I became a member of Young Koreans United (YKU), a Korean American grassroots group providing solidarity to the people’s movement for democracy, human rights, and reunification of Korea in 1986. YKU was instrumental in forming the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC); established 20 years ago to build a progressive Korean American voice on major civil rights issues. I joined the NAKASEC board a few years back. Throughout this time, I have tried to provide a clergy presence whenever I can to show that ending the suffering of immigrant families, including that of the 1 out of 7 undocumented Korean Americans, is also a concern of persons of faith.
I am a person of faith, specifically an Ordained Clergy of the United Methodist Church. Every Sunday during our morning worship, our congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. This is a common practice most Christian churches share.
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
This is the universal prayer every Sunday that the followers of Christ around the world recite: “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” A couple years ago at an immigrant ministry event for my denomination, the bishop who was the official spokesperson on the immigration issue for the United Methodist Church shared how she had periodically become the target of a letter-writing campaign for those critical of the denomination’s stance. Her office gets inundated with letters, she said, that invariably end with the question: “What kind of an American are you?” She then asked something rhetorically along the lines of, “Since when has our church’s mission become about building a strong nation state? Since when has it steered away from building the kingdom of God here on earth?”
In God’s heaven there will be no nation states, no rich nor poor, no name callings nor “illegals.” The church is the model of that heavenly realm here on earth. It is a foretaste, a glimpse, of what is yet to come. No matter how imperfectly we embody it, the vision has to be clear nonetheless. Religion, at its best, points to where the hope lies not just individually, but for the whole of humanity. It points to the possibility of the heavenly among the entire human race. Religion opens us up to the best possibilities, as individuals, as communities, and as the human race. I believe the best form of prayer derives from listening to God: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is this will, this dream of the Creator of us all?
During last year’s Fast for Families campaign, all kinds of people from diverse spiritual traditions, ethnic backgrounds, and social status came together to pray at the Fast for Families tent on the National Mall in Washington D.C. I, as a faster in the tent, was among those who shared stories embedded with common hopes and dreams with other fasters and visitors to the tent; and together we prayed.
My time in the tent triggered raw emotions that were unforeseen by neither I nor others who visited or fasted in the tent. California’s Representative Tony Cardenas was one of the visitors that took me by surprise. When he entered the tent, his expression was stoic to the point that he appeared disengaged, but as we prayed, something changed. Representative Cardenas had genuine tears in his eyes. This existential experience reminded me of the time I was in Guatemala overwhelmed by the nation’s poverty and unsure how to display my face. It reminded me of when I too had first-handedly experienced poverty.
At one corner of the tent’s prayer altar was a beaten, sun-baked sneaker found in the Sonora Desert north of the Arizona-Mexico border. We do not know the fate of the wearer of the sneaker, but we are familiar with the perilous journey and the high death toll of those traveling through the barren desert. I often think about the prayer the wearer of that sneaker would have said as he trekked into a strange and hostile land, risking so much for a chance to better his life and the lives of his loved ones back home. I wonder if he prayed, “Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as in heaven” as I and all other Christians do. What’s more, if I asked him to picture that projected future what would it look like?
I once heard Jim Wallace of Sojourners saying our society’s problem is not political nor socio-economical but spiritual; we ought to learn to take others’ sufferings as our own. We also ought to learn to listen to each other’s dreams and prayers. Maybe that is one way for us to listen to God, by listening to the prayers of others. “Your will be done one earth as in heaven” in solidarity with God and all God’s children.
And so I continue to listen with open ears to the stories of Korean American, Asian American, and all immigrants alike, knowing that this is one simple task that God is asking of us.
Rev. Eunsang Lee is a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.