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Identity and Calling

Chapel Service and Forum Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage

By Kelsey Chase | Photo by Zac Davis

Poster by Moses LeeA poster celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander heritage was commissioned for the event from illustrator Moses Lee.

The hyphen between two cultures — that’s how Harry Liang ’15 describes what it means to be Asian American in a video played May 5 at Seattle Pacific University’s first chapel service in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“If you’re in Asia, people see you as American,” junior Thu Pham adds. “And while you’re here in America, people see you as Asian.”

Organized by Seattle Pacific Seminary’s Asian American Ministry Program in partnership with University Ministries, the chapel was designed to honor the experiences, stories, and contributions of Asian American Christians.

Guest speaker Jonathan Tran, an associate professor of religion at Baylor University, spoke on the persistence of the model minority stereotype, which masks a history of discrimination and socioeconomic disparity among Asians in the U.S., while also shaming other communities of color, by promoting the story of the highachieving Asian American as the “model” for other minority groups to emulate.

“You cannot minister to others until you know who you are.”

“Asian Americans can teach us about being Christian,” he said. “We are all immigrants in this world. We’re not at home, not yet.”

Tran also led the discussion in a church leaders forum following the chapel, where Seattle Pacific faculty, as well as church and lay leaders, discussed the Asian American response to events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Billy Vo, director of the Asian American Ministry Program and Seattle Pacific Seminary, hopes the event cultivated a deeper understanding of Asian American Christians, and their unique contribution to the ministry of racial reconciliation.

“The purpose of the forum was not to diminish the deeply tragic reality of racial and systemic injustice experienced by the African American community,” Vo says, “but rather, to promote deeper reflection on what the events of Ferguson, Baltimore, and the Black Lives Matter movement mean for the Asian American Christian community.”

Originally begun as an outreach and church relations resource for Asian American churches in Seattle, AAMP hosts forums, offers academic courses, and provides mentor opportunities and crosscultural immersion experiences for seminary students.

Erin Rodenbiker, a 2013 MDiv graduate, participated in a 2012 trip in South Korea and says he is grateful AAMP courses were a required part of his degree. Rodenbiker, who is white, also says ministering in multiethnic communities has taught him the importance of learning from experienced leaders.

“We have to be partners in ministry,” he says, “willing to be led by people who don’t look like us and sit under their wisdom and teaching.”

AAMP also announced a new master of arts degree in Asian American ministry at the May forum. The degree will equip students for ministry in Asian American and multiethnic churches and communities through a deeper awareness of Asian American identity and experience.

According to University Chaplain Bo Lim, the degree is also relevant for those who will serve outside the Asian American church.

“You cannot minister to others until you know who you are,” Lim says. “If you can do that, you can also process who others are. For non-Asian American students, the goal is to examine the Asian American context and transfer those skills to any context of ministry.”