Attendees of UrGen gather at Wesley UMC in San Diego, Calif. to meet and discuss the status of ministry for Asian-Americans.
UrGen is equipping, empowering, and calling Asian-Americans into fruit-bearing, life-giving ministry
By Jesse N. Love
FRIENDS TO LEAN ON
It is about 10:30 p.m. in San Diego, Calif.
K-Pop music fills the air at the local Tea-N-More, a place serving snacks and drinks with boba – chewy pearl-sized tapioca balls made from the taro plant. Young people are having fun conversation, playing board games, and sipping on tea or smoothies. Over to the back of the room are several Asian-American Christians from different parts of the country. They are fellowshipping together, learning about each other’s ministries, and unwinding before a full day at The UrGen Leadership Development Project.
Toua Yang is relaxing on a couch with a few other UrGen participants. He serves at the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church as an assistant to its superintendents. Like others attending UrGen, Yang heard about this event from one of its organizers, Truong Le, who serves with Young People’s Ministries (GBOD). “When you see that everyone has the same goals, it brings us together in commonality,” shares Yang. He is Asian-American, specifically Hmong. When asked about challenges young Asians are facing today, he states, meeting “parental expectations and cultural expectations” as key struggles here in America. “It’s important with our generation – where we are busy with school and work – to have Christ in our lives. Like a shoulder or a friend to lean on.”
The UrGen Leadership Development Project took place from Nov. 1-3 at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Diego, Calif. Around 30 Asian-American young people were in attendance. Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Hmong Christians gathered for leadership empowerment, to nurture gifts & graces for God, and to discern a spiritual calling into ministry.
The Rev. Shalom Agtarap, who serves as a local pastor at Ellensburg UMC in the Pacific Northwest Conference, led a workshop on spiritual fitness and renewal. Agtarap invited the group to evaluate their daily routines and to practice awareness of their physical and spiritual surroundings. In living out a spiritual life, one should always expect life to be ‘shaken up’ despite prayers, she shares.
Danny Mai of UMCOM and Truong Le both currently serve at UMC headquarters in Nashville. They presented a workshop on technological resources for ministry. Mai shared how digital tools can help develop relationships with people with whom the church serves. He introduced web sites including prezi.com – which helps create easy, online PowerPoint-style presentations and iPad apps, such as “Paper” for drawing and creating church visuals.
Le introduced Web 2.0 in the forms of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He also introduced the Field Guide Network (fieldguideumc.org), a service provided by the UMC’s Young People’s Ministries. The site connects people to expert guides with various skills like discipleship, social media, small groups, and even budgeting. Utilizing communications technology for storytelling and conversation are all part in having “fruitful” relationships in ministry.
ANSWERING A CALL
The Rev. Bau Dang is the superintendent of the East District of the California-Pacific Conference. At his workshop, Dang shared important reasons why there is a great need for spiritual young people to embrace a call into ministry. The United Methodist Church is declining – in membership, worship attendance, and clergy. In the midst of church closures, there’s the looming possibility clergy may outnumber available churches. Dang considers the UrGen group as “jewels of the denomination” – they are under 35 and have the potential to answer a call into ministry for the future. He heeds though, when entering into ministry to consider if it is a genuine ‘call’ or a ‘career’ choice. Answering this question will determine the “effectiveness and fruitfulness of the church.”
Worship services at UrGen further elaborated on heeding a call into ministry. The Rev. Dr. HiRho Park serves as the director of Continuing Formation for Ministry at GBHEM in Nashville. “A calling is a burning desire that is imprinted in your heart knowing the knowledge and ministry of Jesus Christ,” shares Park. She noted that 45% for the world’s young people, or 700 million, can be found in the Asian and Pacific region. This region lacks economic development and education; it faces health risks due to drugs and reproductive issues. “Are you called to be a part of this sacred work? Who is going to lead to make this world a better place to live?” questions Park.
For those already involved in ministry, specifically those who are exhausted by it, the Rev. Betty Nguyen presented her message for UrGen about maintaining the faith. Nguyen serves as the pastor of Bethany UMC in Colo. “I hate cleaning toilets.” shares Nguyen as she reflects on one of her least favorite tasks in the local church. She reflected on the story of Moses leading his people out of Israel – hearing them worry about their lives lost in the wilderness and how they created a false idol in the form of a golden calf. Joshua witnesses this and will rise to lead his people into Canaan when Moses can’t. Nguyen shares that the inspiration drawn from Joshua’s ascension and can be applied to those who chose to say ‘yes’ to a calling of challenging but life-giving ministry.
“I believe God doesn’t call us for no reason. There are no coincidences with God,” shares David Giang. He serves as the executive director of Next Generation Fellowship in Wyoming, Michigan. Giang asked the group, “What motivates you? What moves you? What is that discontent that God has placed in your heart that he calls you to be moved?” Giang reflected on The Great Commission in Matthew as an prime example of answering a call into ministry – sharing how Jesus instructed His followers to make disciples of all nations and to remember that He is with them always.
UrGen REFINES ITS MISSION
Along with workshops to help develop and equip leadership, as well as worship services to nurture a call to ministry, discussions were held to help define the purpose and mission of UrGen as an organization for Asian-American ministry. Truong Le and Stephan Phan both opened an honest discussion on what ministerial possibilities are available for this body. A vision of having a large national Christian event for Asians to discern their personal call, targeting up to 5000 young people in attendance, was brought forth. Phan shared UrGen would serve young people by strengthening their faith, challenging them into leadership, and provide networking opportunities and resources. A suggestion was made to have this group or event address identity formation issues by focusing on Asian-American communities first, then move outward. Collaboration with other large organizations that cater to Asian-Americans, in terms of instilling leadership was also a possibility.
The group worked together to develop UrGen’s mission statement. As of this article’s release the proposed mission statement as follows: “UrGen is about empowering and enriching young Asian-American Christians to become leaders who are conscientious of social justice and equity in their Asian-American communities and extended communities through faith development and ongoing organic support and networking.” This mission statement is still developing as UrGen continues to address needs of Asian-American young people.
“I found the meeting really meaningful,” shares Danny Mai. “It was helpful to see how other Asian ethnic groups are supporting local ministries with their talents and experience. It was good to hear that some have similar struggles, but it was good to hear experiences of different types of struggles that as 1.5 and second generation (or later) Asian Americans have, such as the struggle to serve in their own ethnic churches. It was also refreshing to hear of the successes of other churches, and the churches outside the US. “
Toua Yang shares similar sentiments: “Many times, we feel there are no others that can understand the struggles of Asian Americans with personal identity and in the church, but knowing that other Asian faith communities experience similarly, allows us all to share ideas and ways to retain both our heritage and do church in this era.”
UrGen still exists as “a conceptual mission” according to Truong Le. Future events relating to UrGen’s mission are currently being planned; requests for prayers for this organization’s ability to continue empowering young Asian-Americans are welcome.
For more on UrGen, check out these links:
Support for UrGen was provided by The General Board of Discipleship and The General Board of Global Ministries. Special thanks to Pastor Cuong Nguyen and the volunteers at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Diego for hosting The UrGen Leadership Project.
Jesse N. Love serves as the print & publications manager at the PNWUMC.