May 26, 2022

Worth a Thousand Words

How do we give voice to the unheard and the vulnerable?

This article was originally published on June 28, 2021.

by Stephen Ko
Pastor, New York Chinese Alliance Church

Powerful images reverberate within our hearts. Often, they send a message stronger than spoken words. While writing conveys exact meaning, images cry out for our souls in unique ways. They speak for us when we cannot speak for ourselves.

On May 22, 2021, New York Chinese Alliance Church partnered with muralist Bianca Romero, Christian arts non-profit THRIVE Collective, and the City of New York to unveil a 3-story, gospel-centric, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) mural on our church wall facing Delancey Street.

We shared the gospel with more than a thousand neighbors in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, a diverse community that includes Asian, Black, and Latino populations. Over 30 tables represented a plethora of NYC agencies such as the Office of Immigrant Affairs, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Education, Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and Housing Authority, providing resources to the vulnerable. Numerous iconic Chinatown restaurants served food while the Department of Health offered free COVID testing and vaccinations. Christian DJs delivered a block party atmosphere while a multi-ethnic jazz band lifted everyone’s souls.

As the silent minority, Asian American voices are often left unheard. Sometimes, we stay silent because we are ashamed to give voice to our concerns. At other times, our words fall upon deaf ears. As minorities, we are accustomed to discrimination, inequality, and inequity.

Yet, the author of Proverbs (31:8) urges us to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute. Who are they without a voice? They are the poor and homeless, the orphans and widows, the oppressed and foreigners (Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33, Psalm 68:5, Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27). Time and time again, God shows compassion to the least of these. Moses cautions the Israelites not to take advantage of the widows and orphans or oppress the sojourners. Leviticus teaches them to leave the fallen fruits of their vineyards to the alien and poor. Every seventh year, Israelites allow their land to remain unplowed so the destitute may harvest food and eat from it.

How do we give voice to the vulnerable? According to Proverbs 31:9, we speak up and judge fairly, defending the rights of the poor and needy. Globally, inequalities and inequities abound. They emanate from unique psychosocial determinants that result in disparate environmental conditions and societal opportunities. This leads to unequal distribution of resources, wealth, and even punishment.

The process of judgment involves discernment in addition to decision-making. By discerning the needs of the vulnerable among us, we realize how to speak for them. Our voices defend their rights and begin to rectify their oppression. In giving our breath to the speechless, we embrace the clarion call of Micah 6:8, to act justly and love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.

We speak through our words. We speak through our actions. We speak through our artistry.