“Creator, help us to take action. Help us to use our voices and be anti-racist. Help us to stop polite acceptance of the status quo when our neighbors in the AAPI, Black and Brown and Hispanic communities are suffering. Help us to pray and pray and pray and then get up and act, act and act, and not stop taking action until we aren’t a community of tolerance, and instead are a community that fights against racism with every breath. Amen.”—excerpt from “Prayer of a Mother” by Stacey Murphy (read at the Skylands District vigil by Rev. Heather Valosin)
When eight human beings, six of whom were Asian women, were struck down by bullets on the night of March 16, feelings of anger, sadness and frustration weighed heavily on the minds of many. For Asians and Asian Americans, this news not only felt extremely heavy. It was also a reminder of the lost lives before them and the hateful acts that have been amplified during this pandemic.
In response, the people of GNJ, including the Korean American Clergy Caucus, used their voices and compassion to turn that sorrow into deliberate action, as each district worked together to plan several prayer vigils over the span of a week to honor the lives lost, condemn racism and stand in solidarity with our Asian and Asian American sisters and brothers.
“They took ownership and did an amazing job,” said Rev. Dr. Eunice Vega-Perez, who is the district superintendent for the Skylands District where more than 130 people gathered on Zoom to pray, sing and act.
“Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art form of taking broken pottery and repairing it with a gold dusted lacquer, was used as a visual reminder that yes, we are broken,” wrote Rev. Jessica Campbell of Hamilton UMC.
“We are broken by systemic racism, greed, violence and hatred. As broken people, we named the victims, confessed our sins and lamented together. Claiming our brokenness, we turn to God to seek healing and wholeness. Relying on God’s grace to be the gold lacquer that can restore and renew us, we called upon the Potter’s hand to be the source of strength, hope, transformation, healing, salvation and love,” Campbell added.
Rev. Nova Villa Vitug-Thomas, of Ignite UMC, who read Galatians 3:28 in in Tagalog as part of the Gateway North District vigil, reaffirmed that sense of brokenness as a native of the Philippines when she said, “I felt how to be discriminated against and so at that communal prayer, I felt all the burden and cries of my siblings who were and are being abused and oppressed because of the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes and nose and the accent we have. I felt so helpless and wanted God Almighty to come and rescue us and help us and strengthen us. After the prayer I felt the love of God through the community that gathered and prayed. I had peace. indescribable peace.”
Simultaneously in the Southern Region, candles were lit, and prayers were shared as people made a collective commitment to peace and action.
“The prayer vigil was very touching and emotional, seeing all the clergy get together from all walks of life to show solidarity and support. It was beautiful with different people praying and reading scripture. I feel we need more of these events just to show that we are one, and we will work together to do whatever it takes to bring peace to our part of the country,” said Rev. George Lagos of Plainville UMC.
Similarly in the Central region, about 130 people gathered in worship and 10 people participated in a FB live session.
“I feel affirmed and valued. I am so proud to be a member of GNJAC, who always stands up for justice against the sin of racism,” said Raritan Valley District Superintendent/Dean of Cabinet Rev. Sang Won Doh.
In the Gateway North District, more than 70 people gathered in solidarity to condemn racism and commit to taking action against it.
Rev. Leslie Houseworth-Fields of St. Mark’s UMC in Montclair, who read a prayer during this vigil, said, “In a time of such pain, it was important to be together even in a virtual space. I want to stand in solidarity with the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and it was powerful to see others in that space as well. The prayers and testimonies reminded me that what affects one of us affects all of us.”
Rev. James Ryoo of the UMC in Union closed the Gateway North service with a prayer in Korean.
For Palisades District Superintendent Rev. Gina Kim, feelings of heartache and anger consumed her when she heard the news, but reminders that we are not alone empowered her as her district hosted another vigil on Monday.
“Deep in my heart, I have faith in God who loves all children of God and promises to be with us. My experiences through the pandemic have given me the glimpse of God’s faithfulness and grace and built stronger faith in God.”
