It seems I must write

no more avoiding the truth

After at least a year of inactivity… We’re back!

We’ll just see if the above title is accurate or not… because we are just a week away from the official due date of Baby #2 (a boy). But one of my hopes in the next season of life, as I mostly hang out with Beatrice (our little girl who just turned 2 on Tuesday!) and Baby #2… is to post up on this blog three categories of writing:

– the articles I’ve written for the Asian-American Women on Leadership blog

– some things I’ve written for The Well (InterVarsity’s Grad/Faculty Ministry online space for women in the academy).

– AND, maybe… some things that I wrote during my MDiv program at Fuller Seminary, from which I JUST graduated this June (whoohoo!!).  Which relate to motherhood, theology, and a bunch of other things!

So thanks for reading, friends. Looking forward to writing and posting once again 🙂


trying…to love our neighbors

(posting this here because I want to share it with a friend… but it’s long and hard to forward by email :D)

Hey John and Tina!

We miss you guys a lot, and just wanted to see how things are going!  We’re doing well.  K continues to really enjoy residency, and C is a huge blessing.  Life is sometimes kind of crazy, but we’re really grateful.  I’m wrapping up business school soon and probably three weeks from having something figured out.  Will probably be working a healthcare provider or payer in Boston.  
I also wanted to ask you guys about how you best engage folks who ask you for money, since among our friends, I feel like you two do the best job making time and intentionally loving the poor in direct relationships.  I feel like one of my struggles is that I’m always in a hurry.  So I was walking home yesterday and a young man and what appeared to be his mother stopped me, gave me the routine sob story about a family member who had a heart attack and needing $7 to take the subway somewhere.  I usually don’t give money, but they were more persistent than normal and in that moment, I gave them my Charlie Card, which probably had $12 on it.  
I struggle with these encounters because 1) I know that the story is false, 2) I’m not setting up any kind of relationship or witness; does it really love them to just hand over something?  3) money is fungible, and so even though I’m not giving cash, money saved is money earned.  
I suppose ideally, I would have time to invite them to coffee, to hear their story, and to be in relationship.  The first challenge is that I feel like I seldom have time – I’m always on the way somewhere or to something with very little margin to spare.  And I suppose the second challenge is that it’s uncomfortable to have those kinds of relationships, which can sometimes be peculiar – like with J and our SENCE young adult group.  
Any thoughts would be much appreciated!  It concerns me though that despite all the passion I seem to have for folks who are strangers, numbers on a page, abstract concepts, I have so much trouble loving the poor who are right in front of me.  


———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Tina Teng-Henson <>
Date: Wed, Apr 3, 2013 at 6:35 PM
Subject: HEY GUYS! AND…really insightful systems analysis re: homelessness

Hey you guys!


John and I both read your email + have had it on our list of emails-to-respond-to since we got it… 🙂


Thought to chime in and start the thread… though it’s kind of a smattering of different thoughts!! (sorry!) I’m sure John will have other insights.


I remember first moving to Harvard Square and feeling so awkwardly clueless about how to respond to homeless folk who would approach me for change. Mostly I went with the party-line I vaguely had been raised with, of “it’s hard to know the situation, giving money doesn’t change the problem, so don’t give anything.” 


But that just didn’t sit right – (in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 5.42 “give to the one who asks you…”) so I remember at some point freshman year giving someone w a sign (offering mini-recitals for $0.50…remember him?), the change in my plastic coin purse, but saying he didn’t have to perform. He got really mad at me for ‘just doing charity’ without allowing him the dignity of performing his chosen service. I remember going home all confused + not sure where-all things had gone wrong!


I think in the meantime, I eventually got involved at South End Neighborhood Church of Emmanuel (SENCE), started serving at the Harvard Sq Homeless Shelter, and feeling more at peace with politely saying “sorry, I don’t have spare change” when asked on the streets —  with the sense that my relational involvements elsewhere were contributing more fruitfully than my spare change might. 


