For our humble beginnings, we are grateful for the powerful leadership of two women: Nina Lau-Branson and Jeanette Yep.
In 1979, Nina served as the first part-time coordinator for the Asian American Ministry Fellowship. By 1980, she served a dozen Asian American staff and 698 students, which made up 2.5% of the entire fellowship. Jeanette Yep succeeded her between 1983-85. Both women pushed the ministry forward, helping InterVarsity better care for and empower Asian American staff and students.
Empowering leaders (1993-2009)
In 1993, Vice-President and Multiethnic Director Dr. Sam Barkat saw a need for addressing the rapid growth of Asian Americans on campus. He asked veteran staff Paul Tokunaga (and a planning committee comprised of Donna Dong, Hong Eng, Jeanette Yep, and Sam) to direct a conference for Asian American staff, which was held in Berkeley, CA. Forty staff attended. The following year, Sam asked Paul to become the part-time Asian American Ministries Coordinator.
Paul would bring his passion for leadership development to the fore. In 1996, the first Asian American Coordinating Team (Jeanette Yep, Brad Wong, Susan Van Riesen, Collin Tomikawa, and Paul Tokunaga) developed a five-year plan which focused on developing the next generation of Asian American Leaders. In 1997, to develop Asian Americans more robustly, Paul’s role became a full-time position. In 1998, the 2nd Asian American Staff Conference brought 85 staff to Berkeley for more development. That same year, Asian American Ministries published an in-house resource, Developing Asian American Leaders. In 2000, Greg Jao, Jon Paris, Jeanette Yep and Paul Tokunaga taught a course for staff working with Asian Americans, again titled “Developing Asian American Leaders”.
In 2001, while keeping our emphasis on leadership development, the Coordinating Team saw the need to begin moving beyond our own community. At our Asian American staff Conference in Atlanta, GA, we invited Vinoth and Karin Ramachandra, IFES staff in Sri Lanka, to address the themes of justice and racial reconciliation. We had 150 participants. In 2004, our Asian American Staff Conference in Torrance, CA featured Dr. Russell Jeung, who also pressed us toward blessing beyond our own communities. We had 110 in attendance.
This led to Paul making Asian American Ministries’ key contribution to the national InterVarsity movement. In 2003-04, the Asian American Coordinating Team ran a 15-month “executive leadership development program” for 14 outstanding young Asian American staff who displayed senior leadership potential. It was named The Daniel Project. The goal was to help fill InterVarsity’s leadership pipeline with gifted but perhaps untapped and unrecognized leaders. Currently 11 of the 14 have moved into higher leadership roles. Due to this success, a second cohort was run in 2005.
The Daniel Project ultimately was adopted movement-wide. In 2006, InterVarsity’s Black Campus Ministries and La Fe, the Latino Campus Ministries, held their own Daniel Project Cohorts. Since then, there have been cohorts for women, those in Greek ministry, staff at International Students Ministry chapters, and prospective senior leaders. Indeed, AAM has been a vanguard of leadership development for InterVarsity as a whole.
In 2008 after serving 14 years as the Asian American Ministries Coordinator, Paul Tokunaga stepped down from the role in order to step up as Vice President and Director of Strategic Ministries. Under his leadership, the ministry grew to 4,673 Asian American students and 160 Asian American staff. Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko, served as the interim national coordinator until 2009.
Emerging ministries (2009 to the present)
In 2009, James Choung became the National Director of Asian American Ministries. With a new Asian American Ministries Leadership Team (Sabrina Chan, Brian Chang, Joe Ho, Kathy Khang, and Anna Lee-Winans) in place, the direction of AAM expanded to focus on the intersection of leadership development, evangelism and multiethnic engagement.
To that end, AAM focused even more strongly on emerging ministries, particularly in the South Asian, Hmong and Pilipino student communities. Continuing to live out the legacy of leadership development, AAM hosted the South Asian Leadership Institutes of 2008 and 2011, led by Jason Thomas and Jerome Mammen. The Pilipino staff community, under the leadership of Christie Heller de Leon, Jen Hollingsworth, and David de Leon, held its first national leadership institute, dubbed KaLI (Kapwa Leadership Institute) in July of 2013. From 2005 to 2018, InterVarsity also hosted the annual Hmong Christian Collegiate Conference.
AAM also continued to press into East Asian ministry, particularly with those who were not yet believers. In the spring of 2010, the national leadership of five Asian American campus ministries gathered together for an Asian American Evangelism Symposium, to continue to learn more about reaching Asian Americans for the gospel.
In July of 2013, Joe Ho became the National Director of Asian American Ministries and a new AAM Leadership Team (Alice Atkins, Jen Hollingsworth, Kathy Khang, Kathy Tuan-MacLean, and Derek Wu) was inaugurated to grow the depth and breadth of ministry to Asian American students. AAM during this time focused on how to disciple Asian American students in the vocational choices they were making in college. Spurred by the reality that many Asian American students feel tension between how God might be calling them and what society demands of them, this initiative was marked by a desire to give freedom and agency to Asian American students, while also honoring their communal commitments. These efforts led to the development of the AAM Vocation Conference, funded in part by the Lilly Foundation.
Following the strong tradition of senior Asian American leadership, Joe became InterVarsity’s Vice President of Focused Ministries and Sabrina Chan became the National Director for Asian American Ministries in 2017. For the first time, the Asian American Ministries department became a true department. Through Sabrina’s leadership, AAM added six additional members to the department, including hiring the first ever National Director of South Asian Ministries.
AAM during this time has focused on continuing to start and develop ministries to the South Asian community, the Southeast Asian community, and the Pilipino community, while also increasing the effectiveness of ministries to the East Asian community through more streamlined coaching of staff and students and the innovative creation of contextualized resources. Our desire, during this time, is to see Asian American staff and students empowered for leadership in distinctly Asian American ways, trusting that this will lead to healthier leaders and ministries.
At present, 260 Asian American staff serve at all levels of leadership in the movement, and 5,111 core Asian American students are involved.
Thanks be to God! And we can’t wait to see how the story will continue to unfold.