A Vision of Love

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Image courtesy of Jenny Yang

JENNY YANG

As an advocate for immigrants and refugees, Yang's vision of love includes a universal welcoming of the stranger.

A 21st-century social justice and immigration advocate, Jenny Yang demonstrates the vision of love through her advocacy for immigrants. Her approach, founded in the biblical idea of accepting the grace God offers, and then extending it to the stranger, is intended to model for others more effective ways of showing compassion to others—especially to those in need.

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When we talk about immigration, I believe it's not just a test of our politics. Our response to immigration fundamentally is a test of our faith, what we ultimately believe about the gospel and about people who are made in the image of God.

JENNY YANG, "IMMIGRATION IS CHANGING THE FACE OF CHRISTIANITY FOR THE BETTER," AUGUST 9, 2017
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2013 Naturalization Ceremony
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Immigrants being sworn in as U.S. Citizens at a Naturalization Ceremony in 2013.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

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Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators
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Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Reuters/Mike Theiler

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Yang was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the daughter of Korean immigrants. In Korea, Yang’s grandfather owned and ran a prestigious newspaper in the 1900s. During the Korean War, Communist forces were ordered to kill media personnel, and her grandfather lost his life. Her grandmother died a few years later, leaving Yang’s father orphaned at the age of seven. During this period of poverty and hardship, Yang’s father found hope and comfort in prayer and the Bible, which he had learned from his mother and American missionaries.

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Jenny Yang and her family
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A portrait of Jenny Yang and her immediate family.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang

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Childhood photo of Jenny Yang and her brother
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Childhood photo of Jenny Yang and her brother.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang

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The LORD your God is supreme over all gods and over all powers. He is great and mighty, and he is to be obeyed. He does not show partiality, and he does not accept bribes. He makes sure that orphans and widows are treated fairly; he loves the foreigners who live with our people, and gives them food and clothes. So then, show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt.

DEUTERONOMY 10:17–18 GNT
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After high school in post-war South Korea, Yang’s father won a national car repair competition, which eventually earned him a job with Ford Motor Company. Yang’s parents, who met and married in Korea, then earned legal entry into the United States. After receiving his citizenship, Yang’s father fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning his own auto shop, which he often used to help those less fortunate in the community. He also served in his local church, and wrote articles for a local Korean language newspaper.

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Jenny Yang's father repairing a car engine
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Jenny Yang's father repairing an automobile engine.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang

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Jenny Yang's father working as a mechanic
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Jenny Yang's father working as a mechanic.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang

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During her youth, Yang and her family regularly attended an ethnic Korean Presbyterian church in the Philadelphia suburbs, and inherited a strong work ethic from their parents. But as a first-generation American, Yang gave little thought to her identity as the child of immigrants. “I know that my family is not unique,” she said. As she entered adolescence, however, she began to feel the pressure of straddling two cultures. She was fully an American by birth, and yet also fully Korean by family bonds and ethnic heritage, a culture foreign to most Americans’ experience. She felt at times, something like an outsider in her own country.

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Korean Revised Bible, 1952/1961
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Korean Revised Bible, 1952/1961.

Copyrighted by the Korean Bible Society

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Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need. And do not plan ways of harming one another.

ZECHARIAH 7:10 GNT
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As she worked through these struggles, Yang recalls being inspired by Asian-American news anchor Connie Chung, and the way she reported human-interest stories on television. Yang dreamed of being a journalist like Chung and like her grandfather, someone who could stand up for those without a voice. “I’ve always felt a deep compassion for those suffering from pain, war, and conflict,” she explains, “and I wanted people to see and feel the way I saw and felt the world.” When she was accepted to The Johns Hopkins University, Yang took the opportunity to study journalism, give a voice to the voiceless, and continue the family legacy.

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Jenny Yang and family at her graduation from the Johns Hopkins University
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Jenny Yang and family at her graduation from the Johns Hopkins University.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Yang

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When we as a church love and welcome the very people the world wants to marginalize, we will advance the mission of God.

JENNY YANG, "IMMIGRATION IS CHANGING THE FACE OF CHRISTIANITY FOR THE BETTER," AUGUST 9, 2017
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It was while riding the subway during a study-abroad program in Spain that Yang says she discovered her life’s calling. As she commuted to class, she saw an African mother with her young children get on the train. A group of Spaniards boarded shortly after and, spotting the African family, spray-painted the words “Get out of my country, black people!” on the subway wall. Yang reports being deeply disturbed by both the act itself and the accepting response of other people on the train. She was moved to volunteer for the nonprofit organization SOS Racisme, dedicated to combating racism in Spain. She also began work at the Madrid office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In both experiences, she worked with local communities to educate people and change prevailing cultural attitudes while also deepening her own understanding of the ways that systems and laws can perpetuate injustice. By the time she returned to the U.S., she knew she wanted to work specifically with refugees.

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SOS Racisme anti-racist NGO demonstration
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SOS Racisme anti-racist NGO demonstration. Catalonia, Spain.

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Humanitarian convoy distributing aid
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Humanitarian convoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) distributing aid to people in Goradze, Bosnia, 1992.

Photo by Antoine GYORI/Sygma via Getty Images

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After earning her undergraduate degree international relations, Yang worked at a large Maryland political consulting firm, learning how to fundraise and manage campaigns for local politicians. A year later she began work with World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association for Evangelicals, and one of only nine organizations authorized to resettle refugees in the U.S.

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Work at World Relief, Yang says, helped her to recognize more of the complexities surrounding immigration. She came to recognize her own misconceptions related to undocumented immigrants, and found new compassion for the individuals affected by immigration policy. She began to see how broken the immigrant process had become, and felt a growing conviction to have Christian churches play a role in highlighting the human impact of national and international policies.

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We must, as God’s stewards, respond in a way that is based on facts and reflects God’s justice and compassion.

JENNY YANG, WELCOMING THE STRANGER, 2009
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The more hateful people became, the more impassioned I became to make this an issue about biblical values.

JENNY YANG, "WHY WORLD RELIEF'S JENNY YANG FEARED SPEAKING ON IMMIGRATION," JUNE 14, 2013
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As Yang began to work more closely with immigrants, she grew concerned by the number of professing religious people who seemed to disdain immigrants and actively oppose immigration reform. She saw so many of her fellow Christians speak in a negative or demeaning way about those whom she viewed as needing the most compassion. This moved her to speak out. “I thought that the church should be the most pro-immigrant. That's what Jesus would want us to do,” she says. 

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Yang began speaking with pastors, telling them the stories of immigrants she encountered through her day-to-day work with World Relief, and addressing misconceptions around undocumented immigrants. She reached out to congregations, helping Christians thoughtfully encounter the dilemma of obeying biblical teachings around welcoming the stranger, while also following and upholding public laws as mandated in the Bible. She also provided information to larger audiences on the public benefits of immigration, whether through the values immigrants instill in a country or the opportunities to enter fellowship with those who have different experiences of God.

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Jenny Yang speaking
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Jenny Yang speaks about themes in her book, Welcoming the Stranger (2009).

As the Church attempts to apply sacred scripture to the current immigration debate, Jenny Yang offers a new perspective that combines justice with compassion. Video courtesy of Jenny Yang and Q Ideas.

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The LORD sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. He lifts those who have fallen; he loves his righteous people. He protects the strangers who live in our land; he helps widows and orphans, but takes the wicked to their ruin.

PSALM 146: 8–9 GNT
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