“I am personally very excited because these young people are the future of the Church,” Noah beams.
And he is right. As church attendance steadily declines across Australia, in Uniting Church congregations and faith communities made up of diverse cultures, the number of young people is increasing.
And from Noah’s experience, not only are these young people coming to Church, they are also deeply committed and ready for leadership.
“They have a passion for Christ, a passion for Church, a passion for community. They have energy, they are creative and they are innovative in terms of building community,” says Noah.
Under the Queensland Synod’s Next Gen Arise initiative, Noah’s focus is to connect young cross cultural people in the Synod and develop their leadership skills.
On the Next Gen Arise Facebook Page, it states: “our mission is to develop leaders who can inspire a movement of cross cultural young people to passionately follow Jesus, selflessly build each other up, faithfully take a place of leadership in the church and beyond and fearlessly change the world”.
Noah works with a leadership team of 15 young people with seven cultures represented – Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Fijian, Tongan, Spanish Latin American and Indigenous.
Each month, young cross cultural leaders are invited to a leadership workshop. The most recent one had 40 participants with Rev. Fa Matangi of Chermside Kedron Community Church speaking on the theme “Developing Self-Confidence and a Healthy Identity”. Noah hopes to introduce practical training such as how to preach, run a bible study or lead a youth group.
Every fifth Sunday of the month (five times this year), a worship event is held for young cross cultural people from the Uniting Church with other denominations welcome to join. Around 200 people attended the last worship event hosted by the Brisbane Taiwanese Uniting Church in Hillcrest.
“At every event we intentionally have a space and time where young people can share their stories. This has been a highlight,” says Noah.
“Often we see these young people’s vulnerability and authenticity in their sharing with each other – it might be their struggle in embracing identity as a third culture person, some victorious moments in finding calling for their lives or their hopes and dreams for the Church. Being able to share these things brings a sense of connectedness.”
Noah’s passion for working with cross cultural young people stems from his own experience with cultural isolation. When Noah came to Australia 10 years ago to attend Bible College – he was the only International student in his class.
Finding himself alone, unable to speak the language, and in a completely foreign culture, Noah describes his first years in Australia as a dark time.
“It made me ask the question, ‘why did God send me here, why am I experiencing this pain?’”
Despite his Korean Presbyterian roots, Noah knew nothing of the Uniting Church at the time until a classmate invited him to a home-group connected to Sunnybank Uniting Church in Brisbane’s multicultural south.
It was here Noah found welcome and acceptance and his personal calling to work with other young people from different cultures.
Encouraged by then Senior Minister Rev. Andrew Ross, Noah began a project supporting international students, a successful program which attracted funding from Brisbane City Council.
The congregation sponsored Noah to stay in Australia as an International Student Pastor and he has since become an Australian citizen and married his wife Gabby last year. He continues at Sunnybank part-time and is now a candidate to become a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church.
In his Synod role, Noah is determined to provide leadership opportunities for other young people.
“One thing I hear most often is that young people are not given the opportunity to stand up and do the leadership stuff,” says Noah.
“In some cultures it has to be the Minister running the show and the young people are not regarded as leaders but followers.”
At the same time, he says young Uniting Church members are coming to terms with their own cultural identity.
“In their family and Church community, they are Korean, or Tongan or Fijian, for example, but outside the Church and home they are Australian and mix with people of all different cultures. So they are on the journey to find who they are.”
Noah says the young people he meets are in fact very respectful of their own cultures and grateful to their families for the gift of faith.
“I tell young people they are stepping on the shoulders of the legacy left by previous generations. That is attitude of the young people I speak with. They have a great sense of honour in the previous generation and their traditions.”
“What they are looking for is a new kind of community where they feel they are accepted and believed in. They want to create a community where they can freely express who they are and where they are encouraged to exercise leadership.”
Noah was among 15 Next Generation leaders from across Uniting Church who attended an Inter Synod workshop held in Sydney in March.
Assembly National Director for Multi/Cross Cultural Ministry Rev. Dr Apwee Ting said investing in culturally diverse young leaders was essential to the future of the Uniting Church.
“The Church has many gifted and capable young CALD leaders,” said Rev. Dr Ting.
“It is up to the whole Church to provide a space for them, whether that’s leading a service, taking part in decision-making or in shaping the future of the Uniting Church.”