Of past and identity

I’ve been in an Asian Missions Conference for the past couple of days. Not sure if it is the first of its kind in Canada, but it brought a lot of pastors and ministry leaders from across the country. At first, it was a bit of a reverse culture shock for me, having not attended an immigrant Chinese church for some time. And now I’m feeling tired from all the talks and discussion.

When I came to Vancouver, I debated whether or not to attend a “white” church or a “Chinese” church. I left the Chinese church where I came to faith in 2006 or 2007… under not-so-great circumstances. It took some time to heal from that experience, and I felt that I was done fighting those battles. But I realize that I’m still left to struggle with my identity, and I am not satisfied with having to deny one aspect of my identity over another, in order to resolve the tension. I am who I am… a female, Chinese, Canadian Christian. Oh the joys of living cross-culturally.

In one of my papers for Church History, I explored the background of Christian missions to the first Chinese Immigrants to Canada. For the most part, the missionaries were well-intentioned, and many helped the first Chinese Canadians while the dominant (anglo-saxon) society viewed the Chinese as the “Yellow Peril.” It was difficult for me to read early accounts of how my fore-fathers and mothers were treated by Canadians (who were all considered Christian in those days). I don’t recall learning in social studies the race riots and the systematic exclusion of Chinese (and other visible minorities) from entering Canada and becoming Canadian citizens.

It was also troubling to learn that the efforts to evangelize the Chinese were not just humanitarian, or spiritual in nature, but political. To “Christianize” them was to “Canadianize” them and help them to assimilate to Canadian culture. Perhaps assimilation is good, if it meant equality and respect. But it was mainly to keep them from “orientalizing” Canadians. All this was prior to the repeal of the exclusion act in 1947.

This is not meant to be a history lesson, there are plenty of good books for that. But I was prompted to investigated this to understand my spiritual biography better. I’m beginning to understand the hostility my grandfather faced when he first arrived in Canada – and his antagonism against Christianity. For that generation, Christian missions failed miserably because of racism. I suspect that it must have felt like a choice between being Chinese or being Christian.

Not sure where I’m going with this, other than I still feel like there’s so many things in our recent history that the Church needs to own up to. Then again, how much of history do people generally know or care about? We’ve lost so much credibility when it comes to our “Christian witness.” Especially when I continue to see people being hurt by the church. All I can say to them is that is not the Christ I know. The Jesus I know healed rather than rend apart lives. I’m thankful because he continues to heal mine.

Well, conference is done. In a couple of days I’m off to Galiano to feed some chickens and work on papers. Hooray!


3 thoughts on “Of past and identity

  1. Hey Diana, thanks for sharing your feelings and reflections after the conference. Dr. Pao’s evening address totally blew my mind away. His deep biblical exegesis showed me how to read the Scriptures in a brand new way (yeah, even after 4 years of Regent, I’m still surprised and impressed), esp. with regards to how the fifth commandment (honoring our parents) is a summary of the first four, and how Paul’s household code in Colossians was meant to be subversive. I actually cried after hearing the Scriptures being opened in such a way.

    Anyways, I do hear your struggles in your own life and in the past history of our Chinese Canadian ancestors. It may be true that many white churches and missionaries in the past have failed their mission. However, I hear a different story, at least in the story of my church, the Church of the Good Shepherd. Good Shepherd is actually the first Chinese church in Vancouver (as far as I know), which was set up 120 years ago in 1889, by missionaries who came back from China at that time. The missionaries really loved the Chinese people and started serving the Chinese in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Good Shepherd began as a mission point in Chinatown, with a kindergarten setup to take care of the little children of immigrant parents who had to work long hours. Without the love and sacrifice of these white missionaries 120 years ago, there wouldn’t be Good Shepherd today, and I wouldn’t be serving in this church right now. So my understanding of the past is a bit more positive than what you have described. But maybe this is just the story of Good Shepherd.

    Here is the video I made in 2009 for the 120th anniversary of my church. We can only give thanks to God’s providence in the past century:

    My bishop also talked about the origin of our church in Vancouver and our current struggle with the liberal diocese:

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anson. I think your church is a rare one! Though I’m still left to wonder why there are next-to-none Chinese Canadian theologians and so few 2nd/3rd/4th Gen pastors since the Chinese Church has been around for so long. Ah, I think those questions are left for another conference 😉

    Like I’ve shared with you, my background is different from most Chinese Canadian Christians. I was thinking last night that I do not know of any other Chinese Christians – of my age – with a family memory of Chinatown and Clan associations (but that’s due to my specific experience with Chinese churches).

    I’m glad Dr. Pao’s msg was good and challenging. As for the Household codes being subversive, feminist criticism could have told you that 🙂 [I’m being cheeky].

  3. As Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    Maybe you could be one in the future – a female second-gen Chinese Canadian theologian/pastor!

    You are who you are for a reason. You see things in a certain perspective for a special purpose. May God continue to guide you and help you discern His calling for you in your life.

    Meanwhile, finish your degree first! Have some good rest in the islands and get so work done too.



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