by Sahara Koji, Kyodan missionary
Sycamore Congregational Church
El Cerrito, California
I am serving in the Sycamore Congregational Church in America in El Cerrito, California. This church is a part of the United Church of Christ. The UCC, especially, has a posture of struggling with social justice issues, valuing the various aspects of race, culture and sexuality, with the characteristic of evaluating them proactively.
At present, there are three missionaries sent by the Kyodan who are serving in northern California, and within the churches, there exists not only a supportive relationship with the various churches but also support of meetings for Japanese-speaking Christians. Looking ahead, there are many issues, but within this Japanese-language ministry in the USA, which includes all the Japanese-American churches, there is an important meaning of existence that is not evident from size alone.
When racism is mentioned, we think of the discrimination and violence against African-Americans of an earlier era, maybe with the viewpoint that this is a thing of the past. However, American theologians of Asian descent say that racism is at work presently and think that it will also continue to exist in some form. More than violence or hostility that can be seen, racism is functioning as a system. Specific nationalities, races, and the groups with ethnic, racial and economic power (namely Caucasians of European decent), who operate the system according to their own value standards, actualize racism through education, government, religion, and culture, which works to put pressure on various minorities.
Living among these value standards, immigrants from other countries suffer the pain of assimilation into that controlling culture, and many of the second and third generations of Japanese born in the USA question whether they are really accepted in the USA, saying that they experience alienation. However, theologians of Asian descent see that in the midst of the pain of that alienation there is an invitation being spoken by God, which they are reflecting on theologically regarding that special role. In Japanese-American churches, there are those who have gone through the racial and historical pain of internment camps during World War II and have gone on to form churches that walk together with various other minorities. Within these churches, I see people who experienced such camps opening their hands within the pain they have been given to connect with other persons in the work that God has entrusted to them.
Among the members in the Japanese-language division where I serve presently, while it varies in degree from person to person, there are those who feel lonely because they are not completely able to make the USA their homeland. They cannot completely become Americans and with the passing of time are losing their identity as Japanese, so they are living in a cultural crevice. I often become aware that even among persons who have lived in the USA for a long time, become immersed in society, and work in English, there is still this loneliness of living an in-between existence and having a sense of alienation. However, in the midst of this pain, I think there is meaning and a role that God has given us into which the gospel has spoken. At least, this church must celebrate the lives of those experiencing this in-between existence and take the role of affirming that culture positively.
Racial identity is very fluid. With the increase of marriage between races and between nationalities, the identity of people of Asian or Japanese descent will continue to change. However, I think that in every generation, God has work that God has given this church, which is walking as an ethnic minority. The UCC’s motto is “God is still speaking.” Now as always, God is facing us and speaking through our existence. (Tr. RT)