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When I was young, I remember getting excited about encountering the names of Eliakim and King Jehoiakim while reading the Bible. Why? Because I am a Kim, Eun Joo, and they were both “Kims,” just like me!

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, as a latch-key kid and a recent immigrant, I was constantly on the lookout for people who looked like me anywhere I could find them, whether in my local neighborhood or out on the streets of the other boroughs…even on television, or perhaps I should say, especially on TV.

There is a classic line from The Simpsons that sadly encapsulates what many of us experienced as children of immigrants who grew up with the tube as our “baby-sitter.” When Homer Simpson is accused of misconduct on a TV program, which he fervently denies, Bart tells his father, “Sorry dad…it’s just hard not to listen to TV. It’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.”

The influence this small screen had on my understanding of the United States and the world around me was undeniable. Television was the major window to, and teacher of, American culture for me, even as I was hoping it would also be an accurate mirror of the growing diversity around me.

But, alas, I had to be satisfied with white folks doing yellowface, like David Carradine on Kung Fu—or non-Koreans playing Koreans on shows like M*A*S*H. Therefore, you can imagine my excitement when I finally saw actual Asians on TV, such as Mr. Arnold (Pat Morita) on Happy Days; the Japanese pop duo, Pink Lady, who had their own, albeit short-lived, variety show; the Korean American comedian, Johnny Yune, doing stand-up on The Tonight Show. Yet, seeing Asian faces and Asian American characters on TV were truly few-and-far-between occurrences, not to mention the growing, harmful persistence of Asian American stereotypes, whether as model minorities, perpetual foreigners, or the yellow peril.

Back then, I could not name this deep longing I had as a minority in this country, but what I was constantly searching for was representation: to be visible and to have a voice, to be seen and to be heard. This basic human need to be recognized and to belong was ongoing. If I was able to see myself, or someone who resembled me, in the show, on the screen, or in the spaces I inhabited, then, I had a stronger affinity to, a greater inclination to participate in, and a deeper sense of belonging to the story.

“Kims” aside in the Scriptures, the Word of God is the Living Word for me because I can see myself in the story. I am seen and heard in the verses, I am represented in the chapters, hence the Bible becomes meaningful to me and relevant in my life. I am an immigrant and a daughter of immigrants. Therefore, it was truly a delight, accompanied by a wonderful sense of comfort, to realize that the Bible was also a book about immigrants and their children.

Adam and Eve were not only the first humans in the Bible, but they were the first immigrants as well, being forced out of the Garden and then emigrating to the land East of Eden. Abram was called out from Ur of the Chaldeans and instructed to move to the promised land, taking with him his family and all his possessions, journeying onto unfamiliar territory, and becoming Abraham in the process.

Uprooting from the homeland, settling in a foreign country, changing one’s name—does all this sound familiar?

Joseph was a young, teenage foreigner in Egypt who came to the kingdom against his will and later became Zaphenath-Paneah, as this empire became his adopted home. Ruth was a Moabite woman who traveled along with her mother-in-law, Naomi, as she reverse-immigrated back to Judah. Esther was a daughter of exiles in Persia, part of the Jewish diasporic community there. The Apostle Paul was originally from Tarsus and the missionaries, Priscilla and Aquila, were Jewish converts from Rome. Migration and immigration can be found everywhere in the Bible. Even Jesus came from heaven to earth, was born as an infant, and migrated to Egypt with his parents to flee political oppressors: Herod and his soldiers.

Representation fosters recognition and connection. I can sympathize with Zacchaeus the chief tax collector, because I, too, am “short and cannot see over the crowd.” But more than his height, I can relate to him and the people in the Scriptures because they were all sinners, just like me. I am ever so thankful that there are no portrayals of perfect protagonists in the Bible. Rather, these biblical characters are real and true to life, their stories are replete with the brokenness, failures, regrettable acts, and shortcomings of humanity.

Into the midst of this human condition, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to be present with us and to represent us. I am ever so grateful that Christ is fully God, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9), but I am as appreciative, if not more so, that Jesus was, furthermore, fully human.

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way…Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted…For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15).

Jesus Christ did not come only to teach us how to be divine, but also came to teach us how to be human. He came to present God to us and to represent us to God.

And through Christ’s representation, He realigned, reconnected, and restored us to God, so that we can once again be in shalom relationship with Him. As a remembered and reconciled child of God, through the gift of grace, I am acknowledged by and wholly known to God.

How often in our society do we hear the phrase, “Yeah, I hear you” or “Oh, I see,” yet do we feel seen and heard? But God truly hears and sees us, as we are present and represented in His heart. Our God is a God who notices the falling of a sparrow and numbers the hair on our heads (Matthew 10:29).

God is so aware and attentive, that even a poor, pregnant, desperate, runaway maidservant was not beyond His purview. Hagar was sought after and found by the angel of the Lord. The naming of her son as Ishmael, “God hears,” and the well where she met God as Beer Lahai Roi, “God sees,” are powerful testimonies to her profound encounter with God. Hagar witnessed and experienced the God who hears and sees. We are not invisible nor inaudible to God. God hears us and God sees us. God truly knows us, yet God still loves us. What good news, indeed, is this gospel story!

Beyond discovering my name, status, and size, I know that I am fully seen and heard, in the stories, spaces, and situations of Scripture; I am represented.

The importance of representation cannot be overstated in the other areas of our lives, as well, be it in media, the arts, education, sports, leadership in church, politics, etc. For the past 16 years, I have worked as an election interpreter for the New York City Board of Elections. To be honest, there are not too many people needing my Korean interpretation services at the poll sites I am assigned to. But more than translating the ballot and explaining the procedures in Korean, I know that the voters feel more comfortable and confident just by seeing another Korean American in the room. I am representing them. My function there is not so much in the doing, but in the being. My presence activates a sense of familiarity for folks to enter the space with a bit more ease, acknowledging it as safe, possibly making them feel more welcomed as they participate in the process.

There has been much research, rigor, and rigmarole on the topic of representation these days. However, for me, simply put, representation is being seen, being heard, and being understood. It is about having visibility, raising your voice, and being valued. In Christ, with Christ, and through Christ, I am seen, I am heard, and l am loved by God. And through His representation, I find myself. Christ found me and made me worthy of His representation.

Representation matters, just like me!

Eun Joo Kim is a PC(USA) pastor based in New York City where she has served as youth pastor, EM pastor, Interim pastor, adjunct professor, and hospital chaplain at various churches and institutions in the tri-state area. She is an avid fan of K-pop and K-dramas and is interested in the intersection of culture, community, and the church.

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