Every May in the United States, people are invited to celebrate the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders to the country. Walla Walla University (WWU) began Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month by holding its first-ever Asian and Pacific Islander-themed vespers, incorporating singers, musicians, and speakers with ethnic roots leading back to a variety of Asian and Pacific Island countries.
This historic event took place on April 30, 2021, on the Adventist school campus located in Walla Walla, Washington, United States, and included a welcome, traditional hymns, and Scripture readings in Filipino, Samoan, Indonesian, and Japanese.
Matthias Bernard, a junior theology major and University Church student pastor from Hawaii, United States, helped coordinate the event. “I can say with confidence that Walla Walla University has diversity. But as we build in that diversity, we also must be contributing to inclusivity. We do that by constructing and planning programs such as these to not only practice inclusivity by highlighting specific cultures or specific groups here on campus but also to incorporate that into the Walla Walla University culture.”
Bernard acknowledged that the timing of this event was especially significant considering the increase in acts of hate against Asians and Pacific Islanders around the U.S. For him, making diversity and inclusivity the norm is an important step for WWU: “I’m really into this idea of worship and how we can weave worship into society and our daily lives.”
The speaker for the worship was Rome Ulia, uncle of university student Matania Aiolupotea. Originally from New Zealand, Ulia worked in Australia before moving to the United States in 2020, where he currently serves as the family pastor for the Auburn Adventist Academy Seventh-day Adventist Church. He used the story of David and Absalom and stories from his own life to illustrate how, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be safe in Him.
Bernard said he is hopeful that there will be many more Asian and Pacific Islander-themed vespers in WWU’s future, stressing its importance not only to the Asian and Pacific Islander community but its importance to the campus as a whole.
Bela Cinco, a freshman psychology and pre-med major, attended the vespers and gave the welcome in Filipino. She said of the program, “As a freshman, I felt really welcome and at home. It was good to have my culture represented and to be around people with similar backgrounds.”
Earlier in May, G. Alexander Bryant, president of the Adventist Church in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, Guam, and several Pacific Ocean territories, recorded a special message to mark the heritage month.
During his message, Bryant said he was sorry for “the unfair abuse and targeting of Asians” across the United States. “We stand with you — and in solidarity with you," Bryant said. “You are part of God's family, part of our church, and part of our family,” he added.
Recently, the Lake Union Conference region in the U.S. announced a live broadcast of panelists to discuss why celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is so important this year. The event, entitled, “Caring for Our Neighbor: Asian American and Pacific Islanders Under Pressure,” seeks to “celebrate the influence and contributions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and examine some of their various challenges,” organizers announced. The livestreamed event is scheduled for Saturday (Sabbath), May 29, at 5:00 p.m. EDT.