Chinatown Through the Eyes of God: An Evening of Storytelling, Healing, and Solidarity

Kingdom Rice has a unique and specific response to the recent uptick in attacks against people of Asian decent. This response focuses on facilitating healing and solidarity among local intergenerational congregations of color, starting with Asian and Black people. We are drawing from the great work of advocacy, storytelling, education, and theology, and applying it to collective bodies of color on the ground level. This was the heart behind the event on the evening of May 14th, where members of the Kingdom Rice family came together with members from Chinese and African American churches to hear the story of Chinatown through the eyes of God.

The evening was born out of the idea that Asian-American stories of racism need to be told, that these stories need to be tied to the biblical narrative in a way that facilitates healing, and that these stories need to lead into new relationships. Let me break this down a bit:

  • Stories of historical racism and advocacy in Asian-American communities need to be told because Asian-Americans need to be seen and heard now more than ever. Of the plethora of AAPI stories, the stories of the evening were drawn from San Francisco’s Chinatown because many of the participants had/have an intimate connection to Chinatown, its people, businesses, and even its vices. Plus, the stories of racism and advocacy in this once largest enclave of Asians outside of Asia plays a foundational role among AAPI stories.
  • The storytelling should lead to healing, specifically to process the rage, anger, joy, or even denial or withdrawal from the news of the attacks. This was accomplished by tying the storytelling to a grander story that’s able to empathize with our whole range of responses in a way that brings healing to our story. The grand story of the Bible, culminating in the shame unto honor narrative of the cross, is the most inclusive and superlative of these stories. Telling the story of racism in Chinatown is necessary, but telling the story through the eyes of God stretches the imagination of what could be and provides a roadmap towards healing and solidarity.
  • Our stories need to lead into other stories, into new relationships. In the many AAPI webinars I’ve attended, I often hear that “education leads to right behavior.” I feel that’s a little misleading because people typically don’t default to “education,” what they know, or the last sermon they heard when circumstances get stressful. People default to their cultural instincts, what they learned to do growing up. What work have we done if we’ve not addressed these instincts? We need to excavate how our family of origin taught us to deal with trials to name these instincts, then to replace them with better, Jesus-informed ways. This is discipleship.

    We also need to excavate how we grew up to see people different than ourselves. For example, Black and Asian bodies have historically been separated here in San Francisco and that’s given room to grow implicit and explicit biases against each other. But no longer are Asian and Black bodies separated. Dozens of Black and Asian families now live in each other’s neighborhoods. It’s high time that our stories are hospitable to others. The book of Acts perhaps gives the best template for this work, reminding us that this is a long process; there are no shortcuts.

    From his commentary on Acts, theologian Willie Jennings says “The risk here is found not in believing in new revelations but in new relationships. The new word that God continues to speak to us is to accept new people, different people that we had not imagined that God would send across our paths and into our lives.” (see source below)

We drew from two books to accomplish these goals in our program. Consider purchasing both of these books:

Cover of Kathy Chin Leong’s new book on Chinatown


Photo Credit: Most every picture shown in the program is the work of award-winning photographer, Dick Evans. He graciously gave us permission to share the labor of his work through this event and video.

The program’s recording can be found here: Chinatown Through the Eyes of God. What the recording does NOT show represents some of the most valuable aspects of the webinar, and that was the collective attendance of Chinese and Black churches across generations. Attendees included those who grew up in Chinatown‘s SROs during the exclusion era, participated in vices, or marched at Washington’s Million Man March. But more than that, a majority of the webinar participants have been journeying together as church families we’ve been partnering with. Together, we’ve been naming our implicit biases of the other, confessing together, even writing prayers of lament. We’re building a foundation of solidarity by doing the hard internal work. Kingdom Rice has played the role of connecting, coordinating, framing, teaching, and equipping. But it’s the parishioners who are responding faithfully to the prompting of God’s Spirit to work through the biases and uncomfortability. The video also does not record the 2nd hour of informal but poignant QA among our participants. Like scenes from the book of Acts, the video is just a snapshot of a long-term process. If you’re watching this for the first time, I hope you can process it with others, ideally those you are journeying with.

The recording DOES give witness to stories of racism in Chinatown alongside stories of Chinatown’s heroes and advocates that have literally changed the face of the U.S., where they live, how they build, and how people of color are seen. Even secular reviews of the book observe this overarching narrative. “New Chinatown photo book explores neighborhood’s journey ‘from shame to celebration'”

What can I do now?

Though education and reading does not go far enough, it IS needed. For further reading, here are some free or low cost accessible sources:

I referenced these books from African-American theologians in the midst of the evening:

  • Jennings Willie James. The Christian Imagination – Theology and The Origins of Race. Here’s a Gospel Coalition article on the book.
  • Jennings, Willie James, Acts, ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher, First edition., Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017)
  • Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books)

And if you really want to read more, there’s a book list at the end of this post on solidarity that covers faith, race, justice, and arranged in order of depth.

We also are planning local prayer walks. Talk to your pastor. If you are not local and want to pray, contact me.

Like I said, I really believe we all need to dig deeper beyond the education, to begin asking the tough questions to uncover our implicit biases, to uncover our fears and apprehension to the kind of vulnerability we find in Jesus. Kingdom Rice offers cohorts to accomplish this. We’ve now done this for church and missionary staff and laity. And among the two partner churches who cosponsored this event, we’ve partnered together to do a whole host of activities from learning how to lament, urban immersions, and more. If you want to go deeper, consider how we can serve you and your community.

We can better love our neighbors if we know OUR own stories, doing the tough work to sort the gifts and liabilities that we bring to others. As we imagine God’s Kingdom into our own stories, then we can better love our neighbors because we’ll be better positioned to actually listen. It’s not enough to simply “read” and “listen” if we’re not addressing what stifles those endeavors. As in Acts, this is ultimately the work of the Spirit, and it’s for the long-haul. Sharing the story of Chinatown through the eyes of God is just a snapshot of this journey. Don’t stop here. Keep journeying; do it with vulnerable community.

Don’t hesitate to reach out! For the Kingdom,


P.S. Biography for Kathy Chin Leong:

A mother of two, Kathy is a freelance writer who lives in Sunnyvale with her husband Frank Leong Jr.  As a second-generation American Born Chinese from San Francisco, she became a believer her senior year of high school. It was at San Jose Chinese Alliance Church where her faith was nurtured in the loving community of extremely caring brothers and sisters.  She graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in journalism. Over the years, she has dedicated her writing skills to the Lord whether it is teaching children at a writing camp, inspiring others to pen their personal testimonies, or crafting an article for a newspaper or magazine.

In 2019, the Lord brought forth an opportunity to write text for the coffee table photo book, San Francisco’s Chinatown.  It was then that God revealed that she had been unconsciously burying her ethnicity in order to embrace the American culture. During the writing of the book, God gave new eyes to see the same parks, shopping areas, restaurants, and movie theaters her family brought her to as a child.

By imparting His  heart for Chinatown, she now has a love for the community she once distained. God has not only redeemed Chinatown, He has redeemed her attitude, bringing a renewed sense of being God’s child as an ABC.

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