The Asian American Advisory Council, representing numerous Asian cultures and language groups, identified a number of common challenges its churches must address if they are to survive and expand in the years to come.
“We can become ‘tunnel-vision’ driven to reach people just like us,” said Alan Chan, pastor of ministry coordination at Mandarin Baptist Church of Los Angeles, California, and co-vice chair of the SBC Executive Committee’s Asian Advisory Council. “Asian churches are often more burdened to go back to their own country to reach our own kin. But we must do mission work among the nations, not just to our own ethnic groups,” he said.
The advisory group, appointed by Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, met in Atlanta for its third meeting on February 26–27. Its three-year assignment is to assist Page and other SBC leaders in understanding the unique perspectives Asian churches and church leaders bring to the Convention for the accomplishment of Kingdom objectives. The council is also charged to present goals and suggest strategies through which their respective people groups can be reached with the Gospel.
Comprised of Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, and Vietnamese Baptist leaders, the council identified unique challenges to each language and cultural group and discussed challenges in reaching their communities with the Gospel.
The top strategy identified by each group in their oral and written reports was the pressing need to plant hundreds of churches in the population centers across the United States and around the world. The number of foreign born Asians who live in the United States is staggering, members said, and the majority of them have no awareness of the Gospel.
Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and chairman of the Council, guided the often frank discussion about challenges faced by local churches in dealing with the “Americanization” of their young people; the perceived irrelevancy of denominational structures to second- and third-generation church members—structures one member called “too white, too old, too traditional”; feelings of isolation at the association and state convention levels of involvement; and concerns about how seriously their unique needs are recognized and served by SBC entities.
Dennis Manpoong Kim noted that Korean children who arrive in the US during their elementary school-age years don’t fit into neat categories such as “first generation” or “second generation” immigrants.
“Among themselves, they laugh and talk about who they are—1.5 generation, or 1.4, 1.3, even 1.2 generation,” the pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, said. “They are as fluent in English as in Korean and view themselves as Americans.”
Overshadowing the expressed concerns, however, was deep-seated commitment to the Cooperative Program and the Southern Baptist way of doing missions—even if the name Baptist is not used by many church plants.
“The DNA is more important than the name,” Ted Lam, pastor of Tulsa International Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said.
Oudane Thirakoune, pastor of Lao Community Church in Forest Park, Georgia, noted that while many Lao communities in America have a Buddhist temple, few have a Christian church and even fewer have a Southern Baptist church to serve the spiritual needs of the people.
“In California, with 58,424 Laotians, there are fourteen temples but only one Southern Baptist Church,” he said. Even in Georgia, a state heavily influenced by Southern Baptists, “Buddhist temples outnumber the number of Christian churches by six to five,” he said.
Peter Yanes, ethnic church strategist at the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, and Roger Manao, representing the Filipino Fellowship, laid out a five-year vision for twenty church plants per year, resulting in one hundred new churches to reach people in their communities. If they are successful in their endeavor, this would represent 50 percent growth in the number of Filipino Southern Baptist churches, said Manao, pastor of Philadelphia Bible Church International in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.
Chairman Kim urged the group to “acknowledge our diversity while working toward unity.” In his closing remarks, Kim put into perspective the deeply personal impact of the missional strategies discussed at the meeting.
“We have discussed, we’ve talked, we’ve presented, we’ve recommended, and shared together what we long to do for Kingdom service—not only for our time, but for our children and our children’s children.”
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.