Embracing Awkwardness: Pursuing Multi-Ethnic Cultural Engagement

IMG_0195.jpgBy Dan Hong

Do you ever recall that moment, when you say bye to somebody, only to find yourself walking the same direction as that person, then you start looking at your phone, or even walking faster to avoid them?  That’s what you call an awkward moment.  That’s exactly what you’ll feel when pursing multiethnic engagement.  Even if you were to view them as a brother or sister in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14), or ‘become’ like Paul did for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), there will be many awkward moments that will arise.

As Ken Currie once said, “Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.” How true it is, also, for pursuing multiethnic engagement.  I promise you that awkwardness won’t kill you.  It is a small price to pay for enjoying the power of God’s Spirit using us to pursue multiethnic engagement.

Even though we’re all created in God’s image, we can’t deny the fact that we’re different.  Culturally, people eat different types of food, dress differently, smell differently, mannerisms are different, and the list goes on.  When you have different cultural norms that clash together, there will be tension– a weird tension of awkwardness.  We view awkward moments to be a bad thing, but it’s not.  In those moments is where we learn about there culture.  Those are the moments where we’ll find ourselves drawing closer to them.  Therefore, don’t runaway from it or look at your phone to avoid it, but embrace those awkward moments.

So if you’re asking yourself right now, “So if I live out the gospel, there will be awkward moments?”  The answer is ‘YES’.  You can and will have awkward moments when living out the gospel.  The gospel is counter-cultural to the world.  You think Asian culture is radically different compared to Middle Eastern culture?  Or the black culture to white culture?  It’s not.  The biggest difference of culture is the gospel and the world.  So expect many uncomfortable and awkward moments.

The good news is, the gospel gives us a purpose to embrace awkward moments, so that many may come to the faith (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Even though the gospel is totally contrary to the world, it’s also the only thing that can bring the most different of cultures together.  We all need the gospel.  We all need a Savior.  That Savior is what brings us to the Father.  That’s where we will find our biggest commonality in all the differences that we have.  That commonality is what triumphs all the differences that we have with one another.  That’s where we will find ourselves embracing those awkward moments in pursuing multiethnic engagement.


Stepping into Discomfort: Pursuing Multi-Ethnic Cultural Engagement

By Dan Hong

When’s the last time you heard someone say, “I like discomfort”?  No one likes to be uncomfortable.  We want our kids to study hard so that they get into a good school, get a decent job, and make a decent-living.  We pursue high-paying jobs so that we can make a lot of money for the comforts of this world.  We plan our lives accordingly so that we can start our retirement plan early and be comfortable until our time on Earth is up.  Ultimately, we live our lives so that we can be comfortable.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says the phrase ‘I became’ four times.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

One scholar said that the idea of the phrase “I have become or I became,” came from the willingness to step inside someone else’s skin to feel what they feel.  Paul said he must embody discomfort in order to save them to Christ.  He became discomfort for the sake of the gospel.

There are a lot of joys in following Jesus, but there is a cost.  Paul knew that.  Think of Jonah’s call to Nineveh, Hosea buying back Gomer, or Onesimus reconciling with Philemon.  The cost of following Jesus is dying to yourself.  To die to yourself is to die to your idolatries.  To die to your idolatries is to die to discomfort.  There is nothing comfortable about dying to yourself.  I’m sure Jesus would agree.  Just ask Him when He was praying at the Garden of Gethsamane, where He was so greatly distressed that He was sweating blood (Luke 22:44).  He incarnated by taking on flesh, walking, and dwelling among us in the discomfort of that.  If Jesus would’ve hung on to comfort, we would be in hell for eternity.  Jesus knew everything about discomfort.

Living the Christian life will be uncomfortable.  Pursuing multiethnic engagement will be uncomfortable.  We cannot hold onto comfort and pursue multiethnic engagement at the same time.  To take a huge step towards multiethnic engagement is to step into discomfort.  That means for us to step into their context, instead of us waiting or manipulating them to step into ours.  The more we reflect upon the comforts of the gospel, the more we see how it outweighs the discomforts of our flesh, then we will find ourselves responding like Paul, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

First-Class Citizens: Pursuing Multi-Ethnic Cultural Engagement

By Dan Hong

There have been many times where my friends and I would ask hypothetical questions about life.  How many kids would you like to have when you get married?  Would you want to live in the city or the suburbs?  What kind of business would you like to own?  These theoretical questions are important for self-reflection, since they help you understand more about yourself.  By doing so, it allows for purpose and meaning with respect to your responses.  It makes you think.  The choices that you make reflect who you are.  

One of the hypothetical questions that make you really think is, would you ever adopt?  Honestly, I always find it hard to answer this question, since I know what the “right answer” would be: yes. But, my heart says otherwise.  The questions that go through my mind are, “Would I love the child that I adopt equally as my own children,” or “If I was adopted, doesn’t it make sense for me to be treated as a stranger instead of their own?”  This shows how selfish and insecure my heart is.

In Ephesians 1:13-14, Scripture tells us how God views adoption.  God adopted us into His family by sacrificing His own Son on the cross, where the blood that He shed has not only covered our sins but our blood. This is how we have been adopted into God’s family.  When we are adopted into His family, we are not treated as second-class citizens, but as first-class citizens.  He loves us exactly as He loves Jesus Christ.  There is nothing that we did to deserve to this, but all because of the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

When you imagine the people that will be with you in heaven, who do you visualize around you?  Who are you worshipping and fellowshipping with in heaven?  Growing up, I would visualize heaven to be a bunch of Korean people, since I grew up in a Korean church.  Whenever I saw Koreans, I assumed they were Christians.  This is not because I proactively chose to think this way, but because of the environment that I grew up in.  The type of people that we encounter in our churches and in our social groups shapes the way we treat the different types of people in our daily lives.  We create our own version of heaven and the people that will be there.  Jesus did not say in His great commission, “Go therefore, and make disciples of only Asian people.”  He said to make disciples of all nations.  Jesus shed the same blood on the cross for white people as He did for black people.  It is the same blood that brings us into His family through adoption. It is the same blood that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ.

As God calls us to live out our heavenly-citizenship on Earth (1 Peter 2:9, Philippians 3:20, Colossians 3:15-17), let us live it out through the means of pursuing multiethnic cultural engagements with our fellow brothers and sisters.  Even when we evangelize, let us not just go to the people that look like us but also to the people that look different from us.  Besides our skin color and ethnic background, the biggest difference from Christ and us is that He is holy and we are not.  That is a legitimate reason for Him to not dwell and be with us.  He doesn’t just dwell with us, but He also died for us.  It is through His work, death, and resurrection from the cross, that we are adopted into His family.  This is the type of love that triumphs the difference of our skin color and ethnic backgrounds. This love enables us to pursue multiethnic cultural engagement.