Reclaiming Eve: Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's story

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun HeadshotDorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, editor, and a regular contributor to Asian American Women on Leadership. Her writing has been published in over a dozen publications, including the recent anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her on Twitter @dorcas_ct. In some ways, it felt like the makings of a bad dream. Standing, all alone, under blindingly bright lights, my voice weirdly amplified, as hundreds of people—most of them strangers—looked on without saying a word. At least I was fully clothed.

In reality, I wasn’t in the middle of a nightmare. I was in the middle of a huge risk. I was preaching a sermon in front of my church, my first time doing this—ever.

I am not a pastor. I have never been to seminary. I didn’t study religion in college. I don’t even enjoy public speaking.

But I am a long-time follower of Jesus. I am a lay leader in our church. I am also a writer, so I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of words. Most importantly of all, I believe that Jesus meets us whenever we take risks for the sake of his kingdom.

I wasn’t preaching because no one else could do it. Our church has several talented pastors who are excellent teachers, and yet church leaders have publicly stated their pursuit of two values: to give congregation members the opportunity to discover new gifts, and to have more women teaching from the pulpit.

Coming from a culture and a childhood church that were not fully supportive of women in leadership, I’m thankful to attend a church now where women are equal partners with men in every area of ministry. Women are board members and pastors, small group leaders and prayer intercessors, worship leaders and AV whizzes. Just as significant, the men in our church gladly volunteer in the nursery and the children’s classrooms. They serve coffee and bagels as often as they serve communion.

As a result, I’ve been able to witness the great fruit of the blessed alliance between men and women that is painted so beautifully in Reclaiming Eve. When we don’t place any limits on the gifts of our church family, there are more opportunities for all of us to find ministries through which we can bless others—and which nourish our own souls. We each have more opportunities to stretch ourselves and discover new, unexpected roles in the kingdom of God.

Which was how I ended up standing on stage, tiny mic hooked up to my left ear, speaking words that I had spent over forty hours crafting—and trying very hard not to let anxiety overtake me. I was teaching from Isaiah 58, both on God’s call for justice and his exhortation for us to honor the Sabbath. A significant portion of my sermon involved sharing honestly about the severe burnout and depression I had experienced when I spent years avidly pursuing God’s call for justice but had ignored the Sabbath. It was not an easy story to tell, full of pain and weakness and vulnerability—hardly the image of the strong, capable, able-to-do-anything-God-asks woman that I would rather project.

But that’s not who God was asking me to be—and he had provided a community of people to support me through what at times felt like an overwhelming endeavor. Our lead pastor was the one who encouraged me to try preaching, something I never would have considered on my own. He then spent several hours reading manuscript drafts, providing feedback, and encouraging me to speak from my heart. A couple other church staff walked me through a dress rehearsal and provided thoughtful feedback on how I could improve my presentation. Our worship leader (also a woman, I should note) selected a beautiful set of songs to complement my message. Dozens of people in the church, many of whom know about my struggles with perfectionism and people-pleasing, told me they were praying for me—and their assurances helped quell the worst of my anxiety and fear.

So many people had come around me to encourage me in my risk-taking, and that alone almost made it worth it. They were willing to invest time, energy, and care to support the next step in my journey as an ezer—the Hebrew word that means strong power, the one God used for Eve in Genesis 2:18.

My first sermon (which I actually had to give twice because we have two services) went as well as I could have expected. But, in the intervening weeks, the preaching part of the experience has become a bit fuzzy in my memory. Instead, what stand out to me are the stories I have heard since then of people in the congregation—some old friends, some first-time visitors—who were impacted by my sharing. They are finding hope and inspiration from the story of my failures and weaknesses. They are rearranging their lives so they can experience God afresh through their own Sabbaths—and he is responding with abundance.

God had taken my risk, wrapped up in my anxiety and insecurities, and blessed me with a new experience of support from my church family. He had taken my willingness to be vulnerable in front of hundreds of people, and transformed it into strength and encouragement for others.

As Jamie Wright says in one of the final chapters of Reclaiming Eve, “Service in the kingdom brings peace and joy, but it may not be easy” (155). I still don’t know if God has particularly gifted me to teach from the pulpit. My pastor has already asked me to consider preaching again, and, admittedly, I hesitate to say yes because the task still feels far beyond my comfort level. But whether my next risk is to preach again, or to find some other stretching role in the kingdom, I have every confidence that God will meet me there. Whatever I, as an ezer, am willing to offer, he will find a way to transform it into beautiful fruit.

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for fall studies! Order here.

Reclaiming Eve: Vivian Mabuni's story

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Vivian Mabuni joined staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) 25 years ago and has served on the UC Berkeley and UCLA campuses and on the Epic National Executive Team (Epic is the Asian American ministry of Cru). She is the author of Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts. She lives with her husband and three children in Mission Viejo, California along with their German Shepherd, Koa. You can find her at vivianmabuni.com and on twitter.

