By Gordon Govier

Developing Cultural Fluency

Volunteering with other InterVarsity students at the Harbor House ministry in Oakland exposed Wendy Hu-Au to a world much different than the one she experienced growing up in Silicon Valley. Eventually she decided to put her studies on hold at the University of California—Berkeley, join a service and discipleship program called Mission Year, and move to Chicago’s Lawndale Neighborhood for a year.

“Living and working in Lawndale totally changed the way I view God,” she said. “My experience there made me want to do something with my life that would serve God and serve the poor.” When she returned to Berkeley to complete her studies—as a Mass Communications Major and Education Minor—she planned to become a teacher in an urban school.

Serving the poor through campus ministry
But she also considered staff work with InterVarsity. Attending Urbana 03 (the theme was Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done) “I realized I could do direct service with the poor or I could help those with the privileges of higher education give up their privilege and serve the poor for the sake of the kingdom.” She decided to join InterVarsity staff.

With that background in mind, it might not seem so unusual to find Wendy working as the team leader for InterVarsity’s largest Black Campus Ministries (BCM) chapter. She joined the Cal-Berkeley BCM chapter two years ago, after working with the multiethnic chapter for three years. Even so, it was not an easy change.

“I was really nervous. I wondered if people would trust me. Would people think that I was trying to be black? Would people think that they can’t relate to me because I’m not black? But it was also very freeing. I knew that if there was any connection to be made, it would have to be through the Holy Spirit. God would have to be the one to connect us.”

Same school but a different campus
As she worked on building trust and developing cultural fluency, Wendy realized that while she was still at the same school, it was a different campus. “Going to Cal as an Asian American woman is so different than going to Cal as a Black student,” she said. “I’m getting to know a whole different side of campus. It’s a different community, different social networks, different clubs that I wasn’t really a part of as a student.”

Wendy started playing basketball with neighborhood kids at Lawndale and continues to play regularly. “I can hold my own,” she said. “Playing ball is an easy way to build bridges with people.” She’s attracted to extreme sports, including rock climbing and skate boarding. And every now and then she’ll break out a few break dancing moves.

Engaging students with communty service
Wendy credits Michael McBride, an InterVarsity volunteer who is also the pastor of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, for the recent growth in the BCM chapter. His four step vision of engagement with the student mainstream started with community service, followed by transformation, discipleship and fellowship. Around 70 students are now involved with BCM chapter activities, many of them also providing volunteer service and Christian witness in other campus organizations.

But through it all Wendy continues to adhere to her vision for students, “to show them God’s heart for the poor.” She encourages them to volunteer for urban projects and similar events. She’s worked as an assistant director for BayUP, InterVarsity’s Bay Area Urban Project. In 2008 she and her husband helped lead InterVarsity’s Global Urban Trek to Manila.

“She is a passionate woman about justice,” said Felicia Nibungco, one of her InterVarsity colleagues. “She is always trying to take things to the next level…in a good way.”

Collin Tomikawa, Wendy’s supervisor, said, “Wendy is a real gift to our team, helping us to think creatively as we look at our campus ministry. She has done her homework on her own ethnic identity, which has been critical to her effectiveness in working with BCM. Wendy has done a great job crossing cultures and being an effective leader in the multi-ethnic context of today’s university.”

Adapting Cultures
Wendy has adapted her communication style to BCM culture. But she also talks to students about her family and her own Chinese and Taiwanese ethnic heritage. “I believe very strongly that it’s not about acting like whatever ethnicity that I’m trying to reach out to,” she said “I need to be myself and be who God made me to be. And as I love who God made me to be, other people are drawn to that. And hopefully they will also love who God made them to be.”

While she has adapted herself culturally, she’s also introducing BCM students to InterVarsity culture. Last year she took her first group of BCM leaders to chapter camp, which included a week of manuscript Bible study. “Why does everyone have these markers, what’s up with that?” she remembered them asking. This year they all brought their own markers.

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