Friendship with the City – Chinatown

Version 2Dear Friend,

I’m glad you were able to join me in a Chinatown immersion. I really appreciate the “Three Friendship” series and honored to be a part of it. At Kingdom Rice, part of our work is storytelling both for Christian and those who don’t subscribe to our faith. When we story tell, we are bringing honor to a person or a place, and that’s a part of bringing the Kingdom near, of seeking the shalom of a place. And why Chinatown? Kingdom Rice board member Nate Lee describes it this way:

One of Kingdom Rice’s hallmarks is our Chinatown Tour, where we lead small groups through Chinatown’s alleyways, markets, and plazas, inviting people to taste and see all that Chinatown is, and not just what others say about it or imagine it to be. And when we engage with Chinatown as it is, hearing the stories, seeing the faces, and learning the history, we can slowly start to leave behind all the assumptions about what we think God ought to look like.

Maybe God looks like an old Chinese grandma. Maybe God speaks Cantonese,Russian, or Spanish (all languages prevalent in Chinatown). Maybe God is smoking a cigarette. Maybe God smells like fish or herbs or incense. And maybe God dropped out of high school, lives on government assistance, and is disabled. When we walk through Chinatown, we encounter a God who challenges us because Chinatown challenges us. Here, we meet God on God’s terms.

– Nate Lee, Kingdom Rice Board member

As promised, here are the slides I shared with you.

  1. I never lived in Chinatown, but it’s a cultural home for me and many ABCs.

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2. By 1872, the Chinese were excluded from immigration. In 1903, fear of plague led the City to put up this fence around the perimeter of Chinatown.

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 12.15.38 PM3. Whereas immigrants from Europe passed through Ellis Island in a matter of hours, Chinese passing through Angel Island often took months, sometimes well over a year to pass through immigration on Angel Island.  Here is my actual grandfather’s immigration card.

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4. And here are some of the actual interrogation questions asked of my grandfather that had to exactly match up with those of other “relatives” seeking entrance. There are documented cases of suicide for those who did not pass the interrogation.

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We did not have time to walk by it, but I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE you to visit this exhibit on the exclusion of Chinese-Americans at the Julia Morgan-designed Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. Using multi-media, they’ve recreated the actual interrogation room, down to the details of how Chinese had to hide their coaching notes in the most unusual places.

5. We began our immersion at the place where San Francisco began, Portsmouth Square. That port is of course all filled in with the FiDi district. Makes you think twice in the event of an earthquake!Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 12.16.07 PM

6. We walked to what was formally known as the Golden Dragon restaurant. A long-standing feud between the Joe Boys and the Wah Ching culminated in a Fourth of July shootout in Chinatown in 1977. What pushed the Joe Boys over the edge was not that some of their brothers were killed but that their grave sites were being vandalized, breaking an unwritten code of respecting the dead.

There I began to unpack the dynamics of an honor-shame paradigm of reading the Word, a paradigm that resonates more with our globalizing, social-media saturated world (and the world that the Scriptures were written in). Shame, fear, alternate identities, and the historical firewall between the Chinese and the City made this murder difficult to crack, until the City got involved, formed the first “Gang Task Force” and built relationships with Chinese. Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 12.16.15 PM

7. We walked down the first of several alleyways, Waverly. We noted all the associations (Tongs) and the role they played. Then we stopped at First Chinese Baptist Church where I share how evangelism is still so steeped in Western dominance and fails to address the shame that, in the words of Brene Brown, says “I AM wrong.”

Current evangelistic program are so steeped in a Western framework. As both a missionary and trainer, and with all due respect to Kirk Cameron (if you remember “Growing Pains”) here’s something I wrote up to explain “Why I kissed “Evangelistic Programs” Goodbye”

“Guilt tripping” people is not the only way the Spirit works to convict people. The fact that systematic theological texts and the whole overall western-dominated framework of theological training both here AND abroad makes little mention of the huge biblical themes of honor-shame, collectivism, patronage and more, says something about how Christianity has bought into western-assumptions. Thank God for the Newbigin programs and conferences I’ve attended that are calling out the growing irrelevancy of today’s seminaries and providing alternatives that ought to be more mainstream. My reference to recent speaker Willie Jennings is but one of many examples of scholars calling us to reimagine the Christian space outside of current colonizing defaults.

Speaking about colonization, one of KR’s board members wrote this post on the subject: Hillsong Church: Do not colonize San Francisco

If I commented on EVERY place we stopped at, this post would be much much longer. So allow me to jump to the end. At Kingdom Rice, we are cultivating emotional healthy, culturally competent leaders here and abroad. Our partnership with City Church is one of a select set of partnerships where God has opened a door.

I mentioned we’re also in partnership w Cru, an organization with leaders who are recognizing that they can no longer submit their new staff to the degree of western-domination inherent in their training. They’re contracting me to write one of the first training manuals their new staff will work through. This newsletter explains this endeavor more. 

As with my past work with the interfaith community of San Francisco, I don’t have to agree with an organization to partner with them. If anything, this promotes truer tolerance, something that has great potential here in our diverse, pluralist home we call San Francisco.

I hope you’ll agree that after the immersion experience, the story of Chinatown is not just a story for ethnic Chinese people. It’s a story for anyone who sees this story as a way to fulfill the goals on the current sermon series, to enrich our friendship with God, the City, and our neighbor.

Leave a comment below about anything that came up during your time in Chinatown or Manilatown. And just like you sometimes see on facebook, feel free to invite or nominate each other to comment! Start with a comment or question, just one impression you felt, or an inquiry. I believe just the simple recording of that will be a blessing to you and all participants. And Jason Morrell and I can synthesize the comments to City Church staff. And that’ll inform how we do these in the future.

In the meantime, do feel free to subscribe to the Kingdom Rice blog, or to the Kingdom Rice opt-in only newsletter.

Though we’re aiming to keep the dialogue public only to participants, don’t hesitate to email me at

Here are a few more blog posts that might be relevant to our experience in Chinatown:

Many of you mentioned you wanted to learn “history.” I trust you got much more out of it though. I was honored to serve God as I served you all. Much grace and peace to you,

Steve Hong

Founder and director or Kingdom Rice

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