May 24th, 2013
Alexandra Zamora spends her time teaching, training, and equipping churches in North America to engage in God’s mission around the world. Zamora’s passion for prayer, for knowing God deeply, and for the church to reach out to those who have not yet heard the gospel is evident. Perhaps her heart and mind for bringing the good news to others are so passionate because it was through the witness of Christians she met in the midst of travel that she received her first Bible then heard about the love of God for her. Zamora offered a word of instruction and encouragement to HANA communities entering into God’s mission. Referencing David Bosch’s seminal work Transforming Mission, she reminded participants the different ways God’s mission has been pursued over time which have both responsibly carried the gospel to those who have not heard as well as compromised the message of the gospel.
She focused the discussion around the “centrifugal force coming from the cross” in which God accomplishes his mission because of his power to do so. “Think about the places you cannot enter saying you are a Christian,” Zamora prompted. “You cannot read the Bible publically, so you have to accomplish the mission without words. That is the power of the cross, that is our God!” She also reminded participants that when we do not walk in the purposes and wisdom of God, mission can go terribly awry, referencing the period of mission under Constantine when the church moved from being “persecuted to the persecutor.”
“We cannot trust in ourselves,” Zamora said, “we have to be close to the Lord and spending time in our Bibles. We have to know ourselves and understand our motivation for engaging in the mission of God. Otherwise, we will look too much like eras of mission when the breakthrough of the faith was accompanied by soldiers of the Roman Empire.” She also raised a provocative question about mission during the 16th and 17th centuries when much of Latin America was colonized and Christianized as one and the same. “Do you believe God was there when our people suffered? How many people paid such a high price in the midst of mission?” Zamora did not rush to offer an answer or rationalization for mission gone awry, which also brought the name of Jesus with it; but she allowed space within the evening to sit with the paradoxes, laments, and brokenness of mission when driven by interests unyoked from critical analysis and biblical reflection. Yet she comforted, “God has always been there, he has been in our history. There is no tear that has come out of our people’s eyes that God will not capitalize for the Kingdom. In the midst of difficulties, we cannot see what God is doing, yet the church keeps growing and remains committed to God’s work in the world.”
Zamora invited participants to see HANA communities today in their contexts and ask, “What will the next paradigm of mission be that originates from us? How will we do mission differently knowing what we know now? We need God to help us to discern how to continue being faithful to the gospel in ways that are more effective, more assertive, more responsible, that hurts less people. Who will be the people and what will be the means by which God continues to reach the world with the good news of Christ?” Through prayer, discernment together, and vision, Zamora encouraged, HANA communities will be able to enter and lead churches and congregants more responsibly into mission for the future of the gospel.
Quotes of the Day
“Lament is not something we can plan out. It comes to us.”
“He called all the pastors to the front, and he knew I was a pastor, but he only pointed out the men. Then he called the pastor’s wives to the front, and invited me to come forward. BUT! I am a head pastor of two churches! I am not a pastor’s wife.”
“If we want our communities to engage in public witness, we need our people to own our stories.”
“There is no tear that has come out of our peoples’ eyes that God is not going to capitalize for his Kingdom.”
May 24th, 2013
Pastor Silvina Kosacki serves as a pastor at both Arbol de Vida Foursquare Church and First United Methodist Church in the neighboring communities of Chino and Montclair outside of Los Angeles, California. In her ministry she encounters “stories of loss, of uprooting, of broken dreams” among Latino immigrants who learn painfully and quickly that the glitter of the American dream is not what it seems.
She knows too well through the experiences of her church communities the spiritual and emotional forces with which they struggle. She calls them the “signs of death and self-centeredness,” quoting Dr. Juan Martinez, that influence Latino communities and need to be exposed for the ways in which they turn eyes and hearts away from the hope of Christ.
In particular, Kosacki sees four spiritual forces at work in her people that need to be confronted with the call of the gospel. First, the spirit of the American dream has captivated people with the false hope of a better life, economy, and opportunities. They expect to find only open doors and a better life in the United States. The spirit of the American dream also breeds greed, materialism, selfishness, consumerism, and individualism, the spirit of Mammon. This spirit believes the life of the better is also the life of more…until that more never arrives or never satisfies.
