By Rachel Boehm Van Harmelen
Peer learning groups in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) come in many shapes and sizes. The group Asian-American Pastoral Ministry (AAPM) exemplifies this diversity. The AAPM, which receives funding from the CRC’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program and Lilly Endowment Inc., was first organized by Christian Reformed Home Missions in 1999 to help strengthen Asian ministry in North America. Today, AAPM is an independent peer learning group that is celebrating significant achievement. “The present group of 10 pastors had become a self-directed, self-organizing, and a vision-making core group of Asian-American pastors and church planters,” says Fernando del Rosario, the group’s leader. Del Rosario is an ordained ministry associate and founding pastor of Living Faith Fellowship in Hayward, California.
Once a group that received leadership support externally, it has now matured to the point of providing leadership to others. “Between 1999 and 2003, this group had to be mentored, coached, and trained,” says del Rosario. “Today, more than half of the group can mentor and be part of a leadership mentoring network that uniquely address Asian-American church leaders. One of our serious concerns now is to identify and prepare the next generation of leaders.”
Members of the AAPM represent many different Asian people groups, including individuals from the Philippines, Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Khmer people. They are diverse in terms of language and culture. Yet, thanks in some part to the encouragement they have received through their peer learning group, they are well positioned to lead the next generation of Asian congregations to new levels of church growth. “Except for the Filipino and Korean members, all the others came to the U.S. and Canada as refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos,” explains del Rosario. “From a group of almost hopeless and destitute, non-English speaking refugees, these pastors have now become deeply grateful and victorious preachers and servants of the Gospel. They certainly have become convinced believers and effective speakers of the truths of God’s amazing grace based on their own experiences.”
The group’s stated goal is to “support each other to grow in pastoral excellence so that we can collectively prepare well for the future of Asian churches in the CRC.” Pastor del Rosario is convinced that this goal is being realized. “I joined the group in 2001. Since that time, I have seen how our members have matured individually in terms of language proficiency, Bible knowledge, and ministry competencies. As coordinator of our group for the second year now, my personal joy is to see each member responding more responsibly and showing greater personal excellence in our peer learning group process. As a group, we have agreed to grow in accountability and spiritual disciplines.”
The group has also provided benefits not included in its original goals. It has become a safe haven for the pastors who make up its membership, a place to experience the joy of prayer, mutual support and fellowship. “Because we share common ethnic ways, needs, interests, and challenges, it has been a source of joy for us and our spouses to develop real friends, even if we are thousands of miles away from each other,” del Rosario says.
This peer learning group won’t rest on its laurels. Their plans for the future are ambitious, including enabling Asian-American churches to become even more meaningfully engaged in classis, synod and denominational life. “Until now, many Asian pastors and their churches have been passive beneficiaries of support from the CRC,” says del Rosario. “A decade from today, with God’s help, we would like to become actively growing and contributing churches in the CRCNA. The future Asian churches will be more multi-generational, pan-Asian, or even true multiethnic churches. We need to identify and prepare today tomorrow’s new kinds of pastors and leaders.”