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Asian-American group celebrates history, elects leaders

Members of the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists elect officers. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 5, 2007 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)

Chikara Daiko, a group of Taiko drummers, performs during the federation meeting.

The vision for an Asian-American identity that goes beyond national ancestry gave birth to a United Methodist organization that continues challenging the church to hear diverse ethnic voices today.

Bishop Roy I. Sano, speaking to the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists in November, recalled the climate that led to the creation of the group more than three decades ago.

"The national federation reflected the ethnic struggles that were on the university campuses in the late 1960s," he said. "The original drive and vision of the movement expressed the hopes and hurts in our community and The United Methodist Church at home and abroad."

Today, helping The United Methodist Church better meet the needs of diverse ethnic groups remains a goal for the federation. Incoming chairperson Donald Hayashi emphasized that role during the group’s Nov. 28-29 general assembly.

"The national federation will help our church address the many challenges of growth and opportunity for the 10 ethnic groups that comprise the federation," Hayashi said. The 10 groups are Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Formosan, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Lao, South Asian and Vietnamese.

Hayashi said the federation will also "work with the denomination to expand ministries to reach new immigrants and those who are unchurched."

Members of the federation reflected on their history, planned for the future and elected officers during their general assembly, held at Centenary United Methodist Church.

Bishop Roy I. Sano talks about the history
of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.

Hayashi, the director of development and finance for the Wesley Community Center in Dayton, Ohio, will begin serving a four-year term as chairperson after the 2008 United Methodist General Conference meets in Fort Worth, Texas, April 23-May 2. He will succeed the Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa, pastor of Centenary.

The federation advocates for full inclusion of Asian Americans in the leadership, programs and administration of The United Methodist Church, Nakagawa said.

"In Asian-American communities, we seek to continue the important role of The United Methodist Church in the historical development of those communities, with some communities having shared histories with the church of over 115 years," he said.

Origins and visions

Sano, executive secretary of the Council of Bishops and former episcopal leader for the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, traced the origins of the federation and shared a photo slide show of some of the pioneers of the Asian-American movement.

The United Methodist Japanese Americans formed in 1968, the Western Jurisdiction Asian Americans formed in 1972, and the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists formed in 1975, he said.

United Methodist Asian Americans rejected integration strategies and the "melting pot" theory of that time as duplicitous and designed to make Asian Americans "disappear," he said. Proponents of those policies said, "'Come on in and give us your contributions' but what they really meant was 'Come in and blend in and disappear,'" he said.

The Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa greets participants to the general assembly of
the National Federation of Asian
American United Methodists.

"There were impressive responses from our United Methodist Church" to prevent that from happening, he said.

The United Methodist Board of Discipleship and Board of Higher Education and Ministry supported the evolving Asian-American movement with resources and events. The Board of Archives and History and United Methodist Publishing House helped "recover our buried history" with biographies of Asian-American United Methodists and other books, he said.

Asian Americans were able to share their passions and gifts at denominational gatherings and in publications produced by the former United Methodist Council on Ministries, United Methodist Communications, the Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries and others, Sano said.

The denomination also helped educate future Asian-American leaders through HANA (Hispanic, Asian and Native American) scholarships offered by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

New partners in the church as well as the community were helped by the Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.

New identity

Organizations such as the federation promoted an Asian-American identity beyond national ancestry identities, Sano said.

As a Japanese American, Sano said he understood how difficult it was for Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos to work with Japanese.

Donald Hayashi was elected chairperson of the federation. His term begins after the
2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, April 23
to May 2.

"Rev. Arturo Capuli pulled me aside once during a federation meeting and said, 'Roy, every Filipino in there has lost an immediate family member to the Japanese colonial army.' And yet here we were meeting together. That moment was ecstatic."

The original vision of an Asian-American identity makes sense today because "our children and youth are interacting and inter-marrying beyond national ancestries with other Asian Americans and beyond those groups," he said.

New leadership

Hayashi, who also serves as a consultant to the Asian American Language Ministry sponsored by the Board of Global Ministries, told the gathering that the number of Asian American delegates to the denomination's top lawmaking body is down from the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences. That may be the result of fewer U.S. delegates because of membership losses in the United States.

Only 23 Asian Americans were elected delegates to the 2008 General Conference; in 2000 there were 30 delegates, and in 2004 there were 35.

Other officers elected to the federation were the Rev. SungJa Lee Moon, vice chairperson for membership; the Rev. Jacob S. Dharmaraj, vice chairperson for advocacy and program; the Rev. Pong Javier, secretary; and the Rev. Bau Dang, treasurer.

"We will advocate for Asian Americans to be in leadership and influence in our church so that decisions can reflect the aspirations and concerns of our communities," said Hayashi after the meeting. "We will work with our congregations to better serve the needs of multiple generations and be relevant to coming generations. We will continue to speak to issues such as immigration and poverty that affect our communities directly, and for full human rights both domestically and worldwide."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Bishop Roy Sano: "That moment was ecstatic."

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