Worship Service Celebrates Unique AAPI Contributions to NTC, CTC

AAPI group shot with blanket

Mayé Saenz received a blanket in her beloved Cowboys colors from the Tongan community. Blankets are intended to be useful, as well as beautiful works of art.

Filipino, Korean, Tongan communities and non-Asian allies participate in service

More than 100 people from across the North and Central Texas Conferences gathered at Martin UMC in Bedford, Texas, on May 21 for a worship service celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Born out of conversations with the NTC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office and the Center for Church Development, the service saw participation from clergy and laity from the Filipino, Korean and Tongan communities, as well as non-Asian allies. The gathering marked a first-of-its-kind evening to celebrate the contributions and diverse heritages of our AAPI siblings.

Language played an integral role throughout the service. Congregants sang familiar hymns and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, each in their native tongues. Soloists and ensembles performed “The Blessing” in a range of languages. And children and youth delivered the scripture reading, sharing Genesis 45:8-10 in Tagalog, Tongan, Korean and English.

“There’s a word in our native language that says ‘Ko hoku 'api, ko ho'o 'api,” said Rev. Faiana Prescott Funaki, pastor of community and engagement at Martin UMC, as she welcomed worshipers. “It means ‘My home is your home.’ This is your home indeed.”

“In Spanish, that’s ‘mi casa es tu casa,” said Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., bringing the sentiment full circle as he opened his sermon, “Pave the Way.” In his message, Saenz used the story of Joseph to illustrate how those who hold dual cultural identities can effectively build bridges between their cultures and pave the way to bring others along.

Crowd shot

“I was especially inspired to see our Asian American and Pacific Islander United Methodists committed to our connectional body as the United Methodist Church,” said Rev. Danielle Kim, who helped organize the service. “My heart was warmed when I witnessed so many of us, not only from different churches but also from different cultures and languages, mingle and meet with one another, embracing each other as our own.”

At the service’s close, Rev. Daniel Hawkins, lead pastor at Martin UMC, and Funaki welcomed Mayé Saenz and Kim to the chancel for a special presentation of gratitude. “The spirit of radical generosity is taught to us again and again by our Tongan community,” Hawkins explained. “In the Pelangi culture – which is kind of Tongan for ‘gringo’ – we give gifts like these blankets, which are intended to be practical and useful, as well as beautiful works of art.”

Following the benediction, attendees enjoyed a reception with dishes from the various Asian American and Pacific Islander communities represented across the two conferences.

Reflecting after the service, Kim lifted up this hope for the future: “My cup is overflowing. May our love and connection with one another continue to be a prophetic witness of unity and grace!”

Watch the service

Published: Wednesday, May 31, 2023