Creating a Safe Space in the Image of God’s Kingdom
By Rev. Dr. Mi Hyeon Lee, Mid-State District Superintendent
I am one of 85.7 million immigrants (2020) in the United States. I have been living in the United States almost for 30 years and it has been a journey of blessings and challenges. Doing ministry at the United Methodist Church is the best blessing and I have enjoyed it at local churches and the cabinet.
Most immigrants come to the U.S. to follow dreams or have better lives and work hard for their children. I am a first-generation of Korean immigrants, and my son is second generation as he was born in the United States. There are also one point five generation immigrants who are born in another country and immigrated to the United States with their parents when they were young. The United States is a blessed land of immigration and diversity.
I love Abraham’s story in the Bible as I see it as a story of immigration. Abraham followed God’s dream and left Ur in Mesopotamia and ended up in Canaan. We see the challenges through his journey. American history started with immigrants from England and their faith stories. Each ethnic immigrant came to the US at a different time and has their rich stories of faith from generation to generation. For example, Korean immigrants came in 1903 first time to Hawaii to help sugar plants and overcame the hardship in an unwelcoming and harsh environment due to their faith. Each generation of immigrants has rich stories of their lives in the United States. I also have my own story. Immigration creates beautiful diversity. The diversity brings rich stories of life and faith and reminds us of God’s blessings with harmony in the differences.
Unfortunately, we have buried the blessing of diversity under racism and treated others based on skin color. If every person is made in the image of God, then how can we discount any part of God? When we meet God, I truly do not believe God will separate us by skin color- but God may ask us how we treated others in God’s image and how we have lived with others in harmony and love. Racism has plagued the history of America for over 400 years. Some of us have denied acknowledging others as who they are, and some of us have chosen colorblindness, as Robin Diangelo said, in which people claim to not see race or say they know the color of people and remove their accountability in racism.
When I felt I was used as a token, I felt pain as I was not treated as who I am as an individual or a human but treated as a representative for an entire collection of identities. When people excluded me or didn’t treat me well because I was different from them, I suffered inside. The Cabinet coaching with Nikki Lerner has shifted my experiences of pain into a blessing. I usually kept silent because I knew I had to give two or three times to approve my thoughts, opinions, and ability as an Asian woman in the United States. As the Cabinet has walked through Race and Culture coaching with Nikki Lerner, she created a safe place to share our thoughts and experiences, even though it took time for me to recognize it is a safe place. The process was not smooth all the time. We faced ups and downs with learning, accepting, recognizing, and taking action. It is not done yet, but through the process, I could share my thoughts and feelings honestly. It was the first time that I could share my thoughts and experiences of racism and tokenism freely on the Conference level. It took almost 30 years to feel a safe place without anxiety, fear and judgment. I appreciate Bishop and the Conference for the intentional actions on Race and Culture.
A safe place should happen in every church, any place for everyone, no matter who they are, without judgment, and as human beings. Every Sunday, we say, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on the earth as it is in heaven.” in Lord’s prayer. I believe that the Kingdom is a safe place where all different color skin people are treated in God’s image and treat all in God’s image. I believe that the Kingdom is where people experience harmony, love, and justice in God’s image, and we can do it as Disciples of Jesus Christ.