This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Office of Race Relations is highlighting members of these communities who are part of Christian Reformed churches. First up: Shiao Chong, editor of The Banner! He was interviewed by Race Relations Advocate Rudy Gonzalez.
Tell me about yourself and how you came to be a leader in the CRC.
I am a Chinese person who was born and raised in Malaysia. Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. The cultural and religious tensions spilled out into the economic arena and created political tensions between the dominant group of Malays and the immigrant South Asian Indians and Chinese groups. Over the years the tensions have created sporadic racial riots.
As a young boy I attended the Plymouth Brethren church in Malaysia and made a commitment to Christ at the age of 14. As I pursued my education, I traveled to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. While there I had a bout with depression, and it was the CRC campus minister Tom Oosterhuis from West End CRC in Edmonton that helped me through this time. To this day I am deeply grateful for campus ministry. Through this ministry I began walking with the CRC and met my wife Martha. I continued pursuing my masters degree but also continued to journey toward campus ministry. I began work in the Registrar’s Office for Redeemer College in Hamilton, but in 2001 was called by Classis Toronto to be a campus minister at York University, Toronto. The position did not require ordination; however, through my work in the church and at Classis Toronto, I began the process for ordination as a commissioned pastor. I was ordained in 2008.
After growing up in a multi-cultural, multi-faith country and experiencing racial tensions, the work of Race Relations was a natural connection for me. I soon became a facilitator for the Widening the Circle workshop. I also eventually got involved in helping to organize the multi-ethnic biennial gathering held alongside Synod. In 2016 I was called to be in my current position as the Editor of The Banner.
What do you appreciate about the CRC?
The Christian Reformed Church was very attractive to me because it gave me a three-dimensional view of faith. I grew up with a one- or maybe two-dimensional view of faith. My focus was my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps I considered other issues, but I did not have a Christian world and life view and that is what the CRC offered me. I was encouraged to pursue my faith in every facet of life. I could pursue my faith through the study of literature as well as in campus ministry. I could inquire about race relations as part of my faith in Christ.
As you think about the culture that we live in, what gifts do you see that the CRC has to meet those needs?
In the Canadian context, the immigrant experience is still fresh for many CRC folks. People know it first-hand. So they are empathetic toward immigrants. They have a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience because many CRC members in Canada came as immigrants from Holland and personally recall what that was like. As such they are willing and equipped to help and reach out to immigrants. This is a missional opportunity.
The Christian Reformed Church fits well in evangelical circles as well as mainline denominational circles. In Canada, for instance, the CRC is a member of both the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches. This is why the Christian Reformed Church fits and works so well with faith leaders working on public dialogue in Canada. We can be bridge builders to foster greater collaboration among denominations for the sake of God’s kingdom.
On the other side of the border, I think U.S. culture is currently highly polarized along political lines, including divisions within denominations and among Christians. The CRC's strong intellectual tradition and the depth of the Reformed biblical worldview is, in my opinion, a valuable resource to help Christians think more deeply about our faith's engagement with politics beyond simply either/or left/right options. This is a strong potential contribution that the CRC can make to American Christianity right now, provided the CRC itself can rise above political polarization and recover that theological resource.
Along the same lines, what particular challenges do you see for the CRC in the years ahead?
As I hinted in my previous answer, the CRC needs to ensure it does not get sucked into our culture's increasing politicization of almost everything, and with that, the polarization that comes from it.
Another challenge that is shared by almost all established denominations in North America is declining membership, and in particular, the loss of young people.
Another ongoing challenge related to the above challenge is embracing ethnic diversity into the CRC. I think the decline of churches is felt most acutely by traditional, western, or can I say, "white" denominations. So-called "ethnic" churches, however, are growing, largely due to immigration. Of course, growing in numbers is not the only reason or even the main reason to become a multi-cultural church or denomination. There is the biblical call and vision we need to follow. But in a culture that sees racism as an evil, especially among the younger generation, any church or denomination that does not fully embrace anti-racist values and diversity may be seen as suspect, and less attractive to people seeking a church family to call home.
Is there anything else that you'd like to say?
I know that it can be frustrating sometimes for ethnic minorities in the CRC for various reasons. But I want to encourage them to seek God's wisdom and strength. I recognize my journey into the CRC as God's providence and calling. God has placed me in the CRC, in North America, and into this ministry for a reason. I need to trust that, and heed his calling. I want to encourage other ethnic minority leaders in the CRC to see themselves too as being called and placed by God into the CRC family for a reason. God blessed me through the CRC, and I believe God has blessed all of us through the CRC, in various ways. We need to see how God is using us to bless the CRC, and through the CRC, to bless the world.
The Office of Race Relations is thankful for Chong's contributions to the Christian Reformed Church! Together, we can truly become God's diverse and unified family. If you identify as Asian American (or Asian Canadian) or Pacific Islander, we'd love to hear from you. (Email the ORR communications coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.) Look for more posts on the Office of Race Relations' Facebook page this month.