Throughout Greater New Jersey Conference, people were brothers and sisters proclaiming, “Here I am Lord. I, the Lord of sea and sky. I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin. My hand will save” (여기 저는 주님입니다. 나, 바다와 하늘의 주님. 나는 내 백성들이 울고 있는 것을 들었다. 어둡고 죄에 사는 모든 사람들. 내 손이 저장됩니다).
Korean American Clergy Caucus Speaks Out and Prays for Healing and Action
The stand against racism, Asian hate and false perceptions of Asian immigrants continued on March 28 as the Korean American Clergy Caucus of GNJ hosted its own vigil both in person at Arcola Korean UMC and online.
Rev. Hakbum Chang of Grace-Bethel KUMC opened the “Candlelight Prayer Vigil: Stand Against Anti-Asian American Racism” with a call to “pray for the healing of the lonely hearts.”
“There is a vaccine for racism,” said Bishop Schol. “That vaccine is with Jesus who encouraged us to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
“Loving your neighbor is like loving God,” added Schol who called for a strong call against the insidious hate.
Rev. Sang Won Doh echoed this sentiment when he called us to be “agents of peace to this broken world,” encouraging us to “let our love overflow.”
The victims in Atlanta–Soon Chung Park (74), Hyun Jung Grant (51), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Yue (63), Delaina Ashley Yaun (33), Paul Andre Michels (54), Xiaojie Tan (49) and Daoyou Feng (44)—were among the only four percent of the Asians in Atlanta. More information about these people can be found here.
Their deaths represent a stark example of a wave of hate crimes that began before the pandemic and then have intensified since its onset.
Jane Ahn of Morganville UMC implored those listening to remember these victims and their stories instead of focusing on the murderer.
“Hate crimes make people feel really isolated…We need more than just an aesthetically-pleasing social media post,” said Ahn who added that the silence and complacency need to end.
Between March 2020 and February 2021, there were nearly 3,800 incidents of hate crimes, said Conference Lay Leader Judy Colorado, as her 15-year-old daughter, Jaiden, held a sign saying, “Stop Asian hate. Protect Asian lives.”
“Everyone is a sacred birth,” said Colorado who is a native Filipino. As others also did, Colorado encouraged people to pray that God’s justice rolls on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.
Rev. Jongin Lee of Franklin Lakes UMC led the “Communal Prayer for the End of Asian Hate Crimes and Peace,” saying, “We thank you for your mercy and grace in salvation, and in desperation, we lift up our prayers for all ethnicities and nations to live in peace.”
With energy and conviction, Rev. Myung Sun Han of Demarest UMC said he has been silent for too long, adding, “I refuse to be silent anymore…I am Korean. I am Asian. I am American. I will not stop raising my voice.”
The event continued with a candle lighting led by Rev. Miso Park of Bergen Highlands UMC, Rev. Lyssette Perez of Iglesia Oasis UMC, and Rev. Eunkyong Kim of Cedar Cliffs UMC, followed by a beautiful rendition of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” led by Rev. Hyoik Kim and the Korean Clergy Choir.
Rev. Hyokyoung Hannah Lee, who is the president of the caucus in GNJ, reaffirmed the call for peace in her benediction as everyone there that day and throughout the week voiced a strong call that the end of racism needs to “begin with me” for there to be peace on earth. “Go with the power and love and glory of God,” Lee said.
Ways to be proactive:
Below are some tangible and practical ways to respond and be God’s agents of transformation. At the vigils, people were encouraged to select and participate in at least one of the following:
- Encourage those who experience or witness acts of hate toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to report an incident.
- Be civically engaged in your local community by reaching out to elected officials, demanding ordinances and resolutions to condemn hate, and advocate for civil rights protections.
- Work with your workplace, school, faith-based institution, union, or community organization to issue a statement denouncing anti-Asian racism and to encourage everyone to work towards racial justice.
- Support Ethnic Studies in your local school districts and educational institutions.
- Support local Asian-owned businesses.
- Share safety tips with your friends and families on what to do if encountering or witnessing hate.