Often, I hear others tell me, “I want to be part of the solution to prejudice.” I am so thankful when I hear this. But what I have discovered is this: dealing with prejudice is not just learning more about what it is, it must also include trying to feel the emotions of prejudice.
Let me help you “feel” the hurt of prejudice.
One reason I became a Christian was because of the Christian message of love. You see, I am Chinese by descent. Even though I was born in America, my Asian features give me away as being oriental. Because of this, I grew up being bullied. It was common for me to be called “chink,” “Stupid Jap” (even though I wasn’t Japanese) and “yellow-bellied coward.” Beyond the name calling was the fear of being chased and physically beat up.
I was a loner at school. Few wanted to associate with a “China boy.” At lunch time, I would often be seated at a cafeteria table, eating by myself. I would act as though this did not bother me, but deep inside I longed to have someone come and sit with me, eat with me, talk with me.
Seldom was I chosen when teams were selected during gym class.
I have had little children use their fingers to squint their eyes, yelling out “Ching Chung,” while their parents would be laughing and saying, “Aren’t they cute!”
In high school I was often stopped by police while driving, supposedly because I had been speeding. The only discrepancy was this: there were cars traveling faster than me which had been passing me.
I felt unloved and unwanted!
Therefore, when someone began telling me about Jesus Christ and his love, my ears perked up. I was told that the Christian church was like a family where there is love and acceptance. That was what I was searching for. So, on the promise I would find love, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.
I have experienced God’s love for me. And, yes, I have felt the love of other believers. But I have been deeply hurt by “members” of the church as well.
“We don’t have a place for you”
Upon graduating from college with a B.A. degree in Christian ministry, I was ready to find a church where I could use my education to help make an impact for God’s kingdom. When representatives from different districts came to the college to recruit pastors, I eagerly lined up with the other soon-to-be graduating seniors to be interviewed. But over and over I received the following message, “Not sure we have a place for you in our district. You being Chinese makes it a challenge.”
I can remember leaving those session thinking to myself, “I look Chinese, but I am American! I don’t speak broken English. I graduated near the top of my class! What’s wrong with me?”
“We don’t want a Chinese pastor!”
Finally, one district superintendent was willing to give me a chance. I was so thrilled to finally be pastoring. At the end of the first service where I had just been appointed, an elderly couple approached me, “Can you come visit us at our house tomorrow?”
Naively, I thought they wanted me to visit them to get to know me and tell me how much they enjoyed my message. Isn’t this what you are supposed to do with a new pastor? But instead, upon being ushered into their living room and seated, I was told, “We want you to know that we will no longer be coming to your church!”
“Did I do something wrong? Why? I haven’t been at the church long enough to have done something wrong.”
What they shared pierced my heart deeply: “It’s because of you being Chinese. We’ve never had a Chinaman be our pastor and we do not plan to have one now.”
“We don’t want that kind!”
When my wife, Roxy, and I were missionaries, we were visiting a church where I was to be the “special” morning missionary speaker. Roxy was standing near the entrance to the sanctuary while I was walking the foyer, preparing my heart to speak. An older woman approached Roxy, introduced herself and asked if Roxy was new to the area. Before Roxy was able to answer the woman looked over to where I was, pointed at me and loud enough for me to hear said, “I’m not sure why that kind comes to our church. They mess things up!”
She must not have known Roxy and I were married. Calmly, Roxy looked at her and said, “You just said that about my husband!”
The hurt had been inflicted.
“I was only joking!”
When I began teaching, I was told, “The reason you got this job is because you are Chinese.”
A few days later, the individual who made that statement came back to me and said, “You knew I was only joking, didn’t you?”
The reality? The hurt had been inflicted. What she shared was not a joke to me.
“Interracial marriages are wrong!”
Around two years ago, I had been asked to help serve at a church that needed a pastor near where I live. B y word of mouth I was told, “You should know that one of the attenders of this church has decided not to worship with us anymore. Your interracial marriage bothers him. He said, ‘God did not intend Chinese marrying whites.’”
Another couple, who had also stopped attending after a month, kept referring to me as ‘that China boy,’ even though they know I am in my 60s.
“We can’t use you”
At a community pastor’s association meeting, the guest speaker, the police chaplain, made the following announcement, “We need some of you ministers to volunteer to help us. Our police are not equipped to be counsellors or to give spiritual encouragement when needed. That’s where you pastors can really help.”
With enthusiasm I signed my name to take a turn every week to travel with a police officer. The next day I got a phone call, “Would you please come to the police station to talk?”
I thought, “They are calling me in to tell me about protocol and procedures I need to follow. Maybe they’re going to give me a badge to wear. This is going to be such an exciting ministry to be involved with!”
Arriving at the station, I was met by the chaplain and police chief. “Rev Jim, we need to talk. After much discussion we have decided we cannot use you.”
“What? You can’t use me? But you said you needed volunteers! How many other pastors volunteered? Is it because you got enough other pastors to sign up?”
“Well, no. Only one other pastor signed up.”
“So, what is the problem? Why can’t you use me?”
“It’s not a problem with you. It’s just that many of our men fought in Vietnam and would feel uncomfortable with you.”
“I’m not Vietnamese! I have never been to Vietnam. I’m an American-born Chinese!”
But nothing I said would change their minds. I left the station, both embarrassed and hurt.
For years, a focus of my life was how I had been mistreated and how I had been hurt. I was the poor victim who was the recipient of prejudice. It was a friend who came to me one day who revealed something about me that I did not like. “Jim, you’re a racist!”
I grew up being taught that the Chinese race is the best race. One reason, I was told, is because Chinese are some of the smartest people around. Another reason is because those of Chinese descent are some of the most handsome and prettiest people. Look at Chinese babies and children. They are adorably cute.
