Episode 78 —Diversity, Representation, and the Spirit of God

Sarah Ku's children - her growing home! - join in as she records A Growing Home.

About the episode | Listen to the episode | Meet Sarah Ku | Episode transcript

About the episode

"We miss out on that full picture of creation, the reflection of God through people, when we only have one voice represented." When Sarah Ku was pregnant with her second child, she found herself on the hunt for an Asian baby doll for her eldest daughter. But when she found that there were no options of dolls that looked like her daughter, this started her on a journey of seeking out representation in books and media for herself and her family. This journey led Sarah to start a blog and a podcast called A Growing Home, where she talks about how she's intentionally raising her family while also sharing her unique voice as a biracial Asian, Catholic woman. In this episode, Sarah shares her own story of conversion to the Catholic church, the importance of diversity and representation, and the ways in which she is lives out the Spirit of God as a mother to her children.

Listen to the episode

Meet Sarah Ku

Sarah Ku is a biracial, Korean and white, mom of five young kids. She was raised in the Protestant church and after graduation, worked full-time in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at University of Southern California (USC) and Stanford. Through InterVarsity, Sarah grew in the values of multiethnicity, social justice, and evangelization. It was while working with InterVarsity that she began exploring the Catholic Church, and after a three year journey, she entered the Church in 2009. Much credit goes to her first Catholic friend she met freshman year, who is now her husband.

Sarah and Patrick raise their family in California’s Silicon Valley and in the last decade, they have spent time actively involved in both the Chinese-American and Korean-American communities. Sarah has continued her love for ministry through mentoring young adult leaders. She also recently launched A Growing Home podcast, as a space to explore how their family is living out their faith as a multi-racial family. Sarah is particularly passionate about amplifying voices of color through the guests on the podcast.

Links: Sarah Ku on Instagram: @agrowinghome

A Growing Home on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify


Episode transcript

00:00 MUSIC

00:10 RACHEL WONG: This is The Feminine Genius Podcast, a podcast that celebrates all women of God and their unique genius. I'm your host, Rachel Wong.

00:20 MUSIC

00:31 RACHEL: When Sarah Ku was pregnant with her second child, she found herself on the hunt for an Asian baby doll for her eldest daughter. But when she found that there were no options of dolls that looked like her daughter, this started her on a journey of seeking out representation in books and media for herself and her family. This journey led Sarah to start a blog and a podcast called A Growing Home, where she talks about how she's intentionally raising her family while also sharing her unique voice as a biracial Asian Catholic woman. In this episode, Sarah shares her own story of conversion to the Catholic church, the importance of diversity and representation, and the ways in which she is lives out the Spirit of God as a mother to her children.

01:18 MUSIC

01:27 RACHEL: Hi Sarah!

01:29 SARAH KU: Hi!

01:30 RACHEL: How are you?

01:31 SARAH: I'm really good. I'm really looking forward to chatting with you!

01:35 RACHEL: Thank you. Yeah, thanks for making some time today. Big shout out to your husband Pat for all of the tech work behind the scenes, thanks so much!

01:43 SARAH: Yeah, yeah, he's great.

01:46 RACHEL: Yeah, that's awesome! So, Sarah, first off I'm super excited to jump into your conversation today, I wanted to share with listeners that we're at the tail end of February, as we're recording this, and earlier this year and I mean by earlier I mean like last month, beginning of this year, 2021, you would have reached out to me, and I was really grateful that you did so. We had a really good conversation previously so I'm just looking forward to growing and friendship with you, and I just can't wait to dive into this conversation because I think there are a lot of shared experiences that we will have so I'm just super excited and I'm really grateful that you're able to share some of your time today!

02:26 SARAH: Thanks for having me!

02:28 RACHEL: My pleasure! So to start off for those who haven't met you yet, I was wondering if you could introduce yourself and share a little bit of what you do right now.

