The Missing Piece of Doing Good

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An interview with DIANE UJIIYE by JUDY WANG
Illustration by DARREN INOUYE
Jan 01, 2015 | min read
Part of 29: Do Good
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When you imagine the epitome of doing good, it might look something like this:

You’re an activist that goes door to door in the name of social justice. You rally to get tough legislation passed. You work on the streets with gang members, prostitutes, addicts, and AIDS patients. You’re cool, you’re hip, and you’re fighting for the oppressed and the voiceless.

Yet amid all the good you do, something isn’t changing. There’s a piece missing. 

Diane Uyijie was that cool activist. At a young age, she got involved in the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) and worked under the influence of major Asian American civil rights leaders. She was exposed to all the important issues and got her hands dirty “doing good”. 

And she did it like a rockstar. 

“All of my life, the people that I’ve worked with would be called ‘clients’ in clinical terminology — they weren’t clients! They were my friends. I never bought into the mental health paradigm of social worker-client or provider-recipient relations. I felt that was condescending. I was just hanging out. I was facilitating stuff, but I wasn’t your counselor, I wasn’t your mentor — I was just hanging out!” 

he people that I’ve worked with would be called ‘clients’ in clinical terminology — they weren’t clients! They were my friends. 

During this time, Diane also met Jesus. She was introduced to church through Girl Scouts, and there she found goodness, love, and fellowship. However, a huge part of her couldn’t give up the worldly things that she desired. 

“I got bored with that. I wanted both. I wanted my church youth group experience, unconditional love and acceptance, and I wanted to get high.”

Diane also saw a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the church. While the church was throwing bake sales in the parking lot, there were people who needed real help just down the street. 

“I really was moved by the Holy Spirit and Jesus, but I saw tremendous hypocrisy with the Japanese American Presbyterian Church being insulated and isolated from people who were hurting and broken.”

Ultimately, it was the romance of revolution that drew her away from God. Diane felt rebellious and the church represented many things that she didn’t necessarily want to be a part of. It meant restrictions and rules, and it didn’t fit with the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle she wanted. 

“I wanted to be angry at anything that was institutional, anything that was traditional, because I felt that things that were institutionalized or systemic or traditional were inherently oppressive and restrictive.”

Diane also admitted to deep feelings of self-righteousness and pride. When we do good, we often carry that same burden. In the age of the Internet, your good deed doesn’t exist unless you can share it on social media and start raking in the likes. This leads to a bigger question: Can you do good without the Source of all that is good?

In the age of the Internet, your good deed doesn’t exist unless you can share it on social media and start raking in the likes.

“That’s the tension,” Diane said. “I see some of these Facebook posts [and] as much as people are bringing attention to an issue, they’re bringing that attention to themselves. I’ve done it. I have a gigantic ego, so yeah it’s cool to be up on a pedestal and preachy and finger pointy. God just kept reminding me, ‘Yeah, I don’t work like that.’ Jesus wasn’t like that.”

And throughout the 10 years that Diane worked with battered women and people who were in and out of “the system”, she kept feeling God’s gentle reminders. He’d tug at her heart during meetings, calling her to pray. When she met someone who had relapsed for the 17th time or when she saw someone incarcerated for something they didn’t do, she felt a tugging on her heart to come before the Lord. To return to the Lord. 

“The answer was not another program. The ultimate quest is salvation. A program is a temporary layover so you can get clean, but ultimately we have to come to God. Our yearning can’t be quenched otherwise.”

And that’s the distinct irony in Diane’s journey. She started by doing all the good that we Christians strive to do, but God was calling her to Himself first. He is the entry way. He is the beginning of good. 

She started by doing all the good that we Christians strive to do, but God was calling her to Himself first.

“It was becoming more and more frequent that I had this desire to bring this to the Lord. We’re finite. Our so-called wisdom, know-how and savviness, even our compassion, are finite. But God is infinite and I just knew I was on that road to becoming a bitter, cynical, crusty old activist who was going to run out of love, compassion, mercy, wisdom, and grace.” 

So how did God renew her? In seminary, of course. 

Diane chuckled at the idea being in a classroom, submitting to the very authority she spent years rebelling against, but that’s the nature of God, isn’t it? To humble us and bring us back to the foundation of why we even strive to do what we do.

Diane confesses that there are still times when she needs to bite her tongue or sit on her hands in class because the student-teacher hierarchical relationship is tough for her to submit to. But God is constantly humbling her and refining her through the process, and her first year at Fuller Theological Seminary has been a good one. Even her approach to social justice has changed. 

Diane confesses that there are still times when she needs to bite her tongue or sit on her hands in class because the student-teacher hierarchical relationship is tough for her to submit to.

“Now I’m more interested in bringing Christ to people [rather than bringing] other health and human resources.”

Most of us believe that doing good is as simple as, well, doing good. But what hap-pens when our good intentions forget to include God in the equation?  What does doing good look like then? For Diane, her proactive social justice lifestyle would put many timid Asian Americans to shame. Yet, in the end, God beckoned her to His side, calling her to return to where good began — with Him. 

Yet, in the end, God beckoned her to His side, calling her to return to where good began — with Him. 

And now she’s in a position to use God’s infinite glory and grace in her ministry, which has nothing to do with a quota or what you can tout on social media. Now, Diane has a bigger picture that lies in the eternal. 

“Because when we stand before Him, He’s not going to care how many people I voted for or how many ballot initiatives I got passed. He cares about how I treated my brothers and sisters.”

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