God Sees AAPI Essential Workers: An Easter Reflection

For Faith in Action‘s Keeping Faith Series

April 5, 2021

God Sees AAPI essential workers – an Easter reflection

As we remember essential workers who have disproportionately experienced illnesses and deaths during the pandemic, I want to recognize the Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have also borne the risks and have yet to be fully acknowledged. Many are just beginning to learn about this nation’s long history of anti-Asian hatred and violence. During this pandemic, members of the AAPI community have been victims of a horrific rise in discrimination, violence, and hate crimes. More than 3,800 attacks on Asian Americans have been reported. Then there was the shootings in Atlanta.

But Asian American and Pacific Islander essential workers have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID:

— Filipino nurses make up 4% of all the nurses in the United States, yet they make up 31.5% of the deaths of nurses from COVID. And one of those nurses was Rosary Castro-Olega. Rosary came out of retirement at the start of the pandemic because she really wanted to help out, but she was one of the first Filipino nurses to die from COVID.1

— Last year, data about the COVID infection rate of South Asians essential workers in New York City was initially under-reported. These workers compose a large part of the essential workforce (with high concentrations in low-wage, service sector jobs such as taxi driving, restaurant work, and managing grocery stores). A deeper analysis showed that South Asians had the second-highest infection and hospitalization rates for COVID-19, second only to Hispanic Americans. And Chinese Americans had the highest COVID-19 mortality rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.2

— In addition, AAPI women who are essential workers have continued to face an alarming and unacceptable pay gap. The pay disparities are largest among elementary and middle school teachers, with AAPI women being paid just 79% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. AAPI women registered nurses are paid 82% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Lastly, AAPI women cashiers and wait staff make 84% and 89%, respectively, as much as non-Hispanic white men in those occupations.3

AAPI essential workers are seen, yet not seen.4

But despite the history of exclusion and erasure, AAPI essential workers and others who have been rendered invisible can draw encouragement from the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.5 Not only was God the God of Abraham and Sarah, God was also the God of Hagar, the Egyptian. In Genesis 16, Hagar, whose name literally means “immigrant,” was abused in her adopted family. One might call Hagar an essential worker, for her pregnancy was key to the childless Abram and Sarai’s legacy. Instead, she was rewarded with spite. So she fled into the desert to nurse her indignity, and I believe, was sorely tempted to normalize her invisibility. But God would have none of that. An angel met Hagar at a desert wellspring and delivered a powerful message – God’s promise of a great progeny. And that is how God received the title, “El-roi,” the One who sees me, for this was the name Hagar gave to God (v. 13). God is “El-roi” for those who are rendered invisible in our society, too.

What is more, Christians believe that Jesus invites his followers to also open their eyes and see. In Luke’s accounts, two of Jesus’ disciples left their peers, who were still shocked by his crucifixion and death, and made their way towards Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They had heard reports from some women disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The women also reported that the angels at the tomb claimed that Jesus was alive. Yet, instead of staying to find out what happened, they chose to walk away. Perhaps they no longer wanted to be associated with Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to hide and make themselves invisible. But when Jesus joined them on their journey, the disciples did not recognize him. This is pretty strange, when one considers that they spent the last three years with Jesus. Despite clear signs of hope, including Jesus’ living presence, they saw only death. Faces downcast, they never recognized that it was the resurrected Jesus who had accompanied them all along. Not until dinner time, when they broke bread together, were their eyes finally opened.

Essential workers are not seen and recognized because doing would require opening our eyes to the injustices and inhumanity of our social systems – and our uncomfortable complicity. Similarly, the AAPI community is not seen and recognized because we would then have to acknowledge a more complex history of racialization in the U.S. than many of us are ready to embrace. But people of faith can trust that their God is One who sees; their God is One who invites others to see. May we draw strength from our faith traditions, knowing that God sees us. May we keep our eyes open to those rendered invisible among us. Let us hang on to hope and continue to work towards greater equality and dignity.


Notes

[1] “Why Are We Here?Codeswitch Podcast (March 31, 2021); “4 Percent of Nurses, 31.5 Percent of Deaths. Why Filipino nurses have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemicThe Atlantic Podcast (February 25, 2021).

