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Gaining Perspective on the Chinese American Christian Diaspora


The winter issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “Chinese American Christianity in History and Today” came out last week. Our friends Sam George and Andrew Lee at the Global Diaspora Institute (located at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center) did an exceptional job of guest editing the issue and bringing to our attention the history of the Chinese Christian diaspora in North America and the current situation and challenges faced by Chinese American Christians today.

ChinaSource president, Kerry Schottelkorb tells us more in his “ChinaSource Perspective” piece for the issue.

A Rich Historical Ride

I came to this issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, “Chinese American Christianity in History and Today,” with great curiosity and expectancy and was not disappointed. In the span of only seven articles I was taken on a rich historical ride which covers the story of the Chinese diaspora in North America, a closer look at Chinese Christians in Chicagoland, an interview with a thoughtful, discerning pastor who has his prayerful eye on the ministry lay of the land, a powerful short-term missions model in Africa with Chinese Diaspora Mission, and a consideration of the “model minority” myth in the Chinese American church.

I came away informed, enriched, sorrowful, thankful, troubled, and invigorated.

Dr. Timothy Tseng does a masterful job of providing clear historical context with his three-part synopsis of “Chinese Christianity in North America.” Along the way I was inspired and encouraged by the churches, movements, and individuals who have courageously and faithfully lived out the Father’s call for them in the face of danger, rejection, and disenfranchisement on many levels.

While pointing out the shaping influences for “the evangelical reconstruction of Chinese Christianity,” Dr. Tseng also points to three additional developments that are still playing out and will have significant impact. He leaves us with much to consider going forward. 

Dr. Andrew Lee’s paper on the “model minority” myth in the Chinese American church is certainly relevant to the current discussion taking place throughout the United States and the world, related to race relations and racism. This is a hot topic often almost exclusively framed, even within the North American church, in political terms.

In the section entitled “The Perpetual Foreigner” Dr. Lee writes:

While Chinese and other Asian Americans are able to live in affluent neighborhoods, send their children to enviable schools, and achieve artistic and financial success, they are still the perpetual foreigner unable to attain complete assimilation into a society that continues to privilege whiteness. Materialistic success as the “model minority” is not equivalent to equality.

Dr. Lee ends with the following:

Chinese Americans (and Asian Americans) continue to live in the liminal space of the margins. This is not to say that much has not been gained by Chinese Americans in both secular and religious life. However, as the “model minority” they remain on the outside looking to the majority for guidance and direction in matters of church and faith.

The previous two quotes alone are enough to ignite heated debate, but not so much if we come to these matters with open hearts, to listen and learn, while graciously holding to our convictions and reexamining our assumptions. In fact, we must address these issues together for Christ’s Bride to truly be one as Christ prayed in John 17. We know racial reconciliation in Jesus Christ is ultimately where he is leading us. The question is will we follow him?

A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. Both Dr. Sam George and Dr. Timothy Tseng provide meaningful historical context and definition of the Chinese diaspora in North America.

As I read, I could not help but reference the reality that we are all part of the kingdom of God diaspora. Like Immanuel in John 13:3, we know we are from God and we are going back to God. We are strangers in a strange land, aliens, and sojourners en route to the heavenly city. When we identify this larger, eternal reality we can better understand and embrace the immigrant stories of every race and culture.

We are grateful to the contributors of the winter ChinaSource Quarterly for providing us the opportunity to be richly informed in such a crucial season. I hope we can all come to this reading as humble learners, challenged to seek, understand, and grow.

This “ChinaSource Perspective” piece was originally published in the 2020 winter issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, “Chinese American Christianity in History and Today.”

Kerry Schottelkorb

Kerry Schottelkorb

Rev. Kerry Schottelkorb is the president of ChinaSource. For twenty years Kerry was involved in local church planting and youth ministry, both in the US and Hong Kong. He was the founding pastor of the Cle Elum Alliance Church in Cle Elum, Washington and one of two founding pastors of Evangelical …View Full Bio


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