Koinonia, Family Groups and the Wheaton chapter of Asian American Christian Collaborative held a prayer vigil at noon on Wednesday, March 17 outside of Edman Chapel, in response to the series of shootings at three spas in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Six women of Asian descent and two white women were killed by 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, a formerly active member of a local Southern Baptist congregation. Long is currently being held in police custody in Atlanta GA for eight counts of murder and one of aggravated assault.
“My home in Atlanta has always felt safe to me,” said senior Christian Education and Ministry Esther Kim. “It doesn’t anymore. I’m scared to go back.”
Kim, who is also co-director of Family Groups, was one of two Korean American speakers from Atlanta at the vigil.
“I’m literally exactly what the victims looked like,” Kim said. “My mom is the same age and demographic as those victims, and she lives only twenty minutes away from where that happened. That could’ve easily been my mom, or me.”
Koinonia and representatives from Family Groups organized the vigil two hours before it occurred, with support from the Office of Multicultural Development and the Chaplain’s Office. Several dozen students, as well as a few faculty, administration and staff members, attended throughout the hour.
“The students were reeling, confused, disoriented and needed an outlet,” said Ministry Associate for Discipleship Ray Chang. “As soon as we started talking it was pretty clear that they wanted something to happen.”
President Ryken opened the vigil in prayer, followed by eight minutes of silence, one minute to honor each of the victims. OMD Director David Cho, Chief Intercultural Engagement Officer Sheila Caldwell and Provost Karen An-Hwei Lee also offered prayers. Standing or kneeling in a socially distanced circle, Asian and Asian American students then began to pray, with Kim opening and then students joined as they felt led. After a series of prayers running for nearly an hour, sophomore psychology major Audrey Kim, another student from Atlanta and of Korean descent, gave a closing prayer to end the scheduled portion of the vigil, though faculty and staff offered further messages to call the campus community to action before the group disbanded.
“What Asian students are looking for when it comes to a response is clarity and conviction on naming the root causes, ” Chang said. “[They’re] also hoping for encouragement and comfort by those they are in the hands of. They want to be cared for in a way that could lead to them not having to think about these issues all the time and constantly have to advocate for themselves.”
“I wanted to stand with my brothers and sisters here, to be one with them,” said junior Elementary Education major Sarah Chang, a member of Koinonia.“Sometimes we have to be student activists, but also we need to be strengthened by prayer and by other people speaking for us.”
As reported by Stop AAPI Hate, an online reporting platform, there have been almost 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. since March 19 of last year, 11% involving physical assault. According to the same report, Asian women report hate incidents 2.3 times more than men.
In light of this trend, Ray Chang said he believes that Wheaton’s Asian American students want to see that the community cares about Asian American and Pacific Islander issues “as much as they would care about anything else.”
Chang also said he was troubled by the Christian identity of the shooter. According to authorities, Long saw his actions as “eliminating sources of temptation” related to his self-reported sex additction.
Billy Graham Center Executive Director Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist, wrote for Christianity Today, “Evil knows no denomination, but denominations need to look at their fruits.”
According to reporting at the Washington Post, Long was baptized at the age of eight and grew up as a regular church attendee. He later re-committed to Christianity in a public testimony that was circulated online through the church’s social media. The posts have since been deleted.
Chang said. “The church should not be a place where people can in any way arrive at the same spot [Long] did.”
On Monday, March 15, Koinonia released a statement for the organization that established five reforms, including collaboration with the OMD and other campus culture-based and multi-ethnic organizations. The statement was written in response to the recent violence against Asians as well as the Capitol attacks and murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020.
“In coming together like this, to voice those prayers like this, you get a better sense of what God is doing,” said sophomore psychology major Gabriel Park, who serves as Koinonia’s chaplain. “To suffer together is also to worship together.”
Wheaton College, IL