charms around their necks. The short-term missionaries talked about the Israelites while Pat and Pao (my 10 and 12 year old neighbors) simultaneously begged me to let them play on the playground. Is it good news to ask children to sit in the hot sun and try to make sense of seemingly random stories translated by strangers speaking a foreign language?

Yesterday, Yaay Pensri (my host grandma) explained that all the neighbors give her food for “Suay” (my Thai nickname, which means “Beautiful”). She also explained that when I’m not here, they don’t extend the same generosity. Is it good news that Yaay Pensri has enough to eat only when her daughter who reflects the “beauty” depicted in skin-whitening ads comes to stay with her?

I want to scream and somehow convince each child, each grandma here, “My God, my Lord, my Savior was not a white man!” I want to explain, “My God is not an ATM! He came in power, but His power is not of this world. It is not the power of the US Dollar or the privilege of being a half-white movie star. My God was rejected by the world and came in humility. Yes, he came, he lived with you and ate with you and sat with you, but he did not have my white skin, my American accent, my round blue eyes, or my light colored hair! Please forgive my people, for we have fashioned Jesus in our own image!”

I want to rid myself of this whiteness so that I can be more “effective” in bearing God’s full image to Thai people – and yet I realize even that desire stems from my own privileged narrative that I am “needed” for God’s kingdom to come. Lord, forgive me for my pride. Forgive us.

Forgive the ways that I – that we – in the West have placed ourselves at the center of your Global Body. Forgive us for getting in the way of your Spirit and your kingdom. Forgive us for going our own way, for “responding to your call” without listening first and seeing how you are already at work here. Forgive us for the pride of thinking that we are needed – that our “expertise” is needed, that our “theology” is needed, that our ideas are needed, that even our resources and offerings are needed. Lord, teach us to STOP and get out of your way. Show us the ways our actions and our good intentions perpetuate a false gospel that relies upon the charity of the West. Oh, that we would stop talking and listen!

Perhaps if we listen, we might see our own idols. Perhaps if we listen to the P’Nois of the world – to the P’Plar and P’Aa and P’Paula and P’Mon and Yaay Pensri and Klue Muay and to the voices of the Global Church – perhaps we will find that we ourselves have believed in the same white man’s gospel that we’ve so readily proclaimed. If we stop and listen, perhaps we will realize that we in fact worship the sound of our own voice, and the choice to either steward or “lay down” our own privilege and power. We worship our great ideas. We worship our “right theology” and our ability to help. We worship financial security and the letters after our names. If we would only stop and listen, perhaps we would find that the gospel we live and breathe is in fact not the gospel of Jesus at all.

The other day, Janna and I were talking about how challenging it is for Americans to know even how to give a testimony. A student shared with me how challenging it was when I asked our team to tell a story about why they follow Jesus. Perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves why we don’t have testimonies of good news to share. Are we living in the kingdom? Who is the Jesus we are following?

On the contrary, a few days ago, Yaay Pensri told me about her older sister being sick. After praying for 4-5 months, her sister was healed and her sister became a Christian. It was so simple and easy for her to share.

A few days later, P’Noi (founder of the Ruth Center), shared how she prayed about where to visit and then had multiple divine appointments with grandmas who were uniquely in need of her support that day.

Why is it that we are so unaware of God’s movement in our lives? Perhaps we believe we don’t need God. Perhaps we’ve written our own gospel, fashioned our own Jesus. Lord, have mercy. Open our eyes to see.

Thank you, God, for P’Noi and Thai leaders in the church. Thank you for the guest speaker at church who is writing her dissertation on Asian church history. Strengthen these leaders, encourage them, lift up their voices. May we have ears to hear them proclaiming who Christ is. May we have eyes to see the good news of God’s kingdom coming in this place, and to surrender our own delusions of the gospel. May your kingdom come.

Recognition and Redemption

October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

July 1, 2014

It has been a week! The combination smell of sewage, sweat, and mosquito repellant is the only one I know. My sun scorched skin leaves a tan that makes me unrecognizable to myself. I feel like I’m stuck in a limbo of time that forgets to progress and I am hyperaware of how dirty I am and how far away the thought of ever being clean seems.

I am also aware of the fact that at this moment I am hindering the work Christ wants to do inside of me and the redemption He has in store for these communities through my constant focus on myself. I wanted to hope I’d be immune to culture shock,but the height of my privilege compared to the depth of the systemic poverty I am now experiencing are just leaving me helpless to displacement, but most of all self-shame.

When I left America with my heart burning for Christ’s mission, I had no idea I would be so gripped by my own depravity while here. I see it: my pride, my self-righteousness, my love of control, my complaints, my desire to know, my lack of trust in Christ, my circumstantial joy.

I am seeing my idols, my brokenness, and my sin with new eyes, but as I truly begin to recognize myself for what I am, I also am becoming conscious of who God is. There have been many, many times in the last week I have questioned why God brought me here, and if I honestly am doing more harm than good by being here, but I have come to realize that where I am now is where God knows I need to be. Our God desires for holistic healing and redemption. It’s incredible to me that He doesn’t only desire healing for the communities my team experiences, He desires healing for everyone equally- including me. That is how abundant our God’s love is.

Reality is incarnation isn’t supposed to be easy: the Christian truth is Jesus still did it. His love went deep enough to be born in an animal pen and to be beaten, humiliated, and left naked. Clinging onto the truth, that love, I move forward.

We are so prone to accept only the “goodness” in life and think that God’s hand is only responsible for the positive, but in essence we would be missing out on half of the true gospel. As important as it us for us to celebrate in the truth that our God desires to have a relationship with us, it is equally important that we realize our own sin, and how desperately our world needs a savior.

The gospel is both death AND resurrection, pain AND hope, suffering AND celebration.

Both my recognition of my sin, and Jesus’ resurrection are equally necessary parts of sharing the good news. I find that as I sit in the tension of all my brokenness surfacing and look onwards towards hope, that both of these paths are intersecting with God being the end  I am growing closer to.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
Romans 8:22-24

 

Where Am I?

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