Leadership Lessons from Ferguson: Asian American and Black Staff Growing Together

By Ellen Hoffman

As an Asian American and an Associate Regional Director for InterVarsity, it has been a humbling experience to navigate leadership around the events in Ferguson. I have found myself slow, incompetent, and at times paralyzed in what to say or do.

But if I have learned one thing during this time it is that taking a step to lead out- even if I have no idea what I'm doing - is better than not leading. Saying something, even if it is not new or profound, is better than remaining silent.

So, this September, I held a gathering for Asian American and Black staff here in the Puget Sound:

  • We shared: We each shared how Ferguson has impacted us and how it intersects our own stories and experience around race- which for many was profound and painful. (Several staff here are from St Louis and Ferguson is in their backyard.)  
  • We brought our emotions before the Lord: As we shared together, we recognized that feelings of grief, anger, and pain, though they may overwhelm us personally, are feelings that reflect the righteous nature of God and should propel us into partnership with Him. We may feel utterly powerless in times like these, but God has given us the authority and power to bind injustice, racism, fear, and self-hatred.
  • We prayed and interceded: We then entered into intercession recognizing that ultimately this battle is “not against flesh and blood.”

Saying something, even if it is not new or profound, is better than remaining silent.

And as we prayed, we quickly sensed that God wanted us to pray for the whole body of Christ to be working properly.

When one part of the body experiences extreme pain, the whole body should also feel it and respond accordingly.

But this was not happening.


A Functioning Body: Confession, Healing and Blessing

During our gathering, a question came from the Black staff that has pierced me in a sober way: “Are Asian Americans our allies or not?”

As we asked God what was blocking the rest of the body from feeling, God highlighted the sin of silence of Asian Americans. We Asian American staff confessed and repented on behalf of ourselves and the Asian American church for how we have not spoken out for our Black brothers and sisters.

The Black staff felt called to bless us Asian Americans to be released to speak out. In return, we prayed blessings over the Black staff. It was a healing time for both groups.  It felt that parts of the body were being restored and starting to function together again.

Earlier that same day, the white staff in the Puget Sound gathered together to process their thoughts and feelings around Ferguson. Their time became centered on what it meant for them to allow themselves to feel the pain and grief alongside their Black staff colleagues. This felt like confirmation of what God was doing in our team as a whole. 

“Are we allies or not?”

I pray that here in InterVarsity, there would be no confusion about the answer to this question.

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