Are English Ministries Necessary?

English Ministry (EM) – ministries in a Korean-Immigrant church for the English speaking Koreans.

Do churches benefit from being homogenous?
I guess that’s the bigger question under the question, “Are EMs necessary?”

Many of EM congregations are made up of only Korean-Americans.
And some EMs only target English-speaking Koreans.

But why?
Our parents’ generation’s church remained homogenous because their services were conducted in Korean. And most Korean speakers are, well, Korean.

Language barrier is no longer a problem for us Second-Generation folks.
So, then, are we operating out of self-preservation of the Americanized-Korean culture? Or driven by the comfort of being surrounded by others who look like us and think like us?

And, from my experiences, it’s hard to break the homogeneity of a Korean gathering. It’s not as outsider friendly because we are filled with inside jokes, stories, and experiences that are fiercely unique to the Korean-American experience. Simply, if you’re not Korean, you just won’t get it. And only a few will slow down to try to help you catch up.

I know this may sound like an attack on EMs.
It’s not meant to be.
Many of my mentors and colleagues serve in English Ministries — people who I respect immensely. 

It’s just something that I wrestle with, here and there.
Last year, I really prayed to see if God will send me to an EM. I did miss being around what I described to you up there — the unique Korean-American culture. Correction — I still do miss it. Here and there.

Obviously, that wasn’t God’s will for me. But, during that time of discernment last year, I was wrestling with this same question, too.

And I wonder if there are others who wrestle with this question as well.

The Interchangeable Ethnicity

I don't know why it bothers me so much when people assume I'm Chinese or Japanese. But it does. A lot.

I was at the Coffee Cat (great local coffee shop, btw) with my parents when this guy interrupted us.

“Are you guys from here?”

“Well, we are, but my parents aren't.”

“Where are they from?”


“Oh — is that in America?”

“…. It's in Southern California. Like 2 hours away. Near Cal-Poly Pomona.”

“Oh right, right. I knew that. Do you guys visit Chinatown frequently? I was just there. And I try to go all the time. It's so wonderful. You guys have such neat things…”

I mean, really? I had to bite my tongue so hard not to say something snarky back. After all, he was being really sincere. But, still… Why does one just go ahead an assume? They say that when you assume, it makes an ASS out of U and ME. But really, it just makes an ass out of you…

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the remake of Red Dawn. They originally made it about the Chinese invading the Northwest. But studios these days are trying to get their films to play in China, since it's such an untapped market. Studios have to be really careful because the Chinese government has strict control over what foreign movies are (legally) allowed into their country.

So, the studio that produce Red Dawn did not want to offend the China censors, so after the movie finished filming, they digitally altered all Chinese elements (uniforms, flags, etc) to North Korea. I read that and I said out loud, “Aw hellllll no!”

I don't know why it bothers me so much. I mean, you have Australians playing Americans. Americans playing Germans. The English playing American roles. An Irishman playing Abraham Lincoln.

But it bothers me when Zhang Ziyi (Chinese) played a geisha (Japanese). Or how Benjamin Kingsley (not Asian) is playing the Mandarin (an Asian character) in Iron Man 3. Actually the latter bothers me much more than the former. What? No Asian people to cast the roles of Goku (Dragonball) or Aang (The Last Air Bender)?

Or how about casting that reinforces the negative stereotypes of Asians? (Yes, 2 Broke Girls, I'm talking about you).

Or how about a Vacation Bible School study a couple of summers ago that was so racially insensitive to the all Asian cultures? Mixing pandas with geisha like clothing, with lanterns, rice field hats, chopsticks, karate chops and hiyas… I mean, really?

I know a lot of people don't understand the differences of Asian cultures. But each culture and country have rich and different histories. Sure, there are similarities, but there are big differences, as well.

In the end, there will be people who unintentionally and mistakingly think that there are similarities in the Asian cultures — thinking that it's all the same or interchangeable. And then there will be people who will continue to be ignorant and choose to bask in their ignorance.

When people (like the guy at the coffee shop) assume that I'm something other than Korean, know that I'll find a way to end the conversation ASAP, all the while politely smiling and biting my tongue so that I won't make the situation worse.


The 3rd Generation

English: Three Generations

Image via Wikipedia

I’m currently reading David Kinnamin’s You Lost Me. He writes about how the 3rd generation is no longer aware the language, values and culture of the first generation.

My parents are First Generation Koreans, or Immigrant Koreans. While, technically, I’m Generation 1.5 (because I was born in Korea and moved to ‘Merica! when I was young), I consider myself a 1.8(ish) Generation. For my definition of 1.5ers, someone would have to be born in Korea and lived a significant part of their formative years in Korea, then move to America. That way you have a good understanding of the Korean culture (and Korean education) and a grasp of the American culture as you get immersed and grow in it.

I moved to America when I was 6. I barely knew how to read Korean and my Korean education level is that of a Kindergartener. Therefore, I can’t say that I’m a pure 1.5er.

