EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spirit of prophetic wisdom and resistance, we are proud to offer this book excerpt from Red Letter Christian Kathy Khang. Her new book, Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up, is available at InterVarsity Press and Amazon.
I’m a Korean American married mother of three with no advanced degree living in the suburbs in the middle of a midlife crisis, wondering how or if my twenty years of vocational ministry can transfer into a different vocation. I write infrequently. I speak even more infrequently. I have been told that I’m a prophetic voice, but I cringe at that description because biblical prophets are lonely and cranky, and I want to be perceived as fun and warm. Oh, and did I mention that I’m a woman of color in ministry?
Almost ten years ago, I supervised a ministry staff team that worked with four distinct student populations with a reach of about three hundred active students. I learned that a group of local Asian American pastors were meeting periodically to talk about ministry and leadership and pray for one another — but I never received an invitation to those meetings.
A few years later, I hired a graduating student leader, a young Korean American man, to join my staff. He fairly quickly received an invitation to attend the pastors’ gathering. Holding back tears, I told him that I had never been invited to attend those meetings. Still, with a mix of frustration based on my experience and hope for what he might experience, I told him that I wanted him to go, learn, and speak into that group.
It took him a moment to realize what the significance of the invitation was for him and what the lack of an invitation meant for me. Ten years of ministry wasn’t enough credibility to overcome the fact that I am a woman.
Moses struggled with credibility as well. It’s almost comical to read God’s assurances in Exodus 4 when you realize that Moses is just as insecure as the rest of us. God goes to great lengths to build up Moses: he gives superpowers to Moses’ staff, he shows Moses a cool cloak trick involving leprosy, and teaches Moses how to turn water from the Nile into blood. Yet Moses says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). And if that wasn’t enough, Moses then says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). This is when I want to laugh at Moses. Who does he think he is?
Oh, wait. Kathy, meet Moses.
Before taking the ministry staff job, I was struggling with what I still struggle with — managing work and family. I was a mom to one preschooler and two grade school children. My internal script screamed, Who do you think you are trying to lead and grow ministry and develop a staff team while raising three children and being a good wife? I have kids who get sick and want me at their Valentine’s Day parties. Please send someone else.
I suppose if I had kept that thought to myself, it might have been a little different, but instead of talking to God or a burning bush or my backyard fire pit, I shared this internal script with my staff team. I tried to paint a picture of how and where I thought ministry could grow on campus while also externally processing my personal insecurities. I would remind the team, “I am just part-time, so I can’t fulfill all of my job responsibilities; also, I have to leave to pick up my sick kid, so I’ve asked my predecessor to lead the rest of the meeting.” Yes, I actually said those things out loud, which doesn’t set up expectations well for anyone. My years managing the team weren’t my best as a leader, but I learned a lot about imposter syndrome. It can kick your ego and paralyze you.
God knows that Moses has impostor syndrome but essentially gives him no room to back out. God enlists the help of Moses’ brother Aaron as a wingman, reminds Moses that his shepherd’s staff has superpowers, and pushes Moses out of the wilderness. The rest of Exodus reminds us that just like Moses, whether or not we carry a shepherd’s staff, we don’t know the power of using our voices until we try it.
Called Out by God
As I sat there in the conference leadership meeting that last night, my mouth was covered but I knew the questions had to be asked. I felt the heat of shame in my cheeks and could feel my heart pounding in my head. I moved my friend’s hand off of my mouth, took a deep breath, and continued to speak.
We are silenced by someone else or sometimes by ourselves. Women of color who speak up tend to face swift backlash with labels of being an angry (fill in race or ethnicity) woman. Words are powerful and can be used to free people from captivity or to sentence people into captivity. God created humans to communicate with one another, not so that we would use words and actions to hurt and destroy one another but to be a blessing to one another. God used words to assure Moses of his identity as one beloved and known by the Creator, and then asks Moses to go out and speak up on behalf of the Israelites.
Likewise, we are seen by God and called out of our impostor syndrome wilderness to proclaim freedom and good news to the world. God asks you to raise your voice.
Excerpted from Kathy Khang’s new book: Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (InterVarsity Press, 2018) All rights reserved. Used with permission