02:37 SARAH: So, yeah, I'm Sarah, and I have five young kids. My oldest is nine, in third grade and my little son is approaching one. He's an early pandemic baby and he's starting to cruise and walk around. I'm homeschooling them, that was a surprise this year. My husband and I live in the Silicon Valley. So mom of five young kids, full-time mom, and also recently, beginning of 2021, I launched a podcast as a way to share how we're raising our kids intentionally being multiracial, Catholic family in the Silicon Valley. So that's been a way for me to share my voice, and also share my growing passion for amplifying voices of colour, and the podcast has been a really unique and fun way to do that.

03:27 RACHEL: That's awesome! I was so excited to see when you had messaged me I did a little look around on your little spot on the internet, and there were so many things that really just inspired me! I mean first off, let's talk about the fact that you have five young kids, this growing home, which I know that is the name of your podcast, "A Growing Home" but just how beautiful that is and how you're intentionally raising your family, being really aware of the different forces that are in our world and the ways in which that you and Pat were brought up, and how you plan on sharing that with your family as they grow up and as they start to come into their own. So that's really exciting.

04:06 SARAH: Yeah, I feel like I'm constantly learning and growing, and it started as a blog, "A Growing Home", and then evolved into a podcast, so that's that new different learning curve and exploration for me there!

04:18 RACHEL: Absolutely, yeah! So I understand just because we had a conversation a few weeks back, that you have a really brilliant and beautiful story when it comes to coming into the Catholic Church. I won't spoil too much, but I'll let you take the story, and I'd love to hear a little bit more of how you've navigated your own faith journey and how you've come to be the woman, the Catholic woman, that you are today!

04:44 SARAH: Okay, well I have to take you back to freshman year of college, because that's where my faith really came alive! So freshman year I sign up for Mark study which is a deep dive into the Book of Mark. And I show up to this really out of date classroom with those metal chairs, you know, the side desks! I showed with my three-ring binder and I'm a freshman, there's 20 other freshmen there who part of the same Christian fellowship that I was checking out called InterVarsity. And I remember being nervous—who am I gonna sit by every week? I'm still getting to know everyone!

But we all signed up for this Bible study of Mark, and my life was just transformed in those chairs where we came every week, we would look at a small passage of Mark, and over the course of two hours, we were led to dive deep into Scripture. We were taught to observe and ask a lot of questions, which I had never done before but I felt like I was given tools to notice things like repeated words. To ask what is the author trying to say and who is this author writing to? To ask about the context—where did Jesus live? What was the geography like? What was Jewish-Palestinian life like? I felt like in that study of Mark, Jesus just came alive to me. It's like colour was added to the black and white words. My faith just kind of live in a way that never had before.

Now to back up, I knew the Bible. I grew up with a Bible! So I grew up in the Protestant church. My mom is an immigrant from South Korea, and when she grew up in Korea, actually, her family was Buddhist, but she... her friend invited her church, and my mom became a Christian in the Protestant church in Korea. And my halmoni, my grandmother, would come to drop her off every week. And it's in the course of her coming, starting to listen and get to know people, my halmoni became a Christian, and the whole family of five kids and my grandparents became Christians! And then they all eventually immigrated here and til the day that they died, my halmoni and hal-abeoji [grandfather], they served and loved the church.

My dad is white, and my dad's Polish side converted away from the Catholic Church before he was born, which I find really interesting [laughs] I need to learn that story! My dad was really into Bible study. So I grew up in the church, in the Protestant church. I grew up really knowing that Bible, but there's something about that room in Taper Hall at USC [University of Southern California], where I was getting to learn how to study the Bible on my own, with a group of others, and it was in the digging into it, but then the application of it. So you'd observe, we'd ask lots of questions, and then we were asked, "So then, then what does this mean for our lives?" Right? So what did this mean for these people that Jesus was interacting with them? How did their lives change if we decide to follow Jesus, and then what does that mean for my life? And it was in the decisions to follow after Jesus that I started to taste the freedom and life, peace... that is just indescribable. It's like once it tasted something of God, words cannot describe, and it's like nothing else on earth is worth it than to follow after this God who brings that freedom and life and peace. And a big theme of Mark is losing life to save life. Jesus says, "Follow after me, lose your life, but you will save it" [Mark 8:35]. And I think that was my experience in college, just these decisions to follow Jesus in ways that are really hard, but there was something about those decisions and trusting Jesus with my future that led to the taste, of this taste, of the freedom and peace. That Bible study, that just rocked my world, and things were just never the same.

