Equal opportunity

A New Canadian Voice

June 4, 2014 | Viewpoints
Kuen Yee |

“Hey, Chink! Go back to China!” Derogatory as it was, this was the racial slur directed at one of my Vietnamese college parishioners in a gym recently. Racist remarks of this nature haven’t changed from the time when I was going to school.

I immigrated to Edmonton from Hong Kong when I was 6, back in the 1960s. During those years, there were only a handful of Chinese in my entire school. Racist remarks and derogatory name-calling plagued my childhood years, making me feel unwanted and unwelcomed. Yet my people, the Chinese, endured racism because we believed that our new home in the West was the land of golden opportunity and wealth, the land of the gold mountain (金山 gam saan).

Although ethnic discrimination has affected every people group, historically the Chinese have been selectively targeted as a visible minority. Many Chinese workers died building Canada’s transcontinental railway, but after the railway was completed the Chinese were no longer welcomed. A $500 head tax was imposed on all new Chinese immigrants. That was two years’ wages in those days. My father-in-law paid that tax in 1921 when he immigrated as a 12-year-old. After that, the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted to prevent Chinese immigrants from entering altogether and, as a result, my father-in-law was prevented from bringing over his young bride in the 1930s. Only after this Act was repealed after the Second World War were families reunited and my mother-in-law was able to immigrate to Canada.

I am very proud of the Chinese in Canada because, although we faced discrimination, we never dealt with it through militant retaliation. Our parents taught us to walk away from confrontation, and through hard work we became an integral part of Canadian society and won the right to be called Canadians.

Through a children’s crusade, I was introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to a local church. Christians made me feel very welcome and I slowly developed a sense of belonging within the family of God.

However, as I matured in the faith I came to experience a second source of discrimi-nation as a woman in ministry. After I sensed the call of God into ministry, I found that it was very difficult for a woman to enter and then advance in it. Within the local church, it was acceptable for women to oversee the nursery and preschoolers, and children’s and women’s ministries, as well as hospitality ministries. However, it was not acceptable for a woman to preach or teach the Word of God to adults.

One person told me that I would have to be twice as educated as a man to achieve the same position in ministry. With the support of my husband, I worked very hard to obtain a doctor of ministry degree before formally entering into ministry.

Since joining the Mennonite denomination two years ago and serving as English ministry pastor at Edmonton Vietnamese Mennonite church, I have found the Mennonites to be very welcoming to an ethnic woman in ministry. Pastor Thomas Pham, our senior minister, has been very supportive, and encourages me to develop ministry skills. He has coached me in the area of preaching and officiating communion and baptismal services, which I would not be allowed to do in other denominational churches.

The very fact that Mennonites are open to women’s ordination and women becoming lead pastors means that the glass ceiling has been removed and there is equal opportunity for women. Mennonites have always aimed to achieve peace and reconciliation with various groups and minorities. They have certainly done an admirable job with women and visible minorities.

Kuen Yee holds a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy, a master of theological studies degree and a doctor of ministry degree. She has recently been named to the Canadian Mennonite board of directors, representing Mennonite Church Alberta.

--Posted June 4, 2014

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