Where are you from? This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. I usually say, “Well, I spent my 18 years of childhood growing up in Hong Kong and Taiwan, lived in California for 10 years while attending college and starting my work, and now I live in Hawaii… does that answer your question?” An equally difficult topic is who I am culturally. I’m a white American with German, Swedish, English, Irish, Dutch, and Swiss blood. My dad was raised by German immigrants in Michigan and my mom was raised by her American parents in Japan. My parents met in China. So I’m white American on the outside but kind of Asian on the inside… maybe!?
I find that I’m not the only one with this dilemma. And this dilemma also presents a wonderful opportunity to live cross-culturally without much difficulty. Yesterday skyped with a friend who is Canadian-American, born in Venezuela, raised in a Haitian community in Miami and white communities in Washington and northern California. She’s about to complete a degree in International Relations and is considering studying her Master’s in China to help improve Chinese-American relations. One of the Japanese pastors who preached at last night’s church service is half-Portuguese, half-Japanese and spent equal parts of his childhood in Brazil and Japan. Now he pastors a multi-national Church in Japan made up of Brazillians, Peruvians, Fillippinos, and Japanese. Even though he spent years in the “Christian” nation of Brazil, he had to go to the <1% Christian nation of Japan to come to know Jesus!
In Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Athens, he declaires: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27-28)
God had to move this young man from Brazil to Japan to find Him and know him. Similarly, one of my students had to move to America for college to find Jesus. She is Chinese by nationality, ethnically Korean, but culturally Japanese as she spent most of her childhood in Japan. Recently she voiced to me the dilemma, “What cultural church community should I join? I don’t know if I’m more Japanese or Korean, or maybe Chinese!” But her strength is that she can use all of these languages to share the love of Jesus and builds cross-cultural relationships easily!
One more snapshot. Today I read an article about a girl born to Korean parents living in Peru. Is she Korean or Peruvian? Well, I guess you could say both. She is completing her doctoral studies in America and during a research project with children of illegal immigrants from Latin America she found she could easily relate to them and draw them out. Like these children, she feared that her non-citizen parents would be deported. Who would think of such a thing but God–bring a Korean-Peruvian young woman to America to encourage the hearts of young Latin-Americans. Brilliant!
So here I am… a white American with mixed European blood and an upbringing in Asia living in Hawaii. I get to work with international students, most of whom are from Asia, and to learn from the Polynesian cultures that surround me. Here, in the middle of the Pacific, somehow my identity feels cohesive. I am from the Pacific. 🙂