By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Christian Chin began his ministry at the University of Washington, he recalls that he had 10 students. Now, Chin, who is in the sixth year of running the Asian American Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Washington counts 200 students in his chapter. The rise in the number of Asian Americans turning to Christianity is not only reflected on college campuses, but reveals a growing influence overall.
A recent feature article in Christianity Today addressed the growing amount of Asian Americans in church life. Not only are Asian Americans attending church, but there are many instances of Asian Americans spearheading churches, ministries and speaking out as leaders within the religious community. The surge of Asian American involvement is based in part on the commonality of cultures as well as a commitment to faith.
Chin, who founded the Asian American Intervarsity (AAIV) at the UW, felt there was a need for Asian American Christians to come together on campus. “I would say that even at the University of Washington, for the size of the campus, there is actually not enough Christian organizations [addressing the needs of Asian Americans],” explained Chin. “We’ve been able to tap into that and merge faith with their identity.” AAIV is an affiliate chapter of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a nationwide ministry organization that works with various college campuses in the United States. The group has meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and offers leadership training for those interested.
As is common with college, students explore new ideas, engage in new things and the same could be said about their faith. “A lot of people [in college] have turned away from Christianity because their faith was not their own,” Chin says in reference to the fact that some students come from Christian homes but are not sure if that is their true identity or that of their parents. Chin indicated that AAIV invites all to come visit their organization. “If they want to stay, it’s an opportunity to explore together.” Chin notes that many Asian American students come to participate to see if it is truly for them.
As part of AAIV’s mission, it seeks to help its members explore their ethnic identity as Asian Americans. “We want to be confident in our ethnic identity and love the way that God created us,” states its website. “Once we understand that God has made us purposefully Asian American with unique gifts and talents, we can be empowered to reach the greater Asian American community on campus for the mission of Christ.” He notes that the biggest ethnic groups attending are Koreans followed by Chinese and Taiwanese. Chin hopes that the organization can include more Southeast Asian Americans in the future.
Duane Okamoto, a church elder at the Cornerstone Fellowship Church in Bellevue grew up in a predominantly Asian American church in Southern California. “Asian Americans in general share a culture that is different than the immigrant experience or that of non-Asians,” said Okamoto. “For me, being a Christian is about community.”
While he has not seen the type of dramatic influx of Asian Americans to their church in the past year, he does see more of a commitment by its members. While the congregation is predominantly Asian American, he notes that the church decided to amend its mission statement to reflect the fact that it was not just reaching out to Asian Americans but to a broader community. “I think it was recognition that while we are an Asian American community, the Christian community is broader than Asian Americans,” Okamoto said. He believes the church wanted to ensure that people did not feel like the community was closed just to Asian Americans.
As one of the church elders of a congregation estimated at 350 people, Okamoto notes that members have “taken their faith very seriously.” One example of this is Cornerstone’s decision to start a church in Japan in 2011 after the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged the region northeast of Tokyo. Okamato was impressed by the willingness of some members to go to Japan and help build the church. Some have even relocated to Japan. “Even though we did not have the means and the community, we started a church,” Okamato said. “I would have said three years ago, that we would have never envisioned this type of support for people within the church.” He remains impressed with the amount of generous support of time and resources his congregation has provided to building a church so far away. “I’d say people’s lives in this church have become much deeper and committed in walking the Christian life. It’s the biggest transformation that I’ve seen.”
Okamato added, “That’s been pretty neat to see.” (end)
For more information on the Asian American Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the UW visit, www.aaivuw.com.
For more information on Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, visit, www.cornerstoneseattle.com.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.