The immigrant in search of the better life will also too quickly encounter that all things in the United States are really not equal. “Popularized under the presidency of James Polk,” the spirit of the American Empire justified aggressive and violent annexation of Texas and most of the southwest United States from Mexico during the Mexican-American War. During and after this acquisition, Latin Americans were oppressed and made “less than citizens” in their own lands newly acquired by the United States. This posture of power and control over Latinos still shapes the socio-cultural landscape of economic and relational interactions in the United States in which Latinos seek to make a better life. Lastly, the spirit of manifest destiny, an ideology rather than a specific policy or action, developed in part based on the belief that God (or, Providence) had given the entire continent to those who would establish liberty and federal self-government in all of its corners. As Kosacki highlights, this “destiny to expand” would be accomplished “whatever the cost.” Manifest destiny developed superiority and chosen-ness in those leading westward expansion that “made them intolerant to other peoples, provoking racism and discrimination.” Kosacki not only lamented these spiritual influences among her congregants, but she also denounced the power they hold over them as deceptive and oppressive.
Emotionally her church members experience a sense of loss of who they are, family, roots, and culture upon relocation to the United States. A sense of insecurity arises around issues of lack of language, legal status, and lack of skills to negotiate a new socio-cultural context. Disappointment, vulnerability, and hopelessness are all felt when the American dream of better fails to satisfy, when individualism isolates and separates people from meaningful networks of relationships, and when “the better” never arrives.
Kosacki counters the spiritual and emotional forces that break the dreams of her church members’ with the hope found in the gospel. As a pastor she is called to answer, “What else do they need? What else are they searching for? What else do we have to offer?” with promises of a new Spirit, a new citizenship, and a new Kingdom. These counter forces are the only realities that can provide biblical hope in the midst of shattered dreams and emotional vulnerabilities in Latino communities. She desires that her people are captivated by the “real dream of God” that Jeremiah 29:11 promises, that God alone will prosper and not harm, will give hope and a future when the pursuit of material good and economic prosperity fails. She prays and works for her churches to know both the shalom of God which brings justice, peace, and joy, and the koinonia of God that offers communion, personal relationships, and love and care between church members. These can only be found through a citizenship first secured in the Kingdom of God.
As a pastor who hopes these realities for her church communities, she also preaches that Latino communities are called to “administer the gifts and the mercies of the Kingdom of God in a way that reveals our identity as children of the Kingdom.” She calls Latino communities to be active witnesses in the United States to the alternative of peace, justice, and caring community that the Kingdom of God promises. She prays and leads in a way that points to the new things God is doing in and through the increasing number of multicultural Latino churches, the influence of Latinos in public spheres, and the growing common use of Spanish that serve to break down walls rather than perpetuate them. For second generation Latinos who have made a home in the United States, the United States is a location in need of gospel ministry and outreach. Kosacki recognizes such realities provides realities to rejoice in the hope of the good news of Christ that is experienced then offered through Latino churches.
May 24th, 2013
About ten years ago, Dr. Peter Cha was approached by 2nd and 3rd generation Asian American pastors serving in northern Virginia and Maryland area. They were concerned at the number of their seminary peers who were no longer serving in ministry after two to five years. They were concerned as well for themselves, who teetered often on the line of leaving ministry too. These young pastors wanted Cha’s help in organizing a retreat for them to gather, with hopes to be mentored by older pastors and supported for longer ministry. Cha asked them to decide what theme or framework they particularly wanted to address in their time together. Anticipating topics such as “how to succeed in ministry?” or “how to be a vision-casting leader?” in Asian American contexts, Cha was surprised when the pastors called with their answer. Brokenness.
The young pastors asked for a pastoral and theological conversation on three types brokenness: brokenness in themselves, their congregations, and Asian American communities outside of their churches. They asked, how do we minister in these contexts with authenticity alongside meeting with God who is the source of our hope? Cha and some of his colleagues organized three modules as three to four day retreats, completed over 18 months.
