Reflections from Jakarta: Crazy Rich Asians

By Grace Liu

Crazy Rich Asians (just released on DVD) will resonate with anyone that has studied abroad and came back to Asia to experience the immediate cultural pressures of family obligations. The tug of war between putting your dreams or your family first is real, especially for those who inherit the family company upon returning from overseas studies. 

I grew up in North Carolina and New York. I moved to Indonesia during my early teen years and finished off my high school in Jakarta. I went to the University of Michigan and came back to Indonesia for family and for work.

But being Asian American, I saw the truths of both cultures portrayed in the movie. The western side of me believes that you need to stand up for what you believe in. So it is important to understand your passions and follow your dreams. Love who you want to love. You are your own person, it is important be secure and own the desires of your heart. At the same time, the Asian side of me understands the importance of being community-oriented; and how our personal dreams need to be in line with what is best for the family. This is not just about your immediate family, this involves your uncles, aunties, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews. Future decisions you make affect not just you, but your ENTIRE family.

Eleanor (the mother in Crazy Rich Asians) said that Americans are great with following their dreams and achieving their ambitions , but Asians are good with building things (such as family traditions, family businesses) that last. This is why in a culturally Asian family, who you marry is such a big deal. It is the prayers of the elders in your family that you find someone in line with your family values. Parents play a big role in this decision because you do not only marry the person, you marry into their family. Both families (their family culture, their reputation, their name) merge into one. When you marry, you carry the benefits and burdens of the family you choose to tie yours to. 

What does the Bible say about following your dreams verses building up your family? 

Philippians 2:3-4 says " Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." 

It is biblical to put the interests of others before yourself.  It is biblical to sacrifice you your fleshly desires for the good for your family, your community. However at the same time the Bible also commands us to "forsake your mother and father". 

Matthew 19:29 says, " And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life."

How do you find common ground with these two verses? 

God has given us talents, gifts, ambition, vision for life and these are all good things! However God has also given us the responsibility to love and care for the people within our spheres of influence. This includes our family. Whether you are Asian or not, your life decisions do affect your family on some level. Making life decisions with or without the support of your family makes a difference. 

Does this mean all our life decisions need to be agreed on by our parents? Absolutely not. Our parents are also human and can make decisions out of selfish ambition as well (not saying that all parents do this, but just know that everyone will have this tendency no matter what life stage you are in).

God has also given us to Holy Spirit to guide us from everyday little decisions to major life decisions. Sometimes these decisions may not make sense to our family. However, when God will call us to a season of life where our obedience to God will be challenged; are you willing to follow through what God wants for your life regardless of what other people say? I understand that this might be a big struggle for many of my Asian American friends when faced with this verse. It goes against cultural values; it is seen as rude or disrespectful when we go against family wishes. Following what God wants for our life is not about being politically or culturally correct, it is about being obedient and trusting that God even when you cannot see the bigger picture yet. 

Crazy Rich Asians was a bit cheesy, over the top, yet entertaining and addresses some real struggles Asian young adults face when integrating back to their home country after studying abroad. One thing I took away is, no matter what ethnic or family culture you were brought up in, we should always revert to bringing the Jesus culture into our decision making and our family culture. 

Grace Liu is our Jakarta City Director and has a passion to bring young adults together in community for the sake of the Gospel. Her and her husband Ronald have two kids and live in Jakarta.

Crazy Rich Asians

A Window into Southeast Asia’s Wealth and Faith

While earning raving reviews and credit for its all-Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians, has given us in the States a window into just how wealthy, how crazy, and how Christianity plays a part in Southeast Asia. One of the first scenes shows Eleanor Young (the male’s lead mother) having a Bible Study in Singapore with her friends. But what’s even more unusual, is not that there is a Bible study, but the fact that the Bible study is taking place in a lush tropical villa (or mansion) with other wealthy and social elite women. And the passage being read comes from Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on the Earth”. Interesting…

Though religion occupies only a small portion of the film, the book, written by Kevin Kwan poses Christianity as one of the many qualifications to what it takes to be considered a social elite in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and others. In his book (not in the movie), it mentions that a successful elite teenager in SE Asia, is one that succeeds in music, academics, and religion. The Holy Trinity of success. In other words, religion, or in this case Christianity, becomes a badge of morality and an extracurricular activity rather than a way of life. That is why you see some appreciate Crazy Rich Asians as a movie, but ask the question: If Christianity is the faith of the social elite in SE Asia, how does the gospel impact how they live? Or does it?

Kion You, a journalist at Brown University, writes that the movie helps portray Christianity in a hyper-capitalist country, “by satirizing Christianity as a tool for the wealthy to cozy up with those even more wealthy, accruing large doses of social capital with sprinkles of the gospel”.[1] In other words, he sees Christianity for the wealthy in SE Asia, as merely “a hollowed out vessel of wealth”. Just like the $40 million wedding in the movie that was held in a church. Wealth was present, but Christianity wasn’t. On the ground level, Brett McCraken, from the Gospel Coalition, interviewed three Singaporean pastors to get a deeper look at Christianity in countries like Singapore. One of them, Guna Raman of Agape Baptist Church, had this to say about Christianity in his home country, “Many churches preach heavily moralistic sermons or, on the other hand, proclaim ‘hyper-grace,’ subtly (if not overtly) proclaiming the prosperity gospel. There is a great need in Singapore for more theological depth.” [2]

When one looks at SE Asia and sees the elite claim Christianity as their religion, yet not let it impact how they give to the poor, reconcile among ethnic divisions, or pursue justice; it begs the question of whether the gospel actually impacts their lives. At Resource Global, we’ve had similar conversations among those in Jakarta and Singapore. For many of the elite, Christianity is merely the means of pursuing good morality, or blessings if you obey, or a community among similar-minded people. It plays a part in their lives, but doesn’t impact or dictate their lives.

That is why for us at Resource Global, we’ve made it our mission to resourcing and releasing the next generation of Christian leaders and professionals within an interconnected network for Gospel movements in major global cities. And we’ve made SE Asia a specific target for this. One of the main reasons is because there is a lack of understanding among young leaders in how to properly integrate Scripture and the Gospel into everyday life, especially in their workplace. For example: What does the Gospel have to do with the $100 million company I will inherit from my family in 10-15 years? What does the Gospel have to do with loving the marginalized, the poor, and those who are not Christians? What does the Gospel have to do with marriage, community, justice, and more? In no way do we expect to answer and solve every question. But our hope is to bring in leaders, speakers, and mentors to have dialogue around these topics, so that they will not live out a “hollowed out vessel of religion” or one with “little theological depth”. Instead, they will live one that knows what, why, and how the gospel speaks to every single inch of their lives.

So at Resource Global, we are just getting started. Now in Year 3 of our cohorts in Jakarta and Chicago, and Year 1 starting for Nairobi, we are excited to continue investing in local workplace leaders and see the future transformation in 5, 10, or 20 years. We’ve already seen leaders change how they work and love their co-workers, lead initiatives in their local churches, and start new efforts in loving those around them that are not like them. We know our investment is small, but with the capacity and potential of these global leaders, we know the impact they can make for God’s kingdom is massive. As we all were given the opportunity to peer into the window of Christianity in SE Asia through Crazy Rich Asians, our hope is that in 20 years you will be able to see into a window not of crazy wealth with a Christian bumper sticker attached, but one of young leaders integrating and risking their lives for Jesus’ name and the welfare of their communities and cities.

Noah Chung, Resource Global Staff