Here I Am

Faith Stories of Korean American Clergywomen

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Editor(s): 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim
  • Prussia, PA: 
    Judson Press
    , October
     2015.
     160 pages.
     $16.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780817017637.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

A story lies within every person, waiting to be told. And when each person appropriately owns his or her story, the world may be assured of some veracity in the telling of it. It has become increasingly essential for minorities and the marginalized to own their narrative and have it documented. A bevy of Korean American clergywomen of the Presbyterian Church have here recounted some selected fragments of their lives to possibly depict their brokenness in the world they live in.

 Here I Am, published in 2015, carefully highlights prevailing social wrongs and suggests how with the proper deployment of Christian faith and teachings, they could be righted. Here I Am, as a title in itself, affords readers the opportunity to see the ownership of the narrative alongside its announcement of survival in spite of challenges. These stories are presented in a whole and unashamed fashion, such that people of various genders, races, religions, and socio-cultural backgrounds can relate to the narrators.

Segmented into three parts—theological reflections, theology, and sermons of Korean Americans—Here I Am serves as a space for ten women to reveal their life experiences. Three others share their thoughts via a foreword and an epilogue, and the included history of Korean American Presbyterian clergywomen helps to enrich readers’ understanding of these faith-based writings. These Korean American Christian women reflect on parenting, racism, exclusion of foreigners, homosexuality, ethnocentrism, homelessness, sexism, acceptance, barrenness, and miracles, among other things; and finding balance and hope amidst them all.

Confronted with a multiplicity of problems, such as having to juggle raising children, managing the home, and rebuilding her dysfunctional marriage with being in ministry, Nayoung Ha for instance, expresses her frustrations and fears and reveals coping mechanisms adopted in order to successfully execute all responsibilities: She accepts her vulnerabilities, pours out her heart through writing, and ultimately confesses that “fragility allowed me to receive God’s presence. I began to approach each day drenched in God’s love for me. Though the struggle had not completely dissipated it no longer had a hold on me” (41-42). Her reliance on God and a change of perspective, we find, became her shield.

In dealing with racial discrimination, Grace Ji-Sun Kim shows how language can be a barrier, drawing attention to distinctions of race and perceptions that Korean American women are foreigners. Even where language is not an issue, physical attributes of being Korean (or any other race besides American, for that matter) creates a limiting effect: others may immediately assume that Korean American women cannot speak or understand English. “I am continually viewed as inferior to white women and understood as the other,” Kim states. “My identity becomes tied to my physical body in ways that are never applied to those in power or those making the rules” (52). Having had to deal with such discrimination in public places—although she is trilingual and speaks English fluently, she advocates for foreigners everywhere to be treated as God admonishes us to. Living by Christian principles, she says  can be one sure means of ending systemic racism and any form of covert or overt oppression.

Christine J. Hong recounts her experiences of misogyny and the intimidation of women who are in ministry. She speaks of the exclusion and subordination of women prevalent in the church and the struggle for these women to be leaders in traditionally male-dominated spaces such as pastoring a church. “I had one year to prove that I could do this job, fulfill this call as a woman, who, in their eyes, was too young” (60). Irene Pak shares the same sentiments when she states: “We live in a culture where women are still unequal—where as an Asian American woman I am sexualized into a submissive caricature, where even as a pastor myself I still don’t think of an Asian woman when I hear the word ‘pastor’” (134). She challenges the status quo by believing in her call and persevering, and helping and mentoring young girls equally who also face challenges and deprivations as a result of their gender.

Here I Am is in many ways parallel to the 2014 article “Multiple Roles of African Women Leaders and Their Challenges: The Case of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana” (by Grace Sintim Adasi and Dorothy Anima Frempong, published in Research on Humanities and Social Sciences) which equally reflects upon the underlying issues highlighted in Here I Am, such as the diverse roles of women and the frequent lack of recognition for their work.

Throughout the book, faith in God is showcased as an antidote to all the pain from the world. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned with issues facing Christian women and their leadership in the church.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Grace Sintim Adasi is a research fellow in religion and philosophy at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

Date of Review: 
October 6, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, MDiv, PhD,  is an ordained minister within the PC(USA) denomination and Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Earlham School of Religion. She is author of nine other books, including The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style”: A Racial, Sexual, and Cultural Critique, co-written with Joseph Cheah. Kim serves on several committees of the American Academy of Religion: co-chair of Women of Color Scholarship, Research Grants Jury Committee, Teaching and Activism Group, Comparative Theology Group, and Religion and Migration Group.

Keywords: 

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments