2018 Lent Testimony Series
As many of us know--and some of us in the congregation are participating--we are in the season of Lent, a traditionally 40 days of fasting observed by millions of believers all over the world. In Lent, believers remember Jesus’ wilderness temptations and His life of sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. For some, this looks like giving up meat or sweets or social media, all meaningful practices to abstain from everyday pleasures to meditate on Jesus’ sufferings. Even those who do not participate in Lent can reflect on how, for centuries, the global & historical Church has commemorated the days of anticipating the cross and the resurrection life of Jesus, our hope. The Justice Prayer Group here at the Ark has been reflecting on how that hope of life after death shows up in spaces where evil, pain and unanswered questions or prayers remain and how these uncomfortable stories strengthen our trust in God’s larger narrative of redemption.
The stories we’ll share do not always have a “happy ending;” they aren’t about miraculous encounters of provisions. What we’re doing is acknowledging narratives, processes, and unfinished stories of God's faithfulness when no visible breakthrough or victory is present. We want to make a public declaration to the congregation that these unfulfilled desires for healing & wholeness are worth retelling and “celebrating”. Because to speak when we see no fruit is a testament in itself of our hope in God's unchanging character.
Let's hear from members of the Justice Prayer Group who have experienced a particular grief, a sense of wrong, an ache for restoration that Jesus’ resurrection promises. Our hope is that this encourages you, because in the midst of pain and trials, our brothers and sisters stand in hope that the story is not finished yet. The God of Jesus’ death & resurrection hears and is working in the unseen to bring about promises of new life.
Today, the grief I share with you is about racism. Specifically, the racist myth of the “perpetual foreigner,” that for people of Asian descent, no matter what we do to make our homes in America, we will never be seen as belonging because we are not white. In the midst of that grief, my hope is that we Christians in this country will repent of our unbiblical, unjust belief that people of one race are inherently better than others and therefore “belong” while “others” do not. I want to share what God has shown me about His heart against racial injustice and praying for healing and restoration.
Several years ago, I was in San Mateo, heading to dinner with a friend. As we were walking to the restaurant, a car came toward us. A white man leaned his head out the window and yelled out, “Go back where you came from!” before driving away.
Immediately, I felt angry and upset. Because I knew what he meant. He didn’t mean “Go back to Berkeley!” where I was living. Or “Go back to Los Angeles!” where I grew up. Or “Go back to Atlanta!” where I was born. This white man saw my friend and I, both Asian Americans, and saw people that don’t belong in the same place as he. He didn’t see me as a whole person, but assumed so much about me based on the way I look.
Every so often, that memory would come to mind, and I would put it aside. And then last year, I came across a news article about Srinivas Kuchitbhotla.
Srinivas was an Indian man who was working in Kansas as an engineer. One night, he went to a bar for drinks after work with his friend, Alok Madasani, also from India. At the bar, a white man came to them and started yelling racial slurs, asking if their “status was legal.” After some arguing, the man left the bar, and came back with a gun. He shot at Srinivas and Alok, wounding Alok and killing Srinivas. Srinivas died a few weeks before his 33rd birthday.
Do you know what that man said to Srinivas before taking his life? “Get out of my country!” Later, the man said that he thought they were Iranians, and potential terrorists.
This happened last year, in 2017. And when I heard the story, my heart hurt for Srinivas and his family. My heart hurt for his wife, now a widow. I also thought about what happened in San Mateo and wondered whether the same thing could happen to me. Could it be that the last words I will ever hear, before someone takes my life from me, are “Get out of my country. Go back where you came from. You don’t belong here?”
In the book of Revelation, we get a picture of the Kingdom of God. A vast multitude is gathered, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, worshiping with one voice. No group claims exclusive ownership over that room. No group can say to the others, “This is our territory. We don’t want you here. You don’t belong here. ” In heaven, there are no strangers or foreigners, only brothers and sisters. As I pray through this vision of heaven, I see how God’s heart breaks for our current reality. We were made to relate to each other as brothers and sisters. But sin has caused us to relate to each other as included and excluded, belonging and not belonging, insider and outsider.
The scripture tells me that the Kingdom of God stands in opposition to the hateful words that I, Srinivas, and so many others have heard. Then I think about the Christians throughout American history, who have used the same Word of God to justify so much violence. How Christians have sought to steal, kill, and destroy the lives of those who do not look like them, all in the name of Christ. I also think about the book of Matthew and Jesus’ message to the followers, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” And I wonder: have we, as Christians in the U.S., repented of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, hate crimes like the murders of Vincent Chin and Srinivas Kuchibhotla?
A couple weeks ago, I went on an amazing walking tour called Berkeley South Asian Radical History. The tour ended at Berkeley High School, where we heard about the personal attacks that people of South Asian descent faced after 9/11. How South Asians were called terrorists, physically assaulted in the streets, and told “go back where you came from.” As I reflected on these stories, I thought about how I have tried to keep my distance from this conflict. “I’m not South Asian, so this doesn’t concern me.” But if I truly believe that all humans are made in the image of God, and that racism is an attack on that image, then I have to repent for my willingness to stand by while the image of God is under threat. I also need to repent for my own indifference to attacks against those who do not look like me and my acceptance of injustice that doesn’t seem to directly affect me.
Racism is a heavy burden. We can become overwhelmed by the brokenness in which we live. We can become so uncomfortable that we can’t even discuss race and our history. For some time, I tried to put the incident in San Mateo out of my mind. I felt uncomfortable and burdened by what happened. But I believe that God is highlighting that memory to bring newness to that experience. I have the opportunity to sit in that discomfort, to wrestle with it, to pray through it, to have it fuel intercession for myself and for our country. And as I repent of my indifference and lament for our country, Jesus comes to meet me. Jesus reminds me that His faithfulness encompasses our history, His compassion imbues our present, and His courage emboldens our future.
I want to invite you to journey with God and have an honest conversation about the ways in which we may still be living with indifference towards injustice that seemingly do not directly affect us. San Mateo, Srinivas, and the walking tour all remind me how any practice of exclusion are attacks on the image of God that grieve His heart. As we continue to seek out heaven on earth in every dimension, I am hopeful that God will restore that which is broken.