My Chinese and Asian American Friends Are Afraid of Rising Xenophobia – How Will the Church Respond?

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Corey Jackson is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Park Church in Cary, North Carolina.


I am honored to pastor a church in North Carolina that is home to nearly 30 ethnic backgrounds, many of which are Asian. Recently I reached out to several of my Chinese and other Asian friends both inside and outside our church to ask them how they were doing during COVID-19. 

Instead of giving me polite answers, they opened up to me about their deep feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. Their words have stopped me in my tracks. They have haunted me.

I have no easy pastoral answers for the xenophobia they are experiencing. There are no quick Bible verses I can send back to them to ease their minds about the racism they feel.

If you are not Asian American, please keep reading. Depending on your political background you may think I’m being alarmist. Or you may think my friends are overly emotional. They are not. Many are as highly educated as one can be. They are doctors, executive leaders, research scientists, nurses, theologians, and pastors. They are some of the smartest, most gifted, and spiritual people I know.


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Here are four observations and four challenges for us to consider as we seek to love our Chinese and other Asian neighbors during the coronavirus.

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The Fear They Experience Because Of Xenophobia Is Real

Each of my friends expressed great concern to me about incidents of violence targeting Asians in the U.S. during COVID-19. One member of our church told me of a recent crime in East Harlem, where an Asian man was kicked and told to “go back to China” because he was Asian. Another neighbor told me about an incident last week at a Sam’s Club in Texas where an Asian father and his son were racially attacked at knifepoint. After its official launch on March 19, Stop AAPI Hate, a new initiative of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, received 673 reports of coronavirus discrimination from Asian Americans across the country in its first week alone.

For the first time, many Chinese are buying guns to protect themselves. WeChat now even has a ‘Chinese Gun Purchasing Group.’ One Asian church member told me he is so afraid of racism right now that he only shops for groceries at H Mart (an Asian grocery chain) to minimize his exposure to non-Asians. He was specifically relieved that the first case of COVID-19 in North Carolina was not an Asian.

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Condemn Racism Against Chinese and Other Asians Publicly

Many of you are Christian leaders. No matter who you are or what your position is, during COVID-19 I challenge you to use whatever platform God has given you to condemn hatred against Chinese and other Asians – both locally here in the U.S. and globally as well. 

We are called to love the image of God, meaning all of the neighbors God places around us. And we are called to love all of our brothers and sisters in the church. Loving your Chinese and Asian neighbors requires that you do all you can to protect them from racism and xenophobia. This week, in your pastoral prayer or your sermon or in a blog or on social media, take a moment to publicly acknowledge this reality, speak against it, and call people to repentance for any and all racism against Chinese or other Asian people.

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They are Frustrated About President Trump’s Renaming of the Virus

Many of my friends expressed, not surprise, but concern over the president persistently referring to COVID-19 as “The Chinese Virus.” They understand the geopolitical struggle between the U.S. and China. They also understand that this rhetoric is part of the propaganda war between our nations. But they – along with many other Asians in their social networks – are deeply concerned about how Americans will begin to perceive Chinese (and other Asians they meet) because of this and that this renaming might also fuel the nationalism and xenophobia that was already growing around the world.

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See the World Through a Gospel Lens More Than Through a Geopolitical Lens

As Christians we are not called to see the world mainly through a lens of geopolitics; we are called to see our world through the lens of the gospel. Though the U.S. and China are locked in a trade war and are now battling over the coronavirus, we must be disciplined in our thinking as followers of Jesus. We must first think as disciples rather than as Americans.

There are 1.3 billion individual images of God living in China. Some estimates say China has more followers of Jesus than any other nation on earth, perhaps 100 million! Will we allow the geopolitical rivalry between our countries to stifle our love for Chinese and Asian people? We must learn to rigorously think through the lens of the gospel during this pandemic.