The beginning of my Catholic journey also sort of began in my classroom—well, it was with a guy that was part of that Bible study. So Pat [Sarah's husband] was involved in this group InterVarsity as well. And I was really confused about why Pat, the Catholic, was involved in InterVarsity because I was raised to believe that Catholics weren't Christians, I think because my dad's Polish side and that history there! And so, I remember being confused, I thought it was weird. But Pat became my friend, and that year, I would grill him with all my questions like, "Why did Catholics worship Mary? What is up with the saints? Why did Catholics also worship Satan?" And I just went at him with those questions! And I still remember him answering so thoughtfully and in a way that made me stop. And he had answers that made sense and I was left a little speechless by his answers.

Over the course of those four years Pat and I became really good friends. We were part of the same fellowship together, but we as we grew up in college we were small group leaders and trained together and we were part of the senior visioning team. It got to the point where, you know, we ended up starting to date graduation as a senior year. So college was a time where I was learning about hearing God's voice, ad it was actually a series of dreams. I only thought of Pat as a friend, but a series of dreams that I had. repeated dreams, that led me to think about Pat as someone more than that. It took me a while because I was really scared in what I was seeing and I was praying through a lot of things. But graduation of senior year, we end up starting to date. And I, you know, because we were dating, I wanted to know about Pat's Catholic faith, because I want to know more about him. I care about his life.

And so, summer after graduation, I go to mass for the first time. Never been to mass in my life! Pat prepped me a little bit, but I have to say, the experience of mass—if you've never been before—is just overwhelming, is maybe a good word! I didn't know what to stand up, when to sit down, I didn't know what people were saying and the worship is just completely different than I'd experienced my Protestant church. And I remember just like trying to like figure out my bearings and catch up and there's so much, so much on the walls and it's so, you know, there's just a lot, lots happening in my senses! I remember, you know, feeling the overwhelmed feeling. But then afterwards, there was also being deeply moved and struck by the mass.

In the mass, especially that first time, I just felt the reverence and experience of meeting the Almighty God in a way that felt new and different to me. From that first mass that began a three year exploration of the Catholic Church. Actually ended upworking full-time with InterVarsity doing full-time campus ministry, so I had a job, I had life. And so, the exploration was this long process that involved reading lots of Scott Hahn. So Scott Hahn is a Protestant pastor who converted to the Catholic Church, he has a few books that are really helpful for me. But in my digging, in my reading and learning and asking lots of questions, I was just so struck, well first by the history of the church! The denomination that I was part of growing up can trace back to 1920s! [laughs] But, you know, the Catholic Church goes all the way back to St. Peter, which is like this long, beautiful history. And the mass itself, just every single element of the mass is rooted in scripture [and] the history of the Church, which as I dug into it, and just every element of the mass, I could find how that was connected to the Word of God and to history, and I just captivated me. More and more, I just wanted to be part of that part of that continued story, but I just felt like I encountered God and could meet with Him in a way, during mass that I hadn't experienced before.

12:55 RACHEL: You raise so many good points there, but the one that really stuck out to me was the sensory overload that you talked about when, you know, folks go to Mass—especially for those who are not raised in the Catholic Church—because just as you're saying that, I think back to as a kid sitting in the pews at mass and really not thinking much of it. But you're right, I can picture my parish in my mind right now and you know, you see the altar, you see all of the colours and the chairs and there's statues and paintings and the Stations of the Cross and candles! So it's literally engaging all five of your senses, and it can be overwhelming! Not to mention all of the gymnastics that come with, you know, standing up, sitting down. You have to sing, you have to speak and respond.

