As you can tell from my picture below, and from my last name, I am Asian – Korean to be precise. I was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of one. I grew up in Southern California and came to Virginia 18 years ago to be the pastor of Ambassador Bible Church. 

During my early years at the church, I attended my first Eastern District Conference (pre-EFCA East days!). I was the only one who looked like me. And my wife was the only one who looked like her (She, too, is Korean). I don’t think I necessarily felt out of place, but I got the feeling that some felt that way about me.

What do I mean by that? I’m not sure if everyone there knew what to make of me.

He looks different than everyone else. He speaks perfect English. Is he part of a new ethnic-specific ministry within the denomination?

Someone actually asked me that at the conference. I didn’t say it, but inside I was thinking, “Why would he immediately assume that? Why can’t someone who looks like me just be a regular pastor of a regular Eastern District church?”

Was I being over-sensitive? Was I was overthinking it?

Perhaps.

But then there was another time at a different conference when someone assumed I was Chinese and when I told him I was Korean, he remarked, “Wow, John, you don’t have an accent at all. Your English is so good.”

It should be. It’s my first language.

To his credit, he realized on his own the offensive nature of his comments and apologized. Ironically, the topic of the conference was race and the gospel.

But I’m not bitter. Really, I’m not. I love the EFCA and feel very much at home within our movement. 

My intent with this is not to ignite a firestorm of polarizing responses.

To be honest, I just thought you ought to know, especially in light of a recent Pew Research Center study on Religion Among Asian-Americans. According to the study, Christianity is the most common religion among Asian-Americans.

You may see more and more people like me in your churches, and I hope that’s the case! And I hope that your church will be home for them – a place where they belong. 

Now, in general, Asians don’t like to stand out or speak out. Most Asian cultures are conformist and collectivist: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” When we do speak, it tends to be more indirect than direct.

There is also the cultural value of respecting elders (strictly speaking of age) and those in positions of authority (like the elders of the church). In Western culture, you’re taught to look directly into the eyes of the person talking to you, especially if it’s someone older than you or in a higher position of authority. In Asian culture, you’re taught to keep your eyes down as a sign of respect. 

What that means is that you may not always know what they’re thinking or feeling. Please ask. Make them feel seen and heard. Please don’t assume their story without first hearing their story.

Really, this goes for anyone who walks through the doors of our churches.

The beauty of the gospel is that many different voices become One Voice in Christ. This happens not by erasing the many different voices, but by appreciating and blending the many different voices into one beautiful harmony. 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

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John Park

John (“J.P.”) has served as the Senior Pastor of Ambassador Bible Church in Chantilly, VA, for 18 years. Originally from Southern California, and a graduate of U.C. San Diego and Talbot School of Theology, John has been married to his wife Sandy for 28 years and they have two adult children who both live and work in California. John loves traveling to new places with his wife, discovering new places to eat, and staying active. 

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7 Comments

  1. Paulo Freire on November 9, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    JP
    I imagine your experience is rather common and yet bares a unique quality to your background.
    We are an odd bunch who tend to see the world from our lens alone. Praise God that we each bare his image as children through Christ together. Until eternity, I imagine these sorts of experiences will happen many times over. There’s no getting used to it, though.

  2. Anne Lau on November 8, 2023 at 10:59 am

    Appreciate this post, Pastor John. My husband and I enjoyed meeting you at the EFCA East Conference. Our unity in Christ is above all, yet how wonderful it is to acknowledge that he is manifested in all his image-bearers across races, ethnicities and cultures. Focusing on differences can distract from the work of the Gospel, but you demonstrate that it can strengthen our understanding of it and unify us. Blessings to you, your family and ministry!

  3. David Walton on November 8, 2023 at 10:52 am

    JP

    Thanks for sharing …the truths you share of different cultures is spot on , but we praise God that He brings us together as one body

  4. Kyle Brenon on November 8, 2023 at 10:30 am

    JP, good words brother! Rock star as always.

  5. Roger Dorris on November 8, 2023 at 8:36 am

    JP, I so appreciated your heartfelt message! Your statement “Please don’t assume their story without first hearing their story” indeed should apply to every personal encounter.

  6. Matt on November 8, 2023 at 7:16 am

    Appreciate your heart and willingness to be transparent brother!

  7. Cedrick Brown on November 8, 2023 at 6:57 am

    JP, thanks for sharing your heart and serving within the EFCA East. Yes, we are ONE, in Him! Harmony!

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