From small beginnings, Craig Wong pioneered what has become an exciting and important forum for CCDA’s future
For the past twelve [National Conferences], CCDA board member Craig Wong has faithfully hosted a small networking [lunch] to gather Asians of every ethnicity. [In 2009], which marked the first time the lunch event was board-sponsored and promoted, an unprecedented fifty conference attendees participated. “There was a tremendous enthusiasm in the room, and a great expectation of what can be,” notes Craig.
As Craig prepares to transition this month from the CCDA board to our advisory board, he will offer the helm of this growing and vital constituency over to others, including new board members Patty Prasada-Rao and Soong Chan Rah. We had a chance to catch up with each of them to gather their keen insights for the future of Asian partnership and participation in our association.
Craig: There’s something new and fresh about the sense of hope for growing involvement and leadership among the Asians who attended the event. The numbers are encouraging. I think God did something special this past year. It was beyond my imagination and a real gift to me as I prepare to leave the board of directors.
Soong Chan: Actually, Craig and I met at one of those very events long ago. This year was a very engaged group.
Patty: The lunch tables just kept expanding as we added more seats! The discussion at my table was heartfelt and encouraging as each person shared where we were from, what ministry we worked with, and how many times we’d been at CCDA. Most had been to one or two previous conferences.
Craig: The average age of attendees was 23-29, so it was mostly college age, and post-college. There were also a high number in the 30-39 age group.
Soong Chan: Younger folks showing up doesn’t surprise me. The first generation Asian has a lot of other things going on, working with the first and second generation and their issues and concerns. Yet first generation immigrants need help moving from a mission field mindset to a missional mindset. It’s essential for them to be at CCDA so they don’t slip back into that.
Craig: I sent out a post-roundtable survey and asked a number of questions, including: What is your immigration history? How did you get invited to the CCDA conference and why did you come? Of the sixty percent that have responded so far, eighty-one percent were born here. About half came to the conference via the sponsorship or suggestion of their church or para-church leader. The reason most came was for inspiration/vision, then networking/instruction, and friendship/people, in that order. I think this reflects that this was only their first or second time attending.
Soong Chan: Sure, you’re excited and you come to the conference and get a lot of information. Some of it is brand new for people, so they are soaking it up. But about the third year you attend you may hit a wall where you need the networking and the relationship building that can be ongoing throughout the year, rather than just sitting hearing speakers once a year. We need to be inclusive of the wider range of Asian ethnicities, and help older attendees network with younger attendees, maybe through internship opportunities. Ten years from now, let’s see the networking.
“For the long term, the developing and building of deeper relationships is critical. We haven’t given Asians: ‘This is what it means to be part of the CCDA movement.’ This is the transition we’ve had difficulty making.” —Soong Chan Rah
Craig: The majority of Asians come to the conference as part of their college campus association or para-church ministry, such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, and Navigators, or organizations like Mission Year, which have a fairly high Asian participation rate. These are also ministries that have an interest in urban engagement. The survey also asked, ‘In engaging the Asian community, how sensitive has CCDA been?’ Most said we had a poor cultural knowledge of, and sensitivity to, Asians. (Twenty-five percent said “good”). We also got mostly “poor” ratings in terms of reaching out to Asian constituents to attend CCDA. Many responded “good” or “fair” to the question of valuing Asian contributions to the CCDA dialogue.
Patty: Attendees noted at the table that much of the CCDA work has been around black/white issues.
“At the same time, in America we’ve often been outsiders so we understand that feeling and perspective. We are neither black nor white and have greater entrée into both communities, so we are ‘bridge people.'” –Patty Prasada-Rao
Soong Chan: Multi-ethnic congregations and ministries sending Asians to the conference is good. They will be open to CCDA. Our historic commitment to racial reconciliation will be an attractive track record, and seen as a good example to follow. This could be a major way to draw Asian pastors with multi-ethnic congregations, a key constituency.
Craig: Only in the last 10 years have we seen significant growth in Latino participation in CCDA. The movement has also been focused in the South (started in Mississippi), the Midwest (CCDA founded in Chicago) and mid-America. The majority of Asians live on the coasts. Many Asians didn’t feel CCDA was relevant. Greater intention given to Asian church development in social justice ministry would help us have a heart for this.
“Our challenges have to do with Asian identity: ‘born here’ and ‘immigrated here.’ Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian and South Asian—every experience is very different. We want to invite the larger CCDA community into the breadth of our stories.” –Craig Wong
Patty: Because of Asian cultures’ deep respect for authority, sometimes our voices are not heard at the table. There is also a culture of mistrust in some inner city neighborhoods between African Americans and Asians. For many young people, CCD work may not be their parents’ dream for their child. They’d rather they become doctors, lawyers, engineers. Some experience resistance from their families for fully engaging in the 3 R’s of CCD.
Soong Chan: We’re also used to receiving our Christian education in the context of the white evangelical world. At most large evangelical gatherings (such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels’ events), Asians are almost always the second largest group of attendees, next to whites. John Perkins provides a critical alternative to that paradigm. Also, as we get a broader cross-section into CCDA, including upper middle class Asians and recent struggling immigrants, it will enrich the conversations and help the movement of CCDA. We need to begin hearing from a wider range of Asian voices, not just “the Asian voice.”
Patty: Indeed, the culture of Bible is more similar to Asian culture than western culture, which helps in understanding Scripture.
Craig: For 2010, I’d like to see more workshops led by Asians at the conference, and not just about Asian issues, but the bigger topics in CCD kingdom work. A plenary session on Asian culture will help the broader CCDA community understand the issues, and see how heterogeneous the Asian community is.
Soong Chan: I want to see the gathering continue and deepen, affirming the CCD work that’s already being done [in the Asian community]. The first step is to get more first generation Asians on the board. We’re all second and third generation. Those are the people who are doing the work of CCDA but don’t even know the CCD language! More workshop and plenary speakers is good, but it’s not just about what happens on the front stage. We can do all types of advertising to get more people to the conference. It’s not the end goal, it’s just the first step to larger engagement.
Patty: Opportunities like this roundtable where we can connect with other Asians, and with those working with Asians, are great. Many Asians are connected back to their home country and the work of CCD is also so important there (like in my home country of India). We would like to know that our voices are being heard and our input valued. We need help to see what our role in CCDA can be.