Being Asian American in InterVarsity

By Derek Wu

I’ve spent a large part of my life wondering if I belong. 

Feeling Like An Imposter 

From my beginnings as a young Taiwanese-boy-violinist, through Conservatory and high school, through my undergrad years at MIT — I always wondered to myself if somehow I had slipped under the radar of the powers-that-be. If somebody took a really close look at my qualifications, surely I would be found out as a poser and imposter.

So I remember when, early on in my staff career with InterVarsity, I suddenly noticed my discomfort about being an Asian American staff of an Asian American ethnic-specific chapter, in an organization that purported to care about and trumpet multi-ethnic ministry and racial reconciliation. As if the floor had been taken out from under me, the realization left me dazed. I began to wonder if I was in the right place: if I was somehow less of a staff worker because my ministry didn’t appear to embody the values of the organization I worked for.


Caught Up in The Lie

Let me be clear. Asian American ethnic specific ministry is multi-ethnic, culture-crossing ministry. My educated guess is that most InterVarsity AA (Asian American) chapters are currently dominated by Taiwanese-, Chinese-, and Korean-American students with a smattering of Japanese, South Asian and Southeast Asian students. Even there, staff do the hard work of helping students cross cultural barriers for the sake of the Gospel. And it is hard work. (Have you ever tried to get a Chinese American and Korean American student to agree on a fun after-Large Group activity? Talk about an exercise in clashing cultures.) Yet, if I was honest with myself, in the face of all the amazing work that my fellow AA staff were doing with their multi-ethnic chapters, I always felt lacking as a staff. As if I didn’t belong.

If I was honest with myself, in the face of all the amazing work that my fellow AA staff were doing with their multi-ethnic chapters, I always felt lacking as a staff. As if I didn’t belong.

I know that there are many out there who experience now how I felt then. And the funny thing is that it cuts both ways. I’ve heard from many other AA friends on staff, who feel somehow as if they don’t belong to the Asian American Ministries (AAM) movement because they are not leading AA chapters or explicitly targeting to reach AA students. Still others of us come from backgrounds and life stories so different from the “standard” AA narrative that we have trouble even identifying ourselves with the Asian American community. The reasons that we may feel like “the other” abound, and our self-doubt and lack of belonging become the story that we tell about ourselves.

That is the work of the Enemy. It ensnares us, and cripples the mission. We compare ourselves to one another in a lose-lose scenario as the full impact of the ministry we do is dampened, and we seat ourselves at the “kid’s table” while undercutting our work the whole time.


Set Free to Flourish

I truly believe God is freeing all of us into a different season of mission: one in which we fearlessly and opportunistically walk through any open door presented to us. One in which we rediscover with joy the ministry God graciously calls and invites us into.

Imagine who we would encounter as we as we walk in this new spirit, in faith and obedience with our Lord to every corner of every campus. Would we see more South Asian students find their home in Jesus through our work? Would we fearlessly challenge our East Asian students to heed the urgent call to reach Southeast Asian students on our campuses? Would we, AA staff, step in faith and love to play our role in helping Black, Latino, and Native students respond to the Gospel?

It is a messy, beautiful, Kingdom-centered picture, and our staffwork would look different. It must look different. Regardless of whether we are working with One Way (South Asian), Kapwa (Pilipino), AA-specific, LaFe (Latino Fellowship), BCM (Black Campus Ministries), or multiethnic chapters, all of our communities must be transformed as we unapologetically do the work God has invited us to do.

So yes, for some of us, that would mean tending to our mostly East Asian or South Asian chapters. And that’s a good thing! There are vast numbers of unchurched Asian Americans to share the Gospel with, and we must boldly do so from our strategic vantage point. And yes, for others, it would mean staffing students who are not AA. This is not betrayal to the AA community, but rather a way that the work of God in Asian America’s leadership is being fulfilled in our sight.

We live in a pivotal moment in history, and God’s working a deep work in InterVarsity’s AA movement. As He sets us free, the resulting ministry will be an astounding testimony to His faithfulness and goodness. But just as astounding will be the deep work of affirmation and blessing He does in each of us, as He says,

“Yes, you do belong.”

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