Beyond Identity: A Journey of Ethnic Discipleship

1 Comment » Written on April 13th, 2013     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Written by Cindy Wu

stonesAsian. Woman. Disciple.

As a disciple of Christ, I recognize that my primary identity is who I am in Christ. I find, however, that my ethnic, cultural, and gender identities actually serve as the initial filters through which I view my primary self. Sometimes my identity filters enhance the primary image; oftentimes they compete with it and I struggle to live out my identity in Christ to the full. Why should any identity ever have the opportunity to usurp my primary one? One reason is that as a second-generation immigrant, first-generation Christian, Asian-American female, I sometimes go through an identity crisis.

I am Asian.

I was born and raised in America to immigrant parents from Taiwan. Technically, that makes me “Taiwanese-American”, although I usually introduce myself as Chinese-American to emphasize my ethnic, rather than cultural or political, identity (sorry, Mom). As a generalization, “Asian-American” works pretty well, although as an insider to this label I still want outsiders to realize how much diversity resides within “Asian” without being too much of a stickler for nomenclature. I think we all understand the term “Asian” in this context to mean “East Asian”, or its outdated predecessor “Oriental”.  It is important to note that those terms are not monolithic. Among East Asians, we differentiate ourselves by our language, food, physical features, and culture. In a room full of black-haired men and women, I can often “Name that Asian” by distinguishing between Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Cantonese based solely on appearance. (Of course, sometimes I get it wrong.)

I’m not just Asian, but Asian-American. Navigating between those east and west worlds sometimes gets my compass needles crossed. But that’s another story.

I am a woman.

I understand that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14), valuable as a daughter of the King (2 Cor. 6:18), and co-equal with my brothers in Christ (Gal. 3:28). As a woman, I recognize that I have been called and gifted to serve the Church. However, as a woman, I often quench my own passions and resist my calling out of insecurity from not really knowing where I fit into the church. I am blessed to have a father, husband, brother, and male friends who have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams—yet I still hold back. I am just now in this season of life feeling the freedom to live beyond those insecurities and pursue the things I believe God wants for me—as a woman—to do.

I am a disciple.

I love being part of the global Church. I am one person in a family of two billion international believers, and each has been called and gifted to serve the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12). We need to hear each other’s voices and reject no one from the conversation. Doors that were shut to my parents have been opened to me because of, not just in spite of, my Asian identity. Asians still have not broken the ceiling into prominence in most arenas of American society but we have pioneers who are charting a course for our underrepresented voice. Asians, because of our cultural values of submission and respect, are often perceived as passive or meek. Perhaps we are partly at fault for our lack of influence. Our cultural values, while honorable, sometimes hinder us from stepping through doors that are cracked open. We need to learn to give those doors a little push and speak up for ourselves.

Coming out of college, I was privileged to be a part of a team of friends who had committed the next several years of their lives to church planting in East Asia. While we were attending missionary candidate training with our sending organization, we all stayed at the home of host families. The following interaction of one of our teammates with his host family exemplifies the Asian inner struggle: The host wife (American) offered my friend (Chinese) a meal. Not wanting to inconvenience her, he politely declined. “Are you sure?” she prodded, aware of his long journey to their city. Again, he declined. Several hours later, he bashfully approached her, asking if he could have something to eat. Astonished, she asked him why he didn’t accept the food the first time she asked. He replied, “I was waiting for you to offer a third time…”

I am an Asian woman disciple.

I am primarily a disciple of Christ but also an Asian woman who occasionally goes through an identity crisis. During those times, I long for my white, black, and brown brothers and sisters in Christ to support me and include me in the global conversation of what it means to live out our faith together. Asian disciples of Christ want to be invited to the table but due to our cultural values, we may seem tentative. We have much to offer to the conversation—sometimes you may need to ask three times.


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One Response to “Beyond Identity: A Journey of Ethnic Discipleship”

Thank you Cindy for sharing your experiences related to both gender and ethnicity. I have just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. You have spoken eloquently about your personal experience alluded to in her book regarding how women may “hold back” because of their own internal barriers, related to culture, gender or simply personal self doubt. Thank you for starting a needed discussion. I encourage you to “Lean In” and continue to allow yourself to grow into the wonderful courageous whole person that God created you to be.

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