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Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Month

Posted: May 31 2022 at 12:41 PM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt, Dir. of Communications


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Bishop John L. Hopkins shares a message at the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration at First Korean UMC in Wheeling, Ill., on May 22.

On Sunday, May 22, more than three hundred people gathered at First Korean UMC in Wheeling, Ill., to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage and raise awareness of anti-Asian violence. The Northern Illinois Conference Fellowship of Asian Americans (FAA) and the Annual Conference Shepherding Team (ACST) Anti-RacismTask Force partnered together to put together the worship and program for the event, which included several local and national speakers.

The gathering came days after ten people were killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY in a racially motivated attack, one person and five people were injured at a lunch banquet of a Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation in Laguna Woods, CA and three people were wounded by a shooter at a Korean-owned salon in Dallas, TX. Read more from UM News.

During the worship service, NIC Bishop Johnn L. Hopkins shared the story of meeting Bishop Wilbur Choy, who became the first Asian American bishop in The United Methodist Church in 1972. 

"When I was elected a bishop in 1996 and assigned to the Minnesota Area, one of my earliest meetings was held at Lake Junaluska," said Hopkins.  "In the shuttle van from the airport to Lake Junaluska, there were only three passengers: Elaine, me, and an older Asian American bishop. It was Bishop Choy! He was so gentle, full of joy, and welcoming to me."

Bishop Choy died December 28, 2021, at age 103. Hopkins said Choy, who was born to Chinese immigrants in Stockton, California in 1918,  served an extensive career in ministry and left us with many lessons from his long life.

"Bishop Choy is an example that God’s vision is for us is to work cross-culturally and serve together," said Hopkins. "He also showed us that hardships, discrimination, powers, and principalities cannot separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ."

The contribution of Asian-Americans to the witness of Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church is strong, but it has not always been easy ... and it is not easy today, said Hopkins.

"I am aware of the rise of hate incidents against Asian American people in this country," said Hopkins noting an increase in verbal and physical harassment and assaults, shunning, denial of service, discrimination in other forms, and online slurs in the U.S. "You live under stress and anxiety that is hard to carry alone. That is why we are here to celebrate being 'One in the Spirit' in solidarity with one another in Christ and be a common witness to God’s love shared in Jesus Christ."

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The program opened with music and dance "Pungmul Nori" from the Hana Center Team playing traditional Korean percussion instruments.

During the program, which opened with music and dance from the Hana Center Team in Chicago, former NIC Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, who serves the Wisconsin Conference, preached a sermon titled, "Uncovering Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia."

"The greatest challenge we all face is ignorance," said Jung.  "As long as we live in ignorance, there is little motivation for positive change.  When we learn about those who are different, when we gain an understanding of the practices and beliefs of others, when we seek to know others as real people and valuable individuals, we develop sympathy, empathy, caring, and we expand our circles of who belongs in beloved community."

Bishop Jung shared statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hate Crimes Analysis Division that tracked violence against Asian people by non-Asian people between 1995 and 2020.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Death by violent attacks – 442 (approximately 18 each year)
  • Injury by violent attacks – 7721 (approximately 308 each year)
  • Homes/properties damaged or destroyed – 11,231 damaged, approximately 450 each year; 4,414 destroyed – approximately 177 each year)
  • Subjects of “hate crimes” – vandalism, taunting, assault, terrorism, etc. – 56,451 (or 2,258 per year, an average of 6 per day).

Jung said the church needs to continue to work to dismantle and eliminate institutional and systemic racism to transform the world. 

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Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Conference delivered a message titled, "Uncovering Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia."

"Conformity to ignorance, intolerance, prejudice, aggression, and violence can be transformed through education, engagement, relationship building, and a regular commitment to reflect on our core Christian values," said Jung. Read Bishop Jung's full remarks.

Other speakers included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dana Lyles Team Leader at the General Board of Global Ministries, Rev. Dong Hyeong Jeong, Dir. of the Center of Asian/Asian American Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Nadia Kanhai, Co-Chair of the ACST Anti-Racism Task Force, and Claudia Marchan, Exec. Director of Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors.

During worship, an offering totaling more than $1,500 was taken for the First Vietnamese UMC building renovation project after it was damaged by water and the Bishop's Appeal for Ukraine assistance. 

Did you know? In the NIC, there are 20 Asian congregations, plus one Korean campus ministry. 79 Asian pastors are serving Asian congregations, and cross-cultural ministries.

The three-hour+ event ended with dinner and fellowship. Find anti-Asian violence and anti-racism resources, here.

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