Asian Americans are on the cusp of something big.
Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe studied American generations as far back as 1584. Based on their findings, they took some guesses at what future generations would look like. Some thought they were more like horoscope experts.
But when they took a stab at what the Millennial generation (b. 1981-2002) would look like as adults, there was a shocking similarity from when they were at their oldest and when they were 10 years old. In their book Generations, they predicted that Asian Americans would be “a major cultural and intellectual force” by 2025 — like the German descendants in the 1880s and 1890s, and their Jewish counterparts of the 1930s and 1940s.
There are certainly critics of Strauss and Howe’s findings and conclusions, which I can’t get into right now. But I will go on record to say this:
I think they’re on to something.
For example — and yes, I’m writing in huge generalities — many Jewish immigrants that came to this country were seamstresses and tailors. Their children, brought up with an emphasis on education, were a more professional class. This generation started many of the most prominent investment banks and law firms in our country. The short time of their social and economic climb is rather unique in American history. The next generation? Prominent filmmakers, authors, actors, musicians, and scholars.
The prosperity of the previous generation helped sponsor the next generation’s creativity.
See a pattern?
Many Asian immigrants started work here as dry cleaners, tailors, grocery store owners and other similar professions. Their children, with an emphasis on education, took on more professional roles, and were encouraged to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. With their prosperity, the next generation is poised to make their cultural and intellectual marks on the culture.
It’s going to be big.
We’re seeing the beginning of this. Asian Americans are filling our colleges and universities, and are becoming influential in their fields, some taking leadership in these academic institutions. But it’s also happening in culture: Justin Lin is directing Hollywood blockbusters. Far East Movement went multi-platinum. Russell Peters, an Indian Canadian comedian, is big throughout the world. And for ballers, I only need to write two words: Jeremy Lin. (He’s an InterVarsity Asian American Ministries alum, by the way. I couldn’t help myself.)
And yes, Asian American Christians are taking their place in traditionally white campus ministries and churches. They’re writing books, filling seminary posts, planting and preaching in megachurches. And our professionals are writing about faith for wider audiences: Michael Luo, in a personal article for The New York Times titled “Faith, Pride, and Points”, wrote about a phenomena called “Asian American Christianity.”
But my hope is that Asian American Christians will also find their God-given creativity as well, and release it into the broader world.
Where I am going with this?
What if missions and the arts weren’t divorced, but were fully reconciled with each other? How do Asian Americans keep from succumbing to the temptations of greatness, yet use what we’ve been given to bless others? And what if we, with the growing cultural power we will accumulate, would use our prosperity and creativity to heal a hurting world in Jesus’ name?
The answer to this question is one huge reason why this year’s Urbana is important. This year’s vision is: “to compel this generation to give their whole lives for God’s global mission.”
Imagine our whole lives — our work, our resources, our education, our passions, our gifts, our dreams — into the work of God, playing our part in God’s unfolding drama of redemption.
Urbana 12 can stoke this kind of prophetic imagination.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship — a movement of nearly 38,000 core students and faculty on almost 580 campuses, and the U.S. member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) — has co-hosted the Urbana Student Missions Conference every three years since 1946 — except in 2000, when the Y2K scare pushed the conference one year back. Since then, nearly a quarter of a million delegates have been challenged to seek their place in God’s global mission.
If you’re looking for your place in the world, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more stimulating environment. It’s a place to experience the musical worship of many different cultures, blending and mixing and praising in a fusion of cultural and heavenly delight. Great speakers, like David Platt, will challenge us to a different vision of life. Even more practically, missions agencies from all over the world help you figure out where you can worship and serve. You can figure out what it means to be a businessperson overseas for the Kingdom, or seek out where justice and spirituality meet, or find a community that loves the world’s urban poor, or explore where creativity and spirituality meet to advance God’s kingdom.
It’s a banquet table of missional dreams. And the good news is that there’s a place at the table for Asian Americans.
At our last Urbana in 2009, just shy of a quarter of the delegates were of Asian descent, including South Asians. It’s great to see how the Asian American umbrella must continue to increase: we are not just Far East Asians any more. We are also South Asians, South East Asians, and Pacific Islanders.
And now that we’re looking ahead, Urbana 12 will be the first Urbana led by an Asian American. Tom Lin currently serves as InterVarsity’s Vice President of Missions and the Director of Urbana. And he’s got the chops: he planted a student movement in Mongolia with IFES, and helped plant 16 new InterVarsity chapters stateside — in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. For an Asian American, talk about cross-cultural. And he also serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board for Wycliffe Bible Translators and as the Lausanne International Deputy Director for North America. He’s a great example of an Asian American Christian contributing to God’s global purposes.
He’s someone who’s gone ahead of us. And at Urbana, you can meet many, many more. To meet others, you’ll not only have the Exhibitor’s Hall, but you can also come to the Asian American Ministries Lounge at Urbana. We’ve got new, exciting things this year. One part of the Urbana AAM Lounge will be brimming with content, with 32 8-minute talks from Asian Christian leaders. We’ll also feature “arts spotlights”, where we’ll gather a panel of authors, musicians, and poets — while even having an open mic! We’ll also host ethnic-specific gatherings, particularly for the South Asian, Filipino, and Hmong communities.
The other part of the Lounge will be more of a social side, with food and a chance to unwind and relax. Still, there will be a “Genius Bar” of sorts — though we’re going to have to come up with a better name by then — where you can come and ask any question about doing ministry to and by Asian Americans and get consulting from experienced leaders. Come, bring your friends or your church group, and make connections with other leaders and delegates who are doing great work around the world.
If you make Urbana your next stop, come with your belt a little loosened and your pants a bit baggy, because you’ll end up at quite a banquet.
And possibly, you may start with God’s leading, to make your mark as well.
Your brother in Christ,
National Director, InterVarsity
Asian American Ministries
P.S. For more information, check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/urbanamissions or go to urbana.org. And you’ll find more information about the Urbana AAM Lounge as Urbana 12 gets closer at aam.intervarsity.org. Hope to see you there!