By Evangeline Dai, Ministry Coordinator
Earlier this year, I had a trip to Chiang Rai, Thailand for the AAPI-ELCA assembly and the 11th ALIC (Asian Lutheran International Conference). This article is part 2 of my notes and reflections. (You may click here to read Part 1 of my reflection from last month’s newsletter) It is important to point out that ALIC is a network emerged out of the AAPI-ELCA. Because of cultural and linguistic bonds, Asians in the ELCA and Asia looked for an opportunity to engage in theological reflection relevant to our cultural backgrounds and ministries.
On Thursday, January 12, 2023, the 11th ALIC kicked off with “singspiration” by the international music team. Rev. Pongsak led us to sing a few hymns, including the ALIC theme song, “Asians Together.” Asians are a collective of diverse people spread everywhere, but we come to the conference as one big family.
After warming up by singing the hymns, our opening worship was led by Bishop Chanda Saiyota of ELCT (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thailand) and Rev. Jenny Lam of ELCHK (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hong Kong). The procession came in with a bamboo cross, to me, personally, it was very beautiful. When faith and Asian culture come together, it always touches me. Jesus came for everyone on the earth, including Asians and Pacific Islanders. Several languages were used in hymn singing and scripture readings, it shows our diversity within our big Asian and Pacific Islander group.
The ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, who could not be with us in person, sent a video message to the conference. She shared, “by gathering and particularly gathering under that message, you are actually showing resistance, when God through the prophet Isaiah said ‘Comfort my people,’ it was a sign of resistance and standing with the people against the oppression that they were experiencing. It’s true a way for you to say yes God is with us, no matter what the world might bring against us. So I pray that you feel that comfort, and in the spirit of resistance that you also bring God’s Comfort to All those whom you serve. I hope you have a blessed conference.”
The first Bible study session on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 was led by Rev. Tristan Shin, who started with a powerful blessing:
“I give my thanks to you, my siblings in Christ, ceaselessly praying for you for our affliction as many the hatred we received from others, the violence we witnessed and experienced; but these anguish and agony of being unheard, unseen, unknown, undervalued, that the exhaustion the shame, the guilt, there are many things to lament.
“But I give thanks to our God, our creator, source of mercy and comforts, and the resurrected one that tells us death certainly does not have its last word, but we too have been redeemed, we too have a new life, and we too receive the hope and grace.
And I give thanks to our God for all of you, for your unrelenting faith for being here, and remembering those who are unable to, who are no longer here, and with that, receive this blessing:
“Blessed be to God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all mercy, and God of all consolation, who comforts us in our sorrows, that we can comfort others in their sorrows with the consolation we ourselves have received from God.”
The purpose of 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, which can be found in funeral liturgy, is for comfort; and the word “Asia” is in the biblical text although it may mean differently from the “Asia” we know today. Through the word studies and through unfolding context, we explore the consolation Paul sent to the suffering members of Christ. In the presentation slides, Pastor Shin reminded how isolation and hopelessness look like when people are sad; in our small groups, we were asked to share our grief, especially being Asians, sharing our feelings is sometimes a bit like a taboo, he wanted us to embrace the sadness and thank God for it.
Although he shared a cultural experience from his Korean background, this resonates with many other Asians; he said, “…let alone sharing our emotions to others and I suspect that we’re not good at it at all, um, especially in the Korean culture we don’t talk about emotions, and we definitely do not talk about emotions with strangers, whatever happens in the family stays in the family, but as a family, we don’t talk about it. It’s a weird process the only way my parents expressed care was through food.” Thus, he encouraged to use the power of vulnerability by quoting professor Brené Brown, “Vulnerability is often associated with being weak and emotionally exposed, but it has to do more with courage and self-awareness.” –being vulnerable is more powerful than pretending you’re strong, it brings healing and comfort.
Pastor Shin also showed us photos of the Japanese philosophy and practice of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with golden material, it’s called “Kintsugi.” Out of brokenness, there is a new beauty, if we mend it.
After the Bible study, we had a keynote discussion for “God’s Justice Among Victims of Violence” led by Rev. Dr. Surekha Nelavala, a pastor of multicultural mission in the Delaware-Maryland Synod of ELCA, and also a New Testament professor.
She shared how the complexity of intersectionality affects the victims of violence, and how the COVID-19 global pandemic tremendously affects certain groups of people. “…even the most basic protocols of the guidelines, it counts for some level of privilege, not everybody could afford the lifestyle needed during the pandemic: some had the privilege of working from home and some did not have, deeply affecting families and people to end up in deep financial crisis. … The pandemic scratches the surface of the ugly inequalities of the systems for reveals the true colors of the societies were exposed.”
Rev. Dr. Surekha then shared in the context of the pandemic and other related contexts finding comfort and justice, a Biblical response from the intersectional perspective of Asian women. In the family structure, especially among the Asian communities, women do the heavy lifting in the families. How have women’s roles and responsibilities changed during the pandemic in the Asian households where patriarchy is a norm? Some families spend some quality time together; some women found it harder to work from home and vice versa; and some women faced serious domestic violence.
The question is, in Asian churches, or churches in general, where do we draw theological basis to support such unique quality of gender-based injustice and inequality being tolerated in society? In 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 that says women must be silent in the church, it is most likely forbidding women to teach. In the post-feminist era in the church, do you think these words still have influence? Rev. Dr. Surekha explained the context of the biblical era Mediterranean perception of gender, which is hierarchical: the lower is feminine, and the higher is masculine, in our general construction. Whether it is only particular to that context, whether it is cross-generational and for everybody, but Asian churches today still follow that very Faithfully. That is injustice and oppression for women.
On the other hand, in Romans 16, there are names that are written Deacon Phoebe, and Prisca and Aquila as leaders, but if you read the whole chapter there are plenty of women’s names that Paul thanks them and affirms their ministry. These are all the people who were colleagues in Paul’s ministry we may not have the stories of what they have done, and we may not have what kind of ministries they have engaged, but Paul definitely engaged with women equally in the ministry.
And then we discussed Jesus’ encounters with women, to see where liberation and justice may lay. A marginalized Canaanite woman begged
Jesus to heal her daughter, we read it in the matters of intersectionality. We were reminded that Jesus was also s culturally conditioned human being, the Word became flesh indicating that he also participates in the sense of humanity that includes cultural prejudice. However, we can still find comfort in this story, because at last the daughter was healed. In a reflection, my seminary friend Julie shared that fighting injustice is like removing the wild weeds, they will grow again, we need to keep removing them every day, so the crops may grow properly.
In addition to theological sessions, we had a special prayer service to remember those who suffered and who are no longer with us. Participants write down the names and things for prayers on a piece of paper, and after a ritual of lighting candles and prayers, we clipped the papers with a string on the wall to remind ourselves throughout the conference of those precious souls who gave us light and memories and the prayer petitions we lifted. We also have beautiful cultural presentations by the local tribes. The dancing and singing refresh our souls. During break times, we made friends and shared stories. We all learned a lot every day. In the following months, I will continue to share the gems I found at the conference, stay tuned!