Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Confession: I am a PK

The same twangy tune plays at the end of every Midwestern Mu Kappa Snow Camp, a man’s voice singing, “I’m an MK (missionary kid); I wouldn’t trade it. If there’s any better life, I couldn’t name it. Yes I’m an MK; I’m glad it’s true, and you can tell your folks you wanna be an MK too.” My friends and I have a lot of different thoughts on the song overall, but hearing it has made me realize something: I’m a PK (pastor’s kid), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My History

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a church of thirty. Yes, thirty people. My dad did practically everything: setting up chairs, preaching, organizing the kids’ club on Wednesdays—everything except singing, that is. Mr. Jeff and I took over that for the sake of the congregations’ ears. When I wasn’t at school, music lessons, or friends’ houses, I was at church.

My Sundays began with a 9:15 a.m. Sunday school class through sixth grade, which later switched to a 9:00 worship practice and 10:30 church service. I helped lead worship; listened to my dad’s half hour message; chatted with the church family before, during, and after the service; and sometimes joined them at Wendy’s for lunch around 12:00. Mondays were my dad’s Sabbath from ministry, though he still had coaching and sometimes teaching or landscaping.

Wednesdays we went to Family Night at church, 5:45 p.m. on pizza nights and 6:30 on regular nights. There I first participated in and then led children in AWANA, an inclusive Bible club where kids memorize Scripture and play energetic, competitive games. The adult Bible study took place at the same time, making it easy for families to come and go together. For a few years we had youth group at that time, too.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

We did everything in the church. My dad even held his tonsil removal/birthday party there! Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

On Friday nights I attended a youth group at my friend’s church, where I would sometimes go for weekend conferences if I wasn’t leading worship. The church week never ended, and I was fine with that.

I never quite left the church grounds either. For several years, we lived in the parsonage, or what I called the “church house.” This meant I was seconds away from the actual church building, and Bible studies, Sunday school and youth group were in the living room or basement of the house itself.

If I haven’t made myself clear, I spent a lot of time at church as a PK.

Fighting Stereotypes

Toby Keith captures one of the stereotypes of being a pastor’s kid in his song, “God Love Her.” The young woman in the song is called “a rebel child and a preacher’s daughter.” The opposing stereotype is that PKs are goody two-shoes.

I suppose I have always hated stereotypes, because before I was passionate about racial conciliation or even aware of racial injustice, I fought against the PK stereotype. I didn’t face much flak for being a PK—perhaps because I was around so many Christians all the time, and my family was in good standing—but I overreacted when I did.

When the boy at church youth group said, “Oh you’re a PK” in a negative tone, I immediately countered him by saying, “And a coach’s kid and a teacher’s kid and a landscaper’s kid.” My point: don’t assume I fit the selected categories of (A) Goody-goody or (B) bad girl because of my dad’s job.

Reaching Understanding

Many people also thought that I loved Jesus more because my dad was a pastor. For about nineteen years of my life, I denied it: If my dad wasn’t a pastor or youth pastor, he would still love Jesus just as much. I would still have grown up in a Christian home. But both my parents are so involved in ministry that I cannot separate who they are from what they do. Others minister Christ’s love and grace in just law practice, honest accounting, cheerful mail delivery, compassionate medicine practice, truthful journalism, joyful car cleaning, patient retail work or tireless social work, and my parents do it through faithful church ministry.

When I turned twenty last year, I recognized that this has shaped me. I do not love Jesus more because I am a PK, but being in a Christian family devoted to church ministry certainly helped me to know God and see Him at work.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My best friend, cousin, and I began a garden outside the church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

As a PK, I had to make sacrifices that were not my choice. We did not have much money, and we did not enjoy the privileges many middle class Americans have. However, God always provided what we needed. We were never without food or housing, and we always had sufficient clothes for each striking New England season. God blessed us with loving friends and relatives, although Connecticut did grow lonely for my family, due in part to their status at church. In all the trials we faced, God taught us how to trust Him and how to pray. He gifted us with “daily bread”: exactly what we needed at any time, usually not more, but certainly never less.

Achieving Growth

At just the right time, God moved my family to a new place where they could thrive. They are still so involved in ministry that the church directory had to cut out the allotted “hobbies” section to fit all the ways they invest in the church. They enjoy friends, good jobs, and warmer weather. Life is not easy for them—my dad works three jobs including his youth pastor position, my mom has one, and my high school sister has a couple—but God provides for all their needs.

My children, if I am blessed to have any, will likely face similar challenges, though with a cross-cultural component since I plan to do ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I doubt they will have much materially, at least by American standards, but I believe they will have all they need in order to rely on God and know his goodness.

I cannot predict how they might respond to the MK song, but as long as they love the Lord, I will be pleased.

 

 

 

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Planks and specks: a response to criticism about the Asian American fellowship at Wheaton College

Ever since I came to Wheaton, students and staff have been criticizing Koinonia, the Asian and Asian American fellowship on campus, for being exclusive. A few people, some of whom I know and love, have had bad experiences in the group, and many students make assumptions about it based on what they viewed as Korean cliques on campus. But I’d wager many of these critics have never gone to an event or taken the time to know the purpose and people of Koinonia, which incidentally is composed of much more than Koreans.

I have been participating in Koinonia Large Groups for a couple years now, ever since Michael, my American friend of Chinese descent, invited me, an American of European descent. I’d like to tell you about the organization and its events to correct any toxic notions floating around campus. To start, Large Groups happen monthly. We usually play crazy fun, often awkward ice breakers – real ice breakers that create laughter and gleeful memories, not the basic what’s-your-name-and-major kind. We munch on snacks. We listen to a speaker share his or her testimony or speak on a given topic. (This last Saturday two Wheaton staff held a conversation on intercultural relationships.) The praise team often leads us in worship as well.