The majority of the young pastors who gathered for the retreat grew up in predominantly white schools. They pursued theological education in seminaries where they continued to remain in the minority, surrounded by a sea of white faces and always remaining invisible in the kinds of questions, contexts, and theological inquiry which concerned their fellow peers. Yet, following seminary education, each pastor stepped into visible leadership of their churches, feeling incredibly inadequate to minister out of who they were, which was confused and broken.
Additionally, Cha discovered that with each of the pastors, they had experienced some sort of conflict with their parents due to language and cultural barriers or power dynamics between the generations. During the first module, Cha invited a counselor to facilitate group counseling sessions that were interactive. Gathering the pastors, the counselor invited each when they were ready to get up from their seat in the circle. They were invited to stand behind their chair, assume their father’s voice, and introduce themselves to the group as their father. During the exercise, “a sense of ambivalence and unresolved conflicts flooded out,” Cha recounted. Their unresolved wounds from tensions and conflicts experienced specifically in Asian American families were preventing them from ministering to their broken congregations. Through engaging and healing their own brokenness, the pastors could look at the pains of their congregations and surrounding communities with new eyes of mercy and justice as “wounded healers.”
Cha suggested that Asian American pastors and churches need to regularly engage these concentric circles of reflections. How are we doing in our own family interactions around generational interactions? How does a church generate and facilitate that conversation for congregational and familial healing? How do Asian American pastors walk through healing for intergenerational wounds and invisibility in majority culture “so that as a witnessing we might be channels of God’s grace and reconciliation to the world beyond us?”
Cha highlighted that it was by acknowledging the wounds and their sources, and lamenting the pain, that pastoral transformation can occur. Hope in the midst of brokenness did and can appear through this process. As Asian American pastors embrace God’s healing in their lives, they become healthier leaders and more enabled to shape and lead healthy churches.
May 24th, 2013
No one unifying experience or identity exists within Latino communities across North America, as Dr. Juan Martínez discussed. Pastor Marcos Canales continued this thread through his theological reflections. He proposed that “a variety of experiences” within Latino community churches raise themes that can form, nurture, and influence the living and doing of theology together. Canales highlighted three particular thematic gifts that Latino communities bring to the theological roundtable.
Teologia en conjunto, i.e., collaborative theology, is birthed in the midst of vibrant faith communities in which theological reflection is formed and confirmed. As a theological methodology, teologia en conjunto takes seriously “cooperative theological discourse and the particularity of the Latina community.” It weaves historical and lived experiences within Latina communities into theological expression, commitments, and commentary on Scripture and traditional Christian doctrine. Latino theology, therefore, is neither ahistorical nor divorced from the struggle (la lucha) felt daily in family and church communities. Teologia en conjunto relies on a robust affirmation that God is at work in the midst of his people, and that his people will, can, and do give expression to his work in testimonies, hymns and songs, and everyday lives. The communities of church and family “witness to your birth, shape your development, and inform any conversation about God, faith, lament, and hope,” Canales suggested. Because of this collaborative interplay, no meaningful theological reflection or assertions can actually be made apart from community. Teologia en conjunto enriches the landscape of theological method in that it makes space for the testimonies of Latina communities to interact with Scripture, God, history and the church as a reciprocal dynamic of the theological task. Theology is not just a doctrinal statement on a lifeless piece of paper but is a vibrant witness from within church communities that “God showed up,” God made himself real and known in actual lives.
Not only does God show up in the community. God shows up in the spaces separated from access to power and privilege, through the “shared experiences of marginality,” the location from which theological reflection is done in Latino communities. Perhaps too often forgotten in Christian memory, the first disciples and Early Church grew and thrived in a vacuum of political access. Rather it was through being powerless and voiceless that the early martyrs of the church testified to the radical salvation to be found only in and through Christ, and by no other means that the Roman Empire sought to propagate. Yet, with the imposition of Christianity under Constantine’s rule and the adoption of the cross as the symbol of empirical military power, Christianity moved into a center of power and influence, never to quite lose its assumption of this center again. However, in the reading of the Bible together, God shows up, addressing “all matters for faith and life, and evaluates personal, familial, and communal realities.” The Bible confronts assumptions of power as its many narratives and the ministry of Jesus question “both ancient and contemporary commitments to the centers of power and influence.” Latino communities read the Bible first expecting God to speak from the text to them, but they also read the Bible as a people who know well the “realities of exclusion, poverty, suffering, movement, oppression, and the commoditization of people.” “Jesus’ own marginalization as a Galilean,” first on the run from Herod and always marginal in comparison to the messianic hopes emanating from Jerusalem, resonate deeply within Latino communities. Additionally, “Jesus’ death and suffering took place outside the gates of Jerusalem, [shifting] the locus theologicus of salvation from…the Jerusalem temple to the peripheral dumpster of carcasses.” For Latino faith communities then, their marginality is captured, lifted up, and dignified in God’s salvation history: in the marginality of the location and reality of God’s presence, Christ’s life and death, and the ongoing work of the Spirit to bring salvation into bruised and struggling physical realities desperately in need of a Lord and King whose eye is on the barrio.
Justo González suggests in Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective that “if it is true we bring a particular perspective to history and theology, then we must also bring a particular perspective to the interpretation of Scripture.” He proposes that within Latino communities, a “non-innocent reading of Scripture” emerges in which “the skeletons in our closet” are on display in the very heroes and heroines of the faith. Canales presented that this non-innocent, i.e., non-idealized, reading of Scripture is shaped by mestizaje (mixed) identities and histories which Dr. Juan Martínez addressed earlier in the day. Mestizaje identities provide the lens and voices through which theological reflection is done. They are complex identities, as is the biblical corpus, shaped by the realities of “lament, loss, and suffering.” Thus, there is a resonance with the non-innocent realities of the biblical text. Such interaction with the biblical text serves to heighten the authority with which Scripture is viewed and encountered. Latino communities provide a powerful witness to biblical authority by embracing the whole of the canon and not ignoring difficult or inconvenient passages.
Additionally, interactions and dialogue between the borders of mestizaje identities and lands provide “fertile grounds where the Latina church can recover a sense of mission for the twenty-first century.” The fertility of missional opportunity arises because it is in movement between identities and places that God shows up. As Canales commented on his own journey, “Even in the midst of my encountering mestizaje, God showed up…In the loneliness and dislocation, God, the maker of heaven and earth, met me.”
May 18th, 2013
Greg Jao spent formative years of his life in a Chinese immigrant church, now serving as a National Field Director for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in New York City. He brought his ability to weave leadership, humor, and teaching gifts together most recently as the emcee of Urbana12, making even the most mundane and necessary logistical announcements entertaining. He also leads IVCF’s response to campus access challenges, helping chapters around the country navigate maintaining faith-based leadership expectations in often inconsistently pluralistic university contexts. For him, nurturing the next generation of HANA community faith leaders is eating and breathing. Track co-facilitator Armida Belmonte Stephens, Ph.D. candidate, Theology, knows well the challenges and the call to nurture HANA youth who will either abandon or lead growing churches across the nation. A daughter of Mexican immigrants herself, she experienced a variety of church communities before her father entered into pastoral ministry. She recalls with a fond depth the vision her father brought to their church’s worship, welcoming all genres of music and instruments into their church. For Latino communities, their stories are told through song, she shared, and it was through song that Armida’s young faith was formed to grow beautiful, strongly rooted in Christ.
Out of their stories, Greg and Armida invited their track to think creatively, imaginatively, and prophetically about ways to invite and form the youth of HANA churches to love and serve the Lord and his people. Over four days of conversations, they recognized a need for the younger generations to hear the stories of the older generations in order to bridge the disconnection which occurs between the two. They also discussed the question, What does it mean to be a culture of celebration for the next generation, recognizing that youth need to be celebrated more and given more creative outlets for expressions of their forming faith in Jesus Christ. Their track also discussed the role of music and song in story-telling as well as the need to create paradigms for new questions of identity, male-female partnership, and curricula that is relevant to the context of immigrant youth.
Each track will prepare a chapter to be published in a book forthcoming from the HANA Consultation, to be edited by Dr. Peter Cha and Dr. Juan Martínez.
