Dr. Man-Hei Yip, Assistant Professor of Systematics, Joined the WTS Faculty on July 1, 2020
GROWING UP IN HONG KONG
I was born into a large family with six siblings: five older sisters and one younger brother. My parents are not Christians, but they sent us all to a Christian school, and from there I learned about the Christian faith. The privilege of being the youngest daughter in my family enabled me to enjoy the freedom to pursue my own interests and choices. My parents did not usually say too much about my decisions. That doesn’t mean they were uninterested; rather, they expected me to be responsible and study hard to have a good job in the future. So, it was perfectly fine for me to go to church, attend worship services almost every Sunday beginning from my teenage years, and participate in short-term mission trips, provided that I did not give up on my studies.
I was baptized in my first year in university. My whole life changed after that. I did not end up following the path most of my friends did, getting a high-paying job and a nice house (or apartment, in the case of Hong Kong). After graduating from university, I traveled to different parts of the world and served in different capacities, such as taking an internship at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, volunteering for outreach ministries in Mongolia, and later engaging in community development work in Cambodia.
When I was in Mongolia, I saw a lot of people struggling and trying to make ends meet. I started to ask what church mission really means to people who are living in abject poverty. Putting it bluntly, it is irresponsible to simply tell people that Jesus loves them and walk away. I was looking for a deeper understanding of church mission, and it was then that Karen Bloomquist, former director of the Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation, introduced me to Wartburg Theological Seminary. At that time, Wartburg offered the Master of Arts in Theology, Development, and Evangelism program. I was so excited because that was really something I was looking for. My husband (fiancé at the time) was also thinking about pursuing theological studies. Three months after we got married, we found ourselves at Wartburg studying and taking classes together.
ON BEING AN IMMIGRANT
I never thought I would become an immigrant. Born and raised in Hong Kong, I saw a lot of immigrants and migrant workers coming to work in the city and live among us. I heard about their hardship. I would show compassion to them. I would try to raise awareness about the plight of these invisible communities, but deep down in my heart, I knew I could not pretend to understand them and speak for them.
After moving to the United States, I now have immigrant attached to my identity. I am not a spectator commenting about people’s suffering or reflecting on suffering from far off. I am actually one of them, being and feeling what it means to be marginalized. Am I therefore wanting to erase my differences and immerse myself completely into the white culture? Not at all. Being an immigrant opened a whole new set of experiences and became a way of witnessing a vastly different way of life.
In my 2018 Currents in Theology and Mission article, “I Am an Immigrant,” I talked about how society has constructed our idea of immigrants, arguing that claiming immigrant identity in the Imago Dei is actually subversive. If our perception of immigrants is primarily based on biased and inconsistent portrayals of human beings, it is not just being unhelpful but also harmful. By accentuating the importance of subverting the immigrant narrative, I insist that affirming one’s value and subjectivity is both urgent and necessary. Each individual is created full of dignity for the glory of God.
Each one may be different in skin color, language, cultural custom, and practice, but each single individual is inherent with the most fundamental quality of being worthy and honored. Difference essentially reflects the reality that God is not watching over us at a distance, but firmly and passionately participating in human history. God’s glory shines through the face of each individual, regardless of differences. Because of that, otherness becomes sacred, for God does not side with those wealthy, powerful, and lovable elites, but opts for the marginalized as a way of witnessing to God’s glory, love, and faithfulness to the world. It is the Imago Dei that gives value to humanity, and not certain social policies or political ideologies.
The change in discourse on the immigrant narrative should force us to rethink how we relate to others, particularly those who are continually and unjustly stigmatized. Our presence should help remind Americans that their ancestors were once newcomers to the United States. The way we reflect on the past or remember history will also inform our way of relating.
RETURNING TO WARTBURG SEMINARY
I did not know about the open position in systematic theology at Wartburg until I received a nomination to apply. It was around March, when a lot of people were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns. In the meantime, anti-Asian hate incidents exploded across the country. When I was asked to share my core theological commitments in light of pressing global issues with the Wartburg community, I wanted to invite everyone to reimagine God during the pandemic with a focus on the pain of certain communities or members of society whose lives had been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The task of reimagination also involves a rethinking of God’s justice, which inevitably confronts theories of punitive justice and thus encourages us to change our social behaviors and reorder social relationships.
As both an institution and a community of faith, Wartburg’s openness, willingness to listen, and engagement in transformative missions really moved me. It also brought back memories of studying at Wartburg during my formative years and how the Wartburg community would sincerely stand with the oppressed and constantly support people’s struggle for freedom and justice. So, it was extremely exciting for me to receive the news that I was called to be Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary. It was also the most humbling moment of my life, empowering me to move forward and meet new challenges ahead.
I hope that my work, including my teaching and writing, does not simply change the image of the church but instigates real change in the structure of the church. Being a diverse church together is more than a slogan; it requires commitment and courage to create lasting change.