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Hope for the World Through Asian Americans: 4 Unique Gifts We Bring

Paul Tokunaga (Vice-President, Director of Strategic Ministries at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA) shared this powerfully encouraging message at the Mt. Hermon JEMS Family Conference in July 2013. [Published here with permission.]

“Hope for the World Through Asian Americans: 4 Unique Gifts Asian Americans Bring”
Listen/Download Audio (mp3) | Manuscript (pdf)

And a summary about this talk was posted by Cyril Nishimoto (Executive Director at Iwa) ::

Paul Tokunaga and the Gift of Community Glue

… He launched into it with an imagined story about his bringing what he thought was a small, insignificant gift to a classy dinner party. But the gift turned out to be an enormous crowd-pleaser and the very thing the hosts were hoping for to make their special evening complete. With that, Paul asserted that Asian Americans have gifts to bring to the party that no one else can bring.

… Contending that Asian Americans have unique gifts to bring to “the party,” Paul identified four: the capacity for developing deep friendships and being “community glue;” wealth (higher personal and household income than the average in the U.S.); intellect and education; and Level 5 leadership.

* article cached from

Paul Tokunaga and the Gift of Community Glue

On a warm 4th of July evening on a stage set up on the recreation field on the grounds of the Mt. Hermon Conference Center, Paul Tokunaga, Vice President/Director of Strategic Ministries of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) and long-time supporter of Iwa, delivered his fourth of five messages entitled “Hope for the World Through Asian Americans: The Gift We Bring.” He launched into it with an imagined story about his bringing what he thought was a small, insignificant gift to a classy dinner party. But the gift turned out to be an enormous crowd-pleaser and the very thing the hosts were hoping for to make their special evening complete. With that, Paul asserted that Asian Americans have gifts to bring to the party that no one else can bring.

Growing up in the San Jose area, Paul used to think that white people were a 10 and he, a Japanese American, could only maybe be as high as a 7. But after discovering that “God don’t make no junk,” he has come to believe that God loves him as much as the white leader and the black musician, and he and other Asian Americans are a vital, unique part of the Body of Christ.

Contending that Asian Americans have unique gifts to bring to “the party,” Paul identified four:  the capacity for developing deep friendships and being “community glue;” wealth (higher personal and household income than the average in the U.S.); intellect and education; and Level 5 leadership.

In expanding on the gift of “community glue” that group-oriented, harmony-seeking Asian Americans bring, he gave credit to his “pal” Stan Inouye for teaching him a word that might be considered a defining characteristic of Japanese culture–omoiyari, which roughly translated means “empathy.” One aspect of omoiyari is the ability to anticipate another person’s needs and desires and to meet them without the other person needing to ask. Paul noted that it has been an amazing experience at this conference that, for example, all he had to do was think “coffee” and two cups of coffee would magically appear, one from each side of him. He felt “omoiyari-ed to death” during the entire conference.

His ideas about Level 5 (executive level) leadership came from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. Collins found that all the CEOs in the 11 out of 1,435 companies he and his colleagues studied that made the transition from good to great had “a paradoxical mixture of personal humility and professional will. They are timid and ferocious. Shy and fearless. They are rare—and unstoppable. . . . They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.” When Paul read that, he jumped up and down and exclaimed, “He’s talking about my people!”

His idea that Asian Americans have what it takes to be Level 5 leaders inspired him to create an Asian American leadership development project for IVCF called the Daniel Project. The 18-month project resulted in 12 of the 14 Asian Americans who went through it being placed in significant leadership positions. As a result, IVCF staff began to see the beauty of the way that Asian Americans lead—using their value for hospitality and community to build teams that others wanted to be a part of, and handling conflict sensitively and discreetly. The project was so successful, they ran two more, and they started ones for blacks and Latinos, as well as other parts of IVCF that wanted it as well.

Asserting that there were closet Level 5 leaders in the audience, and giving a reprise of the dinner party story, Paul ended his message imagining himself leaving the party and singing the words that the Black Eyed Peas made famous in their song, “I Gotta Feeling”: “Tonight’s gonna be a good night! Tonight’s gonna be a good night!”

