I GREW UP IN LONDON, Ontario, a small city west of Toronto. As an immigrant, my dad wanted to make sure that his daughters grew up with an accurate understanding of Western culture, so he acculturated us to this strangely foreign world by taking us to non-Korean church services throughout the week. After our regular Korean Presbyterian Church’s Sunday service, he took us to a Sunday night Baptist service, a Wednesday night Baptist service, and a Friday night Missionary Alliance Bible study and youth group. Church also served as a free source of English lessons for me and my sister.
My parents loved to go into Toronto and Detroit to attend revival services. These revivals were out-of-this-world experiences, and at times they frightened me. I saw things that I had never seen in any other church visits, and it was during these services that I first witnessed the effects of the Holy Spirit.
My early experiences of the revivals involved adults gathered in the sanctuary for hours, and the only hint as to what they were doing was the eerie muffled sounds of their yelling, laughing, shouting, screaming, and crying. One day, as I tell in my 2018 book The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to the Holy Spirit, my curiosity got the better of me. I naively peeked inside the room. What I saw was a jarring scene of the adults in frenzied states of devotion. Some threw their arms up, with tears streaming down their faces, praying and crying out to God. Some people lay on the floor weeping and shaking uncontrollably. I saw my mother, illuminated in the yellow sanctuary light—she stood upright with her hands high above her head, eyes closed and tears rolling down her face as she spoke in tongues.
This was my earliest encounter with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Due to the inconsistencies of what I saw and my fear, I didn’t do much to explore the Spirit for much of my life, until I started teaching theology and encountering people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. As I listened to them, I reflected on my own background—my Asian culture, religion, and heritage. I believe that knowing one’s own culture and heritage is imperative to understand the religious landscape in a globalizing world where cultures clash, immigrants come together, and refugees seek new homes away from home.
Asians comprise 60 percent of the world’s population. Major world religions such as Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Sikhism were born in Asia. But Christianity soon became Eurocentric, influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy. Today, as Christians grapple with faith in a globalizing world, it may be helpful to see if Asian culture can bring some insights into the Western Eurocentric portrayal of the Holy Spirit.
People who speak multiple languages can attest to how different languages give deeper insight to our concepts and experiences. The five Asian words and concepts that follow can help us enrich and reimagine the Western understanding of the Holy Spirit.