 As a young girl I set my aspirations high to be the first woman on the moon or else the first Asian-American woman President of the United States. I found myself in various leadership positions in clubs and student government. At the age of 12, I labeled myself a feminist. As a panel discussion leader, I had my girlfriends run into the classroom waving their mother’s bras screaming, “Burn your bras, equal rights for women!!” Women, in my mind, were capable, strong leaders; men had better beware, because we were on our way to taking over.

My Asian culture emphasized the value of boys over girls, so I set out to prove I could produce more and be of more value. Yet a radical change was underway. During high school, God graciously transformed my life, and I stepped from darkness into the Kingdom of His Beloved Son. In college, with the influence of certain Christian authors, I swung from my strong feminist beliefs clear to the opposite side.

After graduating and entering my first years as Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) staff, I found myself sharing with the men on my staff team that I had a “conviction” about women not initiating and therefore would never call them on the phone and would only return calls–even ministry-related business calls. I thought I needed to turn down and even turn off my gifts of leadership to avoid threatening any potential male from taking their rightful place of leading.

I gravitated towards and found security in a high structure and rules-oriented Christianity.  Believing that Christianity could only be expressed in a certain cookie cutter way, I often felt that those who did not fit my black and white viewpoint were wrong. Now my posture was one of inferiority as a woman and conforming to a certain Christian culture, which also fit my Asian cultural grid of the value of men over women. And honestly, as I looked around, I couldn’t find other Asian-American Christian women leading. I scanned the bookshelves in Christian bookstores and looked through conference brochures, but didn’t find anyone who looked like me.

When I was 25, I met and married Darrin, bringing this same rigid view of Christianity into our marriage. I had difficulty representing myself and giving him feedback. I played the “submission/respect card” and believed that if I respected him, I would not question his ideas or thoughts. Instead of being a true helper or ezer, I sought to manipulate and control his emotions by refusing to express my perspective, thereby heading off any potential conflict.. I also came to believe that for my husband to lead, he had to be better and stronger than me in all areas. For his part, he was bewildered that I thought those things and grieved that I would emotionally shut down each time he arrived home. I felt frustrated and dead inside; I was both passive and confused.

Vivian's book available where books are sold.

As I entered my mid-to-late 30’s, I was exposed to a wider pool of believers and life no longer fit my previously held “cookie cutter” paradigm. I met godly women who didn’t fit my mold: those walking through divorce; others recovering from addiction; those whose teenagers had turned away from the Lord; some were dealing with depression, while others were the breadwinners for their families. Gratefully, my picture of what it looked like to be a woman following God fully expanded. Rather than adopting a stance based on a subculture, I decided to investigate for myself to seek to understand why God created women and how culture fit into what I saw in God’s Word.

In my 40s, I started reading books and articles written by people outside my paradigm, and I soon encountered the writing of author Carolyn Custis James and the teaching of the ezer warrior (Genesis 2:18).. The portrait of women that she presented was liberating and resonated deeply within me. For the first time, I was encouraged not to shrink back from who God created me to be–especially in the area of leadership. I was also encouraged by the high view of men Carolyn had found in the Scriptures, treating our brothers with deep respect and honor. It was a new way of thinking for me.

Rather than competing or disappearing, I moved toward linking arms with men. I saw that God was best represented when both men and women worked together for the furthering of His Kingdom. And I began to experience a new level of freedom that opened the door to taking on new ministry responsibilities as well as applying for seminary. Many of the stories shared in Reclaiming Eve had me nodding in agreement; similar themes played out in my own journey.

Today, as a mom of two sons and a daughter, my values and views shape my hopes of who I want them to become. Darkness and injustice fill our broken world. I want my sons to lead out into the darkness with strength, integrity and humility. I want them to welcome and respect the input and viewpoint of women. I want my daughter to not hold back who God has made her to be—but to offer her gifts and her voice with strength, humility and conviction. I believe it takes a secure man not to be threatened by the strength of a woman; I also believe it takes a secure woman to not always have to be in control.

I now believe that our picture of God is made fuller when we include the voice and viewpoint of both women and men. In the same way, our understanding of who God is deepens through racial diversity and racial reconciliation. Our cultural differences offer a broader, richer view of the infinite and creative God we serve.

As a young girl I set my aspirations high with hopes of leading; today my aspirations are higher still. I am grateful to link arms with my husband and other good men like him, living as an ezer who honors God as I listen to his voice. And the journey continues: I continue to read, study and dialogue with men and women over the issues of leadership, culture and Scripture. I remain grateful that my picture of what it looks like for a woman to follow God now fits for every woman—no matter her season in life, the trials she encounters, or the culture from which she comes.

Has your picture of what it means for a woman to follow God fully expanded like Vivian’s? If so, how?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church