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There’s a line from the popular movie Spiderman that I hear often quoted: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This fictional account from a graphic novel, known as a comic book to a previous generation, seems to echo from the ancient text that recorded the words of Jesus: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48, ESV)
For the Asian American population, currently at 21 million, projected to nearly double to 40.6 million by 2050, we have the highest educational attainment and highest median family income of any racial ethnic grouping when statistically aggregated together. This aggregated data does obscure the significant part of the Asian American population that live below the poverty line and have serious financial and social needs. Disaggregating the data will quickly debunk the “model minority” myth.
However, if the aggregated data shows the overall achievement of Asian Americans on the whole, what does the disaggregated data say about the overall achievements of those Asian Americans that really are among those with the most education and the most income? Since there are Asian Americans among the poorest, this also means there are Asian Americans among the richest.
What would God desire for these Asian Americans that are the smartest and richest? What does God require from those that are the blessed with the most resources? There is so much more that God can do through highly-resourced Asian Americans who are sold out as followers of Christ and desire to be strategically generous with their vast resources. Our responsibility can a great joy to respond with our abilities to the abundance of God’s blessings. Would that Jesus’ words be true that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, ESV). May God use my humble words in this limited space to speak in a heart-felt way with those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Allow me to share three of the most strategic things that Asian American Christians could do together to make the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God to shine through and reverberate across the fruited plains of America and overflow into the whole wide world.
How Voices Influence
First, Asian American Christians can use our voices in the online public square.
In today’s internet age, communications is democratized and available for anyone to speak to the world in an instant. The social media world enables anyone and everyone to have a public voice. Even back in 2002, a homeless guy in Nashville could blog by going to the public library and using a computer terminal. Kevin Barbieux has continued blogging online, now at thehomelessguy.wordpress.com, using his voice as an advocate for the homeless.
In the year 2011, citizens used social media to coordinate the communications of their protests that overturned governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, in what’s become known as “Arab Spring.” If social media could be used in such powerful ways as to overturn governments, what are we doing as the church to powerfully use social media?
Millions of people use search engines every day to search for things of interest and to find answers to their questions. What do people find when they search for Asian Americans? There are Asian Americans stars on YouTube with their entertaining videos of music and comedy. There are two broadcast television shows, Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken. And there’s the pop culture commentary blog by “Angry Asian Man.” That’s a quick snapshot of Asian American culture in the public square.
But what would people find when they’re searching for perspectives from Asian American Christians? In chapter 3, the numbers show the significant size of Asian American Christianity and those numbers potentially means a lot of voices.
It’s rather challenging to find Asian American Christian voices that are actively using online channels to write or speak about what’s happening in the world today. If we remain silent, we remain invisible. If we’re invisible, our influence is diminished. In a world immersed in digital communications everywhere, how could we better proclaim the Good News and better engage current events with our unique perspectives as Asian Americans and followers of Christ?
Making a difference and making the world a better place means using your voice to influence. You already know how to use your voice to talk with people at a table or in a room with you. Yes, communication is most effective when you’re talking with people face-to-face in real-time, because people hear your words spoken out loud with your tone of voice and body language.
But communicating through an audio message or through words only can be hugely influential too. In a previous generation, we had television, radio, and books. Today, we have web videos, podcasts, ebooks, and blogs.
What you’re communicating is important and you don’t have to hold back your most valuable communications to only people you meet in person. Other people can benefit if only they could hear it too.
The internet empowers you to share your messages to influence people far and wide. We have personal devices readily within reach, even in our pockets, whether you choose to instantly share your message through livestreaming, or record a video or audio while you’re presenting to be edited and shared later. We’re already producing content all the time and it takes a little extra effort to share it with the world and exponentially increase your influence.
In the world today, you don’t have to have an expensive media production to share your message with the world. You can start now and improve over time. When you form the habit of using your voice in the online world, you’ll receive feedback from others that can help you to improve your communication skills.
