Young, Asian American, and Christian 

UC Berkeley is home to some of the brightest young minds in the country. And many of them are increasingly drawn to evangelical Christianity.

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It's these experiences that InterVarsity leaders hope will have a profound impact on students. During his freshman year, Tai went on an "urban plunge" to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. When he got back, he decided to pursue social welfare in addition to business. "I was all about becoming an investment banker and making money," said Tai, who grew up in Irvine. "Now I want to figure out how to help people."

Hollingsworth said such changes aren't uncommon among their members. "It's part of our discussion usually with students, what is God gonna do with your major versus I'm just doing this major, it's a means to an end," she said.

While Tai still plans on pursuing business, he says he no longer believes in cutthroat competition. "My belief is that if God is in control of my life, maybe it's less important how much money I make," he said. "I hope to be ethical and do things ethically. I couldn't work for Philip Morris."

Though Tai's parents approve of his fellowship involvement, they don't like it getting in the way of his studies. Now that he's a leader in the group, he spends up to fifteen hours a week officially, but with outreach and ministering, it adds up to more than that, which Tai said can be overwhelming. "They always tell me no matter what, don't spend more than five hours per week," Tai said. "I try not to bring it up."

Such attitudes are common among parents, says researcher Rebecca Kim, even if they're also Christian. While they want their kids to pick up Christian values, they don't want them to get too involved or cut back on study time. "I've seen conflicts," she said.

Similarly, Matt Huang was pursuing a medical career at Berkeley when his involvement in InterVarsity caused him to think otherwise. During his senior year at Cal, Huang volunteered to become the leader of InterVarsity's social justice Bible study group, although, as he now admits, he didn't know anything about what social justice was.

Huang was raised in the suburbs of Fremont, in a "very homogenous neighborhood" of mostly churched folk. His family attended the Chinese church Home of Christ 3. Though Huang intended on becoming a doctor, he felt as if something was missing.

At Cal, after shopping around for a fellowship where he could grow spiritually, Huang settled on InterVarsity, drawn to its community activism. Compared to his upbringing, InterVarsity offered the chance to interact with a more diverse crowd, and in a way acted as a buffer for race relations. "It's a diverse group of people and we come from different backgrounds, and coming from a diverse fellowship of people, you get to experience a lot of walks of life, people from urban neighborhoods and suburbs, but they have different ethnic perspectives on Christianity," Huang said.

Exploring further, he took an internship at Cal Corps Public Service center, leading a student-run class on promoting civic engagement among college students. That's when he began to seriously rethink his career. "I don't want to be at school for so long," he reasoned. "I wanted to impact my community now. And I realize that there are other ways to help people besides health care."

Today, 22 and recently graduated, Huang is unemployed and looking for a job in the nonprofit or government sector. His parents weren't too happy about his decision.

"It was very difficult," he said of telling his parents the news. "I need to prove to them still that it's workable, it's doable. ... My parents come from a generation where it's important to prepare for the future, to prepare for a job, family, things like that. Whereas my generation is more concerned with, what am I doing here?"

Matt's mom, Dora, said that while she was hoping for her youngest child to become a doctor, she also just wants him to be happy. She's not opposed to her son's religious involvement — to the contrary; her eldest son is studying to become a pastor. But she's realistic about the income of a social worker.

"Right now I'm okay," she said by phone. "I have to give him some time and some space to figure out what he wants to do. I want him to be happy to do what he does, not because of me. It has to come from himself. But he has to be able to support himself. ... Maybe one day if he can't find a job maybe he will find something else or go back to grad school," she added hopefully.

Jeff Chiu's parents, who are atheists, also have struggled to accept their son's newfound spiritual pursuit. "They're always trying to discourage me from spending too much time in church and to study more," Chiu said.

But slowly, that's changing. During a recent mission trip to Taiwan, where he said less than 2 percent of the population is Christian, he introduced his mom to his church leaders. He says she's a lot more open now. "They thought I was getting sucked into this crazy unknown thing."

It's not an uncommon tension that arises for some Christian students. "For many whose parents are immigrants, their kids are their IRA," explained InterVarsity's Collin Tomikawa. "So if I get them off the med school route, I'm totally threatening their future. When I talk to kids, I'm also talking to parents and grandparents." Researcher Russell Jeung says that in some seminaries, a third of the students are Asian.

Tomikawa admits he's intentionally trying to get some of Berkeley's liberalness to rub off on his students. "A lot of our students at Cal are from Chinese churches in the Bay Area, which I would stereotype as more conservative, socially and politically," he said. "Because the whole Bay Area politically is such a liberal scene, it galvanizes the more conservative [folks], and I think that's happened in the Chinese church, and then I get their offspring. I hope to challenge or begin to unravel some of that stuff."

Clearly, with Huang, the tactic worked. "I think Asian Americans are looking for more than just what they're doing in their life," Huang said. "They're looking for more than just what their parents brought with them from China or other Asian communities. That looking for more has translated into looking for God. I think a lot of Asian Americans, their moms and dads found suburbia and privilege. And a lot of Asian Americans who grew up in privilege realize it's not enough. We have a nice house, two cars, food in the refrigerator, but there's still something missing. When we go to UC Berkeley, we want to know what's out there. We want to experience more."

Faith and science

Religion and academia are increasingly mingling at UC Berkeley. One area in which this can be seen is among the campus' faculty. Chemical Engineering Department Chairman Jeff Reimer leads a faculty Christian ministry group sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. The intention isn't to stage rallies or convert the campus, but rather to offer support.

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