But now, years later, as there are a lot of homeless folk we’ve continued to encounter here in San Jose — I definitely still have questions + your email reminds me of where I’ve been given pause over the course of time re: this matter. 


I definitely resonate, Y, with wanting to live a less busy life so I can actually stop when approached + have a human/e interaction that feels authentic and has the capacity for kindness.  For me, this feels like a pretty clear invitation from Jesus to possibly walk in the way of the Good Samaritan in how I live my daily life – and less in the way of the Levite or priest who are both just so busy/important…


and maybe this is somewhat like Peter and John in Acts 3 who, when asked for money, choose to heal the man in the name of Jesus in that moment, acknowledging that they actually don’t have gold or silver either!


So – a very few times, I’ve had the privilege of conversation and back-and-forth w whoever’s approached me – given them the card of our church – prayed with that person, mentioned Starlight (if in Boston), – and then, knowing I .do. have great wealth in comparison with that person – and also in absolute/global terms — given a few dollars.  

I try to listen/sense what the Holy Spirit might nudge me to do/say as people come by. With some people, I don’t feel particularly led to any sort of action – for whatever reason. But with others, something catches me and I just feel compelled to share something I might have on me (generally opting for food/snacks over money). But I have to say there are definitely times I feel compelled but don’t end up doing anything (sometimes I waffle in indecision + think my way out of action) …because of a general sense of uncertainty surrounding all this for me.  


I think John often seems to engage all this more simply + straightforwardly – usually giving something with a “God bless” – and I wish I was more like him.


But mostly I think God’s grown my heart – but also given me more questions to wrestle over – as I’ve sought to stay in + figure out relationship with homeless or formerly homeless folk because of our participation in the same community — and I’m mostly thinking of via SENCE. 


<I think for John, SENCE and Starlight would mainly come to mind, as I know he had strong ties with Eddie G at SENCE and a guy named Ken thru Starlight.  (the HSqHomelessShelter didn’t feel like a place (for me) where I as a volunteer had authentic mutuality and relationship with any of the shelter guests. My personal sense is that without a faith-basis, it was difficult for there to be a culture of genuine common ground around anything. It functionally felt like community service “we” do for “you”.>


I definitely feel like I learned the most going to church alongside a socio-economically diverse community that eventually became genuine friends. But I’ll share a story that reminds me that I still haven’t figured this out + don’t really know if I’ve made that much progress in knowing how to love those who are materially poor. 


P, when I met her thru SENCE, was living in shelters + collecting change + often in some sort of trouble — alongside her boyfriend M. But she had a real honesty about her, a beautiful spirit when she would sing at church, and she kept surprising me with how she “did” friendship with me. One time I was driving through the South End from Roxbury, and I saw her standing, literally, in the middle of the road. She was like, “Tina! I see you! I have something for you…” and she gave me this little medallion that said “Tina” on it…! no clue where she found that! I think she picked it up from off the ground.


Over time, our friendship grew — and over the course of the time we overlapped at SENCE – it became the kind of thing where we’d connect at church, often pray together… and sometimes she’d call + we’d chat and pray.


One time early on she asked to borrow money – like a $1 or $2 – (this was the first time at church I’d ever been approached in many years of attendance), and I think I lent it to her out of curiosity (?) to see if she’d actually pay it back. Maybe kind of just to know what her word meant to her, what money and friendship meant to her. She paid me back the following week – and that was the end of that. Just made me see that she wasn’t out to get money from me in this relationship.


They eventually moved out of Boston to more easily get clean, find affordable housing, (also elude some charges against M? :P)… and all things considered, I was glad they were able to start over + M found work to sustain them.


When I’d drive up or down to NY (just a few times each year to see my family) – I’d usually pack some things I knew I wasn’t using/didn’t need – to give to them. They were always grateful, but not overly so. I think for P, it was about the friendship. She might drop a hint that things were needed, or even straight-up ask if we had things we didn’t need, if we could share them – but for me, it didn’t put me out much – and it felt fine. 