For instance, I started blogging in 1999 and the many years of regularly blogging has helped me to develop my skills to write this book. Others have developed quite an influential platform by first getting started. Julie Powell started a blog in 2002 to document her learning to cook through the recipes of a Julia Child’s book and that became a Hollywood movie “Julie & Julia” in 2009. Michael Hyatt started blogging in 2004 on the topic of leadership and captured his lessons learned along the way and put them into a best-selling book titled “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World,” published in 2012.
Another popular movie, Star Wars, offered sagely advice when Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Start using your voice online to influence the world for good. Here’s my best tip for how to get started. If you like to write, start a blog (at wordpress.com). If you like to talk, start a podcast (at spreaker.com). If you like to talk with your hands, make a video (at youtube.com).
If you happen to be technically challenged, it’s okay to ask someone younger to help. What’s made social media so powerful and widely used is because it is relatively easy to use and quick to learn. Make this as an opportunity for teamwork and reverse mentoring.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. God spoke and it came into existence: the light, the night, the seas, the fishes, the birds, the animals. Just as God’s words are powerful to create a new world, so also your words can be spoken to change the world. Just as a microphone connected to speakers amplifies your voice in a room full of people, the internet makes your words available to people all around the world. We need your words, the messages from the good guys, to fill the online world with beauty, goodness, and truth and displace all the other noise that’s out there.
I would love to know about your online presence and how you’re using your voice to make a difference in the world. Please share your web address with me at multiasian.church/contact and I’ll compile a list to raise our collective voices together.
How Impact Multiplies
The movement that abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, culminating with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, was led by someone named William Wilberforce. But this incredible societal change was not accomplished alone. Wilberforce was part of a small group that became known as the Clapham Sect, described as “a network of friends and families in England, with William Wilberforce as its centre of gravity, who were powerfully bound together by their shared moral and spiritual values, by their religious mission and social activism, by their love for each other, and by marriage.”
This is just one example that illustrates how impact multiples when a small group of key leaders support each other and work together towards a vision bigger than any one of them could possibly achieve alone. As I looked for what changes the trajectory of human history, I’ve observed how some of the most powerful impact was accomplished when a small group of key leaders met together regularly to work on a shared vision.
While we’re looking back at history, it’s only apt to acknowledge how a small group of disciples chosen by Jesus Christ have impacted the world in so many ways, including the calendars by which we mark the years and inspired the creation of institutions like hospitals, schools, universities, and churches with over a billion followers of Christianity.
In today’s world, there are highly-strategic gatherings like the Aspen Ideas Festival, World Economic Forum and Renaissance Weekend, that convene key leaders to to learn from one another, to build relationships, and to have conversations that have greater social impact.
A small conference launched in 1984 called TED, an acronym for technology, entertainment, and design. This conference met annually from 1990 to 2001 to feature presentations on the latest innovations by experts in those fields. TED’s vision was expanded in 2009 by Chris Anderson towards an elite gathering that presented world-changing ideas under the slogan, “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The enormous price tag for a TED conference registration makes it only affordable to a self-selected attendance of movers and shakers to network among influencers. Plus, the conference presentations, known as TED talks, are recorded as videos and posted online for free, so these potentially world-changing ideas can spread at ted.com and on YouTube that influences the masses through millions of views every day. Where did this powerful curator of world-changing ideas get his zeal for changing the world? Perhaps it is no coincidence that Chris Anderson was born the son of British medical missionaries and grew up grew up in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
In 2007, Gabe Lyons launched the Q conference with a vision for Christian leaders to renew and restore culture. In its early years as an annual conference for influential Christians and Christian influencers, Q has since spawned local and regional events to facilitate more relationships and conversations. Since it gathers influencers and aspires to influence society for the common good, in other words, to change the world, Q has drawn comparison as “Christian TED Talks.”
When I look upon our tribe of Asian American Christians, there are good networks on the local level and certain regional areas. And I find myself looking at the landscape from a different perspective, a national one. What I have not yet seen is an annual national summit that convenes key leaders among Asian American Christians to kickstart the conversations around the shared agenda we can have as the Body of Christ.
