Asian. American. Christian. Woman.

photo-1433170854238-8828efbab416I walk each day as an Asian-American Christian woman drifting between four separate worlds (Asian. American. Christian. Woman.). These worlds often have opposing values affecting my mindset, responses and how I make decisions.

I grew up in Boulder, CO one of a handful of Asian-Americans. At the age of nine, I accompanied my dad, producer and director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, to the rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet. He mentioned in passing I would never play the lead role of Juliet because I was Chinese. His words confirmed what I already knew as a young girl: how I looked meant people would treat me differently. I wanted more than anything to fit in. I’d scan the shelves at toy stores or look through magazines and textbooks, but no one looked like me.

Tension found in the Asian-American world comes through conflicting values. Eastern values include: concern for keeping face, group oriented, hierarchy, and a high view of authority. What we do reflects on to others. Kim Yu-na, gold medal Olympic ice skater wrote in an essay about the pressures she faced, “If my performance fails, the whole nation may turn their back on me.” Western values include: individuality, personal achievement, independence and self-actualization.

If you take a peach and cross it with a plum, you get a nectarine. A nectarine is a unique fruit; neither peach nor plum but pulls traits from both. I live the tension between worlds, drawing traits from both.

The other worlds with often conflicting values is that of being a Christian woman. While my dad had expressed certain things I couldn’t do, both my parents were considered “open-minded.” They encouraged me to set my aspirations high so as a young girl I set out to be the first woman on the moon or the first Asian American woman President of the United States. I found myself in various leadership positions in clubs and student government. At the age of 12, I labeled myself a feminist. As a panel discussion leader, I had my girlfriends run into the classroom waving their mother’s bras screaming, “Burn your bras, equal rights for women!!” Women, in my mind, were capable, strong leaders and men had better beware because we were on our way to taking over. I believed in my heart and tried to live out in my life the song “Anything you can do, I can do better” when relating with men. Competition and pride described my posture toward men.  A subconscious drive to prove my worth fueled the drive to produce more than a man as my Asian culture emphasized (and still emphasizes today) the value of boys over girls. Confucius teaching stressed the three obediences for a woman: when a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son.

However, after becoming a Christian and being influenced by certain Christian authors, I swung from my strong feminist beliefs clear to the opposite side. After graduating and entering my first years in full time ministry, I found myself sharing with the men on my staff team about my “conviction” on women not initiating. I would never call them on the phone and would only return calls–even ministry related business calls. I believed I needed to turn down and even turn off my gifts of leadership at times in order not to take any potential male’s rightful place of leading.

This idea of women as inferior made sense to me at that time. It fit my Asian cultural grid of the value of men over women, and just like I couldn’t find Asian Barbies or models, I couldn’t find Asian-American Christian women in leadership. No one who looked like me could be found on conference brochures or on Christian bookstore shelves.

Exposure to a wider pool of believers in my 30’s expanded my understanding of how walking with God did not fit a cookie cutter formula. I met incredible, godly women, whose lives included divorce, recovery from addiction, teenagers who turned away from the Lord, depression, and women who had the role of primary breadwinners for the family. I began evaluating my views on various issues, and decided to investigate why God created women and how culture fit into what I saw in the Word. I started reading books and articles written by people outside my paradigm, I joined a 12 step group, and each step of the way the Lord brought along people to encourage me in the journey.

In my forties, I found books written by Carolyn Custis James liberating. Her description of the ezer warrior resonated deeply. For the first time I felt free to live out who God created me to be–especially in the area of leadership. This call to contribute to kingdom building also included a high view of men and a posture of respect for them, and so instead of competing or disappearing, I moved toward linking arms with men in serving the God who created us equally valuable to His work.

I believe our picture of God is made fuller when we include the voice and viewpoint of both women and men. In the same way, our understanding of who God is deepens through racial and cultural diversity. Our differences offer a broader, richer view of the infinite and creative God we serve.

I am still on a journey discovering who God is and who and how He created me, but now with awareness of how my worlds influence who I am and how I lead. In God’s economy nothing is wasted. I continue to read, study, and dialogue with men and women over the issues of leadership, culture, and Scripture. I am grateful for my husband, and other good men like him, who have sought to hear my voice. I am grateful for God’s commitment to walk with me as I sift through life, culture, the Scriptures and the way I view who He is and how to live to honor Him.

Vivian Mabuni

Vivian Mabuni is a speaker and author of her book, Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts. She currently serves as the Epic National Director of Field Ministry. Epic Movement is the Asian American ministry of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). Connect with her on Twitter/Instagram: @vivmabuni or www.vivianmabuni.com

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  • Vivian, thank you for sharing your words here. They are so much needed. I agree that we all need to link arm working together side by side whether male or female or whatever our race. Nothing should keep us from using the talents God has given to us. Everyone is needed and everyone should be welcomed. Thank you for writing such an inspiring post! Blessings to you!

  • Joanne Peterson

    Vivian, I too have experienced where women have been placed in the subservient role in the church. Taught that women are not ever in the teaching role,( except for other women and their children, such as Aquila and Pricilla). Pricilla served the men, and Aquila spoke. It’s not what the

  • Joanne Peterson

    Vivian,
    I didn’t intend to publish my first entry and meant to delete just to get out of my heart what was stirred up and then publish something after. I know it makes no sense and was not meant for anyone to see. So I am sorry for my mistake, the slip of the fingers.
    I am grieved by the separation of men and women even yet, and have experienced the holding back and the misuse of scripture. I still read how this ezer warrior is argued that it is not biblical, and is not meant in the context of what has been written. My heart plunges in sorrow when I read this, or any other misuse of ‘less than.’ My heart has broken over the blogs posts this month, the things I read and hear from the news.
    Over the years, I had felt powerless to do anything since it seemed scriptural and I read the scriptures. But I have read the biographies and autobiographies of missionaries, and saw women serving in their full gifts, called by God to serve. These same people would argue that if men stood up to the plate, women would not have been called. The ache would not go away. I discovered the ezer warrior a few years ago and was astonished by the respect and the capability women were to have from the beginning, both men and women.
    I have experienced from my growing up years where women had no voice, and were almost treated like children, an unequal partner, not using their gifts, except for things where permission was given and only in a limited capacity. It continued into adulthood. I felt called, and blatantly was told I can’t serve in the way I knew I had heard I was called to serve. I was angry, and hurt. I was told my husband could serve in the way I felt called. It wasn’t his gift though.
    Go forward several years, and I am now serving in a capacity where I am feeling almost stretched beyond what is my comfort zone But, I know I am called, and I want to weep for the respect given as a woman for the talents I have. I am considered an equal. But, in a way it is almost intimidating being in my mid fifties for this freedom in Christ now to be using gifts where I am called to serve, but I am grateful. We are meant to work together each using our gifts, respecting each other, loving each other. There is no male nor female, slave nor free, race, creed, all are equal.
    Thank you for your post describing your experiences.

  • This is something I struggle with even now. How far can I really become a leader if it’s not acknowledged or wanted that women can and should be leaders in the church? It’s so frustrating, but hopefully we’re turning a corner…

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  • Amber Crafton

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I was wondering if you would be willing to share a list of books you found most helpful in your exploration of the role of women in church and leadership? I am not trying to compare mine with yours, but even as a white woman, this is something I have struggled with both in the church here in America and as a foreign missionary. Any recommendations would be deeply appreciated.

    Thank you for challenging is to seek out, stand on, and teach others truth, not just tradition or what seems familiar or comfortable.