[At some point they asked us to stand up as their maid of honor/best man when they got married! But when they eventually got married, we had already moved to California. But this just shows what the relationship meant to them. * as a point of contrast, we invited them to come to our wedding – but they said they weren’t able to make it up to Boston and pay for a hotel, etc]


I want to make sure it’s clear that for the most part – things felt like a more or less healthy relationship. Definitely different because of their economic reality, but otherwise, more or less okay. P had bi-polar + a number of ongoing/difficult health challenges – but was on meds + generally alright, although for sure moody, regularly emotionally needy and somewhat depressed. She had a range, but I was alright dealing w it, able to tell her when I could/couldn’t talk, etc.

At the same time – she was growing in faith – M came to faith came to faith at some point during this period – and was baptized! This was a big deal for both of them … she’d always said they were “living in sin” but now that he was baptized – they could get married. And I think they did. In general, I was glad they were plugged into a church where they lived, and were mostly on the up-and-up. Not much talk of drug use, etc… maybe Mark’s drinking from time to time, but on the whole – they seemed to be pretty financially and emotionally stable together.

When we moved to California, we stayed in touch. Cards, phone calls, etc – not all that different. I lowered the frequency because I couldn’t/didn’t want to talk as regularly as she would call, but the relationship mattered to me, so I’d keep up as I was able.

Sometime last spring, I forget exactly what happened – but some combination of P not doing well emotionally, making some really bad decisions, and calling me while sobbing hysterically on the phone. This happened a few times, and I know at one point, it was starting to affect me and I didn’t really know what to do. I was not a licensed counselor, not even in-state, she was not connecting well to her local church and it was just starting to be a lot. I think at some point I just told her straight out that I couldn’t talk as often or have her be as emotionally dependent on me – she needed to find a good psychiatrist to keep working with to help her w her meds.

In the fall, she asked me to send some money – and in a tough-love sort of way, I asked her to explain where all the money they generally got from the state/govt had been going in the past few months.  She’d given some to her two children (not in her custody) – in a manner that she saw as loving, but I thought not very wise, given how apparently close they were to not making it thru the month financially.

I wondered whether we could/should give them a generous gift to try to help them out – or give a one-time CVS card gift to tide them over + pay for meds. At some point, I offered P a simple project to make some crafts for me to give others for Christmas presents – since I knew she had a lot of time on her hands (not being able to find work) – and so I could feel better giving her more money (as a wage, not as a gift). I myself was working hard that month, juggling two classes, part-time work at the church (for hourly pay), and in the first trimester of pregnancy. The justice streak in me knew I didn’t want to just give charitably when I knew she might be able to do something to earn money + perhaps feel better about what she was able to do with her life. (She had a hard time finding work) She was enthusiastic at first, then later said she couldn’t do it because her meds made her hands tremble.

But at some point – I think the tough-love tone from that earlier conversation upset her – and she decided to end the friendship. She wrote a letter saying we just couldn’t be friends because I couldn’t/didn’t understand her (eg: her giving money to her kids). She never acknowledged the CVS gift card we sent, and it was clear she was done w the relationship. Not unusual for someone with bipolar – a number of the friends I’ve had over the years with bipolar have had the same pattern w me – intense friendship that they decide to end for whatever reason in a few months/years. But still difficult.

Apologies, as I know this is a long story to share – even writing it, I’ve developed somewhat of a headache. It was a tough situation to sort out – and the length of my writing indicates I haven’t finished processing it.

At the end of the day, I mostly wished that we were friends in the context of a church community we were both still a part of. With the J situation you mentioned, Y, I think that Pastor N stepping in at some point ultimately helped the young adults feel freedom/permission/alright setting boundaries and limits and creating appropriate distance from him because of the intractable challenges he faced in life.    