[2]  Sojourner Ahébée, “‘Without data, there’s no equity’: Deficient Asian American COVID-19 data masked community-wide disparities.” WHYY (PBS) (March 14, 2021).

[3] Nick Kauzlarich and Daniel Perez, “AAPI Equal Pay Day: Essential AAPI women workers continue to be underpaid during the COVID-19 pandemicWorking Economics Blog (March 8, 2021).

[4] AAPI Frontline NBC News (an attempt to give visibility and to honor AAPI essential workers).

[5] Olivia B. Waxman, “A ‘History of Exclusion, of Erasure, of Invisibility.’ Why the Asian-American Story Is Missing From Many U.S. Classrooms Time Magazine (March 30, 2021).

Podcast on Asian American Christian History

I’m so delighted to co-host with Dr. Jane Hong this season’s Centering podcast for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Asian American Center. Our theme is Asian American Christian History. Jane is Associate Professor of History at Occidental College. She wrote Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion (University of North Carolina Press, 2019) and is currently writing a history of Asian American Evangelicalism. As episodes roll out, I’ll post info here. So check back on this page for updates!


In 1893, a group of White Americans forcibly overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii. Five years later, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Today, the Hawaii Independence movement continues to resist US colonial occupation. Have a listen as Jane and I chat with Leon Siu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ke Aupuni O Hawaii (the Hawaiian Kingdom) and Director of Christian Voice of Hawaii on Centering to speak on faith and freedom in Hawaii.


Sam George (Catalyst, the Lausanne Movement; Director of Global Diaspora Institute, Wheaton College) talk to Jane and me about the ongoing experiences of South Asian American Christians. South Asian Americans have a storied history of Christian faith. Apostle Thomas brought the gospel to the southwestern coast of India in AD 52, and the Mar Thoma church continues as a source of faith and tradition for many diasporic Indian communities. Have a listen here.


Have a listen as Jane and I chat with Dr. Melissa Borja, Assistant Professor in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan about faith, politics, and history in the Filipino American community. Listen here.

Here is her blog post on The Anxious Bench, “The Power of Faith in Filipino Americans Fight for Justice” | Oct. 19, 2020

Melissa also posted about her forthcoming book (with Harvard Press) on Hmong American refugee resettlement & what this history suggests about how government actions and policies can shape religious identity & community.


Refugee American – The Vietnamese Experience on this week’s episode of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast. Many Vietnamese Americans did not make a choice to come to the US – they were forced to leave their country by US imperialism and its wide scale displacement, destruction, and death. Dr. Phuong Nguyen, Cal State Monterey Bay, joins Tim Tseng and Jane Hong this week to speak about the experiences, identity, and faith of the Vietnamese community.


The Asian American Christian Feminist Trailblazer. 100 years ago, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee rode a horse through the streets of New York, fighting for women’s right to vote. The first Chinese woman to receive a PhD in Economics in the US, she was also a prominent Christian leader who bought a Chinatown church and fought for a Chinese American voice in her denomination. On this episode of the Centering podcast, Professor Grace May, Director of the Women’s Institute at William Carey International University and an Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, joins historians Tim Tseng and Jane Hong, our season hosts, to share about the life of this incredible Asian American Christian leader.


Roy Sano – From Concentration Camps to Civil Rights Bishop Roy Sano was incarcerated during World War II, led the fight for a distinct Asian American voice in the United Methodist Church, and directed the groundbreaking work of PACTS, the Pacific and Asian American Center for Theologies and Strategies. In this episode, he joins Tim and Jane on Centering to share his lived insights on Asian American Christian history.


Is There Room for Us in Racial Justice? Activist Yuri Kochiyama held Malcolm X as he died. She was a Sunday School teacher, American concentration camp survivor, and activist leader. On this episode of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast, Grace Kao, Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology, joins historians Jane Hong and Tim Tseng to share how Yuri Kochiyama’s Christian upbringing grounded her organizing, and can still serve as a model for Asian American Christians engaging in racial justice.


