From the tonal Chinese spoken all around you as you walk into the modern, yellow-hued building of Bay Area Chinese Bible Church (BACBC), you might assume that you’d crossed an ocean to get there.
In fact, BACBC, right down the street from Oakland International Airport, began as a ministry to English-speaking Chinese Americans in the 1950s. It then developed a ministry for Cantonese-speaking immigrants from Hong Kong, and added a service six years ago for migrants who speak Mandarin (as well as another campus). Every Sunday it attracts more than 1,000 attendees spanning multiple generations, languages, and cultures. Yet its senior pastor does not even speak Chinese.
Steve Quen is a fourth-generation, American-born Chinese whose father fought for the United States in the Korean War. Quen draws on both Western and Chinese culture to manage his culturally complex congregation, which he has attended for more than 40 years and led since 1997. “Here in the Bay Area is a huge unchurched Asian population. Who is reaching them? Not all Asian Americans are going to feel comfortable in an Anglo-evangelical church,” Quen says. “Our church can reach a Chinese American’s whole family, from his grandparents, to his parents, to himself and his kids.”
On the opposite coast, Jeanette Yep serves as global and regional outreach pastor at 66-year-old Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. She is the first American-born Asian American pastor on staff at Grace, which has moved over the past decade from being majority-white to one-third multiethnic. Yep represents a growing number of Asian American pastors who are called to staff prominent, historically Anglo churches.