I also feel like I’ve learned a lesson in not being too involved with people whose mental and emotional and physical challenges require the care of a health care professional. For the most part, I operated as a ‘friend’ – but I know that the nature of my friendship definitely has strong aspects of counseling/psychological care and an incarnational dimension – but I probably should have kept more distance or been more careful about being ‘adopted’ as her closest friend to begin with.

Lastly, I’m passing along something that the EGC newsletter sent out about a month ago. It’s both a high-level and very focused analysis of the cycle that street-involved people get caught in – and the way in which the church + ministries like Starlight can + do play a major role in helping to bring that cycle to a place of restoration, healing, growth, relationship, and health. I don’t think I’m personally called to do street-ministry – but I’m glad there are others (Tim and Alice Colegrove with InnerChange/homeless youth, Sara with Starlight, etc) who ARE and do a great job.

So you’re on to the real challenges underneath the seemingly simple question of whether or not it’s ‘good’ to give change to the homeless when asked. I have no clue if this has been helpful – but it’s a cross-section of the evolution of my thinking over time.

We love you guys a lot. Thanks for writing, Y, and thanks for reading what may have been as much something for me to reflect upon – as something to share in response to your question…

Lots of love,



On Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 9:11 PM, Tina Teng-Henson <> wrote:

Hey you guys,


Just thought to pass this on to you — I thought you three might appreciate seeing it. It’s a really comprehensive and insightful systems analysis re: homelessness + how churches can possibly intersect with the realities of those homeless/
“street-involved” (a new term i learned from looking this over).


See below for more context, but here’s the actual document if you’re curious.


I know in lots of ways this is not a significant part of our Sunday service/community — but Kathy’s involvement with the Thursday morning community — and Jae’s recent question just made me think to pass it on…


All the best,

Tina 🙂


John’s thoughtful follow-up email, later on:


Y, in follow up to your previous email regarding interacting with the homeless, here are some of my thoughts.  Tina covered most of it in her thoughtful and thorough reply but just a few thoughts. I was in a Bible study a few weeks back through our church and we were discussing the famous social justice passage Is. 58 that is often cited to get folks off their duffs and serve and love people for real. A different verse struck me that time around: v13b-14a “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord,” The phrase that hit me was “speaking idle words”. I mainly felt the conviction that as much as I and we (Tina and I, our church, our communities, our family, etc) seem to talk and read about justice and incorporating it into our faith, the talking portion seems to often outweigh the action portion. And while the the easy solution would be to talk about it less to assuage my guilt of being hypocritical, I know the right path is to follow through more on the action side. And as someone who also feels a bit stretched by work and church and family commitments and with little margin to spare, I can’t say I’ve found a good answer. I have often thought about taking a less time demanding job to give myself more margin for unexpected needs and conversations the come up or a job that more directly generates those opportunities. When I do engage folks on the street it’s often short and I try to invite them to church and generally do give a little change. My thinking is to err on the side of generosity and not be so concerned about being ripped off (though I don’t want to fund destructive habits). But even these efforts feel a bit minimal. I found it helpful to make a regular commitment (like Starlight), so I could have something to invite folks to and to force myself to make the extra time for having the longer conversations. 
I think another big part of it is to keep our consciences alert and sensitive to the needs around us and to not let them grow jaded or complacent, which is mainly an issue of our personal prayer, devotion life, and leaving room for emotional margin. You guys I know read a lot and are more aware than most of the systematic and personal needs of society and the world. I find it hard to care about every cause and need but I find it problematic when I read something that’s supposed to be moving and troubling and I just switch over to a sports article or facebook. 
In general, I haven’t found any clean solutions or ones I feel I’ve executed particularly well (I’ve been con-ed and lost rather large amounts of money, started relationships that ended poorly, started relationships that lead to rather intense personal attacks…only later to be reconciled). I know our schedules will only get more complicated or time pinched once baby comes (again, we’re amazed by how you guys do it all). I also think God gives extra grace during this season of our lives when there’s so much demand on our time. But for me, I think a large part of the call is to be open to the messiness of outreach while keeping in mind our personal limits and commitments.
On a related but slightly different note, I have app idea that I’ve been mulling over and wanting to start coding. The idea would be to compile a list of resources for the homeless based on location that one could easily reference while out on the street and be able to make recommendations for resources based on location/day of the week (e.g. it’s wednesday night and you’re in cambridge…it would recommend going to Hope Fellowship’s outreach in harvard square). I would like it to also be able to generate coupons to nearby stores that one could give instead of money. It could also have a community/networking element that would allow for people to connect folk’s needs with available services. 