But I'm curious to hear because obviously, you mentioned that you were very curious about the Catholic faith, just because you knew it was important to Pat whom you were dating at the time. So when it came to, I guess, making that step into, you know, saying yes and then getting baptized and welcomed into the church, I would imagine, that as much as there probably was a lot of excitement within you, there probably were also maybe some tugs in the other direction, given your own family, first and foremost, as well as maybe your colleagues at InterVarsity, some other friends that you may have graduated with. So, what was that like, to navigate, moving into a phase where you knew that God wanted you to join Him in the Catholic Church. You felt that call, but your surroundings, there were other forces, maybe, they were holding you back or pulling you in the other direction?

14:33 SARAH: I feel really lucky that my InterVarsity colleagues were really supportive, and my direct supervisors would refer me to other people they thought would be helpful for me to process with. The hardest thing about deciding to join the Catholic Church was my dad. So my dad just... his whole life was very strong Protestant and had a certain idea about the Catholic Church. He was not supportive that whole exploration time, and it was really hard. I decided to join the Catholic Church, because I really wanted to. It got to the point where I just saw that there and I felt God just inviting me! It wasn't like a, "You have to join!" It didn't feel like the pressure from God, but it was like an invitation that I, more and more, just wanted to accept, and I wanted to join the church.

I did involve my process with my dad along the way. And him, Pat and I would—actually, it was just mainly him and Pat—would have a lot of conversations about my dad's questions. But honestly the point where I decided just to move forward and join the church, my dad wasn't behind that and that was really hard to not have that approval. Actually, so, I remember the mass where I was received into the church, receiving the Eucharist for the first time I went back to my chair. And I remember God saying to me, "I'm really proud of you." And that was just a really deep moment for me because I didn't feel like I had that from my own dad, and that was really hard.

So I entered the church in 2009. I would say in the years after that and it's been over a decade now, but my dad is definitely at a different place. Now he's not, like, super excited [laughs] about himself joining the Catholic Church! But he's come to mass with us a few times and we talked about our faith. And I think that my dad has seen the ways in which Pat and I as Catholics follow after Jesus in a way that he recognizes as real and true.

16:40 RACHEL: You know, that moment that you recounted when you were received into the church, just how you could hear God say that He was proud of you. And how, even in the midst of difficulty, even when your own parents, like your own father, maybe at that moment wasn't behind you, just to know that you are already so, so loved by God the Father. I find that so incredibly moving and many, many years have gone by since then. And the example that you and Pat and now your family have been for your own parents, how special that must be and how you're able to evangelize like very subtly, like not kind of in your face, like 'you must join!' in the way that you were kind of alluding to earlier! Like you never felt that pressure, and in the same way you were very lovingly bringing your own family into that, too.

I want to pivot slightly into a different facet of your identity. You have this diversity of really different faith experiences, which I think is so important. Not many people can say that they have that, like I certainly don't! The Catholic Church is really all I've ever known. So I think that there's a richness that you've experienced with different faith backgrounds. And then you also mentioned that you are multi-racial, and you know, you're in an interracial marriage, and you speak very openly about how you raise your kids, you know, very intentionally with this like multi-racial, multi-ethnic awareness. And I was wondering if you could speak a little more to that, just in terms of being very intentional with raising your children with that strong sense of identity, whether it's like with faith or racial identity, especially in a time such as now.

18:25 SARAH: I share in my podcast intro the story of being pregnant with my second, my son, and wanting to find a baby doll for Gianna. And at that time Amazon was around—this was eight years ago!—and I do a search for 'Asian baby doll' because... so I'm Korean and white, and my husband is Chinese-American. So my kids are multi-racial but they appear Asian. And so I wanted a doll that looks like them, and I remember being excited to search for a baby doll for my little Gianna and just being surprised at there being a no options on my screen! And then I go into my local Target thinking, "Okay, I'm in California Bay Area, this is a diverse city! Surely my local Target will have some options!" And there weren't! That started a journey for me of wanting to provide images and books that my kids could read with characters, and told by authors, who looks like them and represented them.

In doing that with my kids, that actually made her focus on my own experience as a biracial woman. So growing up, I was close to my Korean family and was really shaped by that. But for the most part, I grew up in a very white context, and my parents had the value for assimilating to American culture and so I just didn't really think about my ethnicity. And I remember in high school, my friend who I'd been friends with for a while, we were on a walk and she out of nowhere said, "Sarah, by the way, what are you?" [laughs] And I was so caught off guard by that question! What am I? It was so weird! And I've gotten that question a lot, but it felt different coming from afriend. So I've had this experience of never quite fitting in with Korean or white.

Coming back to college, I went to USC in Los Angeles, which was really diverse. And actually, the fellowship I was a part of was largely Asian-American. And for the first time, I connected with people who also took their shoes off when they went inside their house and people who, like, deferred to elders and like had these Asian values that I didn't even realize were Asian-American values! But I could never connect with my white friends growing up around these things, and it just opened this whole new window, and I just had no idea how Asian I was until I actually got to be with other Asian students!

Recently, too—so I shared about books for my kids, and realizing that our bookshelves have been really dominated by one voice—and I realized even for myself... So, this last—no, actually about a year ago—I read a book called Pachinko by Korean-American author. And reading that book, it's like I knew, I knew the voice. The voice was familiar. I had never, ever read a book that felt that way before. And it struck me that I'd never read a book by Korean-American author before! That voice was familiar. I knew that voice and that voice represented me, and that's really important. There's a whole concept of windows and mirrors with books and yes, you can have books that are like windows to learn about someone else's life. But it's really important that we all have books that are like mirrors. Especially recently my daughter just finished a unit with our homeschool friends on an Asian-American book unit and we have these stacks and stacks and stacks of books that Asian-American authors with Asian characters. And I was reading a book to one of my kids and at one point I thought, "Do we have too many Asian books in our house? Is this too much?" And then I stopped myself and I realized, whoa! Actually, this is an experience of the average white American. From picture books to chapter books to novels to everything! We have windows—or no, mirrors—everywhere and everything reflects them. And what does that do for somebody, if you have voices that sound like yours? You're realize, oh, that builds confidence. That builds a sense of place and belonging. And I really want that for my kids, I really want that for myself.

And so that's something, become something I'm really passionate about. I want my children to have voices and images that look like them and empower them and sound like them. I also need those diverse voices, because I want to know the other experiences that are also voices outside the dominant culture that give a fuller picture of humanity and life, the fuller picture of God's creation, really. Right? I mean, we were all made in God's image. We miss out on that full picture of creation, a reflection of God through people, when we only have one voice represented.

23:34 RACHEL: And I can't tell you just as a, as a Chinese-Canadian, as someone who grew up with mostly watching, you know, white characters on cartoons or reading books that were by white authors about white kids and what have you. It wasn't until maybe my early 20s that I started to recognize that, yeah, like you were saying. I love that windows and mirrors theory, that I was only seeing the world in a certain way and as I was growing up, and yeah, especially as I got really aware of it in my early 20s. Just realizing that, okay, I see the world in this way, but also recognizing too that everyone out there on the outside does not look like me. I don't look like them. So what does that say about who I am? Like, do I belong? Am I worthy of being out there and being listened to? And, yeah, there were very few things that could mirror that back to me. Like, I tell folks that I watched Mulan, the animated version, when I was 20 years old. It took me that long to watch it for whatever reason! But I remember it was a very pivotal moment for me even though it's a children's cartoon movie, I think it came out in the mid-90s. And just realizing how powerful it is to have a heroine that is Chinese, and realizing that wow, like where has this been all my life?