After the evening session ended, Cyril had the great privilege of greeting and chatting with Paul’s stepmother. Residing in nearby Campbell, she, along with other family members, had come to hear Paul speak. She remarked that she was so glad she came and was delighted that she lived so close to such a wonderful camp that she never knew existed. After letting her know how much he and others appreciated and valued Paul’s leadership and ministry, Cyril congratulated her on her 90th birthday that he knew her family would be celebrating with her on Sunday, and mentioned that his own mother was 92. Establishing a friendly connection, he was able to engage in a warm, pleasant conversation.

At the beginning of his final message the next day, Paul thanked the audience for making his family members feel well-received as they all came away having had a very positive experience. Seven family members came, and for about half of them, this was the first Christian gathering they had attended, and the first time they heard him speak. It seems that the group-oriented, harmony-seeking, omoiyari-endowed Asian American Christians put into action their unique gift of “community glue” and warmly embraced Paul’s family with a special Christian welcome that had significant impact. It’s what Iwa likes to emphasize as the way to reaching effectively people of Japanese and Asian ancestry for Christ— through the ministry of hospitality. And Paul’s family got a good taste of it on the 4th of July.

When he “sang,” “Tonight’s gonna be a good night,” little did Paul know how true that would be. It could only be the work of an amazing and loving Lord God who not only blesses an audience by having the speaker lift up the special gift He has bestowed upon them (namely, community glue), but also blesses the speaker with that very gift He had him lift up. Praise be to God!

Developing Asian American leaders for the World

The OC Register recently featured this article, “O.C. exports Asian American Churches to the World” telling the stories of a number of Asian American churches innovating in Orange County, California, to develop a new kind of church that’s reaching all kinds of people, Asians and non-Asians, in their community and around the world. The article also includes the personal story of DJ Chuang, previous Executive Director of L2 Foundation. Great examples of developing leadership and legacy for Asian Americans!

Kevin Doi talks about Epic Church

Churches, Cultures, and Leadership has put together some very valuable stories and narratives of ethnic churches in the United States. This is a project by 2 professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martínez.

In this series of video clips with Pastor Kevin Doi, he talks about Epic Church’s pilgrimage from being planted by a Japanese American church to recent years as they settled into a location in Fullerton, California and became engaged in the diversity of that context. This raises all kinds of issues, some of which are listed below —

1. Location, Diversity, and Meals
2. Inclusion, Exclusion, Power
3. Preaching, Feelings, Connections
4. Power Distance Ratios

Ken Fong retells story of Evergreen Baptist Church

Churches, Cultures, and Leadership has put together some very valuable stories and narratives of ethnic churches in the United States. This is a project by 2 professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martínez.

One of the series of video clips was recorded with Pastor Ken Fong of Evergreen Baptist Church, Los Angeles:

  1. Disruptive History – Japanese to Japanese-American
  2. First Steps to Being an Asian American Church
  3. Transition Beyond Asian American

The Role of the Next Generation in the World

Tom Lin (InterVarsity‘s Vice President of Missions and Director of Urbana 2012) presented a talk on “The Role of the Next Generation of the U.S. Church in Global Mission” at a Leadership Consultation to Revitalize & Reshape Evangelism and Missions in the U.S.

Tom noted 3 contributions from the next generation:

  1. Global Engagement – This student generation thinks and engages globally… The world has become smaller to this student generation
  2. Communal Collaboration – there is a collaborative spirit
  3. Entrepreneurial Action

Tom also identified 3 challenges:

  1. Current financial model of American missions is unsustainable
  2. Learning how to empower and walk alongside global church partners, rather than race ahead with our own agendas
  3. Increasingly dangerous persecution and violent global anti-Americanism

Also, read his postscript at his blog. [cached at]

3 Challenges, 3 Hopes for the Next Generation

Posted by Tom Lin on May 16th, 2011

The transcript for my talk on “The Role of the Next Generation of the U.S. Church  in Global Mission” is now available on this link, along with other resources from the Orlando Consultation last month.  As a follow up piece, I was able to recently visit my old stomping grounds in Boston and speak to a group of local missions pastors, senior pastors, and parachurch ministry leaders.  It was a joy for me to learn from them, to hear about what they are seeing in the next generation.  I ended our time sharing not just about my 3 hopes, but also about 3 challenges that lie ahead for the next generation:

1.  Current financial model of American missions is unsustainable. DEBT and increased resistance to raising support by this generation’s innovative missionaries are huge concerns.  The WSJ Online reported this week that the Class of 2011 is graduating from America’s colleges and universities with a dubious distinction: the most indebted ever — $22,900 is the average student debt of newly minted college graduates!

