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

Commencement

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Phenomenal commencement speeches.

One week

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Blog excerpt from Ryan Hammil: 

On June 25th, our Global Urban Trek team will arrive in Thailand to live in a Bangkok slum for over a month.  We will stay with a family, serve with the local church, and learn about urban poverty and what it means to do “incarnational” ministry.  This term is taken from the Incarnation, the event in which God took on flesh and became human—Jesus’ birth.  In the same way that God became like the people he wanted to reach, so incarnational missionaries become like the poor they want to reach.  In what is essentially the textbook of the Global Urban Trek, Scott Bessenecker describes this missional incarnation as, “breaking out of the padding that separates and protects us from the harsh realities of poverty by embracing it voluntarily and stepping into relationship with the poor without the power dynamic that is normally present between the poor and nonpoor.”

One week left til the Trek begins.

Focus

June 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

As you know, I have about 2 weeks until I leave for Thailand for the rest of the summer. I don’t know if I am just naturally born to over-think everything, or if people just choose to leave this part out whenever they begin their missions training because it’s not too pretty, but parts of these last few weeks have been the most uncomfortable weeks I have ever experienced because reflecting on my life in light of the gospel has been nothing short of emotionally unsettling. Colliding with my own character at its root began to accumulate into feelings of anger, irritation and, in all, I flat out became disillusioned with our generation.

Mostly because we have this faith– but do we really? And then when we get a glimpse of how flawed we are and try to commit to changing our lives, we become complacent with the work-in-progress mode. Ironically, how many of us are actually stagnant in that phase today? Bottom line is there is no urgency with sharing the gospel like there is to finish your education, or attain the status in a job you believe you deserve. We don’t consider time being wasted when we sit in our cubicle at our 9-5 job, but we consider how much time we have to set aside in our lives to partake in missions, or how much time we will “waste” in the process—I mean how absolutely backwards is that last one? I also began to think about the concept of sin and how we still cling to the bondage Christ freed us from. How we all entertain it, let it break us, and how we let it create this colossal chasm between us and a God that sacrificed it all for us—and then the cherry-on-top fact that we know all these things, but somehow can’t avoid it? That we are actually that weak.

Anyways, throughout all those “fun” (half bitter—sorry working on it) thought processes up there I’ve come to the conclusion that I think it all boils down to focus. Me choosing to focus on my failures won’t solve much, and if anything will escalate into fear or insecurity. I think what I’m beginning to realize is all of us have these unique failures because we are all so different, so naturally we have different definitions of what failure looks like. Failure could be our focus, or our focus could instead be on channeling the unique perspectives we’ve gained from our failures to allow God’s grace to consume us. For me, personally, all the junk I am going through right now is so necessary because it is now keeping me desperate for grace—and that by NO means is any justification—we have to constantly keep reminding ourselves that this relationship we are even able to have with God is solely by His mercy. I am teaching myself to stop being discouraged when I look at how perfect Jesus is and compare it to how broken I am because, in all, it just makes the story of grace an even more captivating one.

But He said to me “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Initially, prep for this trip cultivated many doubts that I was ready for this kind of experience, but the first step in preparing actually was my realization that I needed to rid my mind of the idea that I’d be doing anything at all. If we give Christ’s power room to work, His power will speak for itself. Learning to be strong isn’t anything we will do ourselves. It is actually the realization that we are weak and flawed, and that through our weakness Christ is revealing His power.

So again, it all redirects back to focus. Are we going to be focusing on how discouraged we are by our weakness, or focused on how Christ’s power is revealed through our weakness?

Desire

April 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

Growing up, if I had been asked to select my favorite verse in the bible, this would be it. Makes sense, right? The something-about-being-happy-and-God’ll-give-us-what-we-want verse. And nothing is too big/great for my God, so naturally I’m setting myself up for a win-win situation in one simple step. That’s how we’re engineered as humans. We treat God’s favor as if we need to complete a few steps from scripture to earn it, as if grace wasn’t a gift. How many of us skip over the sheer beauty of the first part of the verse, and end up putting our hope in the second part because that’s the part that benefits us. That’s the part that might make some of our obstacles a little more bearable in the morning because something we want will come to us soon, you know if we pray. Or if we’re patient. There are lots of things about waiting and (wait for it)… being patient in the bible. But hey, we’re busy people and we skip over those parts.

“Take delight in the Lord,” do we really understand what this is asking? This is asking for a process, not a step. Remembering to take delight in the Lord when things are going smoothly, and not attributing everything to ourselves. Also taking delight in the Lord when we are hopelessly trying to stitch the broken fragments of our world back together. Fixing the problem ourselves (of course) because unless we are focusing on the last part of that verse, the part where our abundant God is just going to give us what we want, we don’t really want His help.

Here is my 2.0 take on this verse: At the point in my life that I decide to truly take delight in my God, through His blessings and trials, my desires begin to align with His will for my life. He becomes my prize, His will becomes my way, and I begin to trust Him. I believe at this moment the desires of our hearts won’t be put in temporary things that will soon pass. At this moment, the moment that we fully take delight and joy in Him, He has become the sole desire of our hearts, which is why He can fulfill our needs because what we actually desire is Him. It’s always been Him, and in fact, He’s already given Himself to us. God sacrificed Himself to give us another shot at a relationship with Him because He is our desire. If that isn’t enough reason for you to take delight in the Lord today, I won’t be able to give you a better one.

I once had a thousand desires, but in my one desire to know You, all else melted away
-Rumi

 

Grow

March 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

When we say things like “people don’t change,” it drives scientists crazy because change is literally the only constant in all of science. Energy. Matter. It’s always changing, morphing, merging, growing, dying. It’s the way people try not to change that’s unnatural. The way we cling to what things were instead of letting things be what they are. The way we cling to old memories instead of forming new ones. The way we insist on believing despite every scientific indication that anything in this lifetime is permanent. Change is constant. How we experience change, that’s up to us. It can feel like death, or it can feel like a second chance at life. If we open our fingers, loosen our grips, go with it, it can feel like pure adrenaline. Like at any moment we can have another chance at life. Like at any moment, we can be born all over again.

Age

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Age is just a number. And reality is learning that there’s no such thing as being an adult. You only grow older. And if you are lucky, maybe a little wiser. 

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