Dr. Esther S. Lee, revered Asian-American politician and educator, shared the ways how Chinese-American Christians can get involved in mainstream politics and education and exert their influence. She spoke at the River of Life Christian Church Global Impact Conference held earlier this month.
Lee was born in China in 1944 and obtained her undergrad at a university in Taiwan. Then, she immigrated to United States to obtain her MA from Illinois Northern University and Ph.D. from Purdue University at age 26. She then taught at University of Houston Clear Lake, Souther Arkansas University, and DePauw University for a total of 21 years.
In 1975, Lee first became involved with politics through a civil dispute between local Americans and Vietnamese immigrant fishermen. During the Vietnam War, some Vietnamese fishermen living in Houston caught large loads of shrimp because of their hard work. The locals, spurred by jealously, violently burnt their fishing boats. Seeing this injustice, Lee went to the city mayor’s office and asked if she can help with the situation, and the mayor had her teach a course at the police academy on East Asian culture and attend a monthly meeting at his office to discuss Asian-American immigration policies.
In 1991, Lee was asked by the White House to run for congressional office. The following year, former president George Bush appointed her as his election committee’s Asian-American affair director. She later served as a member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as well as the Deputy Director of U.S. Department of Education.
Lee gave the analogy that a person’s life is like a prism. If a person lives confined and satisfied in his small circle, he is like a blank prism that isn’t revealing its true function, which is a waste. When light is shine upon the prism, colorful rays are then reflected from it. It is like a man producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit under God’s hands.
She used a spider web to illustrate how Christians should begin their involvement in politics and education from him and gradually expand outwardly to influence the external environment.
So many Chinese Christians today stay only within the church and ethnic clique, small circle or comfort zones, said Lee. They are afraid to step out otherwise they have to speak English.
“When I first spoke English, I had a terrible time. I felt very uncomfortable. Americans would look at my face and think that I am supposed to speak Chinese. I am speaking English with a Chinese face,” she said.
Lee encourages the Chinese to enter the mainstream society. Although language is a barrier, she believes the second generation of the Chinese immigrants would have better chances to succeed through their fluent use of Chinese and English.
“Christians should be the light of the world. That’s what we’re told right. We should bear fruit according to Holy Spirit. We should shine in the corner in wherever we are,” said Lee.
Lee views politics and education as not merely work but a calling from God to become the light and salt of the world and to exert one’s influence in the society. Because Jesus said the Greatest Commandment is to love God: obeying God’s sovereignty; love people: serve and stewardship. Working one’s job with this calling and trusting and obeying God from the beginning to end will a person be able to overcome the numerous frustrations, rejections, disappointments, temptations defeats in the field of politics and education.
Two Defeats, Two Examples of God’s Faithfulness
In 1991, Lee received the recommendation from the Republican Party to run for Congress. She initially struggled with the idea, but after fasting for a day she decided to run. But her campaign ended in defeat, which caused her to question God, “I prayed for so long and with faith I ran, but the result was defeat. Did I misread your revelation?” Lee realized later that even her defeat was under God’s sovereignty, where God still made a way, guiding her until today.
In 1992, former president George Bush was campaigning for reelection, and as the election committee’s Asian-American affair director, Lee took a leave of absence from her teaching job. As her absence kept getting longer, the school wanted to know when she will return, but by then the presidential election was just two or three months away. Because the chances of Bush winning the reelection were small, many of her colleagues in the election committee quit. However, she remained because she believes that she should fulfill her promise as she had accepted to lead the reelection.
Yet, Lee ended up losing her teaching job at the school. But what’s worse was that without a job she had to downsize her house to a small one, which caused her husband to divorce her.
Through these unfortunate events, Lee said that God has continued to guide and bless her. In July 2000, she was appointed as dean of the Graduate School of Troy State University Montgomery, Alabama. And seven years after her retirement, she and her current husband have been enjoying a loving life, traveling to different parts of the world.
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