May 18th, 2013
Facilitated by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and Dr. Daniel Carroll Rodas, the Public and Local Witness Track brought their collective knowledge and love for Scripture, ministry experiences, and personal stories to the lively table. They also brought their humor and personalities, creating a sense of family as they discussed difficult topics, such as stereotypes of Latinos and Asian Americans used in the media and perpetuated in work places and the church. They spent three days discussing who their communities are, the theological impetus to work together as visible witnesses, and what some of those partnerships might look like.
Two particular conversations were discussed as participants began bringing conclusions together on day three of the consultation. First, they addressed the too oft false split between evangelism or witness and doing justice. The difficult realities caused by identity crises, workplace discrimination, and immigration policy debate press on HANA communities in a way that predominantly middle and upper middle class white church members rarely if ever experience. To proclaim the good news of abundant life in Jesus Christ without accompanying change that makes gospel-centered abundance possible is for HANA communities a truncated witness. Simple things like the ability to apply for a driver’s license for undocumented Latinos or holding a job in a corporate office without the stereotypical pressure to comply and excel as a “model minority” Asian American make separating evangelism and justice impossible. So, participants brought both of their communities realities to the table as they discussed what it would mean to witness to Christ’s Lordship over not only souls but bodies and systems of power as well.
Additionally, they discussed the difficulty experienced in the states when many conversations around race, ethnicity, and reconciliation in the church center around the poles of black and white Americans. Too often conversations about witness and reconciliation get stuck in conversations about the historical racial brokenness experienced between slave-holding white Americans and enslaved black Americans. While so much work remains to be touched between this two groups in the states, especially in churches, the HANA communities change and expand the categories, poles, and conversations and actions necessary to proclaim Christ together. Yet, within HANA communities, stereotypes of one another make partnership difficult as well. The track discussed how to address these stereotypes within their communities and how to create more spaces for relationships and friendships to be developed.
Look forward to their chapter in the book forthcoming from this consultation for more expanded theological discussion and ideas on how to partner together for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
May 17th, 2013
Migration is an increasingly visible topic within mission conversations today. For example, in August 2012, the International Association of Mission Studies organized their 13th quadriennial assembly around the themes of Migration, Dislocation, and the Good News. Additionally, an increasing number of articles and books shed light on the migration of peoples as relates to rising and influential immigrant church presence in post-Christian contexts. The largest church in London is the Kingsway International Christian Centre, gathering over 12,000 worshippers weekly before relocating in 2006 to make space for the 2012 Olympics. The April 15, 2013 issue Time Magazine published a cover article highlighting the rapidly growing Latino churches that are transforming the face and heart of what American church looks like, worships as, and means to the rest of the world.
Given the reality and visibility of migration—forced most often by economic reasons, genocide and violence, and for family; or voluntarily sought for employment and education—one of the questions being asked at the HANA Consultation this week is, “How is God at work in the movement of us, of Hispanic and Asian American communities, to accomplish his mission of reaching all peoples with the good news of Jesus Christ?” Recognizing Latinos as the fastest growing demographic in the United States, and embracing the news that Asian American churches are growing and multiplying, this question of mission is foremost in the minds of pastors, theologians, and community thought leaders gathered here this week.
In order to explore the layers of experience and response to this question, Rev. Jeannette Yep and Dr. Juan Martínez have convened the Migration and Global Mission Track. Yet, rather than starting with data and statistics about migration and growing immigrant churches, the track began with stories. For each participant in the track, their faith has been significantly shaped through their deeply lived and felt experiences of dislocation, migration, and movement. Describing movement as “a natural part of life,” group members recounted the stories principally of their parents coming to faith through the movement of their families. Whether looking for a cultural community in which to belong after moving to the United States, encountering a new boss who invited them to church, or receiving the Bible and prayer from a stranger met along the pathway of travel, a common theme emerged that each person’s engagement in mission today was instigated by knowledge and memory of the central role migration played in their own coming to Christian faith stories. A further common theme was the place of prayer and evangelistic outreach of others to each participant. Most participants came to Christ through the active evangelism of someone sharing the gospel of Christ. Lastly, established immigrant churches provided support to their families upon arrival in their new country. The care and faithfulness of these immigrant churches folding the families into their communities demonstrated God’s faithfulness and love for them.
