Stories Of Experience As An Expression Of Trust: Musings From Mark Fields

Mark Fields, Director of Vineyard Missions USA, shares his thoughts on the risk and trust involved when someone chooses to share their story with us.


Mark Fields

Director of Global & Intercultural Ministry, Vineyard USA



[Original Post By Vineyard Missions USA]

I never imagined that this phase in my ministry journey would involve worldwide travel, now to nearly a hundred nations, nor that my on-going travel would be restricted by a global pandemic for an indefinite period of time. It’s been an amazing journey, but it was not what I had planned.

Today as I walked and prayed, I found myself reflecting on my very first class at Fuller Seminary some twenty-five years ago. I entered seminary with nearly fifteen years of ministry experience and enrolled in the School of Theology rather than the School of World Mission (now the School of Intercultural Studies) expecting to pastor the same church for the rest of my life (though God had other plans). I was the first person to graduate with the Multicultural Ministry concentration in the MA Theology program. It turns out that the program was actually not intended for people like me seeking to learn to minister in an increasingly multicultural reality but was intended for People of Color to be able to take courses specific to their ethnicity. However, it allowed me to attend courses like Latino Urban Ministry, Multiculturalism Today, Cross-Cultural Ethics, and African-American Ministry.

My first class at Fuller was “Growing Asian-American Ministries” and the class was filled with forty or so Asian-Americans…and me. The class was very impactful for me and was an amazing beginning to my seminary journey. I read Ronald Takaki’s book Strangers from a Different Shore and for the first time began to realize that there were political implications to immigration laws, and they had huge impact on families. I was on a steep learning curve, had numerous conversations with fellow students who asked why I was in the class, and experienced the generosity which often follows honest curiosity to learn.

But the most important part of the class was my interaction with another student named Jim. Jim was the oldest student in the class being in his late fifties and was an elder in a Presbyterian church. Jim and I always ended up sitting in the same part of the crowded classroom, and it quickly became clear that Jim did not like me. While other students were curious why I was in the class, Jim just ignored me and rebuffed all my efforts to talk to him even when we found ourselves in the same discussion group week after week. Since the discussions were primarily around the experience of being Asian-American, I usually just sat and listened.

Fuller uses the quarter system with each quarter consisting of ten weeks, so the classes move quickly. It was in the last week of the winter quarter that Jim finally shared his story. He was Nisei – a second generation Japanese-American – the son of Japanese immigrants. As a young child, during World War II, he and his family had been uprooted from their home and placed in Manzanar, the internment camp for Japanese-Americans in northern California. He described how they had lost their house and burgeoning business. It’s no wonder Jim was suspicious of people who looked like me. Tears still come to my eyes as I remember his story. In addition to being exposed to a part of American history of which I had previously known nothing, I learned two other important lessons that evening.

The first is that for all people, but particularly People of Color, sharing one’s story is risky and, in fact, a very valuable gift. It is not something to be taken lightly, but to be received as the expression of trust and gift that it is. Jim had lots of reasons not to trust me but I am so grateful that, ultimately, he did and I am better because of it. That class set the tone for my whole seminary experience.

The second is that it often takes time for someone to be willing to share their story with someone of a different race. Giving the opportunity once is simply not enough. I sat next to Jim every week for ten weeks and tried to be as friendly as an introvert can be. He had no obligation to be open with me but I am sure glad he was.

Today I am grateful for Jim, and Rachel and Santos, and Curtiss and Joy, and Randy and Lenora, and so many other People of Color, both in the US and around the world, who have been willing to trust me with a part of their story. This was not quite the journey I had planned, but I am immensely grateful for it.

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Mark Fields currently serves as the Director of Global & Intercultural Ministry for Vineyard USA. Prior to assuming his current position, he was the Senior Pastor of the Vineyard Community Church in Pomona, California, for more than twenty years. Mark is a lifelong learner and attended Fuller Seminary as well as the London School of Theology. He has traveled and ministered extensively around the world. Mark and his wife Karen have been married for nearly forty years, are the parents of three adult children, have a growing number of grandchildren, and reside in Southern California.