Citizens’ Police Academy: CHARACTER COUNTS

Just wrote a piece about the incredible things I’ve learned — at a heart level — in this local law enforcement class I’ve been fortunate enough to take this semester. It’s under the “Chaplaincy” page at the top of this blog… and I hope you read it. I don’t see cops or criminals the same after taking this class… 

A surprising Confucian tribute to friendship

(I wrote this for the Asian American Women on Leadership blog — it’ll be posted tomorrow I think! Shout-out to my cousin Shanna for reminding me to keep posting + writing…thanks :))

Friendship, the fifth Confucian relationship, is often overlooked, placed behind and beneath the more ‘important’ relationships of Ruler-Subject, Father-Son, Husband-Wife, Older brother-Younger brother. These are all hierarchical, role-based, rigid relationships in Asian culture and society.  One doesn’t choose one’s role generally. You find yourself there: opposite another, sometimes a dreaded Other.  However, I wonder if the thumbprint of God’s care for Asians and Asian-Americans was the positing of friendship there in the framework of Confucian thought — beneath the rest of the relationships –to serve as a foundation.

I turn thirty in June, and I’ve found myself, since the start of the year, saying things like “In my twenties, this characterized my life…that shaped me…those years were tough but full of growth…”  My twenties were indeed tough but good – characterized by conflict with coworkers (ruler-subject), my mother (father-son), angst over singleness (husband-wife), and geographical and relational distance from my sisters (older-younger brother). What was left? Good friends – many of them. Healing friendships, safe friendships, life-giving friendships.  Friends who walked with me and helped me process those difficult dynamics in my life – and their own.  In the tender space of mutuality, genuine affection + an eagerness to be in each others’ lives –we prayed, we mourned, we celebrated, we grew.

[Ruler-Subject] Two dear friends I knew from work formed an accountability + prayer group with me. We learned lectio divina together, jammed on the piano singing worship songs, did Chinese calligraphy – and preached to each others’ fellowships. They were an embodied reminder to me that work-relationships weren’t all competitive, evaluative, and conflict-ridden. No, they could be sweet, contain power and life, be lots of fun.  Those two friends were a foretaste of things to come.  Today I serve at a church plant where I know I am extremely blessed to enjoy wonderful working relationships with everyone on the staff team.

[Father-Son] My husband John has a father-son relationship with his dad, Ed, unlike anyone else I know. Ed and his father, nicknamed Sunshine, had an incredibly close relationship: Sunshine was Ed’s best man when he got married! That fatherhood-friendship shaped John and Ed, and I will often overhear John in the other room, laughing so hard his face looks sunburned red – sharing stories from the week + teasing each other about Kentucky basketball. * Unexpectedly, my mother’s joy over my choice of husband softened and warmed our dynamic. Gone is the chilliness of past conflict and the avoidance of deep conversation. Here is a new familiarity and ease. She told me John’s way of asking thoughtful questions and listening carefully to her perspective on things – these basic elements of friendship – made her feel very loved and cared for. She really appreciates John and that has helped her appreciate me…

[Husband-Wife] John and I started out as friends, through our church young adult group. I could tell that John was a good friend to his people. He kept a few people close and they’d take turns checking up on each other. Long before we started dating, I was impressed (and a bit envious) of his Sunday lunch plans with former college friends and the like. We became better friends and soon friendship turned to love; today, we build on a strong foundation of friendship.