Why Care About Asian American Christian History? We’re back with a new season of Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast! This season, co-hosted by historians Dr. Tim Tseng and Professor Jane Hong, focuses on the erased, forgotten, and surprising stories of Asian American Christian history. In this first episode, our hosts introduce themselves and jumpstart the season by asking the question: Asian American Christian history? Why should anyone care about such a specific, niche-y topic?

Happy Lunar New Year! Hope > Anxiety

Dear ministry partners,

I want to wish you a Happy Lunar New Year, even though it feels more somber this year. Despite the recent rash of violence against Asian Americans (which has continued unabated since the start of the pandemic in the U.S.), I will still celebrate with millions of people around the world. Despite the suffering of so many, let us not give up hope. Jesus Christ remains our reason for hope.


In San Francisco, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee died January 30th after getting shoved to the ground. Also, on Oakland, a 91-year-old was brutally pushed from behind. And in San Jose, a 64-year-old woman was robbed in the middle of the afternoon. [image from https://www.instagram.com/jdschang/%5D

Learn More


Generations of Americans have been taught to see Asian Americans (if we are seen at all) as outsiders and foreigners. Consider this testimony by Rev. O.C. Wheeler (who is regarded as a founding father of California Baptists). His public testimony against Chinese immigrants helped lead to the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Here are some quotes:

the presence of the Chinese has a resistless tendency to degrade labor…, to pollute morals, to destroy virtue among our people. (p. 14)

…under the most favorable circumstances, they fail to show the first step toward assimilation, or the least desire to become Americans. (p. 16)

for every one Christian we have gained from their ranks, they have utterly ruined the morals and led into infamous ways fifty of our sons and daughters. (p. 24)

These perceptions were burned into the American psyche and provided the excuse to treat Asian Americans as unfeeling, less-than-human objects – playthings for bullies. Thus, even our elderly are beaten up because they are easy targets. So, no, mocking Chinese accents and making jokes like “Kung Flu” are not harmless.

Despite anti-Asian racism, hope never fades when we can look to Jesus and follow him. God is raising up a new generation of disciples among college and grad students and faculty. InterVarsity’s campus ministry staff is the vanguard of a new evangelicalism that will not bow to the Baal of Christian nationalism. This rising generation is seeking, praying, and working for a spiritual renewal that points to God’s kingdom of right relationships and shalom.

This is one of the reasons why your support of my ministry with InterVarsity is so important. Yes, we invite people on campuses into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But we also want to bear witness to the healing that Jesus’ kingdom offers to the brokenness in our congregations and society.

(Keep scrolling down to see the recent work that we’re doing to advance the cause of Christ. I’d love to hear back from you!)

And so, because our hope is in Jesus, I can wish you a very Happy Lunar New Year! Please let me know how you are doing and how I can pray for you!


Ministry Highlights

Telling stories of Asian American Christianity

I wrote a series articles on the history of Chinese American Christianity the last issue of Chinasource Quarterly. View at this link.

Dr. Jane Hong and I will co-host a podcast series on the history of Asian American Christianity for Centering, the podcast of Fuller Seminary’s Asian American Center. It will air next week!

Virtual Winter Conference

Thirty-four grad students joined our first ever Pacific Area virtual Winter Conference last weekend. We were blessed with inspiring messages about living out the gospel in a changing world! Thank you for your prayers during a difficult pandemic challenged academic year. Please pray for our chapters as they seek new leaders for the next academic year.

Race, Justice, and Immigration

The next In Search of Shalom session is Sunday, February 21 at 4:00 pm PST! ISOS is a multi-month book discussion series allowing for examination of racial justice from a Christian perspective in a variety of realms. Join us on February 21st as we discuss the topic of Race, Justice, and Immigration. For details and to register to take part in this conversation go to this link!

Christian Faculty Conference

Please join us Friday evening March 12th and Saturday morning March 13th for the Northern California Christian Faculty and Staff Conference, co-sponsored by InterVarsity and Faculty Commons! We welcome participants throughout the Western states and Hawai’i to join us, so please invite your colleagues who are outside of Northern California. This conference is hosted by GFM Pacific, Cru’s Faculty Commons, and IV Pacific Region. Click below for details.

For more information and to sign up, go to this link.

Matching Grant Success!

