"San Francisco's Chinatown" book and trailer can be found here: https://www.chinatownbooksf.com 

Finding the Story of Orchard Valley, Silicon Valley, and Chinatown in God's Story

Imagine if God were walking through Chinatown. What form might God 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. 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, board member of Kingdom Rice

In a vicarious way, that's how I imagined Dick and Kathy when they were researching for the book. They did not stay on the beaten tourist path; they went into the stories of people. For example, they went into the SROs, led in by Chinatown's respected leaders. Over and over, the book gives witness to how God is bringing about celebration amidst the shame. Even secular reviews of the book observe this overarching narrative. "New Chinatown photo book explores neighborhood’s journey ‘from shame to celebration'" is the title of one of many reviews of the book.

After reading your church website, I discerned a lot of unique overlaps between the story of your church, Chinatown, and my work with Kingdom Rice. In true church fashion, I've distilled it down to three points:

  1. The nations have come to Silicon Valley.
  2. People from these nations are thirsting for an honor only God's Story can ultimately give.
  3. What are next steps to bringing the Kingdom to our own Ohanas?

Let's expand each of these a bit before considering how we can further our journey in each of these areas.

The nations have come to Silicon Valley.

That means missions is no longer just across the oceans, it's across the street, across the hall, in the market, or dancing next to us in Zumba class.

Consider the sheer migration of people into Bay Area cities from all throughout the world. There's never been a time like this. Consider that in 1900, only 8% of the world's population lived in cities. In 2014, that increased to 54%! Sunnyvale certainly attests to these shifts, as identified in your church namesake, Orchard Valley. When Dionne Warwick sang, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" the song presumed the once abundant orchard fields as an escape for city life. Now there's only one orchard left that some residents are fighting to keep.

And consider WHO has moved into Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. (My wife helped gather data for this chart found at one of my partner ministries, Youth With a Mission, San Francisco)

Having worked in Sunnyvale, I benefited from the nation's cuisine at my doorstep!  In particular, there are two unprecedented dynamics that define the new frontiers of mission. They are the "Asianization" and urbanization of our world (urban theologian Ray Bakke named this trend 20 years ago). I already covered how the world is urbanizing. In addition, Asian culture and influence are sweeping the world. "Asia is here" is oft acknowledged by many missiologists. Traditionally, our Western world was often characterized with rugged individualism. Immigration and the onslaught of social media has brought "face" culture to the mainstream. Thirst for "face" is no longer a descriptor for Asians only.  Silicon Valley embodies  both these trends, and churches that embody a Gospel that gives honor for "lost face" are part of God's antidote for shame, part of the Good News!  With Bay Area companies at the epicenter of social media, these Asian dynamics are EVERYONE's world. The pandemic, xenophobia only exasperates these dynamics.

With the nations at our doorstep, the Chinatown story points to the unfolding of the biblical story, a story that will see people from every nation, every ethnic group  worshipping our God in heaven. Silicon Valley has a front seat, and our Ohana culture plays a huge role to invite people to share in this story. Why?

People from these nations are thirsting for an honor only God's Story can ultimately give.

As a guest lecturer to seminarians, as a former missionary in East and Central Asian countries, and today as a non-profit leader and author on the subject alongside fellow missiologists (see below), I can attest that current Western seminary education AND missions suppress biblical themes of honor and shame. With biblical word study technologies in our pockets, anyone can reveal the biblical weight of shame and honor; there's really no excuse that a majority of reputable systematic theologies and Bible dictionaries fail to list shame and honor in their indices. To be fair, the themes are there, but buried deep. This reality is perhaps the product of hundreds of years of Western dominance in theology. But take a look at where global Christianity has shifted. That's right, the locus has shifted from West to East, and North to South. Similarly, the moral imperative has shifted from guilt to shame. With all these unprecedented global shifts, sharing the Good News that God gives honor to the shamed (and not just righteousness for the guilty) is necessary.

You are already familiar with Jesus' "Ohana" invitations to the least likely in many of his encounters to the most despised, outcast, ridiculed. And perhaps you're already familiar with all the "shameful" characters contained within Jesus' genealogy.  We know Jesus' mission. But rarely is it expressed this way. Jesus reverses our shame. How much have you thought through any of Jesus encounters with that simple framework? Or for that matter, how much have we thought through the entire biblical story with that framework? How much have you shared your own testimony to others from a place of how god reversed your shame? It requires vulnerability; it requires being present in other people's lives. Robert Coleman (The Master Plan of Evangelism) said decades ago, "We need better people, not better programs."

Consider these links:

Bringing the Kingdom to our own Ohanas.

"Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.” Je 29:5, NKJV

Are apocalyptic-looking skies part of our new normal of disasters, loss, masks, and injustice? Under very different circumstances, the Israelites too had to accept a new normal. False prophets promised escape. Yet the Lord commanded the Israelites to settle into the new normal, to engage for the long haul, and to seek the peace in their city. How relevant these words are to us today to embrace this new normal and to seek the peace of our own communities, orange skies and all.

Christian history reveals times when Christianity rose during transitions and new normals (e.g. the early Church, communist regimes, previous pandemics). This is the time (during our pandemic) and the place (Silicon Valley) to seek the peace of where we live.

 

Where do we go from here? 

I started offering immersions into SF's neighborhoods as a way to frame the theology of honor-shame through the stories of the neighborhood's peoples. This is why I found great interest in Kathy's "shame to celebration" telling of Chinatown. This is the Gospel!  That said, let me invite you to a few things:

    • Buy the best Chinatown book there is out there: https://www.chinatownbooksf.com
    • To go a little deeper into the theology of honor-shame, I wrote a chapter for a book filled with the top thinkers, scholars, and practitioners on the subject.  "Honor, Shame, and the Gospel: Reframing Our Message and Ministry."  My chapter is called “Sharing God’s Love in an Urban, Pluralistic Context.” If you've ever taken a missions course (e.g. Perspectives) or read on the subject, you'll recognize some of the other authors.

Foreword-Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen: “Honor, Guilt, Shame, Face, and Forgiveness: A Brief Theological and Interdisciplinary Sketch.”
Chapter 1-Steven Hawthorne: “The Honor and Glory of Jesus Christ: Heart of the Gospel and the Mission of God.”
Chapter 2-Jayson Georges: “Honor and Shame in Historical Theology: Listening to Eight Voices.”
Chapter 3-Tom Steffen: “A Clothesline Theology for the World: How a Value-Driven Grand Narrative of Scripture Can Frame the Gospel.”
Chapter 4-Jackson Wu: “Saving Us from Me: Cultivating Honor and Shame in a Collectivist Church.”
Chapter 5-E. Randolph Richards: “The Shaming of Jesus in John.”
Chapter 6-Mako A. Nagasawa: “Empowering Personal Healing through the ‘Medical Substitutionary Atonement.’”
Chapter 7-Steve Tracy: “Abuse and Shame: How the Cross Transforms Shame.”
Chapter 8-Lynn Thigpen: “The Dark Side of Orality.”
Chapter 9-Arley Loewen: “Must Honor Clash with Humility? Transformed Honor within the Emerging Church in Muslim Societies.”
Chapter 10-Steve Hong: “Sharing God’s Love in an Urban, Pluralistic Context.”
Chapter 11-Cristian Dumitrescu: “Discipleship in Asian Honor Cultures.”
Chapter 12-Audrey Frank: “The Muslim Woman’s Journey from Shame to Honor.”
Chapter 13-Rich James: “An Honor-Shame Gospel for Syrians Displaced by War: Jesus Christ as Good Shepherd and Honorable Patron.”
Chapter 14-Katie Rawson: “A Gospel That Reconciles: Teaching about Honor-Shame to Advance Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation.”
Chapter 15-Nolan Sharp: “The Book of Samuel: A Reconciling Narrative.”

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Biographies:

Kathy Chin Leong:

A mother of two, Kathy is a freelance writer who lives in Sunnyvale with her husband Frank Leong Jr.  As a second-generation American Born Chinese from San Francisco, she became a believer her senior year of high school. It was at San Jose Chinese Alliance Church where her faith was nurtured in the loving community of extremely caring brothers and sisters.  She graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in journalism. Over the years, she has dedicated her writing skills to the Lord whether it is teaching children at a writing camp, inspiring others to pen their personal testimonies, or crafting an article for a newspaper or magazine.

In 2019, the Lord brought forth an opportunity to write text for the coffee table photo book, San Francisco’s Chinatown.  It was then that God revealed that she had been unconsciously burying her ethnicity in order to embrace the American culture. During the writing of the book, God gave new eyes to see the same parks, shopping areas, restaurants, and movie theaters her family brought her to as a child.

By imparting His  heart for Chinatown, she now has a love for the community she once distained. God has not only redeemed Chinatown, He has redeemed her attitude, bringing a renewed sense of being God’s child as an ABC.

Steve Chin Hong:

A father of one and a former ASIC chip designer, Steve left his comfortable Silicon Valley engineering job for the ministry. He’s the former pastor of an EvFree and a Cumberland church plant, served on the Leadership Development Team of Campus Crusade’s Asian ministry (Epic), then started Kingdom Rice, a non-profit that equips leaders in churches, mission organizations, and seminary to a more relevant then ever Gospel that saves face and gives honor. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son. This post links to my church community and the brothers wow have walked most closely with me in prayer the past decade. https://kingdomrice.org/2020/06/09/pentecost-solidarity/