[Older – Younger Brother] Friendship has turned out to be the best underpinning to sisterhood. Let me make a bit of an analogy from having mentors. In a mentoring relationship, the ‘older’ one has rich life experience from which to pass on wisdom. The younger one needs sage counsel. Ever since college, I have sought out mentors and role models, hungry for life lessons learned.  I can tell you the potholes I have not fallen into because of their concrete advice and willing self-disclosure. I’ll be a better mom someday because I’ve watched their families in action.  But I’m not only a recipient of mentorship, I am also a mentor, to many former students and younger friends. They tell me I’m an ‘older sister’ figure for them – which makes me rethink sisterhood. Although I mentor them, I LOVE doing that and it gives me joy to pour into their lives. They may be younger, but their state in life only makes me yearn to support and care for them.  Within mentorship is not a proud hierarchy but a mutual reciprocity.  One loves to help the other, the other loves to receive it… Both value each other. In sisterhood, there’s an inevitable age difference and distance. But as the friendship-dynamic embedded within mentorship is brought to bear on sisterhood – a different joy develops. A sweeter care – a give and take, a lending and borrowing, a passing back and forth – a shared love.

In closing, Asian-American cultural values are too often stereotyped as being oppressive and demeaning – binding and awful.  I wonder whether this reimagining of Confucian cultural norms – of friendship on the bottom not because it’s dead last and least important – but because of its core foundational strength – is a bit like Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and Ruler and ruled have become friends.

the martyr’s rule

“The tyrant’s rule ends with his death. The martyr’s rule begins with it.” – Kierkegaard (Detweiler, Into the Dark, 225)

Feeling Better at Fuller

…I just have to say how uplifting it is to study at a school that cares so attentively to the formation of its students! I just finished an hour and a half long Skype ‘interview’ to start my field education internship — and the administrator who spoke with me was so patient, thorough, and clear. She communicated so well the learning objectives behind each assignment + activity — it’s obvious how much thought has gone into this…! When we were closing in prayer at the end of the call — she prayed for John and me + discernment about the future, sensing “the nations” ahead of us.  What a gift this season of life has been out here in northern California, studying at Fuller Seminary, being blessed by God and his people…


[I just have to ‘mark’ this one thing: at some point in the early fall I thought Fuller should start a satellite campus on the East Coast in the Washington, DC area!! Would be fun to work on that! :)]

Hold me to it…

…I want to learn more about what’s going on in Syria. I’m too often the one who starts caring late in the game; I want that to change…

“I used to take my fiancée out in those boats,” Arref said as he looked back toward the water. “Now, I’m taking the wounded.”

Has anybody read any good articles that cover the lead-up to the current situation, or the hope for what’s ahead?

Articles about Jeremy Lin…

…to be found under his page in section called “Things Harvard.”  🙂 Now, I am about as intentionally sports-ignorant as one can possible be. I have a running conversation with John about the question, “Why do sports matter?”

<You can all heckle me in person, I get it all the time.>

If God could get ME to pay any attention at all to basketball because of this kid, how much more could he get a whole lot of other folk to take another look at Jesus?

Jesus, protect him in this time!

I failed this exam!

Was sent this quiz by some friends in Nairobi, Kenya, who are serving there. I honestly thought I’d do better than I did!  Hope you do better!!

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In case this is helpful — most things I’ve posted on this blog are not “current” — they’re things I wrote in the past few years. Sundance has more pages from the last month or so, since I went to the festival. Moral Leadership is from Spring of 2011, Nairobi, Kenya is from Fall of 2008, and Travel Journalling covers a number of years. I’ll keep working on my site organization as time allows me!

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