My Asian American Identity Impacts My Work in Missions and Christian Ministry

An Experience from the Past

I stared in disbelief at the email from my church. I needed financial help to get through seminary. Most of my week was filled with classes or duties serving our church youth group. I was teaching twice a week and leading worship before my messages. I was stressed out and depressed. On top of that I got an email saying that the church wouldn’t support me in helping me grow as a minister through seminary.

I thought I was appreciated. I even spoke to the parents in Mandarin because I knew that many of them are new immigrants learning English. I went to that ministry because I felt uniquely gifted to serve Asian American kids who are just like me. It was upsetting that I was trying to grow as a minister to serve people just like them but didn’t get support when I really needed it.

I felt angry and hopeless. I tried looking for jobs while in seminary but few places offered the flexibility for me to do ministry and school. The church was my last hope and it felt like that email sank my dream of making it through seminary.

5 Minute Read

By David Pat

My experience as a young minister shapes how I look at doing ministry as an Asian American.

Financial pressure is common but I felt like I was wrestling through the stress by myself. None of my family completed higher education, but my parents always stressed the importance of independence. They couldn’t help me with getting my degree but at the same time they pushed me to be more prepared for ministry.

Being alone is something I’ve felt my entire life. I was born in Arizona where I was often the only Asian kid. That meant there were things we did to fit in. One of those things is my name.

Many Asian Americans have Western names because our story is about trying to fit in.

My parents have never called me by my American name but it was important to give me a common name because it shows we are trying to assimilate. My name, my identity is wrapped around trying to fit in.

The Chinese Immigrant Community

It’s been difficult for me to feel like I have lived a typical American life. My family has always felt uncomfortable speaking English and so we stayed within the Chinese immigrant community.

It’s this familiarity that has led me to stay in the immigrant church my entire life.

I think that’s why it is so important for me to feel supported by the immigrant church. I feel like I have spent my entire life in this community and I hope for help when I need it.

American Churches

I am scared to pick up the phone and call churches in the US.

I grew up in a church that feels like an extension of my family and I’m not familiar with how a lot of churches operate.

I feel out of place when I leave the safety of the immigrant church and have to work with churches that feel very professional. The style of church in America is also very different than what I experience on the mission field.

Being Asian American in China

When I serve in China, I feel awkward that my Mandarin isn’t great. People expect me to speak the language fluently because my parents were born there. But, I didn’t have a lot of chances to practice Mandarin growing up in America.

My language skill is limited because I only use Chinese when I speak with family members. I’ve never learned enough Chinese to feel comfortable using it outside my home.

Being Asian American means that I feel like a person without a country.

There are a lot of places in America where I am made to feel out of place. I love to make new friends but I always wait for the inevitable question. “Where are you from”? Even though I grew up in the US that question is a reminder that I will never truly belong.

God Equips Us Each Uniquely

God wants me to go on a journey of discovering why being different can be good. I have worked in church mobilization for 10 years and I’m a different person than when I first started. I have started trying to reconcile my different identities.

I realize that America is a land of immigrants and I’m uniquely gifted to understand them. The world is also full of people who have traveled away from their hometown to make a new life. I feel like I can relate with them. My own story is about journeying and I love to listen to people who have an experience like mine.

I have lived my entire life in a subculture. I’m not used to seeing people who look like me in popular media. Many of the people I serve have a similar experience.

Part of my ministry is to make sure that our story is heard because God is planting a church in every culture. The Gospel needs to be made clear in every language.

Author Bio

David Pat is a Mobilizer with OMF International. His passion is to see churches around the world grow in their knowledge and passion for reaching the lost. For over 15 years, he has used his experiences in Professional Natural Bodybuilding to open doors for ministry. He has a Masters of Theology from Bethel Seminary San Diego. He lives with his wife Carmen, and son Jeremiah, in San Diego.

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