Great Cloud of Witnesses: AAPI Women I’m Honoring this Month

During this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am taking time specifically to remember and to honor those who have gone before me.

As a Korean American woman who cares deeply about the pursuit of justice and also serves as a commissioned lay pastor in the PC(USA), I am especially thankful for other AAPI women whose faith fueled their work for the collective good, who model a commitment to God’s radical vision of justice and belonging.

Especially in this time of pandemic, I have also been reflecting on the ways that we collectively need a new moral imagination, the creativity to both imagine and fight for the world that we want to see. So I am thankful for those dreamers, leaders, pastors, and prophets who went before me, who were courageous enough to lead and pave the way for us to follow.

So here are a few women I want to honor today:

*Note: This is not meant to be a comprehensive list or a history lesson. I recognize that there are countless others that are not named, and that I am not representing the full diversity of the AAPI community- just ones who are currently on my heart.

Mabel Lee: I first learned about Mabel Lee a couple years back, on the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. She was the daughter of Chinese immigrants, a suffragette who pushed white suffragettes towards an intersectional approach to voting rights, and became the first Chinese woman to pastor a church in the United States- the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York. She was known for her gifted communication skills and her powerful leadership, advocating for the welfare and rights of Chinese immigrants in New York City.

From Mabel Lee, I receive the inheritance of intersectionality (before it was even called that), the integration of faith and politics, and the mantle of female pastorship in a world that tells us we need to be silent.

Cynthia Bonta: I get regular email updates from Rob Bonta, who is our local Assembly person. I didn’t know what a badass his mom was, until learning about her very recently. Cynthia Bonta was born in the Philippines and came to the United states in 1965 to get a master’s in religious education from Pacific School of Religion. While in seminary, she was strongly influenced by liberation theology and became active in the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam war protests. She was also a leader in farmworker movements, working alongside Mexican Americans for the United Farm Workers, and gave leadership to the Union of Democratic Filipinos or Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino eventually (KDP). Later, she established the nonprofit, Philippine National day Association, to help fight for and preserve the heritage of the Filipino American community.

While she has clearly dedicated her life to the pursuit of justice, I am most struck by this photo of her, holding her son, in the midst of her organizing work. She said in this interview, “”Motherhood is raising a child to be a contributing member of society by being a protector, a teacher, an enabler, a guide, an example.” I hope to be this kind of mother.

From Cynthia Bonta, I receive the gift of a radical and liberationist approach to faith, the power of conscious motherhood, and cross-ethnic organizing movements.

Debrorah Lee: “Rev Deb,” as she is commonly known, is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. She is an ordained minister with the UCC, and has worked at the intersection of faith and social justice for 25 years, examining the links between race, gender, economic justice, anti-militarism, LGBTQ inclusion, and immigrant rights. Some of her current work is focused on mobilizing faith communities toward immigrant justice and fighting for the release and the rights of those in ICE detention. I am grateful for the ways she has broadened a collective understanding of immigrant justice, and for the ways that she builds movements across various boundaries. I’m also grateful for how kind and approachable she is in her work.

From Rev Deb, I receive the integration of prophetic and pastoral ministry, a commitment to Matthew 25 faith, and the gift of being a bridge builder.

Moanike’ala Nanod-Sitch: Moanike’ala is someone who’s been a huge blessing and influence in my life. Seeing the ways that she loves and worships Creator, in the fullness of her identities, has been a healing balm for me.

Of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Urkranian descent, she has worked tirelessly for over two decades to create spaces of faith development and spiritual formation for Native Pacific Islander college students in Hawaii. She is also committed to the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty, the protection of sacred lands, and the preservation of Native cultural expressions through worship, such as hula.

Moani pastors Ka ‘Ohana o ke Aloha, an indigenous church that seeks to be a bridge to the Native Hawaiian community and traditional church. Her love Aloha ‘Aina (love of the land), pursuit of justice, and worship of Creator are seamlessly integrated in her life, leadership, and activism.

From Moani, I receive the inheritance of a deeper connection to the land, an embrace of Holy Spirit fiyah, and the gifts of aloha and joy!

Stacey Park: It feels strange to write about Stacey here. I barely knew her. She should still be alive. But after her sudden passing on Tuesday, from a complication from surgery, I have been thinking about her life, legacy, and leadership all week. There is much I could say about her accomplishments or impressive resume, and all that she has done for the disability community and how brilliant she was. You can read more about them here.

But what stands out to me most about her life, in just the few months I had gotten to know her, is just how Christ-like she was- in the ways that she loved, organized, and built community, wherever she went. She truly saw people, the way they were meant to be seen. Even in her passing, I have received so much healing, empowerment, and freedom, thinking about “What would Stacey do?” and reflecting on what it means to live my own life unapologetically, seeing the sacredness in every person, including myself. I am so humbled and privileged to have known her, even for a brief moment, and hope to continue her work with courage and conviction.

From Stacey, I receive the gift of knowing my worth, of turning strangers into family, and being at peace with myself.

Co-Pastor @bethelcommunitysl | Director of Advocacy @fphayward | pastor, activist, writer | married to @eubanksme | co-author of @lentenlament | she/her

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