Today, each track participant has the great privilege of working with many migrants and their communities across the United States who take seriously the corporate call to respond to God’s care for them by reaching out to others with the gospel. Immigrant Hope is one such initiative that works to equip churches “to provide the hope of the gospel, help on the pathway to citizenship, and home in a church that cares for their needs.” Evangelical Free Church Director of Hispanic Ministries Alejandro Mandes, founder of Immigrant Hope, has also collaborated to develop the EFCA’s Gateway program, providing unique, language-specific theological education for pastors and leaders in urban and ethnic ministries. Gateway provides students the opportunity to be credentialed with the EFCA.
The gospel-centered fruit among the HANA communities is already significant in the landscape of American Christianity. If the current reality is any indication, God is in the business of using Hispanic and Asian Americans to empathize, identify with, care for, and effectively reach and disciple new immigrants in their midst.
Each track will prepare a chapter to be published in a book forthcoming from the HANA Consultation, to be edited by Dr. Peter Cha and Dr. Juan Martínez.
May 16th, 2013
A 1st generation Latino was known in his church for having conflicts with the young people. He never interacted with him with love or patience. But, one day he was invited to participate in an intergenerational activity, designed to creatively engage 1st and 2nd generation Latinos in relationship. Together they walked through their community, taking notes on all they observed and praying together for the people around them. Both generations answered the question, What gifts are people bringing as gifts that will serve and bless one another? Then, they were invited to create a mural expressing what they saw and where they saw the Spirit of God calling them into their community.
During this event, the aging gentleman met Raul. Raul was an excellent artist, bringing his talent fully into the mural project. The gentleman was amazed by Raul’s gift as he expertly helped create beautiful community art. As the day concluded, the man turned to Raul offering an apology, “I never thought I would learn anything from a young person, but I need your forgiveness. Today I saw that the prophet Joel is right! The dreams of the old and the visions of the young can come together, as we prayed and worked together. Today, I learned from you.”
Intergenerational and Intercultural Partnerships Track participants continue to explore these and other stories of partnerships that can develop over long periods under faithful leadership in HANA communities. Together they are learning why and how to bridge the experiences, cultures, realities, and differences of 1st and 2nd generations. Track participants hope to be able to provide a fuller picture of the complexities, realities, and possibilities that can exist to encourage partnership in gospel ministry among generations together.
Each track will prepare a chapter to be published in a book forthcoming from the HANA Consultation, to be edited by Dr. Peter Cha and Dr. Juan Martínez.
May 16th, 2013
Each track is engaging in four hour working sessions throughout the remainder of HANA Day 3. The Developing Lay Leaders track discussed the challenges experienced in developing lay leaders. They noted the following as some of the challenges: personality-driven nature of Latino churches, hierarchy and a lack of willingness to share leadership among pastors, gender, stereotypes of a leader that prevent participation by those who do not fit, family pressures, congregants viewing pastors as “mercenary servants”, immigrant needs, and the conflict between the Gospel message and the American dream. As one member said, “Be a doctor and love God…but not too much.”
May 16th, 2013
Dr. Peter Cha introduced two distinct themes that the HANA consultation will carry through the remaining days together. He invited groups to use this week to discuss the struggles of identity construction that occur in HANA communities. Who are we? Who am I? Within HANA communities, outside groups continually try to define, or impose/ascribe, identities to very heterogeneous groups. As HANA communities struggle against outside definitions, they encounter an internal force of resistance as they each and together seek out identities to assert for themselves. Due to the volatile and confusing nature of the outside/internal tensions, identity remains always in flux, ever fluid, raising more questions than often providing answers. Cha extended the invitation to think pastorally and theologically together about these questions of identity. For future ministry, especially across generations and cultures, fluctuation in identities will bear out significantly in how churches move forward together in responding in faithfulness to God’s calling in their midst.
To that end, Cha introduced the second theme of calling. “What might be God’s purposes in bringing our people group, our families, me to the United States at this time?” In addition to the initial questions of identity and calling, Cha raised the question, “Who are we as a particularly evangelical North American Christian church?” He noted that when “North American church” is discussed in broader national and global conversations, the term too often refers only middle class white Christians and white church. Such narrow understanding of North American church occurs because the stories of HANA community churches have not yet been folded into the stories that are being told and heard. Cha admitted that while the stories of HANA community churches in the United States may be painful stories of birth, struggle, and existence, God’s redemptive purposes might be at work in the pain to continue and complete the work of the gospel in North America.
Both identity and calling are best understood and worked out, even in their fluidity, when rooted in history, however painful or beautiful the stories may be. They must be remembered, and attendees were invited to learn, remember, and reflect together by journeying through aspects of each communities histories.
Latino Protestantism Historical Reflections
The re-telling of European colonization of the Americas, territory seizure, and military intervention are just three of the historical moments wherein Latino presence in the United States is either omitted or reformed to serve a national narrative of European triumph and manifest destiny. For example, Mexicans who lived in the Southwest during the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848 became overnight “foreigners” as the U.S./Mexico border shifted south and west. Even though Mexicans became U.S. citizens in the process, they were treated as second-class foreigners in land they had always inhabited.
Omissions or reductions of stories such as this highlight the challenge of being Latino in the United States. “There is no one story,” Dr. Juan Martínez began, but multiples peoples and powers encounter one another creating mestizaje (mixed origin) stories wherein self and community identities originate in painful encounters and struggles between different groups. He spoke to how these stories have shaped Latinos’ encounter with the Christian faith. The faith was “imposed by military force…through Spanish and Portuguese Catholic missionaries” from which grew official Catholicism and popular Catholicism that retained “indigenous and African religious practices.” Thus, to be Latino meant to also be Catholic, creating a further painful encounter as Latinos become Protestant, most of whom are Pentecostal. Latino Protestants often experience “double marginalization” as they navigate their “born again” Protestant identity alongside contested Latino identities.
Martínez stressed the daily realities of Latino communities that require sustained lament which cannot be rushed or left quickly. He continued by naming mañana as the source of hope that emerges in the midst of the struggle. “Mañana is not about what happens in the next 24 hours,” he said, “but more idiomatically, ‘not today.’” Rather than mañana providing an escapist route for lamenting communities, it cultivates faith communities that “believe in God’s mañana” of hope. In this future, “God brings justice and peace through Jesus Christ” for Latino communities and all of humanity. In God’s mañana, polycentric identities will be gifts to promote service to the God who journeys with Latino communities in between identities.
Asian American Historical Reflections
Dr. Russell Jeung addressed the interplay of racialization and globalization as they inform historical migration and construction of Asian American communities, identities, and callings as manifested in types of church and Christian ministries. Globalization “spurs the flow of capital, labor, and cultures across borders.” It moves people across borders and with them come customs, languages, and memories. Racialization is “the act or process by which individuals, interactions, and institutions are categorized according to racial characteristics.” Racialization in the United States occurs via the function of race constructs that developed in and following the 17th century. Humans were organized and stratified according to “ascribed identities and cultural characteristics” which were attached to biological and physiological appearances. Today, however, it is widely understood that race was and is an ideology used to perpetuate the holding of power and privilege held by a white dominant culture. Race played a central role in “excusing and permitting” European colonization, imperialism, and slavery into the 20th century. Some today would argue that we live in a post-racial society, no longer politically or socially prevented from mixing and mingling with a wide range of ethnicities and cultures as friend groups. However, the ideology of race became so deeply embedded in social policy, in mission theory and practice, and in church developments, that while one may say relationally we can live in a post-racial reality, identities and institutions are still greatly determined by racialized systems that developed over approximately two centuries.
Jeung delineated five different periods of “transnational flows and racial discourses” which have shaped identity construction and calling among Asian American Christian communities since the 1800s. Orientalist Paternalism ran from about 1850-1900 wherein Asian immigrants were treated as foreigners never to belong in the United States. Rather, they were seen as the object of evangelism, with the intent to send Asians back to their countries to witness there. Many Chinese and Japanese immigrants resisted this treatment, and quickly became self-governing through their own Christian organizations. Moving into the 20th century, majority white culture never allowed space for the integration of Asian immigrants into the American narrative. Additionally, Japanese American internment camps further racialized and stigmatized a portion of the Asian American communities when Japanese Americans, 62% of whom were American citizens, were moved into camps following World War II. Leading up to and during this period of history, Transnational Asian Christianity 1901-1945 developed as a vehicle by which Asian immigrant communities who were “segregated from mainstream American society” looked back to their countries of origin to support national movements there. Following this era, Asian Americans were “pressured to behave as ‘model minority,’” a racialized identity setting expectations of high performance and achievement that perpetuates a “don’t make trouble” posture in the midst of dominant culture. This post-war imposed identity created resistance among many Asian American communities. Christians began organizing to create Ethnic Family Churches from 1946-1980 wherein they could minister and live out of constantly in flux bicultural identities. Mainline caucuses and independent evangelical causes began to emerge as the 1965 Immigration Act increased new church developments. English Ministry, particularly reaching 1.5 and 2nd generation youth, also arose during this time. Gradually the homogenizing term “Asian American” became a legitimate category for self-identification within the United States. While it overlooks the vast diversity of Asian American communities, the identity allowed for founding and organizing of churches, especially among second, third, and fourth generations, around this panethnic, i.e., broad-based sweeping, identity. During this period of Asian American Pan-ethnic Churches 1981-2000, Asian American churches began growing and becoming a more visible presence within evangelical American church scene. Today, we witness the development of Asian American-led Multiethnic Churches since 2001. These churches “reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God” by embracing a “color-conscious approach” in order to create a unified church that gathers to address racial discrimination and celebrate cultural differences in order to most effectively reach the cultures around them with the hope of Christ. While well intended under Asian American leadership that understands a calling “to be bridge builders between racial groups,” these churches often remain predominantly Asian American in membership, with non-Asians being involved or serving on the edge of the community rather than being fully folded into the church.
As HANA participants heard the presentations, they were invited to interact in small groups answering the questions: What did you hear? What similarities and differences can you discern in the past narratives of our two church communities? What redemptive moments can you identify in your communities’ past narratives?
Out of the table conversations, themes of new knowledge and understanding of one another’s struggles became clear. Ana Jara commented that she has thought often of the commonalities between the Irish immigrant stories and her Latino community in the United States, “but I never think of Chinese and Japanese as going through the same experience. I need to lament on that absence of history from my own thinking.”
Yet, in the midst of the different histories, there was a deep sense of having shared in the struggle to construct identities and hear God’s calling through and as the church. As one participant noted, “So many of us, when we go to church, there is a need to have ‘our’ church experience, to be able to gather as our people. We have to be ‘out there’ in the midst of someone else’s world all week; please don’t take ‘our church.’ But, it’s not my church, it’s Christ church, and together we must remember this.”
HANA communities also discussed the common points of lament in relation to their constantly challenged and changing identities in a racialized context. Most HANA community members negotiate a polycentric identity, “learning to fit in more than one cultural space, moving between the various cultural, ethnic and social poles that define their lives” (Martinez). Yet, the identifying categories such as “Asian American” and “Latino” lump together a variety of informing poles that do not capture the nuances and diversity present within each community. “As immigration increases and becomes more diverse, points of commonality in the categories decrease” (Jeung).
So, what implications does this conversation have for the church and the ministry of the gospel? One participant offered that as each community remembers their histories, “a balance of thinking about we are both sinned against and sinner within our churches, groups, and cultures needs to inform our laments.” As victims of racialization, discrimination, and historical exclusion from centers of power, members also recognized the hope that brought many to the United States and the inherent privilege that now defines their new lives in the states. But while there is the presence and call to hope, HANA communities recognize in a way that most white middle class North American churches cannot the deep need for lament, and the fullness of God’s comfort, love, and strength to be found and experienced in the act of crying out from the pain of identity confusion. Perhaps part of the call within the HANA communities is to bear witness to the role of suffering and lament in Christian discipleship that recovering forgotten or hidden histories can prompt.