The Asian Pacific Islander Christian Social Justice Conference, held at Union Church this month in Little Tokyo, by all accounts, was a complete success. It culminated months of planning on the part of a committee made up of a group of Christians from a variety of ethnic protestant backgrounds

Bill Watanabe, in his Little Tokyo Service Center office, had been hosting a series of Sunday afternoon discussions that dealt with how a person’s Christian faith can be applied to current social concerns. Serving as chair of the committee was Marian Sunabe, a member of Evergreen Baptist Church, Los Angeles.

Keynote speaker was Jim Wallis, a Methodist minister and editor of a well-known Christian magazine, Sojourner. He was flown in from his home in Washington, D.C. His message Friday evening was taken from the Book of Matthew, where Jesus identifies completely with the poor and other neglected members of society.

Wallis has gained a large following espousing over the years his message of reaching out in service to the world, particularly the downtrodden. This message has been somewhat of a departure from other evangelical Christians whose message has emphasized personal salvation.

The response panel following Wallis’ message consisted of Diane Ujiiye, community activist, James Kang, editor of SUBTLE, an Asian Christian magazine, Rev. Ken Fong, pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church, and Vaka Faletau, Native Hawaiian and community activist.

Saturday morning’s keynote addresses were presented by Rev. John Teter and Bill Watanabe. John is of Korean and Dutch descent. His church, the Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, serves the poor in that community. Bill told the story of how he worked as an engineer for a short time before realizing it was not fulfilling for him. Through a series of circumstances, which to him seemed divinely ordained, Bill was accepted into the Master’s of Social Work Program at UCLA, where he received his social work degree.

Speakers at the Asian Pacific Islander Christian Social Justice Conference at Union Church in Little Tokyo. (Photo by MARIAN SUNABE)

Twelve workshop sessions were offered. Best attended were two repeating sessions entitled “Are We Still Family? Exploring how the Church Can Deal with LGBT Members,” led by Revs. Ken Fong and Nori Ochi. Rev. Ochi is an American Baptist minister and serves the Second Community Church.

After an analysis of the various positions that can be taken concerning how those in the room look at LGBT persons, the two men described their positions on the subject.

Rev. Fong told of how our faith impels Christians to love everyone, especially those having the greatest need. He has been able to make LGBT persons feel welcome enough to attend his church.

The second workshop I attended was led by Stewart Kwoh, director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and member of L.A. United Methodist Church. Making presentations were Sophia Campos and Anthony Ng. Sophia told of the trauma she went through in finding out, as an undocumented youth, she was not able get financial aid for college. She nevertheless entered UCLA and graduated with honors. With the encouragement and support of the APALC, she is on the Dream Team L.A., and serves as chair of the United We Dream Network.

From left, Marian Sunabe, Rev. Jim Wallis and Bill Watanabe.

Sophia and Anthony are stalwart advocates of the Right to Dream Act. The original Dream Act would have given undocumented youth citizenship rights, but was narrowly defeated in Congress last year. Stewart Kwoh recounted how impassioned youth such as Sophia and Anthony, like the leaders of other civil rights movements, can affect the government to bring about social change.

The final workshop I attended was entitled “Budget as a Moral Document” and was headed by Mark Tajima and Amy Phillips. Mark attends First Presbyterian Church of Altadena, and Amy, Gardena Baptist Church.

Mark works for L.A. County as a coordinator for money that comes to L.A. from the government. While scripture directs us to personally care for the needy, he noted various scriptures citing how it is the responsibility of government to care for the needy, and this should be reflected in how public money is spent.

As director of senior services at the Little Tokyo Service Center, Amy told of how she works to see that the county provides adequately for the needs of the LTSC as well as other ethnic minority communities.

Our conference at Union Church, located on the border of Little Tokyo and Skid Row, was an appropriate site as we considered reaching out to the downtrodden. And Amy Phillips, with her connection with the LTSC, I am sure, could provide many leads to help the needy in our Asian community.

Closer to home is the challenge in the Christian community to, as Ken Fong touched on in his workshop, bring LGBTQ persons into the church family. More importantly, we need to bring about reconciliation within families. In the audience of 150 or so, I saw few seniors. I would hope in future conferences we can have intergenerational dialogue on this vital subject.

From what I have seen on my email, this conference was a great success. The committee is planning a celebration meeting in November, and the talk has to do with planning for next year.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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