Immigrant identity, church, and mission

May 11th was a busy day! In addition to the Peace-Source Fair in Pasadena, ReconciliAsian co-sponsored 1.5 ReconGeneration Table Talk with Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference in the morning.  Pasadena Mennonite Church graciously opened their meeting room for us to host this event for immigrant church pastors, youth pastors, youth leaders, and parents from First Mennonite Church of Upland, Royal Dominion Church, and Church for Others.  image

The main goal of this event was to engage in conversation about our identity as immigrant churches, the needs of raising up the future leaders of the church, and explore possible ways to engage in deeper relationship with members of their own church as well as with other churches in the conference.

The meeting began with an icebreaker. People were asked to line up according to where they saw themselves in the generational continuum from first generation all the way to 10th generation.  This gave everyone a chance to share their immigration story and how they see themselves fit into the larger history of immigrants in America.  We recognized from this exercise how much the mastery of the English language often defined one’s perception of how “American” someone is.  For example, when Hyejung Yum from Church for Others shared that she most identifies herself as first generation, another participants commented, “Oh but your English is so much better than me.  You seem more American than me.”  Dick Davis, the conference minister of PSMC, shared that he was a 9th generation with a Scottish-Irish background reminding us all that indeed all of us are immigrants.

Sue then read the passage from Luke 15:11-32, the story of the prodigal son.  She interwove the story of her immigrant story identifying herself mostly with the older son in the story, someone who is often performance-oriented and doing the dutiful thing without understanding the radical grace of the Father.  She commented that perhaps our immigrant churches are also fostering and encouraging in the raising of dutiful older sons who do the right thing externally but whose heart is far away from Abba.

recongeneration posterAfterwards, the participants was asked to name issues that we observe in our local immigrant churches.  We discussed the significance of how the immigration status of the members in the church can also impact their place in the church. Those who have U.S. citizenship are ranked on the top and those who have out-of-status visas are sometimes considered second class citizens even in the churches.   Themes of belonging, language barriers, financial security, and the need for a place to belong surfaced from the discussion.  Pastor Femi commented about the importance of finding a common goal or mission that the local churches can come together to complete.  One project that was suggested was exploring ways to reach out to the Muslim community- a group that the Indonesian as well as African churches had often been targets of violence and persecution in the motherland. Another was to hold an international picnic or an annual gathering of the difference PSMC churches to get to know each other and foster a larger and stronger identity together.

The lively meeting ended with the decision to add a workshop for immigrant churches in the PSMC winter assembly in January 2014.  We hope that the momentum and excitement built from this meeting will spark further conversations that will help create ways for immigrant churches to work together and widen the missional perspective in the conference.



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