Interview with Joe Ho, National Director of Asian American Ministries, IVCF
Doug: As an Asian American, you are an unusual person to advocate for reaching and developing more white people. How has this burden from God grown in your life?
Joe: Looking back at my ministry in Virginia, I noted that not only were we beginning to reach more Asian American students, but we were reaching large numbers of white students as well. (In the rest of InterVarsity, we had been plateaued or declining in reaching more white people.) So I thought I might have something to say about this. For the past decade, I have not apologized for intentionally reaching more Asian Americans, and today I am not apologizing for helping us intentionally reach more white people in the name and love of Jesus.
Doug: For many of us white Christians, as we think about growing in our redeemed identities in Christ, we do not think missionally about this. How do you approach this subject?
Joe: It is easier for me as an Asian American to talk about the good values of white culture, than for white people to talk about the good things in your own culture. It is wise to say affirming things about other people’s cultures. Whiteness has been defined by the problem, because as look back a century or two, its origin was oppressive. This makes affirming whiteness complicated today. Prophetic critique best comes from within each respective ethnic group. Take my people for example. As a Han Chinese descendent, we did the same thing in China. Han Chinese are guilty of many of the same oppressive actions. Is being Han Chinese redeemable by Jesus? I believe so. If Jesus can redeem and affirm my ethnic heritage, then being white can also be redeemed.
I have a missional lens on all of life, I think like a missionary toward all people groups. Some people think that the racial injustices of white Americans over the past several hundred years mean that we should not think about reaching white people as a missiological category. I disagree. If sin disqualifies us from being the object of God’s redeeming love, then all individuals and all people groups are out. Is there there is a type or degree of sin that disqualifies a from God’s love, and His invitation to repent and believe? We would say “no” with respect to individuals, so I think we have to say “no” with respect to groups as well.
Western Imperialism is unique in its global reach. Looking back at history, the rise of any “great” empire is fueled by the lie of Babel. (Genesis 11). We believe that we can make a great name for ourselves. We believe that we are the center of the story, no matter what the expense upon others. The sin of Bable has always been part of human history. Tragically, the European expression of Babel happened at a time where technology and transportation allowed global empire. White imperialism is not worse in its insidiousness, but rather in its scope.
Doug: In your excellent blog posts (re-posted below in full), you list 10 important values that you see in white culture. Please give us an example of ministries using one of these values and how that helps them reach more white people.
Joe: #9 is HAVING FUN. When I came from an Asian American church, we did have fun. But when we do God stuff, that is serious. When I joined InterVarsity as a freshman, we sang a worship song and then we sang a secular song from the radio. Back to worship, back to secular. I was offended. I wanted to tell them, “Worship is serious. Don’t mess with that.” I have seen retreats that serve a lot of white people, and they do fun really well. For example, Young Life has a theology of fun, life, freedom. To reach White college students, I had to push the boundaries of how much levity and fun I would bring into the center of the ministry. Of course, white people are not the only people who value fun. But without excelling at “fun,” it will be challenging to draw lots of mainstream white young people.