By Steven Cong
Northwest Asian Weekly
“A lot of us see ourselves as a misfit church,” said Pastor John Kim of the Imago Dei church, located in Renton at Kennydale Elementary School. Kim founded the church in April 2009.
The members of the church come from various backgrounds, and only a few conform to archetypes.
“What’s unique about our church is that most of us have second chance lives,” said Kim. “We don’t fit the typical Asian American church where perfection and education are norms. Many of our people have been in their second or third marriages. We have people who are struggling with addictions. Some of them have never finished high school, and some have finished college.”
“We’re a come-as-you-are, multiethnic church,” said Antoinne Caldwell, a church member.
Imago Dei operates around a set of ideals that involve outreach and unity. They seek to attract members of all ages and ethnicities.
“I think a lot of Asian American churches today have a gap between the older traditional generations and their children, who are more Americanized,” said Korean American member Allison Koh Wilder. “So it’s really difficult to overcome generational and cultural differences, but we’re trying to find that common ground we have in our faith.”
“All of my friends had been living in a world where there’s color,” said Kim. “Sometimes, it’s in dealing with hurt, and sometimes, it’s in dealing with prejudice. But we realize that life with God reflects a kind of racial diversity. One of our core elements is that we want to reflect the image of God in a community that is made up of different colors, ages, and walks of life.”
The members also stressed the value of having diversity in a church, reflecting their belief that a church should mirror its society.
“Our society is becoming more diverse, and I think [our church] would be a more accurate reflection of what our society looks like today,” said Wilder. “There are more biracial marriages, and even within a certain Asian American community, there’s more diversity.”
“I mean, Antoinne is the perfect case. You have an African American man married to a half Korean, half Caucasian woman. Already, you’re dealing with a minimum of three cultures,” said Kim of Caldwell.
The church also stressed the challenges that arise from its unique identity. Many stem from how they are perceived both culturally and religiously.
“One of the largest obstacles is that being a multiethnic church, you’re dealing with different ethnic identities, and you’re dealing with different junk in people’s lives that are tied to a culture. And when you’re bringing all that together, it’s hard,” said Kim. “That’s why mono-ethnic churches are easier, because you have a lot of commonality.”
“People see church this way: you go, you sit through a sermon, and you pray. We’re not that kind of a church. We’re a different church,” said Caldwell.
The members believe that solutions to these problems lie in their differences as a church. Their ability to congregate at any place presents a valuable asset.
“One thing that helps is that our location is not in a church building, it’s in a school. It really breaks that stigma people have of what church is about,” said Wilder. “Being a mobile church helps that idea of not being confined to a building, but going out and being part of the community to bring them to church.”
Imago Dei’s plans for outreach have evolved into several upcoming projects. They include partnerships with local charities and an Easter Egg Scramble at the church on March 28.
“Vision House is for women and children who have been victims of domestic violence, and they’re helping them get back on their feet and back in their community,” said Caldwell. “On May 8, we’ll help them out as far as landscaping and other outreach activities.”
“We’re basically wanting to support what Vision House is doing in Renton, and to support the single families with children who are homeless and without jobs,” said Kim.
The leaders of Imago Dei hope for a membership count of 100 adults by the end of this year. So far, they have exceeded half of that amount. They wish for their success to be replicated in other Asian American churches.
“Be significant through the way you live your life,” said Kim. “Be true to the vision and mission of your church. Know yourself, your capabilities, your dreams, and where you are in life. And dream big.” ♦
Imago Dei is located at 1700 N.E. 28th St. Renton, WA 98056. The Easter Egg Scramble is held at that address on March 28 from 12–2 p.m.
Steven Cong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.