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PURSUING   THE   PEARL
Comprehensive Resource
for Multi-Asian Ministry
by Ken Uyeda Fong

BOOK REVIEW by Russell Yee


We all lament how much catch-up Asian American church development has to do, so much of it barely or not even begun. How do we even talk about the issues? What are the real questions? How do we get beyond the battles of the past? Where are the new leaders going to come from? What's the future shaping up to look like? The problems often seem endless. Thank you, Ken, for your life, your ministry, and now this book to help us all be part of the solutions. You' ve certainly helped equip me further and renewed my resolve to pursue the pearl.


Background Info on Pastor Ken Fong    

Born ('54) and raised in Sacramento, Ken is a native Californian, a third generation American of Chinese ancestry.

He has degrees from U.C. Berkeley ('76, biological science), M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, (1980), and D.Min. from Fuller (1990).

He's been part of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles since becoming an associate pastor in January 1981, and became senior pastor in March 1997, seeing it progress from an English-speaking Japanese American ministry to becoming a multi-Asian multi-ethnic church.

He was the closing evangelist for the October 1998 Promise Keepers conference in Sacramento, CA, and will serve as the main Bible expositor at the Urbana 2000 student missions conference.

He enjoys tennis, mountain biking and golf. He is married to Sharon Uyeda, and they will be adopting a child from China in 1999.

O.K., I'm hesitant to float my wish list for the book, not wanting to do anything as un-Asian as to even seem at all ungrateful. But here it goes, perhaps it will help us all take Ken's work even further:

Good use of Census statistics but unfortunately it's from the 1990 count--getting painfully stale, especially with an intervening decade of continued sky-high rates of Asian immigration.

Statistics for Asian outmarriage in LA County are dramatic but are they representative of the rest of the country? (Also, the graph on p. 46 doesn't seem to match the discussion-is it misdrawn?) In general, I wonder if the "Sea of Inevitability" in LA County and SoCA is really quite different from elsewhere. LA County has well over a million Asian Americans by now--no other metropolitan area even comes close. Plus SoCA has Monterey Park (the "first suburban Chinatown"); UC Irvine (the only UC campus where Asian Americans are a numerical majority); etc. etc. Are Ken's present realities still quite-distant or even quite-iffy outside of SoCA?

More detail and analysis of why Chinese/Japanese/Korean tend to cluster more than other Asian groups would be helpful (there's a brief, anecdotal discussion on p. 71). Is there a shared Confucian influence? Geography? Physical features? Political and military history? American immigration history?

I would have liked a whole chapter specifically on Asian American values and personality characteristics and their implications. In general, Ken leaves the question pretty open: what DO Asian Americans/Multi-Asians have in common? What's the glue? What's the CULTURAL justification for investing in this ministry specialty? What's the "flavor" of worship, ministry, leadership, and spirituality we can uniquely develop and uniquely contribute to the wider church? What special callings might emerge from our particular social position? But at least Ken is willing to float the generalizations he does, e. g., Asian Americans typically having overdeveloped heads and underdeveloped hearts (p. 125). (Take this review, for example!)

More on the whole huge and vital subject of music would have been nice (Ken's only extended passage is one footnote to ch. 10). The problem of course is that there is little or no Asian American worship music to write about. (By that I mean a genre of worship music that both musically and lyrically expresses the Asian American journey and encounter with the Gospel. Has anyone published a hymn that speaks to the internment camp experience? To AsAm takes on shame and grace? To AsAm idolatry of financial invincibility? To AsAm filial piety good and bad?) But at least we might do some casting about in trying to figure out why that is, what it costs us, and what we can do about it. (What would black worship be without gospel music? What would the Reformation have been without its hymns? What would American megachurch worship be without praise & worship music? How far can Asian American churches get borrowing the mellow end of p&w as a staple genre?)

A great start on trying to find some freshly Asian American metaphors and approaches to the Gospel (the title's allusion to the Pearl of Great Price is inspired--thank you, Mikimoto Corporation for linking Asians and pearls in the popular mind! Also see Ken's discussion in ch. 7 on an Asian-flavored Gospel presentation that emphasizes a filial response to God rather than the usual "wretched sinner" approach). But we all need to work on multiplying these examples manyfold, creating images, stories, songs, and perhaps a central metaphor to express the Asian American encounter with the Gospel (akin to what the Exodus and Promised Land provide black churches as a defining metaphor for their spiritual journey).

Prominent Asian American Christian pastor addresses the issues of 
ministering to Pan-Asian and multi-ethnic communities in methods that make traditional leaders cringe! No index unfortunately. (Presumably Judson Press' fault, not Ken's. Ditto for the cover: an attempt at AsAm styling, but the results are debatable.)

An excellent companion to Ken's book is Lan Cao and Himilce Novas' "Everything You Need To Know About Asian American History" (Plume/Penguin, 1996, 338 pp., paperback, $12.95). Gives historical and cultural details on all the big groups, all arranged in an easily accessible question-answer format written at a popular level. Thus fills-in many details of what the Flow of Generations has actually looked like for different groups. (Of course, this is "Asian American" in the lump-together sense. If we all do our work, someday it' ll need a new chapter on multi-Asian/multi-ethnic history.)

CLICK HERE to go back to Part 1


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