I was uncomfortable. No, it wasn’t the crowd of 17,000 people at Urbana all in the stadium. It wasn’t the sudden change from shivering cold to stuffy heat of the 17,000 people. It wasn’t the cold plastic of the stadium chair I was in. It wasn’t the flashing lights. It was intimidation. The intimidation I was feeling was not from what most people are intimidated from. It wasn’t a machine of war. It was not an ominous building. It was not a roaring unstoppable train. It was not a vicious wild beast with hunger in its eyes.
It was the frail, older Chinese man who spoke from the stage. Though I’ve had so much healing and redemption from my interactions with the older generations, it still sometimes gives me a rush of anxiety. I have memories of feeling squashed and silenced by elders. Perhaps I misunderstood them when I was younger, and they were probably silencing my immaturity, but the intimidation was there nonetheless. Would this older O.B.C (overseas born chinese) be able to speak with any relevancy to my generation… or even just understand us?
I cringed even more at the title of his new book, “Live to be forgotten”. That phrase stirred up memories, hard memories. Memories of realizing how deep invisibility, saving face, and false humility have left our culture crippled. I am proud to be Asian-American, and I believe that God has specific purposes for creating me as an Asian-American, with giftedness and blessing that can bless others. But our propensity to hiding and not being known to the point of sinfulness was something I had lived under for far too long and had discovered freedom from. I was tired of how that facet of my cultural context had led me into bitterness and fearfulness of confrontation. There is blessing in our culture, but there is baggage. And my immediate gut reaction was that this man was glorifying our baggage.
But God can redeem our baggage.
This man spoke of his struggle to follow God’s call, even when his parents thought it was foolishness. In the face of pressure from his elders, he chose to follow God. He looked like the abstract personification of years of broken assumptions about the older generation in my mind and even sounded like them with the broken English. But he spoke as one who had experienced God’s freedom and was caught up in His movement.
And the image that inspired the title of his book left me dumbfounded. The thought of it still bothers and challenges me as I write about it a week later. He spoke of walking into a huge warehouse in London which was an archive of all of the people who had responded to God’s call to go to China during the great missions movement of which people like Hudson Taylor were a part of. Of course, there were well known names there… but they were lost in the shelves and shelves of files and writings of people who had been part of that movement. Hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people whom we don’t even remember anymore, who decided to respond to God’s call even if they were not remembered. I remember listening to Patrick Fung speak of this, and realizing that their individual legacies were forgotten, but that Christians of Chinese descent held such a huge debt to these forgotten heroes. If they had not dared to be forgotten, would I be following Christ today? The sacrifice of their individual legacies were the building blocks of a roaring, vibrant legacy of God’s pursuit of my people.
And for an Asian-American that has wrestled so long to even let myself be recognized… it’s a sobering reminder that recognition is not the ends. My biggest fear 2.5 years ago when God called me to North County to minister at a community college called MiraCosta of which almost nobody had heard about was that I myself would be forgotten. It’s ironic. And no, I haven’t been forgotten. In fact, God has elevated me to levels of leadership I had never dreamed of getting to so quickly. God has surrounded me with community and students… I have not been forgotten at all. In fact, He’s using me as a voice for the forgotten, that God’s heart burns for every single one of these students. So many of my students feel like they’ve been forgotten and left behind by society, and that there’s no way for them to get out. No, they are not forgotten. My God knows each and every one of them, He meticulously created each of them as the expression of His unswerving love. The world forgets, the Lord never forgets.
Will I dare to live forgotten by the world in order that God’s children are able to see that their God will never forget them? As I follow the call of God on my life, will I be confident that the very fact that my calling is from God is a symbol of his ever-attentiveness, and that HE will not abandon me, no matter how abandoned I feel by the world around me?
And I realized… Our God redeems our baggage. Somebody who was supposed to represent all the broken assumptions and perceptions I had of older authority from my culture was now a shining light of humility and redemption. No longer was it false humility and submission to oppression, but a vibrant, earth shattering humility that was stemmed in the confidence that the Lord remembers every one of His servants that follow His call. And though they be forgotten by the world, He will never fail to bring to fruition the forgotten dreams of thousands who had sacrificed and suffered for the sake of His Kingdom and love breaking into this world. The world may forget those that choose to respond to the call (as my students may even forget who I am within a few years), but when God meets this world, everything changes and those changes can be denied, but cannot be forgotten.
I sat there no longer intimidated by this older Chinese man. I could see he was not against me, and was not silencing me… but he was blessing me. He was showing me that there was a redeemed side of the cultural baggage of which I had tried so hard to run away from. I was humbled at the revelation of my own discrimination and assumptions of the older generation. And yes, in this moment, I’m reminded that Patrick Fung is not the first of many of the older generation that represent God’s redemption in their lives, and that I have been blessed by many of them (some of you who are reading this now). As God strips off my old assumptions and brokenness, I hope my eyes are opened more to see how God has worked and is still working in the lives of the generations before me in the Chinese diaspora.
And I was left with a sense of awe… in the forgotten shadow of those that had gone before me so that I could be following Christ today. Whether it was a white missionary, a house church leader, the first pastors of immigrant churches, my own parents and grand parents… they are the cloud of witnesses that urges me to go forward and not to fear being forgotten by the world in order that His children remember that they will never be forgotten by the One who created them and is ever pursuing them.