map of asia pacificMembers of the EALA Board of Directors are each assigned as a liaison to one of the other five ethnic associations of the ELCA. Here is a report by Mark Cerniglia about one of our sister association’s April biennial gathering in California.


The 12th Biennial Assembly of the Association of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was held at Christ Lutheran Church (a bilingual Chinese/English congregation) in Monterey Park, California, April 23-26. It was my privilege and pleasure to bring greetings from EALA. I had been to the 10th Assembly in Chicago in 2010 and twice to the Asian Lutheran International Conference (ALIC) in Thailand, so I have developed some friendships with the leaders of AAPI. Indeed, the Rev. Dr. Fred Rajan said to me, “You have come to so many of our meetings, we need to make you an honorary Asian.”

Among the other guests were Judith Roberts, Program Director for Racial Justice, and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Bocko, Program Director for African Nationals, both staff members of the ELCA. There was also a large delegation from the Los Angeles chapter of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA). And Bishop Guy Erwin from the Southwest California Synod (the host Synod) brought greetings in person. He is of Native American heritage. I mention all of this because it was great to see the presence and participation of other ethnic groups beyond the Asians and Pacific Islanders.

The theme of the Assembly was “Faith, Relationship, and Technology”. Each of those subjects was addressed with a panel followed by small group discussions. I was also impressed by the intentionality with which the AAPI included the participation of young adults in the Assembly. These young adults spoke about growing up as the children of immigrant parents and feeling caught between two cultures, not fully belonging to either. I think these feelings are shared by young adults in the Latino, Arab, and African national communities.

The AAPI is interesting because of its diversity, including Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Thai, Filipinos, Koreans, and Indonesians, all speaking different languages. The common language that they all use is English, which makes it convenient for us guests. The same is true at the international conferences.

New officers were elected. Pastor Yutaka Kishino, who serves a Japanese/English congregation in Riverside, California, was elected President. I have worked with Yutaka in the past. I spoke with him about our experience of having the EALA and the American Indian/Alaskan Native Assemblies together. He seemed open to doing something like that in the future. I also spoke with Pastor Andrew Yee, who set up an AAPI Facebook page. I told him about our EALA Facebook page and the interaction we have had there with the ADLA Facebook page. So I think we will see the AAPI join in.

One of the benefits I have received from learning about Asian cultures is a deeper understanding of the Bible, which is written from an Asian or eastern world perspective. Some of the customs practiced in the Bible are directly related to customs still prominent among Asian cultures.

The San Gabriel valley east of Los Angeles, which was the setting for this conference, is populated almost entirely by people of Asian descent. All the business signs are in Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean. The restaurants are all Korean BBQ, Vietnamese noodle shops, or Chinese Dim Sung. The staff and the majority of the guests at the hotel where I stayed were all Asian. Although I have been to Asia, this was a unique experience for me because it was an All-American city with everyone speaking Chinese or Tamil or some other language. Again, I have been to places in the U.S. where I was the only white person among Latinos or among African Americans, but had never experienced this kind of setting. It is not like a Chinatown, but rather as I said, an All-American city, complete with Starbucks, only populated by people of Asian descent. We live in a society in which the term “immigrant” typically conjures up the image of Latino persons, so it was quite an experience to realize the extent to which Asian immigration is affecting the U.S. One of the Korean pastors told me that there are indeed a large number of Asian immigrants who are undocumented. So when we advocate for immigration reform, it is not just the Latino population that we are working with.

At its 2001 Assembly, the ELCA adopted an Asian National Strategic Plan that called for the development of 40 new ministry sites by 2010. By the end of 2013, 90 new sites had been started. 100 new rostered leaders of Asian descent have been added to the ELCA during that time. Even with these successes, the ELCA is not keeping up with the rapid growth of Asian immigration to the U.S. Still, I was very impressed with the commitment of the Asian Lutherans and I think we have much to learn from them.

Respectfully submitted,
~Pastor Mark Cerniglia




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