Asian-American Caucus Gathers in San Jose to Assess Ministries

September 09, 2010

First national convocation in 11 years

By Aquilino "Pong" Javier
Secretary of the Board of NFAAUM
 
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists (NFAAUM) held its first national gathering in 11 years in San Jose this summer.
 
NFAAUM is a recognized racial/ethnic caucus in The United Methodist Church. More than 200 representatives attended from the caucus' 10 sub-ethnic groups: Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Formosan, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, South Asian, and Vietnamese.
 
They gathered at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose July 29-31 for the convocation, which included worship, celebration, study, networking, and visioning.
 
Several bishops representing the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table, as well as staff of general boards and agencies, also attended. Retired Bishop Elias Galvan brought a solidarity message from MARCHA, the denomination's Hispanic caucus.
 
The General Boards of Church and Society (GBCS), Global Ministries, and the General Commission on Religion and Race provided financial support.
The Asian-American bishops delivered an update on the denomination, including their assessment of Asian-American ministries.
 
What's the point?
 
Northern Illinois Bishop Hee-Soo Jung reported on a continuing loss of confidence in the primary United Methodist structures and their leaders. He said that after a lifetime commitment to the denomination, people do not attend anymore, saying, "What's the point?"
 
"What happens in those places is just disconnected from the realities of what people experience in their everyday lives," he said.
 
The bishop pointed out that the general church had been looking into the situation through studies of ministry and the global nature of the church, supported by the Rethink Church movement. The Call to Action Steering Committee study, an audit of the denomination authorized by the General Conference, also is underway.
 
A place of confusion
 
"We are in this place of confusion where our maps no longer serve our needs," Bishop Jung said, "not because of unsolvable world changes, but that the God of creation is calling us forth to imagine new things."
 
Jung said the denomination needs to cultivate an environment of trust and expectation among people. "As Asians, we need to be the relational presence in the dialogue, providing insight and guidance to the church," he said. "We need to be connected with other ethnic groups across the church. We need to attend to the whole UMC system, to join the vital movement of Christian witness to the world. We need to create new moments of dreaming about being God's people."
 
Losing cultural identity
 
Bishop Grant Hagiya of Pacific Northwest Conference echoed Jung's remarks that a sense of urgency exists in the denomination to put a stop to declines in membership and attendance. Hagiya said organizations reorganize as reaction – out of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. "Without the deep cultural understanding of changing situations, mere reorganization does not work," he said.
 
As ethnic perspectives were assimilated in the dominant culture, the Asians were slowly losing their cultural identity and mission, according to Hagiya. He praised the Asians' and Pacific Islanders' contribution (to the denomination) of their unique cultural values.
 
"There is a need for a strong Asian-American and Pacific Islander caucuses to be heard," the bishop said, "to be there to advocate for their community, to be consulted when asked for direction and mission. We understand our cultural values, but we have to teach the general community what those are."
 
Retired Bishop Roy Sano, NFAAUM representative to the Connectional Table, gave an update on the continuing discussion on the worldwide nature of the church. The bishop said it is a gift to the church that Asian-American congregations by their culture and being bilingual can participate in the transformation of the world. "Bringing another language into the church is an apostolic gift," he said.
 
Comprehensive immigration reform
 
The convocation spent considerable plenary time educating participants about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Bill Mefford, GBCS director of Civil and Human Rights, Panravee Vongjaroenrat of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and Bea Pangilinan of Asian Law Alliance, a local non-profit legal resource organization, led a workshop on the subject. They talked about the ramifications of the current nationwide debate leading up to the proposed comprehensive immigration reform. They urged the denomination to be more engaged in the process and to watch out for persons who would be trapped by the system.
 
Other convocation workshops focused on ministries to the younger generation, overcoming cross-racial/cross-cultural tensions in the community, mission initiatives in Asia, justice and vitality, micro- financing, pensions, ordination and ministry issues, cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments, home ownership preservation, Peace with Justice Covenant Congregations, and ways to have an impact on General and Jurisdictional conferences.
 
The convocation served as the culmination of several Asian-American ministry meetings held earlier in the week. These included the Asian-American Language Ministries Committee, the Asian-American Pacific Islander Clergywomen Association, and the Western Jurisdiction Coordinating Committee on Asian-American Ministries.