Bridging worlds: learning from East Asian Christianity

‘I’ve been attending a British New Testament conference almost every year for the last 10 years. For the first five years, I was the only East Asian female in that New Testament conference of about 250 to 300 people,’ Reverend MiJa Wi tells me from her office in Manchester.

She explains that her struggle with how she could contribute to these discussions as an East Asian theologian was part of what led her to form Bridging Worlds: Centre for East and Southeast Asian Christianity at Nazarene Theological College (NTC) in Manchester. Rev Wi is the centre director alongside lecturing in Biblical Studies and Global Mission.

The centre opened in February 2022 and is the first of its kind in the UK. Like the college, which seeks to combine a Christian community with high academic standards, the centre aims to be research-led and church-focused. To bring together the latest academic research while learning from and serving both East Asian diaspora churches and the wider UK Church.  

Loun Ling Lee, OMF (UK) Trustee and Editor of Lausanne Global Analysis, gave the 2022 Drysdale Lecture at NTC to mark the launch of the centre. Her topic was the Future of Mission: Strategic Role of Asian Mission in Global Christianity. She also explored this theme in a special article for Billions readers.

Rev Wi grew up in a non-Christian family in South Korea. She became a Christian while studying in Canada and via time in Bangladesh with Operation Mobilisation and studying in the Philippines, she ended up doing her PhD at the University of Manchester. Together with her husband Eun Ho, they pastor Manchester YeDam Church of the Nazarene, a growing Korean congregation in the city.

Connecting academics and churches
The centre offers a Masters in Theology pathway which covers Christian history and biblical interpretation in East and Southeast Asia, particularly how to connect these into wider theological conversations. 

The other side to the centre has been connecting with East Asian communities in the UK. For example, Rev Wi explains how she has been building relationships with Chinese churches in Manchester, looking at connecting young people in Chinese and Korean congregations.

Rev Wi tells me about some of the partnerships the centre has developed. ‘One is with Christian International Training Centre, based in Edinburgh, which trains and equips Chinese pastors, particularly new arrivals from Hong Kong.’

Rev Wi says she’s been encouraged by conversations with Asian Studies centres in Canada and the USA, but ‘we have to develop a centre that uniquely serves in a UK context.’ In the future, the centre hopes to host conferences focusing on hearing from East Asian diaspora Christians to learn from their wisdom.

Learning from one another
I ask Rev Wi what she feels UK churches can learn from East Asian Christianity.

She surprises me by saying that she finds this a difficult question to answer. She is keen for her own congregation to reflect on what they can learn from British churches first. But Rev Wi says one important thing for British churches to consider is hospitality which is ‘really part of our DNA’ as East Asian Christians.

She says British churches often do well in extending an initial welcome but must continue with intentional hospitality. Her church meets on Sunday afternoons and the service concludes with a meal together every week: ‘I often say … our dinner time is the climax of our Sunday church service’. She adds: ‘people who would not go to church in South Korea love to come to church here, partly because the church service lasts only for one hour. But our meal and fellowship time lasts for two, or three hours.’ Wonderfully, this depth of fellowship was a major factor in leading several new church members to faith in Christ.

Rev Wi says the key thing for British churches is to intentionally connect with diaspora churches. She enjoys connecting with Chinese churches in Manchester: ‘my husband and I have fellowship with the pastors of the Chinese churches once in a while. We talk about lots of things, and we learn from one another. So that’s been a really helpful process.’

May we all be looking for ways to bridge worlds and keep learning from one another as we follow Jesus Christ together.

Reuben Grace
OMF (UK) Content & Books Coordinator

Learning from East Asians
I asked Rev Wi to share some recommendations for readers looking to engage further. She highlighted:

  1. Jackson Wu, Reading Romans through Eastern Eyes – useful for getting a different perspective on Paul’s letter
  2. Watch or read the Silence – ‘it tells you a lot about how Asians articulate theology… and mission history’, Rev Wi says. Watch on Amazon Prime, Google Play and other streaming services. Also available on DVD.
  3. An Asian Introduction to the New Testament – each chapter introduces a book in the New Testament from an Asian author, so you get an Asian perspective on each book.