Cecilia Young Chang says her church is living on the hyphen.
Much of her congregation at King’s Cross International Church is first- or second-generation immigrants, like Chang herself, who is Korean American.
And that hyphen in the middle—the intersection of Asian culture and American culture—is where they meet around the table, study the Bible and live life together.
Chang, M.Div. ‘18, who serves as lead pastor, said worship at King’s Cross is not too different from any other Western church—though it may be filled with people of different cultural backgrounds, it’s also filled with Southern accents.
“We started as a second-generation minority church, and for the first year, we only had a service in English,” she said.
But a few people in the church began asking for a service in Korean, as they were having trouble understanding English well enough to take in the sermon, Chang said. “Right before pandemic started, I led in English and Korean, and that was really tough—three times in a week.”
So, for the past year—the church’s third year—fellow Beeson graduate Matthew Allison, M.Div. ’20, joined as an assistant pastor to lead an English service while Chang focused on the Korean one. This gave her a little breathing space to concentrate on other aspects of ministry.
And it gave Allison a chance to invest cross-culturally, something that had been on his heart for a while.
“My wife, Liz, and I were interviewing and dreaming about moving to Nepal to work for a ministry, but COVID-19 changed that,” he said. “However, our hearts were made to be a faithful witness of Jesus in cross-cultural settings, so we began to look for other opportunities in Birmingham and learned about King’s Cross International Church.”
Allison served as the young adults pastor of the English ministry, which was mostly made up of undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a few high schoolers.
“The ministry role was aimed toward second-generation internationals, so kids whose families moved to the U.S. but were raised in the States,” he said. “They have a unique upbringing of cross cultures since within the home was the parents’ home culture—for example, they spoke Korean or Chinese—but outside of the home they were raised in American or Western culture. So my role was to disciple, love, care for, teach, preach, equip and build up these students.”
Chang said that’s a vital ministry. Across the Western church, more than 70 percent of students leave church after high school, but that number goes up to 90 percent when it comes to second-generation minority students, she said.
“They grow up in two different cultures, so once they finish high school, they have a hard time integrating into Western church,” Chang said.
That’s one reason King’s Cross meets in a Presbyterian church in the Mountain Brook area—it’s close to the University of Alabama in Birmingham campus downtown and is easy for those students to access. It’s a small congregation, but it has grown even during the pandemic, Chang said.
And Allison said even though King’s Cross is small, it’s missions minded and generous.
“One particular aspect of the church’s faithfulness to global missions was that at the end of every year they would give away all the money left over from the previous year to global missions,” he said. “This was on top of what had already been budgeted. For a church of no more than 20 people, they were giving 15 to 20% of funds towards global missions. Most churches fall short of giving 1% toward this.”
As Allison’s yearlong position recently wrapped up, he and his family moved on to a pilgrimage in the United Kingdom and Switzerland to prepare for what God has for them next.
“While my time at King’s Cross was not long, it was sweet,” he said. “Being faithful to love whom God brings through your door is a great privilege, gift and honor.”
Chang said that’s exactly why the church exists—to display the love of God. One place that happens is around the table. Regardless of where congregants are on the spectrum of Asian American culture, food is an important aspect of their lives.
“Growing up in Asian culture even here, food is just a big part,” Chang said. “After every service, we have a meal together.”
It’s part of living on the hyphen, she said, and it works really well.
For more information, visit kingscrossic.org.
Learn how Beeson Divinity School prepares students for cross-cultural ministry. Visit the Global Center and learn more about the M.Div. degree.