Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, August 14, 2015



(Editor's Note: This is the 3rd and final installment of  Series of 3 articles on Asiamericans in the Episcopal Church. The first part is about the history of Asian immigration to the United States;  the second part is about the birth and growth of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries; and the third part is visualizing the challenges and hopes for the 21st Century.)

Asiamerican Missioner Fred Vergara and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori "waking up the dragon" at the 40th Anniversary Celebration of Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries held at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco in June 2013.

At his installation as the second Asiamerica Missioner in 2004, the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara wrote an article. “Asiamerica Ministries in the 21stCentury.” He predicted that the “the 21st century is going to be the Asia-America Century.” By that, he meant that Asia will join the United States of America as a partner in the global search for a truly free, humane, just and peaceful world community.
Here is an excerpt from Vergara’s article:

"The Asia-America Century will alter the way we do politics, religion and theology. My faith statement is not without basis. Over thirty years ago, as a Filipino missionary priest serving in the Anglican Church of Singapore, I listened to a lecture from a noted economist, Gunnar Myrdal, author of a celebrated book, The Asian Drama. When asked why he wrote Asian Drama and not African Drama or Latin American Drama or European Drama, he replied, “I got impressed with this idea that the destiny of humankind will come to be decided in Asia because it is such a tremendously large part of humanity.”

“That Asia and Asians dominate the geographic and demographic milieu is a statement of fact. Asia covers 29.4% of the Earth’s land area and has a population of almost 2/3rd of the world’s seven billion people. Together, China’s and India’s populations alone are estimated to be almost three billion. The majority languages of the world are Mandarin, Hindi, English and Spanish in that hierarchical order.”

"China and India also complement each other (yin yang) as the via media of Asian pragmatism and wisdom tradition. Chinese pragmatism is exemplified by Deng Xiaoping who opened China to globalization. As China’s foremost leader in 1978-1992, Deng instituted China’s “open door” policy and introduced free enterprise into China socialist economy with such words “It doesn’t  matter if they are black cats or white cats, so long as they catch mice, they are good cats.” On the other hand, India’s wisdom tradition is expressed by one of its many sages, Mahatma Gandhi, who saw God in everything, has an advice to Christian evangelists: “To a hungry person, God appears in a loaf of bread.” 
Deng Xiaoping: Asian Pragmatism Tradition
Mahatma Gandhi: Asian Wisdom Tradition

“Today, both China and India are leading the world in reaping the fruits of globalization. China with its manufacturing industry saturates the world’s retail shops with its products. Someone jokingly said, “In the beginning God made the world. After that, everything was made in China!” India, for its own distinction, has greatly improved its computer industry. It is a fact that when Silicon Valley in California had its computer glut in Y2K (Year 2000), the savvy American computer engineers turned to their counterparts in Bangalore, the technopolis of India.”
Theology and Ministry
Vergara relates the secular phenomenon to the spiritual realm. He said, “It is my belief that whenever something new happens in the external world, what follows is something new in the internal world. Religion often precedes science but sometimes it is the other way around. The spirit often precedes the flesh but sometimes it is the other way around.”

“In the Christian world, whenever there is a spiritual awakening, there also follows material prosperity. As a nation seeks the kingdom of God, “all these things are added” (Matthew 6:33). But sometimes the reverse is true. When the world awakens to the truth and expresses it in arts and literature, the church also experiences revival of its own understanding of God. The Church often prophesies to Society but sometimes the reverse is true; Society also prophesies to the Church.”

“Church is oftentimes the avant garde for social change; sometimes the opposite is true; Society can also lead the Church to change. There are prophets in both sides.”

“One example was the renaissance and the religious reformation in Europe. When Italian arts awakened to the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli and the Medici family, the religious realm of Europe also brought the German Reformation of Martin Luther and the English Reformation of Henry VIII and Bishop Cranmer. “ 

It is therefore my belief that the Asia-America Century will bring forth a new revival of humanities and the arts as well as new doing of theology. Already, there are more important discourses happening across the Pacific than across the Atlantic, presenting new possibilities for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church.

Last June 2013, the Episcopal Church celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries with the theme, “Remember the Past, Celebrate the Present and Visualize the Future.” 

It was in 1973 in 1973 when the first missioner, The Rev. Dr. Winston Ching founded the infrastructure on which the Asian ministries would be established. It was in 2004 when second missioner,  the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara strengthened the foundations and enabled ministries to flourish. As the bible says, “Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth.”   

We remembered the life and works of the pioneers, including Ah For of Nevada, the railroad worker who became the first Chinese missionary in the United States until the Chinese Exclusion Act; and the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano, the first Japanese American priest ordained in the United States and who figured as priest, pastor and evangelist in the Japanese Internment Camps. At the recent 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church held in Salt Lake City (June 23-July 3, 2015), the Rev. Hisanori Kano was approved to be included in the Calendar of Holy Women Holy Men.