Thanks to the 15 new partners whose pledges allowed me to get a matching grant! Each new partner pledged at least $75 a month for 2021 for the 15/75/21 campaign. This grant will help defray an anticipated loss in financial support and free me up to devote more time to ministry. New partners are still sought, so please consider making a pledge or donation at https://donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21447.

Twelve Days of Christmas Potpourri

December 25. On the first day of Christmas…

NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with theologian Eboni Marshall-Turman of Yale Divinity School about the message of Christmas this year.

Click to hear podcast

December 26. On the second day of Christmas…

Michael Gerson declares that the Defiant Hope of Christmas is “God is With Us.”

“In enforced isolation and loneliness, God is with us. In chronic pain and degenerative disease, God is with us. In a shattered relationship or a cancer diagnosis, God is with us. In an intensive care unit or a mental ward, God is with us. In life and in death, God will not leave us or forsake us.”

December 27. On the third day of Christmas…

Peter Wehner (NY Times) writes about “The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ.”
“First-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly inclusive figure he was, and what was true then is still true today. We want to tame and domesticate who he was, but Jesus’ life and ministry don’t really allow for it. He shattered barrier after barrier.”

December 28. On the fourth day of Christmas…

Rev. Jim Wallis speaks with Rev. Brenda Salter McNeil about her latest book, Becoming Brave. McNeil shares how to find the courage to pursue racial justice now and her leadership in the church during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Click to play podcast

December 29. On the fifth day of Christmas…

The Bible Project podcast begins a new series about “God’s Global Family.”
Jesus unites his followers across cultural and ethnic lines as members of his global family. But that doesn’t mean cultural differences disappear. In fact, Jesus resurrects and glorifies what is unique and beautiful about every culture. In this episode, listen in as Tim and Jon discuss what it means to be part of the family of God.

Click to hear podcast

December 30. On the sixth day of Christmas…

The Reclaim Podcast talks to Jeff Liou about “Justice and Critical Race Theory.” Other critically important Asian American Christian voices such Russell Jeung, Sam George, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Nancy Yuen, Jenny Yang, and yours truly have been interviewed – more to come!

Click to hear podcast

December 31. On the seventh day of Christmas…

Let us conclude the year and consider the implications of Mary’s “Yes” to God. What might Mary have pondered now that her child has been born? Here is Debie Thomas’ Advent meditation for the National Cathedral in Washington. (Brought to my attention by Bill Newsome, is the Vincent V.C. Woo Director of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Harman Family Provostial Professor at Stanford University.)

January 1. On the eighth day of Christmas…

Which is also the first day of the new year! Isn’t it remarkable how the Christian calendar acknowledges but doesn’t treat New Year’s Day with all that much respect? I present a historical perspective on revival that suggests that we need focus on renewal, not restoration.

Click to view my blog post

January 2. On the ninth day of Christmas…

Check out these “Square Inch Stories” from Katie Antilla and Nathan Wei! Be sure to view the other SIS from Grad students in the GFM Pacific Area on the GFM Pacific YouTube Channel.

Katie Antilla’s Square Inch Story at https://youtu.be/XXB9AAVp8Vs
Nathan Wei’s Square Inch Story at https://youtu.be/pTWpAYL0-24

January 3. On the tenth day of Christmas…

Podcast: “Not a ‘White Man’s Religion’: Church History and Biblical Thought” (with Vince Bantu).

Western Christians tend to emphasize Western church history and culture at the expense of the global church. Many have cursory understanding of the Greek Orthodox tradition, but know little about early Christianity in Asia and Africa. This ignorance of church history leads to more than just historical inaccuracy; it can alienate those of other nationalities and ethnicities with a false portrayal of Christianity as a European- or white-only religion.

In this episode, Dr. Dru Johnson interviews Dr. Vince Bantu of Fuller Seminary about global church history. They give special attention to the origins and spread of Christianity in Egypt, Nubia, and the broader African continent. Along the way, they highlight Western misunderstandings of non-Western Christology and the issue of racism in the ancient world. By expanding our perspective beyond our own historical and cultural tradition, Western Christians can improve our ability to truly preach the gospel to all nations.