And then as I started doing research, very similar to the experience of finding an Asian doll for your eldest daughter, realizing that these voices do exist, but they are, in many ways hidden. And just starting again to ask, well why is that? Like, why are we hidden away? Why is there an imbalance with the scales, so to speak? So, I just wanted to articulate my gratitude for being able to put into words like so eloquently a struggle that I'm sure you have felt and maybe still to this day there's still a bit of tension in, I know that I feel a lot and perhaps other listeners as well.

25:48 SARAH: Oh, I'm the same, Rachel! I feel... it was early 20s, it was college where I started to be more aware of my ethnic identity and felt like I really started digging into that for myself. And I always felt kind of behind, but it's also like, better late than never, I guess.

26:05 RACHEL: Right, yeah. And that idea that you raise about God's creation. The mere fact that yes He made us male and female, but He also very intentionally made us so different looking. Each of us have such unique cultures and we can trace that back to the sending out of the twelve apostles at Pentecost and just the fact that they went everywhere, like the goal and the mission for them was to evangelize all nations, to bring Christ to all the nations. And we can trace back, you know, the apostles to different saints that we've had over centuries of how they're able to do that. How Jesus Christ was brought to different parts of the world, and it brings me all the way back to when I started this podcast, one of the things that really struck me as I was looking into diversity of women and diversity of Catholic femininity is that passage from First Corinthians, like St. Paul writes about the whole body of Christ, and how an eye can't say to the ear—and I'm totally gonna botch the [laughs] botch the body parts! But yeah, like we can't say...like, an eye to the ear can't say, "Oh you're not important because you're not an eye." So if we were all eyes, like where would the hearing be? If we were all noses, where would the sight be? Et cetera, et cetera,y ou can keep going on and on, and it's just so important.

And I was curious to hear from your perspective, now that you've entered into the space. Like, you have your Catholic identity now, as well as your racial identity. Just your thoughts on like—now that you've entered in with this podcast which I'd love to chat with you about—but maybe as a starting point, I remember one of the things that you had brought to me in your first, very kind message was just the fact that you were looking for more voices in the Catholic space of colour. And I guess this isn't so much a question, but maybe more so like I just love to hear your reflection on just diversity among Catholic voices and what you've seen, how has it been going to seek out those different spaces, those different voices for yourself?

28:15 SARAH: Yeah. Through the process of filling out bookshelves for my kids, I started to kind of take note of my own feeds! So my own bookshop but also social media. And I was kind of caught off guard. It was very obvious because I know who I follow, but when I stopped and reflected on it I realized that I really just follow white Catholic women! [laughs] There are so many really great white Catholic women voices and there's so much that they bring. But I wondered where the other voices were. Where are the other voices? And I started searching and searching, and I found a few Black Catholic women that I was excited to follow, so I jumped on that right away. But Rachel, I am pretty shocked at the lack of Asian representation! And I have to tell you, you got my main message. I found your podcast and [gasps] I was so excited! And you have been the only one I've found, like you've been the only one I found. Maybe a few others? I just think that we missed out when we don't have all the voices.

I was thinking earlier today about different Bible stories and how would someone from different cultures reflect on these various stories? Like you know, Jesus' family. They had to leave and flee after Jesus, you know, from Bethlehem to Egypt. Like how would a Vietnamese refugee tell that story? You know, what about someone who experienced great suffering and injustice? You know, how would they tell the Bible differently? And... I just think that we need more. We miss out when we don't have more of the different cultures represented in the whole voice. Because, again, you know, God made us in His image, and God is not in one box. God does not like to be in a box, I have learned in my in my life!

Each of us, each culture represents a different part of God. How amazing how much more rich will our faith lives be when we get to really know and experience and how those different parts of God through cultures come alive to us and come close to us. I just think each story that's different than ours, each cultural background that's different than ours, hearing them reflec