growing Asian American university ministries

May 24, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle featured this article about UC BERKELEY, “Evangelicals build flock on campus: At Cal, Christian groups find eager adherents among Asian American students” [ht: Peter Ong] —

… They weren’t celebrating their culture, though. They were celebrating Christ.

… Asian Americans dominate evangelical Christian groups at UC Berkeley, far outstripping their share of enrollment, even as the number of Asian Americans on campus has grown markedly. The trend is visible to varying degrees at several of the nation’s elite universities.

With this shift has come the realization by college ministries that faith is not always colorblind — no matter the Christian ideal — and that they should tailor their outreach to different communities instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

… The magazine Christianity Today dubbed the trend “the tiger in the academy,” saying “Asian students are more likely to show Christian commitment” than other ethnic groups, including white students. [cf. cached CT article]

… Evangelical groups have consistently appealed to Asian Americans because Asians often share common values, despite coming from different ethnicities, said Russell Jeung, an assistant professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University.

“Because Asians have a hard work ethic, they need to work to experience grace,” he said. “They try to earn God’s favor, just like they earn a parent’s approval.”

Asian Americans may also be drawn to evangelical groups because they are more accustomed than other students to identifying with a group rather than seeing themselves foremost as individuals, said Tommy Dyo, former leader of the Asian American Christian Fellowship, a national evangelical organization. He now heads the Asian American ministry for Campus Crusade for Christ.

“A lot of what we are taught in general society is that it’s very individual, that it’s all you,” Dyo said. “But Asian Americans are attached to the greater whole.”

That collective sense often stems from Asian Americans’ relationship with their parents, leaders said. Christie Heller De Leon explained the pressure of parental expectations in a speech at InterVarsity’s most recent Asian American conference, held the same weekend as ethnic-specific get-togethers for black, Latino, multiracial and white students in Northern California.

“Our parents have been dreaming about us since we were in the womb,” said De Leon, a Filipina and a staff leader at UC Davis. “Dreams full of blessings and happiness. Yet sometimes the dream is so specific it feels like a script, handed down, ready for us, already written and ready for us to step into the role.”

God’s love is different, they say.

“You receive the blessing before you’ve done anything good,” De Leon said. “Despite anything bad that you have done.”

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