My brother is a 2nd Generation Korean. He was born in South Carolina.
When God finally heeds my fervent prayer and blesses us with a child, that child will be the 3rd Generation.

My parents would probably consider themselves Korean or at best (..worst..?), Korean-American. They are through and through Korean. Their worldview is still based in the Korea of the 70’s and 80’s. Sure, they have adapted to some of the “American” ideals and culture. But push come to shove, they’re more Korean than American.

Me, I consider myself American-Korean. I lived in America for the most part of my life. But there’s a distinct Korean-ness in me (My body does still crave Korean food if I go without for a long time…). Some of my values are grounded in the Korean culture I received from my parents. But most of my values, thoughts, ideas and dreams are formed by the American culture (that I received from MTV).
For (a broad and general) instance, just because you’re older than me, doesn’t mean that I  automatically have to respect you. Respect needs to be earned (regardless of someone’s age or position). That’s more American than Korean, I think. (Or, I’m just a punk.)

My language of preference is American… er English. In fact, my Korean is getting worse and worse. If it weren’t for my parents, I think my Korean would be all but gone. I notice that I’m stammering more when I speak to my parents. I see that the words are harder to say and find… but, listening to Korean, I have no problem. I can translate from Korean to English, but for the life of me, English to Korean is next to impossible.

And that’s my worry. I believe that cultural identity is heavily wrapped in language. My wife and I communicate to each other in English. The only time we use Korean to one another is when we need to say something (usually something bad) without anyone understanding a word that we say.
When we have kids, outside of a few Korean words and phrases, our kids most likely will be English speaking. Their worldview and values will be completely shaped and formed by the American culture (and yes, I’m a bit scared).
They’ll be American-American. They’ll just look Korean, but may not be a trace of the Korean culture and essence in their identities.
They may find Kimchi repulsive. They may have no interest in who Kim Sejong is or the significance of August 15 would be outside of history lessons. While many of my 1.5 and 2nd Generation Koreans went through a Korean Pride phase in our lives… this may completely be lost on the 3rd Generation of Koreans. They’ll just be Korean by physically, but American in everything else.

Where am I going with this?
I can’t help but relate this to Church (well, because of David Kinnamin).
While I can touch on many aspects of Church, today for the sake of this post, I’m going to just focus on worship.

(And these are generalization, I know. Bear with me.)
The “First Generation” of church leaders like the highly liturgical worship services. They feel the presence of God through liturgy, organ, robes, choral music… they prefer what we would call the “traditional” worship services.

My generation of pastors, “the 2nd Generation” have been a part of both traditional worship services and contemporary worship services. As formal as being robed up on Sunday mornings to as casual as having devotions around a camp fire. And we value both experiences deeply. We’ve been part of and designed worship services that are liturgical and formal but also worship services that have the beating drums and a driving bass line.
I know many of my fellow “2nd Gen’ers” who prefer the highly liturgical worship over the contemporary, and just as many (myself included) who prefer the drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a bunch of hipster Christians leading worship. They can go either way.

In the summer of 2011, our church hosted an intern. I wish we had chosen better, because this intern was just… boring and ineffective… I’m kidding. I had a blast spending the entire summer with Dae. He did a fantastic job and I knew he would. He was my youth kid when I was a youth pastor in Hawaii. (In fact, I think he’s a great writer too. Go visit his blog and “pressure” him to regularly update it.)
Dae has a strong sense of calling in ministry. You meet Dae, and you can see and hear his passion for God and God’s people. He’s called into ministry. Dae is, what… 20 years old?
He had never (read: never) been in a traditional worship setting until he interned at our church. (And our first service isn’t “traditional” traditional, either).
He shared how it was different from all the things he’d experienced in his church lifetime.
“It was good. But different. Weird. But not in a bad way.”

There are other kids I worked with who are now exploring their call into ministry.
And all these kids have never truly experienced a traditional worship. And they’re definitely not accustomed to “Open your hymnals to…”
In fact, they’re more the Hillsong United generation than the Hillsong generation. Even more, in fact, Dae the Intern doesn’t even like David Crowder (!!!!!) and prefers Jesus Culture and The United Pursuit Band. (It’s David Crowder, bro… and don’t get me started on your thoughts of the Dark Knight…)

So, David Kinnamin writes:

The first generation speaks only the language of the country of origin. The second generation is fluent in both languages. The third generation speaks only the new language and has little esteem for the cultural traditions that have been lost in translation.

When I was between the age of 12-14, my dad had the opportunity to move back to Korea. He thought long and hard about it, until he realized that it would totally mess me up. He felt it would be different to move to America from Korea at that age, but not the other way around. He was worried not just about all the language difference, but also just the life of being a Korean teenager and the culture shock I may receive from it. He worried that things would be so different, that it would stunt my mental maturation. (Thanks for giving so much credit…)
Basically, I was too Americanized to ever feel comfortable or be productive in Korea. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to move back to Korea. Though I can’t put into words why, I do agree with my dad that I wouldn’t have fared well in Korea.

