(Indianapolis, Ind. – DNS – Feb. 9, 2011) – Rev. Dr. Geunhee Yu still possesses the love for spreading the Gospel to Asian/Pacific Disciples that he brought to the job nearly 20 years ago.
Yu has traveled throughout the United States and Canada preaching, counseling and training Asian pastors, lay leaders and others about the theology and work of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). During that time, he also has helped to affirm the culture and heritage of Asian/Pacific Disciples and highlight their gifts.
But in just a few months Yu will begin packing his sermons, books and awards that fill his Indianapolis office and prepare to retire as Executive Pastor of North American Pacific Asian Disciples (NAPAD). He has been the first and only person to serve as Executive Pastor, since he was called to the position in 1992.
"I started this ministry from humble beginnings," reflected Yu during a recent interview. "But now I feel our future is very bright although we continue to face challenges."
Yu, 64, was born in Seoul, South Korea and remembers that even as a teenager he felt a sense of calling to ministry by God. He started preaching as a young man and came to the United States in 1971 at age 25. After receiving several degrees from the Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School in Tennessee, he moved to Indianapolis to start what has become known as NAPAD.
Although the Christian Women’s Board of Missions helped to found a Disciples church among the Chinese in Portland, Ore. in 1897, there were only eight Asian churches when Yu arrived in Indianapolis. Under his leadership, there are now 145 NAPAD congregations which include Koreans, Japanese, Samoans, Chinese, Vietnamese or Burmese/Chin, among others.
"Dr. Yu has accomplished so many things," commented Timothy Lee, Moderator of the NAPAD Board of Directors. "He’s been the engine who has driven us by setting out goals and then putting in the energy to accomplish those goals."
One of Yu’s most recent accomplishments has been guiding the evolution of NAPAD from a program ministry housed within Disciples Home Missions to its own ministry with equal footing among other ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The step to an independent ministry took many years of work, but was realized in early January of last year. NAPAD now has its own Board of Directors and new by-laws.
But Yu is quick to name the challenges that remain, including the need for increased funding for the ministry. Also, about 75 percent of NAPAD churches lack their own facility, and often are "nested" within other congregations. Pastoral leadership development remains a concern too, due, in part to language problems many Asians experience in English-speaking schools and seminaries. Yet, Yu is encouraged by the number of new churches seeking to affiliate with NAPAD, the strong presence of young adults and youth who are moving into leadership positions within NAPAD and the larger Church, and the number of pastors from other denominations who want to affiliate with the Disciples.
"I feel that after almost 20 years, I have completed my ministry by leading people to what I would describe as the Jordan River," said Yu. "It will be important for NAPAD ministries, under new leadership, to go to the Promised Land."
"Dr. Yu has done an amazing job in establishing new congregations," agreed Cinthia Kim-Hengst, a former NAPAD advisory board chair and chair of the search committee. "We are at a precipice of change now and will need to not only continue to grow NAPAD congregations but begin to nurture those established congregations."
Yu hopes that after retirement he can continue to help in the development of Asian-Disciples pastors. One of his dreams is to develop a leadership training institute where NAPAD pastors and lay leaders can visit, free-of-charge, to rest and participate in continuing education classes.
"In many ways, Dr. Yu has laid the foundation for us to more clearly focus on what it means to be an Asian Disciples congregation," said Lee, an associate professor of the History of Christianity at Brite Divinity School. "In the future, we hope to have our members revisit the roots of our church, understand its theology, and communicate their vision for the future."
That future also will include increased involvement of today’s young adults and a focus on increased diversity.
"It is because of Dr. Yu’s ministry and leadership that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are an active and engaged part of the Church and our unique gifts and culture an integral part of this communion, said Carolyn Ho, a former vice-moderator of the Church. "His wisdom and passion will be greatly missed, but we are excited as we look to a promising future of continued growth of Asian Disciples and witness of God’s love to the world through NAPAD and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)."
The search committee will meet in late February, with a goal of calling an interim Executive Pastor later this summer. That person will work with Yu prior to his departure in November. The interim likely will be installed at the next NAPAD Convocation in August 2012.
To read more about Dr. Yu and NAPAD, visit: www.napad.net
By: Wanda Bryant Wills