Time and again over the years, I have heard many reasons—historically, culturally, geographically, and financially—for why it is so hard to build a coalition of Asian American Christian leaders across these fruited plains. These reasons are contributing factors that make it challenging to convene, but I believe we have the supernatural power of God as the Body of Christ to overcome challenges like these. Plus, Asian Americans have amongst us the most educated and most resourced people that God could call upon to make this happen.
And could it be that because this is so challenging, this could have the greatest potential for the most valuable and lasting impact?
In my humble opinion, the absence of this kind of an annual national gathering hinders our development on the whole, we stayed isolated in our struggles, and too many of us keep “reinventing the wheel” trying to solve the same old problems.
Does this sound like a compelling vision to you? It’s worth a conversation, right? I’m praying for God to bring the right people together to seek first the Kingdom of God for our tribe. Pray with me in creating a greater future for Asian Americans in a multiethnic world.
How Ideas Become Reality
For an idea to become reality, a project to be completed, or an organization to be sustainable, it takes resources, specifically, financial resources. When people work to earn money, that money is exchanged for food and other goods used for our daily necessities: food, water, and shelter. People can accumulate wealth through salary, sales, or investments, resulting in more money than required for their daily needs. The excess wealth can be saved for a rainy day and for retirement. But what if you’re blessed with more financial resources than you could possibly use in your lifetime? (to be clear, it’s fair to assume that this excess wealth was earned through hard work and skill, and it also should be recognized that a person’s abilities and opportunities to becoming wealthy ultimately comes from God, and it is to God to whom we respond with our abilities, in this case, with our extra financial abilities.)
Since the overall numbers show that Asian Americans have the highest family median income, and we also know that the disaggregated numbers indicate that a significant portion of Asian Americans live at or below the poverty level, the corollary implies that there are Asian Americans who would be very wealthy. A small percentage of people have attained a status known as financially independent or independently wealthy, having more than enough saved up to cover a lifetime of expenses, including their family’s. This means working to earn a living is essentially optional; what an interesting concept, though that’s not my reality, it is for a few. That opens up a whole other realm of opportunities along with a lot of responsibilities.
The foresight of the founding fathers in America recognized the potential of the wealthy to do good in society and setup a favorable infrastructure that incentivizes charity voluntarily. That philosophy of government has made it the role of nonprofit organizations to develop programs that serve the community’s needs rather than having an excessive amount of government programs.
The concept of charitable tax deductions is not exclusively American, but it is a notable incentive to encourage people to be generous and charitable by giving cash donations in exchange for a lower federal income tax. And for good managing of money from a Christian perspective, it is smart stewardship to maximize how far money can go to do more good.
What has made American society flourish are the generous gifts of public philanthropy, not government programs, from the likes of Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, W. K. Kellogg, John Templeton, J. Howard Pew, Bill & Melinda Gates, and numerous others. Most relevantly, the latest research about Asian Americans mentioned in previous chapters of this book was made possible by the Pew Charitable Trust that was funded by the excess wealth of J. Howard Pew.
Public philanthropy serves as a positive role model for generosity and heightens awareness for community needs so that more people can benefit as well as contribute. With Asian cultural values influencing many Asian Americans generosity in philanthropy tends to be done quietly and privately.
But human nature being what it is, private philanthropy or anonymous giving, does not add positive encouragement for others to give more or to be generous. There’s a greater good that can benefit many more when there are role models for public philanthropy that can encourage a multiplier effect. Though cynics may be suspicious of the motives behind someone else’s generosity, the positive results from generosity demonstratively overshadow the impure motives of a few.
Coming back to the topic of this book, what would it look like to have role models for philanthropy by Asian American Christians? In the secular world, generous Asian Americans have formed nonprofit organizations like Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. In American evangelicalism, there’s an annual conference called The Gathering where Christian donors share and learn from each other about strategic philanthropy and expanding their vision in giving joyfully.
There is not yet a counterpart for followers of Christ in our Asian American tribe that convenes as a community of strategic philanthropy. Can you imagine what a community like this can do to open the floodgates of generosity from Asian American Christians that overflows into even greater impact for our nation and the world? This community can be the catalyst to help Asians and Asian Americans to talk about money more soberly and to be role models for generosity through their own example.