But, that’s what I feel that we may be guilty of doing to these upcoming young pastors.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we may have monopolized the idea of worship; that it has to happen a certain way and during certain times.

We have these young, gifted, God-called people stepping into ministry and instead of thriving in a world where they can make a difference, where they can be fully utilized by God, they end up struggling to find a place (and meaning) in a world that doesn’t exist outside the walls of the local church.

As Kinnamin wrote, these upcoming pastors may have little to no esteem for the traditions that is strongly held by the “first generation” church leaders.
Yet, we try and fight to get these “3rd generation” pastors to accept and uphold the model and values of the “first generation” church.
So these young people become disenchanted with bureaucracy and the seemingly inflexible polity of a denomination and find other ways to be utilized by God.

Tradition is good.
Tradition is important.
But tradition is man-made and not of God.
Once tradition gets in the way God, it’s no longer holy and we end up fighting against the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I know time will come when I realize that the young kids are messing everything up and confusing what is holy and what is not; what is worship and what is not; what is church and what is not.

But hopefully, I’ll remember how I feel now 20 or so years later.
Instead of trying to fiercely hold onto what I knew and loved, essentially forcing them into a box, I hope that God will use me to help them to articulate their vision and help them chase their dreams and visions that God placed in their hearts, instead of forcing my dreams and visions on them.

Of course, only time (and God) will tell what kind of mentor I will be when I live in a world with flying cars, self drying apparel and self tying shoes. 

And let me just say, I’m thankful for the mentors that I have now who give me freedom to explore my call and help me chase God’s dream for me. I only hope to be given a chance to return the favor to the next generation.

I Need to Learn More Korean

I was emailing a friend of mine and shared this thought with him.
I’m worried that my kids will grow not knowing any Korean. The wife and I don’t speak Korean to each other. I’ve also noticed that my Korean has been getting worse and worse. I never stuttered as much when speaking to my parents. And this worry is bigger now that I’m at an American church, I won’t hear Korean at all, and it will get worse.

I don’t want my kids to be one of those Asians who know nothing of their native language. I don’t mean to offend anyone who read that sentence.
I just feel that language is a strong part of the culture, and once the language is gone, the culture disappears too. I don’t want my kids to ever forget our heritage and our proud culture.

I am toying with the idea of purchasing one of those Rosetta Stone language things… but since I’m in California, we have Korean tv here. I’m going to watch a little bit of Koreand dramas.

Does anyone want to sponsor a trip to Korea for me? =P

My Identity

In a crowd of white people, especially at my new setting, I stand out.
I can distinguish myself from others. If I need to look for my wife in a crowd at church, it’s not that hard to find her.
No matter where I go, no matter who I’m with, the fact that I’m Korean is never going to change.
I will always be slightly different.
I can eat the same food as them, I can be entertained by the same things as them, I can be outraged at the same upsetting things as them, I can wear the same clothing, I can drive the same cars, live in the same neighborhoods, but deep down, I am different from them. There’s no taking out my Korean blood out of me. Yes, I’m not that big fan of Korean food, but go 2 or so weeks without it, my body craves it. Everyone in California seemingly wears shoes inside their houses. Wherever I live, people will not walk with shoes inside the house. I think slightly different from the people around me. My culture, ethnicity has molded me into a certain way and with a certain perspective.
I could be surrounded by Japanese and Chinese people, but I will still be different from them.

Where am I going with this?

Isn’t this how I should be as a Christian?
That no matter where I am, who I’m with, that there will be something inherently different about who I am because of who I love?
That I could be surrounded by non-believers, yet still stand out in a different way? That my identity and belief sort of sets me apart from the rest of the flock? Not in an elitist, snobby way, but to be slightly different because of what I believe…

This thought came to me because I don’t really know what a Christian is. We have Koreans who call themselves Christians, yet they go hire Hispanics for minimum wage (sometimes lower) and make them to ridiculous jobs, and if they don’t perform, these so called Christians will use physical force to get their ways. I know those who refer to them as Christians, but only go to church on Sundays, and live however they want the other days. And then we have those Christians that we admire and who earnestly try to live for God’s glory. Yet, all three consider themselves Christians.

Sometimes, I think I’ve conformed to the world to a point where I can’t differentiate myself as a follower of Christ to someone who believes there is no God. I’ve read somewhere (I think Shane Claiborne) that we’ve Christians haven’t really shown the world a different way to live. We live exactly as they do and just sprinkle a little Jesus here and there.

I just feel that I should be different from others, not because of what I say or how I look, but because of how I live. And how I love.
We’re not supposed to be of this world, but that doesn’t mean we should go and isolate ourselves from it, either. And that’s a struggle I seem to face more than I’d like.