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They Are Anxious About Being Separated From Their Family and Friends

We are just now beginning to feel the first pains of anxiety for our families under COVID-19, but Asian Americans have been extremely worried since the middle of January for the safety of their families back in their home countries. One friend of mine, who lives here in NC but whose parents, brother, and other extended family live in Wuhan expressed to me the helplessness he has felt as he watched the pandemic unfold in his hometown. 

He related to me that during the quarantine, local officials put unfair laws in place such as requiring people to wear masks at all times if they left home. His problem was not with the policy itself – it was with the local authorities who ran out of masks to supply to the people. His father only had one reusable cotton mask for the whole family – a mask which wasn’t designed to stop the coronavirus in the first place.

Another Chinese neighbor told me she has a friend in the U.S. who is pregnant whose parents also live in Wuhan. For weeks, her friend could not stop crying when she thought about the danger her parents were in; she wondered what effect her anxiety might have on the child she is carrying.

Chinese people living in the U.S. are filled with two contradictory emotions as they process what has unfolded in China since mid-January. On one hand they are appalled at the lies, the lack of transparency, and the unfair enforcement of rules by Chinese officials. But on the other hand they are proud of their families and friends in China – for how they have responded, undergoing massive personal hardship to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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Ask Chinese and Other Asians “How is your family doing back in your home country?”

Another Chinese friend who is a nurse – serving on the front lines of this crisis here in NC – wrote to me from quarantine. She is self-isolating from her husband and children right now because her job necessitates that she work face to face with patients during this time of the coronavirus.

A patient recently asked her: “How is your family doing right now back in your home country?” This simple question brought my friend to tears. As a nurse she spends her time caring for others, but every day she carries the weight of anxiety around the hospital with her.

Since we are social distancing these days and it is difficult to ask in person, I encourage you to reach out to an Asian friend remotely – using social media, or WhatsApp, or maybe with a phone call. Ask them how their family is doing back in their home country during COVID-19. Asking that simple question will convey more care to them than you can imagine. 

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They Are Worried About Their Future And The Future of Their Children

Nearly all of my friends are concerned about what COVID-19 will mean for their future and the future of their children in America. Some of their children have already heard negative comments about China from other kids on the elementary school playground – such as “the Chinese have the coronavirus.” Comments like these have made one of my neighbor’s kids feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and isolated. Several of my friends mentioned concern about what their children will experience when they go back to school after they reopen.

With economies failing and people dying, Chinese and other Asians are worried the world will need someone to blame after all this. Most expect the recent cruelty and racism to extend years out because history shows us these kinds of things tend to stay in our collective memories for decades. 

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Let Your Asian Friends Know You Love Them and Stand With Them 

How will the church respond when our society blames this crisis on China and in doing so either intentionally or unintentionally groups all Chinese and even non-Chinese Asians into our stereotyping? 

Reach out to your Chinese and other Asian friends and let them know you stand with them and with their children today and will keep doing so in the future. Educate your kids about racism in general and encourage them to be on the lookout for prejudice against Chinese and other Asians during COVID-19. 

Let your Chinese and other Asian friends know that you are someone they can talk with honestly about their experience of xenophobia and racism – anytime, but particularly during the coronavirus. If they trust you enough to open up to you, make sure to listen to them without judgment or prejudice.

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Racism and hatred can target any of us regardless of our ethnic background. So, if you experience injustice what should you do? Jesus said in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” He does not discriminate along racial lines. Jesus freely accepts all – regardless of ethnicity – who look to him for grace and healing. 

When we are included in Christ by faith, we join a multi-racial family made up of many nations and many stories covered by the blood of one Redeemer. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) 

No matter if you have been the recipient of injustice or the initiator of it – there is no sin so great that it cannot be cleansed completely through the cross of Christ. Only at Jesus’ cross and empty tomb will we find the end of racism and hatred. Turn to Christ today for healing and forgiveness.

 


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More COVID-19 Resources

We’ve put together a special page devoted to ways we can learn from, love, and pray alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

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Further Reading

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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