By Evangeline Dai, Ministry Coordinator
Although it was not my job as a synod staff member to attend ALIC (Asian Lutheran International Conference), our synod office was very supportive of me taking some time to participate in AAPI-ELCA events, even when it took so many days for me to be away. It is very important to connect with the greater Church, as well as my ethnic group, especially being the racial minority in the whitest denomination. My other BIPOC colleagues and I often need to shout out, “Hey! We are here!” to constantly remind our Caucasian Lutheran siblings that there are Lutherans who are not white, and there are so many different ways to be a Lutheran. The conference was both educational and spiritual, we had theological, practical, and emotional discussions. I want to remember or highlight things I have learned in this conference, so this month is just Part 1. I am writing from my personal perspective and experience of the conference.
In the conference, we had over a hundred participants from USA (including Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Laotians, Thai, Singaporeans, Hindis, Filipinas, Caucasians, etc.), Canada, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Europe. Yes, not only Asians attended the conference, and we also have non-Lutherans represented as well. Local ecumenical partners in Chiang Rai provided a big hand so we could have the best experience for this conference. My personal pleasure was that my next door neighbor at seminary housing was also at the conference, who is a Caucasian with an international internship in Malaysia. Representative of other ELCA organizations were also there, including EDLARJ (European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice). “Asia is a concept.” The richness of Asian culture is beyond measure. “Jesus was Asian.” (People often do not think about the coverage of West Asia, but Jesus’ earthly birthplace was in West Asia).
I hope that you remember in early 2020, as COVID-19 went viral, there were increasing cases of hate crimes against Asians in the USA. The pandemic’s impact is worldwide; for Asians, the impact has another layer due to several reasons, especially for Asians and Pacific Islanders who live in Western countries. Thus, the theme of this year’s conference is “Comfort, Comfort My People: Prophetic Justice and Healing” (ref. Isaiah 40:1). We share our stories and comfort each other; we learn to comfort our parishioners. In Asian cultures, especially in the church, people do not talk about pain and suffering. What we shared in this conference was helpful.
In addition, we wanted to lift up young leaders. A young adult gathering was held before ALIC started. It was my honor and pleasure to join part of the young adult gathering with another Asian American colleague from my seminary. It brought me so much joy and hope to see them thrive. We learned to be friends, communicated through the languages that were not our primary languages, struggled with what were lost in translations, and most importantly, we learned to speak up and be who we are. In Asia, young people are often ignored or unseen/unheard. We also cooked Thai food together, and it was important relation-building time. Serious conversations took place when we prepared the food. We healed from the sufferings we had due to COVID through talking about them. We witnessed the Holy Spirit in our presence and guided us in our conversations.
The AAPI-ELCA (Association of Asian and Pacific Islander of ELCA) assembly was held right before ALIC. I missed part of it because the schedule conflicted with the ALIC young adult gathering, but I heard that they talked about ELCA’s future church. In the second day of the AAPI-ELCA assembly, I was elected to be the new secretary and overwhelmed in the installation. With anxiety and hope, I know it’s a blessing to be in this position to learn more about our association and great leaders in ELCA.
The whole conference was so rich and nourishing, I could not put everything I wanted to share in one article. Next month, I will share more from the main ALIC session in our Connections newsletter.