With Kano's inclusion, there are now four Asian "saints" in the Episcopal Church calendar: The Rev.Florence Li Tim Oi, the first woman to be ordained in the entire Anglican Communion; the Rev. Daniel G.C. Wu, the first missionary priest of True Sunshine Church in San Francisco & Church of our Savior, Oakland; the Most Rev. Gregorio Aglipay, the founder and first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independente which is in concordat of full communion with TEC; and the Rev. Kano, from the Diocese of Nebraska, the saint among the internees and prisoners of the Internment camps during World War II.

Today, there are over a hundred churches and ministries in the Episcopal Church that identify themselves as ethnic Asian, pan-Asian or Asian-led multicultural churches. In some dioceses, there are diocesan Asian Commissions whose task is to assist the bishops in understanding the needs and hopes of the Asian community; to promote collegiality among Asian clergy and lay leaders; and to advise the Asiamerica Missioner on program priorities. 

Asiamerica Ministries features the following programs and activities:
(1) Planting new churches and strengthening existing ones;

(2) Leadership training through Consultations and Convocations;

(3) Collegial fellowships through EAM Diocesan Commissions;

(4) Online Ministry training through Asiamerica Virtual Classroom; 

(5) EAM-EDS (Episcopal Divinity School) Partnership Doctor of Ministry Course; 

(6) Asia-America Theological Exchange Forum in partnership with the Partnership Office for Asia and the Pacific (Canon Peter Ng, Officer); 

(7) Hmong and Southeast Asia Church Planting Enterprise (The Rev. Toua Vang, Hmong Missioner);   

(8) Asiamerica Mission to End Modern Slavery (AMEMS) (based in Queens, New York, with Ms. Bern Ellorin, Consultant) in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island in building coalition with grassroots organizations in the campaign against Human Trafficking.
In his message to the 40th EAM anniversary celebration held in San Francisco in 2013, Missioner Vergara summarized the endeavors of Asiamerica Ministries into three acronyms: 

ARISE which means “Asiamerica Renewal In Strategic Evangelization.”We shall prioritize discipleship, evangelism and witness by planting more Asiamerican and Pacific Islanders churches and making new missionary inroads to new immigrants as well as established ethnic communities;

2.     AFIRE which means “Asiamerica Focus on Immigrant Rights and Education.” We shall find new ways to advocate for the immigrants including the millions of undocumented immigrants who are “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” One lesson we learned from Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese Internment is that “congregational development and leadership advocacy” are inextricably intertwined. If the church welcomes and advocates for the immigrants, the church will flourish. But if the church is hostile and apathetic to immigrants, the church will decline.

3.     ATONE means “Asiamerica Theology Online Networking and Exchange.” We shall continue to emphasize new ways of sharing our voice in the complexities and pluralities of faiths, cultures and ideologies in Asia Pacific Basin. Through Asia-America Theological Exchange Forums and other media, we will continue to connect with Asia and the Pacific. As a network of congregations and ministries, we shall continue to promote mutual responsibility and interdependence in pursuing the Christian mission of reconciliation, drawing wisdom from the past and celebrating the present gains.

Quo Vadis Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries?
As the time of this writing, we are informed by our colleagues in the Anglican Church in Canada that a similar structure like the EAM is being formed through the ACAM – Asian Canadian Anglican Ministries. We hope that similar structures can happen in Europe and the England among the Asian clergy and lay leaders.

If leadership is “influence,” then we at EAM shares the credit. Starting with EAM in Hawaii, we are also hoping to extend our ministries with the Pacific Islanders, something which we actually began in the early work of EAM from 1973. 

On September 30-October 5, 2015 the EAM Churchwide Consultation will be held in Seoul, Korea. Set to coincide with the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Anglican Church of Korea, the theme of the EAM gathering is “Celebrating our Partnership; Uniting our Missions.”  

With God’s help and the leading of the Holy Spirit, Asiamerica Ministries will continue to help build the Kingdom of God among Asiamericans and Pacific islanders in North America, Asia and the world.

Asiamerica Missioner: The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara
EAM Council (2015):
Executive Committee:
President: The Rev. Bayani D. Rico
Vice-President: Mimi Wu
Secretary: The Rev. Irene Tanabe
Treasurer: Inez Saley
Ex-Officio: Canon Peter Ng
Ex-Officio: The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara
Convocation Conveners:
Chinese: The Rev. Ada Wong Nagata and the Rev. Peter Wu
Japanese: Dr. Gayle Kawahara and Dr. Malcolm Hee
Korean: The Rev. Aidan Koh
Filipino: The Rev. Leonard Oakes and Evelina Fradejas
South Asian: The Rev. Anandsekar J. Manuel & The Rev. John Sewak Ray
Southeast Asian: Teng Lo and Hanh Tran
Youth & Young Adults: Longkee Vang
EAM Advocates:Warren Wong

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