  • Looking at large, well-known Christian colleges that have traditionally been fertile recruiting grounds for mission agencies, the picture looks even more bleak.  The average debt for a student graduating from one of these schools can be around $35,000.  And when you consider that many mission agencies have debt policies (typically driven by a value for strong member care and wise financial stewardship) that limit the maximum debt to $20,000 or $25,000 in order to be a viable missionary candidate, you begin to see the challenge that’s ahead!
  • Not just debt, but donor trends also make this a challenge.  Increasingly, American missionary budgets seem irrational to supporters, especially when compared to the perceived inexpensive cost of non-Western workers.

2.  Learning how to empower and walk alongside global church partners, rather than race ahead with our own agendas.  Leslie Newbigin accurately depicts the global reality that the North American Church and this generation are wrestling with today:  “We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and the influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power… We [need to] learn afresh what it means to bear witness to the gospel from a position not of strength but of weakness.”

  • Working from a position of weakness has not typically been a strength for Americans, and I believe it is one of the most difficult challenges for American missionaries today.  After over 70 years, one major international agency recently appointed the first three non-expat country directors for their mission.  But shifting to these new models and structures which mobilize more non-Western workers and indigenous leaders is challenging for Americans.
  • Shifting North American identity and roles from being North Americans “drivers” of the global bible translation enterprise, to being “servants” that bring value when “supporting” indigenous leaders or when “invited in” by indigenous communities is challenging for us Americans.

3.  Increasingly dangerous persecution and violent global anti-Americanism. We certainly live in a time of growing global political unrest and violent terrorist activity.  Many believe that the number of Christian workers killed could mount up quickly for this next generation.

  • Not just limited to political unrest, but a growing anti-Americanism within certain places of the majority world church as well, as some are even saying, “send us American money, but not American people.”
  • This is a huge challenge for a Net Generation that values “playing and fun” in their work and “freedom and choice” in everything they do.  Going to these difficult places in the world might become increasingly less attractive among the menu of options that they have to consider (and they certainly do have more options than any previous generation before them!).

Having shared the above 3 challenges, I do have great hope in what God can do through the next generation.  As I interact with this student generation and see their passion and their love/compassion for the world, I can’t help but believe that they are more than equipped to meet the challenges that will certainly come there way.

Why Chinese churches grow

These excerpts from a 2008 report on Chinese churches in the San Francisco Bay area provides some reasons for why Chinese churches grow:

… Dr. James Chuck, Director of the Bay Area Chinese Churches Research Project and Senior Consultant for ISAAC … described the growth of the number of Chinese congregations in the Bay Area, from 15 congregations in 1950 to 158 in 1996 …

Reasons given for this growth included the rapid increase of the Chinese population, wider geographical dispersion of Chinese in the Bay Area, Chinese coming from more diverse points of origin, immigrant pastors and their overseas network, the contribution of overseas Chinese students who had been nurtured in Chinese Bible study groups on U. S. campuses, church splits, the planting of new churches, increased involvement by denominations who had not previously worked in Chinese in the Bay Area, and the leadership of some gifted and entrepreneurial leaders, and last but not least the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bay Area Chinese Churches Research Project report can be purchased online. And, a April 2008 consultation in San Jose with area church leaders also identified top issues and challenges:

… various issues facing the Chinese churches in the Bay Area … The top priorities in the South Bay are: Spiritual Development and Leader Development. The second tier priorities are: Mission Outreach and Christian Education followed by Church Life.

Spiritual Development and Christian Education appeared also in the San Francisco and East Bay churches. Leader Development and Mission Outreach/Evangelism appeared in all four groups.

The concern for Church Life or Church Health only appeared in the South Bay and Alameda suggesting that in many of the newer churches, there are concerns about generational issues, communication, and church unity.

The churches perhaps older and historic in SF Chinatown and San Francisco expressed the priority of Retention of Members and Replenishment of Members.