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An Interview with Lisa Espineli Chinn - Part Five


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For fourteen years, Lisa Espineli Chinn was the National Director of International Student Ministry at InterVarsity. She and her husband, Leighton, have been partners in international student ministry for decades.  Recently she sat down with The Rev. Canon Andrew Gross and shared how they met, and what marriage can teach about cross-cultural ministry.

Click the links below for the entire interview:

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry


PART FIVE
Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry


Tell me how you met your husband.

I was asked to attend a meeting in Colorado Springs at my displeasure. I didn’t want to go because I had a long summer, but my boss said, “You need to go because this is InterVarsity and we need some people there.”  It was a consultation for international student ministry and at the time that wasn’t my full-time job, so I felt somebody else should be there. Hesitatingly I went. My husband was the assistant to the president at that time, hosting the event. That’s where we met, but there was not amazing sparks at first sight. He will tell you he was looking and I will tell you I was praying. I met him when I was 33 and he was 37. Prior to that I really asked my mom to pray for a husband for me. I know she was praying for me, but specifically at that point in life I said, “If you would seriously pick up that item.” So we met in May of ‘81 and we got married in December of ‘81 so it was fast. We had our first baby in 82. He was already working with International Students Incorporated so it became a merger, the marriage of 70 years combined experience. You can imagine the kind of adjustment you have to make when two people are set in their ways but we learned a lot.


Is his ethnicity Chinese?

Yes, he is American-born Chinese. His mom is Chinese, and his dad is white, at least that’s what we know so far from DNA. He didn’t know that before. He was born and raised in Hawaii so we’re both Islanders born and raised, and met in the mountains of Colorado!


So he brought the “Chinn” to Espineli Chinn?

Yes, that is from him. In the Philippines you carry your maiden name with you. It was not my request. I was Lisa Chinn, and Leighton said, “Why don’t you add Espineli to honor your parents.” I wasn’t just absorbed. There’s Lisa Chinn, but when you put Lisa Espineli Chinn, that’s me. I’m really a combination of that.


Marriage is a cross culture experience for all of us.

Yes, That’s what I say when encouraging churches. When they say, “Oh this is kind of intimidating how do you relate with people of other cultures?” I encourage them by looking at the places where they have already succeeded at crossing culture. In marriage, crossing into the culture of our teenage kids, that’s another culture. What did you find out when you see the world differently? They can draw from the successes of crossing cultures. Not necessarily the big culture of countries, but it’s the subcultures of groups in our lives. Then they say, “Oh, I can do this. I can welcome Chinese students. I can welcome Hindu students. I need to know a few things like, what they eat, and what I need to serve.” Those are important sensitivities, but it’s not so much what they are fed, but how they’re treated, which is related to food, but it’s how we welcome them, what kind of interest we take in them, what kind of attention, and what kind of welcome that they experience with us.

I think for many Americans, and for our college students as well, we are so comfortable in our culture even if a college student is new to that college they are still at home more than an international student. The place of welcome makes a big difference because they may not have that any other place in their life. My in-laws spent time as students in Italy and their place of welcome was made for them by their next door neighbors. They made lifelong friendships. It meant more to them because that’s all they had. They didn’t have 20 other connections so there is a real opportunity to show folks welcome and love.

We know it in scripture. Besides the broad “love your neighbor,” specifically love the strangers in your midst too because you were once strangers, foreigners in Egypt. You know what it’s like to be a minority. You know what it’s like to not have a voice. You know what it’s like to be discriminated upon, so look out. Sometimes we forget because we’ve made it through the difficult times, but you know what it’s like. I don’t want to only paint a picture of a poor, spiritually, and culturally harassed student, because there’s also a flip side: they have a lot to contribute. How can we be learners? When they look at scripture they see it through a different set of eyes and scripture comes alive because they ask questions that your normal American student does not ask. For instance The Prodigal Son. An international student says, “Oh my father will never meet my brother. If he was a prodigal son he will send my mom saying, ‘Go meet your son.’” Or the student would say, “No there is no father like that because fathers don’t do that.”


Their eastern culture might be closer to the culture of Jesus hearers than ours.

Yes, the forgiveness. You have shamed our name? That’s hard to overcome. So the forgiveness is even more powerful. That this God would stoop down and welcome you. That’s a really powerful story.

Click the links below for the entire interview:

Part One: From the Philippines to Washington DC
Part Two: From Accidental Church Planter to InterVarsity Director
Part Three: International Students Ministry
Part Four: Next Steps
Part Five: Marriage and Cross Cultural Ministry

Lisa Espineli Chinn will be a plenary speaker at Assembly 2017 in Wheaton, IL (June 27-30, 2017).  Click here to learn more and register for Assembly 2017!