For churches and pastors of all ethnic backgrounds, the subject of money is uncomfortable talk about, but there are particular challenges in talking about money in Asian and Asian American contexts, as illustrated in this excerpt of an interview with a church leader in China named Raymond:
This is what he found through interacting with basic-level pastors: when pastors talk about money, they feel difficult, and shy.
At the beginning, he thought that was strange, later he found that basic-level pastors really had difficulties to open their mouths and ask followers to give money; he also found it had to do with the Chinese culture: it is hard to talk about money frankly.
He thinks basic-level pastors need to have the courage to frankly talk about the truth on giving, need to correctly educate their disciples on the truth of one tenth giving. The Bible talked about money and sacrifice openly, and pastors need to face sacrifice and fund raising correctly, and to educate and execute appropriately, otherwise it is very hard to develop churches.
The Chinese Churches have comparatively more conservative theological traditions, and formed an idea “the poorer, the more spiritual”; people should serve without pay and that is believed to be the demonstration of “living with faith”.
For this, Raymond believes, if we can face sacrifice and fund raising in the right manner, we can develop churches and services much better. A lot of pastors can then serve God full time, instead of working for others to earn a living, while doing a lot of service.
Seeing in the Gospels how often Jesus Christ talked often about money, it should follow that pastors would talk about money in our churches. 15% of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions—more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. 16 of the 38 parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing 1 out of 10 verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money.
My friend and colleague Chris Willard said it well, “Being generous is being Godly.” We would do well to make a more explicit and tighter connection of money and spirituality. I’d suggest digging into the book he co-authored with Jim Sheppard, Contagious Generosity: Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church.
Knowing how to manage wealth and being generous is a vital part of being Godly and Christ-like. The better indicator of Christian maturity is generosity with time, talents, and treasures, rather than merely religious devotion and Bible knowledge. Jesus said it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, ESV). Churches and pastors must teach biblically about money and wealth because their Christian maturity would be incomplete and stunted.
We can celebrate and rejoice with Asian Americans whom God has already inspired to be extremely generous in philanthropy. Their actions alone are great inspirational testimonies.
The largest single donation in the history of Biola University was a $12 million gift from Alton Lim, a Chinese American immigrant who gave generously as an expression of thanksgiving for God’s guidance and provision throughout his life. This gift also aligns with two areas of passion for Alton Lim and his family: Scripture and science. One of Alton Lim’s four children, Daniel, explained further: “God has blessed him financially, and he wanted to find a tangible means to return back to God what is originally his. He acknowledges the fact that… every penny he’s ever had in his pocket belongs to God. As he puts it, in his later years now, he wants to be able to do something tangible to express that.”
Good philanthropy is already fueling scholarships, academic education, and research on health and technology. There are more opportunities yet to be explored. What if high net-worth followers of Christ strategically invested in long-term gains in God’s Kingdom, things that may not be measurable in quarterly or annual reports? What would happen if funding empowered more research and development in nonprofit innovations? In the new world of the 21st century, we have the agility to experiment with trial and error, to capture lessons learned and to share them freely. As I write this, I’ve just listened to a speaker exhort us that money is not the problem; we need the vision to dream bigger.
Imagining the Future
Yes, it may well be crazy and risky of me to be opening up my playbook for all to see. I’ve heard some people say that ideas should incubate privately and not be so openly shared. Somebody might steal my ideas or I might be wrong. But I’m of the opinion, as I’m aging and not getting any younger, that more good things can happen if we don’t care who gets the credit. If any of these ideas are inspired by God, or if these ideas can be adapted or refined to be something more effective or realistic, then may all glory be unto our generous and good God.
Would you like more? I’ve shared a few more of my ideas for the future in this article, “Brighter Future for American Evangelical Church” at Ed Stetzer’s blog on Christianitytoday.com. May I humbly submit before you as seeds of inspiration and my prayers for how Asian Americans might join with what God’s doing in today’s generation. And, Lord willing, I’ll continue my blogging at djchuang.com.
UNEDITED & UNCORRECTED DRAFT - PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE