The Asian Wave
Eastern ethnicities now outpace Hispanics in immigration
By John W. Kennedy
Nov. 25, 2012
If you think Hispanics are moving to the United States in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, you have a lot of company. But you would be wrong.
In the past four years, more Asians than Hispanics have immigrated to this country, a statistic that isn’t lost on Scott Temple, director of the Assemblies of God Office of Ethnic Relations.
“These are going to be the fastest-growing communities for us to reach and to disciple,” Temple says.
The 2000 Census showed 60 percent of all U.S. newcomers came from Hispanic countries. But by 2010, only 31 percent of immigrants hailed from Latino nations, while 36 percent originated in Asia. Between 1980 and 2011, the number of Asians in the United States quadrupled to 18.2 million, or 5.8 percent of the total population.
“This is quite a change in the dynamics of the nations of origins,” Temple says.
There are an estimated 90,000 people of Asian heritage attending AG churches in the United States, including some in Anglo-dominant congregations. There are 365 ethnic Asian churches in the U.S. Assemblies of God.
The Census Bureau reported in March that the U.S. Asian population grew 45.6 percent between 2000 to 2010, compared to a 9.7 percent rise for the country overall. The Census Bureau defines Asian as those whose ancestry is from the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent. Immigrants from the following countries have the largest Asian-American populations: China (4.01 million), the Philippines (3.42 million), India (3.18 million), Vietnam (1.74 million), South Korea (1.71 million), and Japan (1.3 million).
The U.S. Assemblies of God has two Korean districts, as well as separate ethnic/language fellowships for Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Indonesian, Southern Asian and Vietnamese adherents.
Temple says Asian churches tend to be smaller, usually under 100 attendees, compared to other ethnic minorities. This, in part, is because few Asian countries have sizable Christian populations. In fact, Christians in some of these nations are marginalized or oppressed. Many are biblically illiterate.
A Pew Research Center study released in June found that Asian-Americans are not only the fastest-growing racial group in the United States but also the best-educated and highest-income ethnicity. A comprehensive report by Pew revealed that Asian-Americans, compared to other Americans, place more value on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.
However, when it comes to spirituality, the Pew report notes that Asian-Americans are a study in contrasts, encompassing groups that run the gamut from highly religious to highly secular. Asian-American evangelicals attend church more regularly and believe Christianity is the one true faith more often than white evangelicals. However, Asian-Americans as a whole are less likely to believe in God or pray on a daily basis compared to the general public, according to the Pew survey.
Full Life Christian Center in San Francisco — a city where one-third of the inhabitants are Asian — is an example of an Asian-American Assemblies of God church that is adapting to the times. Although officially a Chinese church, Full Life Christian Center draws a mixture of professionals who are from Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere.
Since 1993, John Au-Yeung has been preaching in Cantonese, which is then translated into Mandarin. Yet the church has had an English service since long before Au-Yeung became senior pastor in 2000. The services, which reach a combined 190 adults, both start at 10:30. The all-English-speaking children’s ministry has a weekly attendance of 50.
A gymnasium, which also can be used as a multipurpose facility, opened in 2006 and is designed to reach out to youth with weekday sports and other activities. The church has focused efforts upon reaching recent immigrants and their children because established Asian-Americans normally aren’t interested in going to church.
“Even if immigrants have lived here only 10 years, they are hard to reach,” Au-Yeung says. “The new immigrants are more open because they look for community and they look for help to settle down in this new country. Most of them are open to Christianity.”
Full Life Christian Center is a community resource, providing everything from health services for seniors to after-school mentoring programs for children, through KidCare America.
Au-Yeung, born and raised in Hong Kong, says because Chinese are so family-oriented, if one member makes a commitment to follow Jesus, it is likely that other relatives will follow.
Elevate Church in St. Paul, Minn., is intentionally targeting English-speaking second-generation Hmong adults under age 40 whose parents immigrated from Laos. Pastor Hang K. Lee says this group nominally follows the shamanistic beliefs of their parents in worshipping dead ancestors, but they really have adopted an American moral relativism that any set of beliefs is OK.
“They are much more difficult to reach because they have a higher level of education and intellectualism,” Lee says. “This group has lost its identity in the community and is confused about spiritual positions. They pursue whatever they want to feel happy, like going clubbing.”
Many Asian-American churches are intentionally trying to be open to Asians of other ethnicities, according to Temple.
Wilson Jose, a native of India, has been pastor of Grace International Assembly of God in Mineola, N.Y., in suburban New York City, for 30 years. Many adherents commute to the Big Apple for work. The church, renamed four years ago after a location switch, had been predominantly Anglo for 20 years before Jose arrived.
“I felt from the very beginning that in order to reach the community, we had to become a church that is multiethnic in its outlook and international in its outreach,” Jose says.
The church has attendees representing 20 different languages. Only 1 in 4 churchgoers is from India or Sri Lanka. No single ethnicity is a majority.
“We are all a minority in our church,” Jose says. “English is the language of worship because it is the only language everyone understands.”
Jose doesn’t believe the race of the pastor has a significant effect on the congregation, which includes those from Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds.
Although many at Grace International AG are employed in the fields of science, medicine and technology, Jose doesn’t see financial success as the chief barrier to commitment to God. He believes the biggest obstacle facing the American church is a lack of passion for the lost.
As the population of Asians in the United States increases through immigration and natural growth, Jose thinks the ethnic group will have a major impact on the nation’s economy and politics because so many are high achievers. The Pew report projects the Asian population in the United States will more than double to 41 million by 2050.
“The Assemblies of God should look at the wave of immigrants from Asia as opportunities to lead them to the Lord,” Jose says. “They live among us. People from Southern Asia are given to hospitality. If you open your home to them, eventually they will be open to the gospel. America has become the greatest mission field in the world.”
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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