That’s why I fell in love with Large Groups last year—the worship. The prayer over and among us and the music we all sang together was powerful. Tangible. The organization also has Saturday morning prayer from time to time, and it begins each school year by praying over each class. I love how Koinonia prays.

Annual prayer over each class at the first Large Group, Aug. 2014. PC: Wheaton Koinonia

Annual prayer over each class at the first Large Group, Aug. 2014.
PC: Wheaton Koinonia

Koinonia also has the best fundraisers (better even than Mu Kappa’s, I regret to say, although our campus-wide game of Espionage is pretty epic, so be sure to join us in that this spring. Yet Koinonia is smart—I mean, who can resist bubble tea? Twice? Not me…and the Pepero sale is about to start—#sharethelove #withthispoorcollegegirl. 😉 )

The organization offers multiple activities throughout the year such as the Fall Retreat, Under-Upper Football and Family Group Olympics. Family groups, another name for small groups, generally meet weekly to establish close knit communities under the larger umbrella of Koinonia. Koinonia also hosts the annual Lunar New Year Festival, which was one of my favorite events freshman year. If you read my article for the Wheaton Record that year, you could not have walked away feeling excluded; the then-president made it his mantra that the event was open for the entire campus!

So why does Koinonia get such a bad rap? It’s one of the largest organizations in the Office of Multicultural Development, and Asians are the largest racial category on campus, so perhaps it’s simply better known. But it seems better known in name than in heart.

Last year’s president, Jen Fu, did a fantastic job of making me feel wanted in Koinonia, and this year I have several friends on Cabinet. I’m as involved in Koinonia as I can be without being in a family group. And as a participating member of the group, I would be blind if I overlooked the mission of this year’s Cabinet in relation to engaging with the broader campus. The Cabinet wants Koinonia to be a support base for Asian students yet not be these students’ entire collegiate world.

One last thing: Friends generally become friends because of some commonality. In sociology we call this homophily. In a place where one may be the minority, racial or cultural similarities can be an extra draw. Everyone needs friends who can understand each other. I rejoice that Koinonia is a context where a racial minority group in the broader U.S. society can come together in a sort of ethnic enclave and actually have power and can celebrate its various cultures in a safe space. This homophilous group only becomes cliquish and thus sinful when it excludes others. For example, white students group together all over campus. Why then do many people pick on the minority for this?

Kois have fun at the 2015 Fall Retreat PC: Wheaton Koinonia

Kois have fun at the 2015 Fall Retreat
PC: Wheaton Koinonia

I beg these critics to stop picking on the organization of Koinonia, other Asians or Asian Americans and specifically people of Korean heritage, who tend to be pegged as the most cliquish. Please examine your own friend group. Look for a plank in your eye before you point out a speck in another’s. Being composed of humans, Koinonia is not perfect, but the accusations against the organization no longer seem appropriate.

The Koinonia of today is vastly different than the one about which I’ve heard decade-old stories. If you have accused Koinonia of being exclusive, you should come to an event some time. See what it’s about. Break out of your own groups, and break the double standard that minority students cannot group together but majority students can. If you’re not Asian, getting to know people in Koinonia is a way to value other cultures, to learn about God’s beautiful diversity and to work towards multiculturalism for all. (And if you know me, you know I’m a strong proponent for multiculturalism!)

I plead with you to respect Koinonia and the people in it and to give the organization a chance before you judge it. Do not perpetuate incorrect, negative assumptions and stereotypes about other Asians on Wheaton’s campus either. As for Koinonia, the organization boasts phenomenal people who are truly building up Christ’s church. I ask you to do the same.

Not all Americans are White

When I was talking about an acoustic Kinyarwanda song I had heard, acoustic being the style in which I write as a musician, my dad asked if the singer was Rwandan (as opposed to American).

“I believe so. He didn’t look American,” I replied, adding, “Or sound American.”

In that moment, I realized I had thought and voiced a horrible stereotype: that American equals White. I did not address it then but moved on to address some other aspect of the song. However, I was convicted and later felt ashamed, especially because I had voiced this in the presence of my black American friend.

I know that Americans are composed of people from all different races and ethnicities: African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and of course Native Americans; Blacks, Browns and Whites; citizens originally from India, Lithuania, Nigeria and Paraguay — the list goes on. They are all American.

It sounds obvious when I say it, but do we think that way? Obviously something in me did not. Why was that?

Only 62.6 to 77.7% of American citizens are White, with 17.1% being Hispanic or Latino and Blacks and African Americans rank next highest at 13.2%. The rest of the population is composed of Asians, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and people of two or more races.

In 2013, at the time of these statistics, 41,777, 674 Americans were Black or African American. Let me spell that out, literally, so it sinks in: Forty-one million, seven hundred and seventy-seven thousand and six hundred and seventy-four Americans are Black. Not White.

I know that conviction from the Holy Spirit is good but that guilt and shame comes from the devil. Thus, now that I recognize how I was wrong, I know I should not dwell on what I so unthinkingly said. My thinking was wrong. Now that I’m aware that I have sometimes equated American to White, I must humble myself before God and humankind and pray that God will work to break the incorrect stereotypes I’ve internalized throughout my life. I pray He will fulfill them with something more complete.

 

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As an aside to answer my father’s question, the man in the music video was indeed Rwandan. His name is Luc Buntu, and he’s from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. According to his Twitter, he’s a worship leader, song writer and recording artist. The specific song to which I listened is titled “Ntutinye,” found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZwmC4a8KRE.

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Map found at “Most common ancestries in the United States” by Applysense – Map from Blank USA by Lokal Profil.Information and colors from USMapCommonAncestry2000.PNG by Porsche997SBS, who sourced the info from Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg.Combined by Applysense.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg#/media/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg