(sent on March 18, 2021, to the EACF congregation)
To my dear brothers and sisters of EACF,
As a predominantly Asian American congregation scattered throughout the Atlanta area community, we may have been shocked to hear of the killing of six Asian American women and two others (and injury to another) connected to three massage businesses in our area. This tragedy may have impacted us on many different levels.
On one level, violence against Asian Americans - and in this instance, the shooter isolating Asian women in Asian massage businesses may have indicated the targeting of each aspect of that profile - affects many of us. Are we being targeted? Is there some sense of othering that is happening, where our type is not considered friend but somehow gets labeled foe? The shooter may not have had an overt racial intent, but his actions were limited to one particular subsection of our broad, diverse community. So when the result is isolated violence, it disturbs us. Personally, I don't know enough to label him racist, but I am noting and am greatly troubled by the narrowed scope on Asian women. I do not think of this as exactly the same as other recent violent acts against Asians in our country (those seem more random and this incident has other layers to it). But I understand how this is a moment when some people's consciousnesses are awakened. For many of us, it is another aggression added to a mountain that has been largely ignored.
On another level, mass shooting in our Atlanta community brings these issues close to home. I read of unprovoked, seeming random attacks in the Northeast and the West Coast where Asians of both genders and many ages have been assaulted. It was disturbing, but somewhat distant. Whenever something happens closer to home, it invades our sense of peace and security. It becomes even moreso part of our lives. Again, though, many of us have already dealt with aggressions. Some of us have wounds that have been hidden for a long time, and that is often moreso the case for women.
On a third level, any time someone takes the life of another, or lives of multiple others, it should unsettle our spirits on a human and especially on a Christian level. We live in a world where there is evil. If we've ever pretended that this is not the truth about our world, we have believed a lie. And if we've ever thought God promised us not to have to deal with these things, then we have also misunderstood. As Christians, we are able to more acutely grasp sin and brokenness because we have a vision for something that was (Eden) and will be (heaven) better. Sadly, as the other elders and I have been emailing about this, we know that this brokenness can also be found in our Christian experience. The shooter attended church and claimed to be a Christ-follower. Yet somehow, some way, his discipleship did not bring him to transformation through Jesus Christ. This challenges our own understanding of what it means to be Christian, to confess our sin, and to beware the evil within. He came to see the solution to his problem was to eliminate others, namely Asian women working in massage parlors. He did not see them as fellow image-bearers of God who also need the love and grace of Christ. He saw them as an obstacle, a hindrance, the problem. The sadness and despair that we feel drives us to the Gospel.
This is why Jesus died.
Christ died to break the power of sin. His gracious work transforms us from the inside out. We have a new heart, new spirit, new life, and new relationship to others because of the cross and empty tomb. And God has secured us in the present and future.
Now, having said that, and while trusting in the provision, power, and presence of God, we still have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And it is wearying, heart-breaking at many times, and sad. But this is also a time when God uses us to comfort one another, within our predominantly Asian American community, but also as we hear from allies who would want to sit with us and walk with us, to grieve, and also to promote something better. God has given us hope in this darkness. Our greater identity in Christ calls us into His comfort and His strength, to fight against sin, evil, hatred, mental illness, insensitivity, callousness, ignorance, and passivity. No, we do not fight the battle like others do: Jesus is, after all, the one leading us into and through this battle. But we cling to what is good, and pray for God's mercy, and promote justice and peace.
What can we do?
First, pray. The Spirit will groan with us (Romans 8) and will renew our thoughts, sight, and emotions (Ephesians 4, Ezekiel 36). Sit with your Father. He catches our tears and bandages our wounds. Too often we dismiss prayer as simply mental exercise or meditation, but as Christians, we believe and know that this is our time to connect with and be ministered to by the Father and Spirit. Go to your knees and pray. We cannot accomplish anything significant with God.
Second, support one another. None of us are meant to live in isolation, so reach out for help or to help, even if it's just to sit in silence as we feel the weight of the world a little bit. Our culture too often emphasizes internalizing our pain and suffering and emotions. God calls us to carry one another's burdens. Let's share and carry.
Third, talk with our non-Asian friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates - anyone who will listen. What will we say? We might talk a bit about the other acts against Asians that haven't been noticed as much. There has thankfully been much more written lately to highlight the history of Asian American in this country.
But even more importantly, we can frame all of this within the larger conversation of racism, hatred between individuals and groups, the fallenness of the world, and the hope that we have in Jesus entering into these broken spaces. Because even when we sign petitions, form support groups, share knowledge, or build relationships, we're always needing to see how true change only happens when we take it all to Jesus. Human-to-human conversations will help, but human-to-Jesus is when light shines into the darkness.
May God give us all hope in Christ and by His Spirit.
If you want to talk, I and the other elders are available to listen. If you want to pray together, call, text, or email. If you prefer to speak with a professional counselor, we have two or three that we can recommend and help you set up an appointment. Our church fund can cover the initial costs as well. We are here for you.
May God give us all comfort in these days.
With faith, hope, and love,