Step Up, Speak Up, Live it Up

// This is the original manuscript of my talk shared at Urbana 12 PANA Lounge (Pan Asian North Americans) today — watch video //

Right now at Urbana 12 there are over 6000 Asians and Asian North Americans. We’re now living in the 21st century and communication is wide open for everyone. Social media gives anyone and everyone a voice, and yet it still elusive for people to find the real life stories of Asian North Americans who are zealous for Jesus Christ. As successful as we are as a racial grouping, the most educated and the most wealthy as a group, our voice online is rather muted and hard to find. We can change that by raising our voices together!

Imagine this – every day between now and the next Urbana 2015, one Asian person would share their life story openly, how Jesus Christ has made a difference, it only takes 1100 people, and we can raise our voice together to be a new generation of Asian people experiencing wholeness in Jesus Christ. We can break the power of shame. We can be the role models and examples that we all yearn to hear and see and know.

Allow me to share my story of freedom from shame.

When I became a Christian in high school, I wondered how God would use me. I was just a little guy, that’s how I saw myself, that’s still how I see myself. I didn’t have an amazing testimony like all the others I had heard. I wasn’t at the top of my class. I’m not an accomplished successful person. I didn’t have a sensational conversion of being an ex-convict.

Like many of you, I want to know God’s will for my life. I’m now 46 years old, and I think I’m just beginning to discover the answer. 

My family immigrated from Taiwan to the United States when I was 8 years old. I’m the oldest of 3 boys. My parents are Chinese and we spoke Mandarin at home. Our family was very traditional and not religious. Our family ran a small motel business in a small town of 20,000, in Winchester, Virginia. Being the oldest son came with expectations of being the responsible one, with hopes for success and bringing honor to the family name.

Life was a very predictable narrative: go to college, get a degree, get a job, get a house, get married. Then have some babies and start a family, raise them to go to college, etc etc etc. It’s all very simple. Just add water, rinse, lather, repeat. It’s the Asian American circle of life.

But I thought there had to be more to this life. I was introduced to Jesus Christ by a truck driver staying at our motel and he shared the Gospel with me. I heard that Jesus promised an abundant life, and I wanted that.

I just didn’t know how to get it. I wanted to be sure of my faith before I took the next step. And I had my hangups and fears. I was a timid person, easily intimidated, unsure of myself. I’m not a practical person like everyone else in my immediate family, so I felt bad about that, and I felt bad about feeling bad.

What I knew was how to be responsible. I studied computer engineering at Virginia Tech. I was doing the right things. I got a job as an engineer. God brought a retired Navy chief to disciple me. 

Then I took a leap of faith. I felt a call to ministry because I thought I was faithful, available and teachable. So I packed up all my worldly possessions and went to seminary. I graduated 4 and a half years later. Then I pastored for 5 years.

And then all of that came to an end. I felt so hurt and confused. The bottom fell out from underneath of my feet. I was humbled to the point where I had to ask for help. 

It’s humbling for anyone to be asking for help. It’s that much more humbling for an Asian person to ask for help because it shows weakness, it shows you’re not enough, it shows you’re not good enough, you’re not enough. Something is wrong with you. It’s not that you’ve made a mistake; not you’ve failed at something. It’s that you are a failure.

In that year of healing, I found a name to the sadness that clouded my thinking all of my life — I was diagnosed with clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Being on medication for this kind of thing is not all that different than being on medication for high blood pressure or diabetes.

Why do I share this with you? I share my life with you, warts and all, so that you can see Christ in me the hope of glory. 2 Corinthians 12:9 — Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

As I’m sharing a glimpse of my story of my own vulnerability, I’m actually in the midst of a very personal vulnerable time right now. It would be unwise and unhealthy for me to open the flood gates and share all my raw emotions and messiness — because being vulnerable doesn’t mean you dump all your junk on everyone everywhere.

Dr. Brene Brown (research professor at the University of Houston) has extensively researched the areas of shame and vulnerability. I highly recommend you watching her talks on Her research has found that shame is something we all have experienced; it’s that fear of disconnection and a feeling that one is never good enough and worth loving. And she discovered two differences between those who struggled with shame versus those who were free from power of shame: (1) they felt worthy of love and belonging, and (2) they embraced vulnerability.

You are worthy of love and belonging because God loves you, for just being you. Christ has done it all for you, your life is not about performing or measuring up. One of the most healing quotes I heard from Pastor Larry Osborne that’s stuck with me: You have no one to impress and nothing to prove.

And this is my invitation to you: step up, speak up, live it up.

Step up with a bold faith as you experience the love of God in every part of your life, and then you’ll be able to offer up every part of your life – your skills, strengths, as well as your weaknesses, pains, and limitations. Use everything you’ve got to make a difference in the world that only you can make. You don’t have to be a superstar, you don’t have to be number one, you just have to be you.

Secondly, speak up. Share your life story with people, start with those you can trust. And as you find courage and healing, share more of the story of your life. Lean into the power of social media, if it can overturn the government of countries, it can do so much more for the Kingdom of God!

And, lastly, live it up. We are to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Your life is so much more than duty, obligation, and responsibility. Life it up with passion, zeal, joy, and enthusiasm. As a people, we’re really good at getting the grade, honing our intellect and skills. In the 21st century, the world needs more than just good knowledge, the world needs people who are fully alive with all their emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence.

When you are Asian American, you are more than merely American, more than Asian. In Christ, you’re even more than that. Show up in all that you are — your strengths and weaknesses, both successes and failures, your desires and dreams. Offer your life as a living sacrifice and live it up!

I want to be part of a tribe that’s all about erasing shame. We are not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” especially for us as Asians and Asian North Americans. Let’s share our lives together for the glory of God and the healing of the nations.


5 responses to “Step Up, Speak Up, Live it Up”

  1. Ed Choy Avatar

    DJ, GREAT message here brother! It’s awesome for me to read this from someone who knows you and your family. This message NEEDS to continue to ring. Keep writing and speaking and taking every opportunity to share. Praying for you. Till our paths cross again, hopefully soon!

  2. @Ed, thank you for listening & reading to my talk here, and your words of affirmation greatly encourages me to keep on sharing this. Hope to see you next time in the metro DC area – will give you a heads up when travel arrangements are made.

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