I have now been part of the college ministry of Arlington Chinese Church for 2.5 years now, though I am not Chinese but Korean (thankfully, since our food is better; bring it, ya chinks). The ministry itself is basically the same age, starting the summer before I arrived at the church. I have been thinking about our brief history, and I find it interesting to look back over the last couple of years and see how God has worked through our modest group and brought different people together for a ministry. I will re-tell some of that history below, hoping that we are but in the early chapters of a story that will continue for many years, long after I and my colleagues are gone. In that regard, there is still a lot of work to be done on our part, but regardless, God has done much already through whatever meager efforts we have put forth so far.
I want to stress that because I am writing this, this will obviously come primarily from my perspective, though I will try to incorporate others’ as well as I know them and is fair for me to relate (and a lot of details will have to be left out, in general). This doesn’t mean that I am the most important person or did the most work (far from it, actually), nor does it mean that my perspective is the most significant. In addition, I must say that I am normally hesitant to just chalk up things to “God’s providence” as a general copout explanation, as if we presume to know how God works in all circumstances, but in this case, I think we can look back and see his fingerprints pretty clearly.
If I miss anyone’s name… sorry. Write your own blog post ;).
The beginnings: “A college ministry? Here?”
Way back in the summer of 2010, I had just finished a mission trip to China and was in Korea with most of my family. Unbeknownst to me, a college ministry had started under the direction of John Sun back in Texas.
John hails from that idiotic state called California, a state so bad with its money that it is still broke despite having a state income tax (Texas doesn’t have one) and an even higher sales tax than Texas (the reason we have a high one is precisely because we do not have income tax). He fled to the Promised Land, Texas, where the football is better, the girls contain less plastic, the beef is juicier, and the summers are… ok, the summer heat stinks, but other than that Texas is awesome. In any case, he came here due to the suggestion of a pastor he knows who told him that at Southwestern (where his brother already was), he would get teaching that emphasized the Bible and evangelism. So he packed his bags, came to Texas, and landed at Arlington Chinese Church.
After a year of attending, he started to talk to some people about an idea: A permanent college ministry. The church had some Sunday School classes for college students in the summer often led by a member named Sang Wu, but during the majority of the year there was nothing. Of course, there was some reason why there was nothing: There were hardly any college students at all. However, it so happened that several students graduating high school at the church were staying to attend the University of Texas at Arlington, a campus that has recently begun to grow. Why not start a ministry with these freshmen?
The initial response he got from virtually everybody was skepticism. Ethnic churches have had notorious difficulty reaching the young adult demographic, and ACC was no exception up until that point. Pretty much everyone thought it was a nice idea but unrealistic. Nonetheless, he got the green light and some support, and he assembled a team of leaders–Henry, Sherry, and Jonathan Kueh–for that summer. Sometime later, he garnered the involvement of two long-time youth workers at the church and fellow seminarians at that: Jen and Zephaniah. They had a decent number of students that summer, but most of them would go to different schools in different cities come August, including this one fellow from Rice who was just there for a summer internship named Alvin. Put this name in the back of your mind.
The Korean joins the leaders
Up until this point, I had not yet found a home church. One Sunday, long after I had returned from Korea but before school started, I was supposed to go to church with a friend of mine. However, that morning he contacted me and told me that something came up and he could not come get me. My brother was already gone, and I had wrecked my car the previous spring, so I had no nowhere to go. I picked up my phone and called John, “Can I come?” So he picked me up and I went.
At church, I pretended I was Chinese so nobody would look at me funny, a ruse that has worked even until ths day. There, he told me about the college ministry and asked me if I wanted to check it out that following Wednesday. Shrug. Why not. After Wednesday, we went to eat at Braum’s, and in a conversation with Jen, Zephaniah, and John, I got this exchange:
John: “We’re still working out things, like who is going to teach and when.”
Zeph: “Yeah, we can have a rotation, so I teach one month, John teaches another, and then Isak comes in.”
Isak: “Yeah… wait, what?”
So I guess I was sticking around.
As the leadership team would soon undergo changes, as both Jonathan Kueh, Jen, Henry, and Sherry would leave the leadership for various reasons (not bad ones; we didn’t kick them off, in case you’re wondering), the three of us became the primary leaders of the group. We are all so very different, but that is probably a good thing. Here is a breakdown of what we brought to the table.
JOHN: A vision for a ministry and a very outgoing personality. John seeks new people and, as the point man for the ministry, manages the different personalities therein as well as acts as the liaison to the rest of the church. He has a background in college ministry while at UC Davis and his teaching is well-researched and strong on application. John gives the group a strong evangelistic focus, and his easy going personality makes it easy for people to feel welcome.
ZEPHANIAH: He’s been at the church for years, working with youth, and so he has strong ties to the church as well as to many students. He has a strong personality and is very driven, pushing the students to strive for spiritual maturity. His past experience in developing small group and praise models helped a lot, and we incorporated much of them into the structure of what the ministry does on Wednesday evenings. The most important of the models are PDA, public displays of affection to God through prayer, devotion to Scripture, and accountability, and PraySing, a time when you… pray and sing, and thus you are praising. Corny? Perhaps. But easy to remember. Due to his background in rapping, he teaches with an interesting cadence, with acronyms, sayings, and passion. Sometimes he’ll burst into a song during a lesson, which I will only do if I want to get people to leave.
ME: I… have the spiritual gift of sarcasm, which I use on the students when they are annoying (which is all the time). I’m also the only non-Chinese person in the leadership, so maybe that helped bring that flood of Koreans that came later, much to my dismay. My initial interactions with the students went something like this:
Student: “Hi! Are you Isak? How do you like the church?”
Me: (Emotionless stare)
Student: (cowers away)
Me: (Inwardly laughing)
Anyway, the three of us knuckleheads embarked on this journey together when the year started, teaching, leading, and working our way through the kinks. Our methodology has been pretty straightforward: Teach from the Bible, emphasize the Gospel, and teach the importance of prayer and community. God has blessed the ministry with good students who wanted to grow and learn, and the leaders at the church were very supportive and gave us a lot of freedom to work with the group. Some in the church, most notably Sang, have been a great resource to the group and have done what they can to help it along. Eventually, over a year later, we were officially made interns, which meant that we got paid a little for doing the exact same things we were doing. Sweet.
The arrival of girl leaders and weird emotions 😉
One thing that was missing, however, were female leaders for the girls. Sherry had to take care of some things and Jen graduated and moved, so it was just us dudes. The first girl we
manipulated convinced to help us was Cathy, who went to Texas A&M. At first, I was skeptical, thinking that she would try to teach the students mindlessly stupid Aggie traditions like “hump it” and “horse laughing,” but upon finding out she knew zilch about football and the Aggie cult, I thought it could work. Anyway, for a girl who grew up at ACC, it seemed unlikely she would stick around (most young adults do not want to return to their home churches), but she consistently came not only to our church but to our college ministry events. However, she was hesitant to fully commit to helping us and would pull back if one of the guy leaders approached her about it, so we resolved to do some reverse-psychology on her and pretend she wasn’t there, and she kept coming :). After a few weeks of this game, we received her commitment at a Chick-Fil-A. Bam! Got one. Cathy has always been very generous with her time and resources, and partially because she is kinda weird ;), she is mysteriously popular with several different kinds of people. She’s not afraid to critique the guys, which is appreciated, and she brings a fun energy to the group.
For a while she was the only one, and then one day I heard excitement that Alvin’s sister was coming to Arlington. Remember that name? Too bad he was there before I got there so I didn’t know the guy (I have since met him). I would hear this and that about how cool he was, and I’d just be like, “Who?” Anyway, Ariella, his sister, had graduated and was coming to Arlington to work at UTA of all places, having considered the city precisely because her brother had spent a summer there. According to her, when she first moved down here she thought that ACC did not have many young adults… which would have been true. However, just that summer, the church started a new young adult group that she just dropped in on. Also, the Sunday she wanted to go try out a Dallas church, she woke up late and simply decided to go to the much closer ACC… and she hasn’t left yet. Ariella has grown quite a bit in her short time at ACC, and the decisions she has made for God have been admirable and a good example. Also, being from Idaho, she is our resident potato expert.
Not long after, Sherry returned from her hiatus and told us she was ready to serve again. She was on the verge of finishing up her counseling degree from Southwestern. Now there were three girls to try to balance out the three of us. Sherry is very good at community-building activities and thinking through matters in a different light than we do. Given her training in counseling, she is often equipped to reach people that we may have a harder time to. Life has thrown her some curve balls, but her commitment to the group has been strong and much appreciated. Underneath that kind smile, though, is a bit of mischief, so do not be deceived.
The girls, being girls, would help us see things going on in the group with different eyes, and they provided a good balance for us. Eventually, they would all help out in small groups, in planning parties and events, in hosting events, and most other matters related to ministry. A lot of it has been background work, but that does not make it less important.
Shortly thereafter, Sam, John’s brother, came back to the church to help out after a youth ministry gig. He is currently on his way out to another youth job, but his contributions and Old Testament expertise were very helpful, including teaching OT Sunday School for the church for a few weeks, leading a small group, and cooking for the loud college students on a regular basis.
We started with a handful of freshman. They are now juniors (surprising), and behind them have come several more students, some we never expected to really reach, such as international students. The students are bright, eager to learn, and, as far as college students go, relatively well-behaved. As the group grows, I know we will deal with more and more idiots, but for now, we have been very lucky to have students who don’t make us want to kill ourselves. Or them.
So God assembled young adult leaders, students, and church leaders to make this all happen in a fairly interesting manner. Among the leaders, there is a guy from California, a Chinese guy who used to want to be a rapper, a cynical Korean, an Aggie who grew up at the church, a girl from Idaho who happens to work at the school most of our students go to, and a girl with a counseling degree. Among the students, we have Chinese people who were part of the church’s youth group, Chinese people who weren’t, Viet people, Koreans from Killeen, international students, a Hispanic fellow… etc. Again, it’s fascinating to look back and see how everyone’s unique path brought them here and how their gifts and experiences prepared them for this.
Still, that doesn’t mean that our work is done; I am not naive, and I know that the ministry could sputter and die just as quickly as it sprouted. We continue to look to God for guidance and wisdom, and the big change we are undergoing next semester is the creation of an official campus organization that is affiliated with our church. The timing is right for many reasons, and if anything, my past experience in this type of ministry has enabled me to help structure how this is going to look. The students, however, will one day need to take the torch, and I hope that we as leaders will, through the Word, teach them to take ownership of it and reach their fellow peers on campus. Our group is still relatively small and by no means do I expect us to make it into a history book, but hopefully, we will do our small part in building up God’s kingdom. And one day, I hope someone else will come along and continue what was started.
Nevertheless, though our future is far from certain, that does not mean that we cannot look back and be thankful at what God has done. It’s hard to imagine that it has already been 2.5 years, and I’m hoping the next 2.5 will be even better, whether or not I am actually here ;).