I was also taught to be proud of the Chinese culture. For example, I remember my mom telling me that we were more civilized then other races because we use chopsticks to eat while others often used their hands. Only uncivilized people pick up food with their hands.
When I became a Christian, I continued holding onto my ethnocentric, prejudicial attitude. However, this changed when I was confronted by a close high school friend. Bluntly, yet lovingly, he said to me, “Jim, you need to get rid of your negative attitude that you have towards those who are not Chinese. You may not see it, but you’re a racist. You have a way of looking down on those who are not Chinese. It doesn’t matter whether they are white, or black or brown or red. You look down on them! The way you are treating them is proving to be a poor witness. Your rude actions are causing people to wonder if you really are a Christian or not. Christians are to love and treat ALL people with respect. Don’t deny Christ by your ethnocentric actions!”
I did not like what I had been told, but as I reflected on his words, I had to admit to myself that he was right. My feelings of superiority to others was not becoming of a Christian. I tried to change my attitude and the way I treated those who were not Chinese. Outwardly, I was able to put on the appearance of no longer being prejudiced…most of the time. But inwardly, a nagging thought kept lingering, “Jim, you being Chinese makes you better than those who aren’t.”
I wanted to change. I didn’t want to have a heart filled with prejudice. Wanting to change but not being able to was making my life miserable. It was about this time I was taking a course on John Wesley’s teachings on ‘holiness’ to become ordained in The Wesleyan Church.
As I took this course, I was taught that men and women could be renewed in the image of God. The message of holiness is the message of hope! I am powerless to bring about change in my heart. The hope is this: transformation can happen through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. A big decision for me was to get on my knees, repent of my wrong attitudes and ask God to transform me by His Spirit. That was a sanctifying moment for me!
I love the words of Revelation 7, verse 9 and 10. The Revelator is giving us a glimpse of heaven. He wrote, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
I have seen glimpses of heaven here on earth. I was a missionary in Southern Africa when apartheid was being dismantled. Tensions between the races and tribes shrouded the land. Daily one heard news reports about how the racial and tribal conflicts had caused the senseless deaths of many.
But among Christians in The Wesleyan Church was love and respect for each other. I always looked forward to attending large conferences and worshipping the Lord with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The singing of one song could go as long as 15 minutes. Why? Because it would be sung in Zulu, English, Shangaan, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Shona, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Venda, Sindebele and Siswathi. We knew we were one in Christ, standing in the presence of God.
The Rainbow Team
One Saturday I arose early because I wanted to get in my daily jog. The sun was quickly warming the cool African night air. As I began running, I noticed other runners. It was unusual to see so many of them out so early. “Hey, what’s up?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re running to the starting line. There is a 30-kilometer (18.75 miles) race today.”
For months I had been running. When opportunity allowed, I would enter races. Being with other runners has a way of pumping me up. I had already participated in 10, 15 and 20-kilometer races but not a 30-kilometer. In less than a second, I made up my mind that I was going to enter into the race. I ran home, got money to pay for the entrance fee, ran back to the starting line and waited for the gun to go off. As I stood there, my body tensed with anticipation. I enjoy the start of races. The adrenalin was flowing through every vein in my body!
When the gun went off, I felt as if I began to float along in a sea of runners. For the first 10 kilometers, I ran relaxed. It felt good to be moving. The course at first did not seem that difficult. The road we were on had gentle, rolling hills. However, by the 15-kilometer mark, the terrain drastically changed. The gentle hills were now replaced with, what seemed to me, steep, monstrous mountains. My legs ached with each step I took. By the 25-kilometer mark, I wanted to give up. It was a struggle getting my legs moving. I began making numerous stops to catch my breath and rest. By the 28-kilometer mark, I was virtually a zombie. I sat down on one of the curbs and decided to wait for a car to pick me up to drive me to the finish line. My race was over.
As I sat there, feeling dejected and defeated, three runners ran up to me. One of them said, “Hey, man, get up! Don’t give up! You’re too close to the finish line to give up now! We’ll run with you. You can do it, man!”
As I began struggling to my feet, two of them took my arms to help me. “Listen, man, you go the pace you want. We’ll follow your pace. We’re not going to leave you until we cross the line together.”
For two kilometers, we all ran side by side. They cracked jokes. They asked me questions about why I was in Africa, about my family and about my running. The conversation helped me not to focus on my aching body. Before I knew it, we were entering the stadium. “Hey, man, you did it. Only one more lap around the track, and we’re done.”
New energy surged through my body. The crowd encouraged us on. As we approached the finish line, we could hear the announcer speaking over the public address system, “Look at the group that is coming in now. They represent the new South Africa. Look at them run. What a team they are. Let’s cheer for the ‘rainbow’ team!”
Rainbow team? What did he mean? As I looked at our group, I understood. The group I was running in was made up of a Black, an Indian, a Caucasian and a Chinese. I had not noticed that while we were running. I just saw them as other runners who were helping a fallen runner. However, the announcer was right. We truly were the rainbow team!
A right relationship with God has a way of producing the desire in one’s heart to have a right relationship with others. When our walk with God is vibrant and healthy, there will be a hungering for a restoration of unity that was spoken of at the beginning of human history.
Genesis 1:26-27 says, “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
According to the Bible, we all come from the line of Adam and Eve. This means that we are one family. If we go back in time, we would discover that our family lines will converge. In fact, I will be so bold as to say, “We are all equal before Almighty God because each of us shares the distinct honor of being created in the image of God.”
Family members love and care for each other.
As we navigate unrest in our nation and world, the thought that keeps running through my mind is this, “By our love, others will know that we are Christians.” Church family, it is time for us to be known by our love.