Being invisible – Reflection by Rev David Dong Won Kim

Being invisible – Reflection by Rev David Dong Won Kim

During my seminary training in America, I had a series of conversations for an internship with local churches, but I failed all of them. Many thoughts raced through my mind – perhaps because I am Asian? Maybe because of my broken English? When I returned to the field education director, he said he couldn’t find any more churches for me. The following semester, the director asked me to speak with a church in a remote area because no one else had applied. Despite the two-hour drive, and already being a semester behind my colleagues, I agreed.

This experience reflects a personal journey of feeling unaccepted, rejected, and ending up invisible due to my appearance, language, and cultural background.

In her book ‘INVISIBLE,’ Rev Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim highlights ongoing ways people are made invisible based on who they are in society and within the church. She particularly examines how migrant women have become displaced and marginalised within Western culture and patriarchal practices. Growing up as a migrant in North America, her perspective may differ from migrant communities in Australia. However, she points out that Asian women in migrant communities often endure silence in the face of injustice and unfairness perpetuated by dominant groups, including within churches. Many Asian migrant women are pushed to the margins and silenced.

While detailing various aspects and practices of invisibility, the author introduces a theology of visibility through four concepts: CHI, JEONG, OU-RI, and HAN, which serve as steps toward escaping an invisible society. CHI’ represents the Spirit of God within all beings (1 Corinthians 3:16–17), ‘JEONG’ is the force of love that binds people together, reaffirming that nothing can separate them from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39), ‘OU-RI’ denotes a shared life together with others (Acts 2:43–47), and ‘HAN’ encompasses unjust suffering, including systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, enforced through legislation. For me, ‘HAN’ portrays the suffering of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, who suffered without sin, many Asian migrant women endure suffering though they have committed no wrong.

Rather than sharing more of my reflections, I would like to conclude with how the author summarises her book ‘INVISIBLE.’

Rev David Dong Won Kim
Multicultural Ministries Coordinator, eLM

‘INVISIBLE’ by Grace Ji-Sun Kim
“Why I wrote Invisible?” (By Grace Ji-Sun Kim)
Since the publication of my book Invisible, I have been invited to speak on it in numerous universities, seminaries, churches, communities, and podcasts all over North America. I feel so honoured to share my book as it was always my hope that Invisible will become a lens for other marginalised and oppressed people and communities to see themselves and make sense of the world.

There are many Asian American theologians who are struggling to understand their context and try to overcome racism, xenophobia, discrimination and marginalisation. For many of us, it is a daily struggle.

We fight racism in our communities, neighbourhoods and churches. It oftentimes overwhelms us and causes enormous pain and agony. For Koreans, we call this unjust suffering ‘HAN’. Han is an experience of the piercing of the heart and can damage us physically, mentally and spiritually. Therefore, it is important to work towards eliminating han so we can live flourishing and liberating lives.

Below is an excerpt from my post for the Baptist News Global, “Why I wrote a book about Asian Americans being invisible.”

“Asian Americans have been labeled as “perpetual foreigners.” It doesn’t matter if our great grandparents were born in America, our features are still Asian, and we look different from the dominant white society, and therefore we are categorised as foreigners. A white European could have immigrated last month, but they are welcomed as an American while Asian Americans are not accepted as Americans.

We are often asked, “Where are you from?” which implies that we are “not from here” and therefore cannot be American. This leads to continuous marginalisation and oppression, which results in radicalised comments like, “Go back home!” and in hate crimes against Asian Americans who are considered “the other.”

Asian Americans were first labeled as the “model minority” by white sociologist William Peterson in his Jan. 9, 1966, New York Times Magazine article about the success of Japanese Americans in comparison to other minority groups. This model minority myth has had devastating effect on communities of colour. Asian Americans are viewed as model minorities against other people of colour, which ends up building tension among people of colour and pits Asian Americans against other people of colour.

Furthermore, this term minimises and trivialises our ongoing experiences of racism. White society continues to tell us our experiences of racism is not racism as we are “model minority” or “honorific whites.” These two terms have been used by white society to perpetuate racism and discrimination against Asian Americans without taking responsibility or personal burden to eradicate systemic racism in the dominant white society. Our experiences of racism are diminished or made invisible.”

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind., and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the author or editor of 23 books.

She has been invited to Australia to be the presenter of the Cato Lecture at the 17th Assembly of the Uniting Church in July and we at Manningham UC are priviledged that she has agreed to present this workshop on Saturday 27 July.