Click to hear podcast

January 4. On the eleventh day of Christmas…

Colton Bernasol’s “Between Plainfield and Barrio Three Theological Reflections on Home and Belonging” in Inheritance Magazine.

Click to view

January 5. On the twelfth day of Christmas…

And last, but definitely not least – let us resolve to follow Jesus’ way in the new year! Here is Dion Forster‘s inspiring devotional “On the Politics of Overcoming Evil.”

Dion Forster’s “On the Politics of Overcoming Evil

Christmas 2020 Greetings!

Christ is born!

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Because of the pandemic, it has been a year of separation. But because of the Incarnation of God in Jesus, the Messiah, no separation from his love is permanent. With this in mind, we wish you God’s love and presence in the coming year!

I’m glad to report that Betty and I have not been too negatively affected by the pandemic. Betty had planned to concentrate on home projects this year, anyway. And my work was increasingly based in my home office. But 2020 was an emotionally stressful year as we wrestled with how politics, protests, and the pandemic have impacted our neighbors and relatives.

The pandemic has had an impact on our sons this year. Nathaniel’s work in autism services has been limited to remote work. His start-up, Imaginary Horizons Productions, has also encountered several pandemic related obstacles despite their community building software being in greater demand at the moment. Benji moved out and co-owns a home with a church friend. But he lost his job because of the economic downturn due to the pandemic. He is now looking for new employment.

Through it all, we are hopeful. We are also grateful for your prayers, your thoughtfulness, and your support! May you experience a new year of health, fruitfulness, and renewal!

Christmas Gifts for you!

Because you’ve been such a blessing to me, our students, faculty, and staff, allow me to share the following. Here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to:

Other gifts: stories of transformation and outreach.

  • This professor’s testimony of how God transformed her during her grad studies is one of the reasons why I love my ministry. It also shows why Christian work among grad students and faculty is key to the future of Christianity.
  • This fall, the Haas Christian Fellowship at U.C. Berkeley decided to affiliate with InterVarsity’s GFM and with our area. We welcome them to our MBA ministry!
  • Janice Goh, one of the leaders with Acts Christian Fellowship at U.C.S.F., writes for the university’s student newspaper. Through her writings, she has drawn attention to the chapter. Have a look!
  • A testimony from Taylor Lee and Jessica Marotte, our IV staff at the community colleges in Sacramento, CA (edited):

At our first meeting, one of the faculty that came invited another that I had never even heard of and she came without hesitation with only a day’s notice! And this faculty really ended up inspiring us the most with her stories of how she has been interacting with students before and during covid. This professor, L. is an immigrant woman from China. She teaches in the business department at ARC and oftentimes has international students in her class who are also from China. She said that they can tell she has an accent and will sometimes linger after class to ask her about her story –how she became so successful moving here, what it was like, and any advice she has to offer. She is so bold and always shares with them how intricate God was and is in her life’s story. Because of this, one student decided to join her for church before the pandemic really hit and things were shut down. She shared about this student with us during our first prayer meeting together and was overjoyed to tell us that they had just texted her recently saying they were super grateful that she had invited them and introduced them to faith because they had made a decision to follow Jesus and was baptized at their church that morning!! Because of L’s boldness to share about her faith and eagerness to invite students into that, one more person has joined the Kingdom of God! Praise God!

Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Denise Thompson, ‘s new National Director of Black Scholars and Professionals Ministry. She and her husband, Andre, have lent support to the Graduate and Faculty Ministries at Stanford University and the area. Our area has partnered with BSAP to host “In Search of Shalom,” a monthly zoom series that addresses Race, Justice and a variety of contemporary issues. Have a look at this fall’s episodes!

The GFM Pacific team would like to thank you for your support and prayers! Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!

For more immediate updates and resources, visit these links:

Special request. 2021 will be a challenging year for me and InterVarsity staff to sustain their ministry budgets. I anticipate devoting much more time to support raising during a critical time for our students and university faculty and staff. Would you be open to chatting with me about my specific financial needs? Let me know and I’ll be happy to arrange a zoom or phone call.

If you’d like to give a special end of the year donation, please click the picture below. Thank you!

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