Transient Workers Matter, Too – Rev. Martin Yee

We don’t hear often of Chinese Lutherans, but this is exactly how you could describe Rev. Martin Yee – a Chinese Lutheran pastor, born in Malaysia, who after several years in the parish works at the main offices of the Lutheran Church in Singapore. He is our first author for Asian/Pacific Islander History Month – the first such time We Talk. We Listen. commemorates the month. He writes about not only the plight of migrant workers in Singapore during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also what Luther’s theology has to say to the situation. Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Editor

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The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic exploded around the world in March 2020, changing many facets of human lives and activities forever. In Singapore, this is certainly true. The economy which largely depended on open global trade was badly hit, sending the country reeling into recession and drawing on its past reserves for survival. The pandemic also exposed something else that Singapore is vulnerable to – the lightning-like spread of infection among its migrant foreign workers, sending the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection soaring into the tens of thousands which now stands at 23,000 plus and counting.

Singapore which has a population of 5.7 million (2019) has a migrant worker population of about 300,000. These are migrant workers from various impoverished communities in the surrounding countries of Bangladesh, India and China who are employed in low-wage jobs like construction, road works, shipyard work and cleaning. These jobs are regarded as dirty and rough, shunned by the local population. Between 12 and 20 workers typically live in one room, according to the Transient Workers Count Too, a non-profit organization that supports migrant workers in Singapore.

Migrant worker dormatories in Singapore

They share common facilities, like bathrooms and kitchens.

The dorms are thus structurally not able to provide for the social distancing that is necessary to avoid the virus from spreading quickly. Over the last several weeks, Singapore authorities have worked to move the workers out of their dorms and into vacant public housing blocks, military camps, exhibition centres, and other floating accommodations. But the country has suffered; as many economic, construction and public health activities ground to a halt due to shortage of these workers, many who have tested positive for the coronavirus are quarantined.

The migrant workers themselves suffered tremendously, mentality and emotionally plagued with worries about their income and health. Most of them have incurred debts to come over for their agents to secure the visas and jobs, which they need to repay, and they have a family waiting for them back home to send money for daily sustenance.

In the black tshirt with the Luther Rose, Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church in Singapore – preparing care packages for migrant workers in the city.

Reflecting on this, I have two thoughts. One is on vocation and the other on how God views migrant workers and cares for them too.

Firstly, it dawned on many of us living in Singapore how important migrant workers really are. We have taken for granted these workers who performed menial and non-glamorous tasks. Singapore is a meritocracy and has promoted excellence and skills upgrading for its citizens leaving the menial jobs to foreign workers. But without them our parks and streets will be choking with rubbish as the locals have yet to develop sanitary rubbish disposal and recycling habits.


Without them our houses, buildings, bridges and roads cannot be built. All of a sudden, the unglamorous cleaner’s job became “essential service” that was allowed to continue while other more elite jobs ground to a halt and became “non-essentials”. A great reversal indeed.

The Lutheran concept of vocation thus is of value here as it articulated that all human vocations have equal value as the “masks of God” in serving the neighbour. Luther had said that the humble shoe cobbler in their vocation is to serve the neighbours in as good a manner as the priests and other elites.

Secondly, I have learned previously from an Oxford University Professor of Hebrew, Hugh G.M. Williamson, in a lecture series given at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, that God specifically highlighted the migrant workers for protection in the OT. He commanded the Israelites to provide for them so that they may not go hungry. If God cares so much for the migrant workers, we should too. It is heartening to note that the Singapore government is now making good efforts to take care of migrant workers’ welfare and health. Churches, temples and mosques are also chipping in to do their part. This is another unique aspect of the harmonious relationship in multi-religious Singapore. Christians comprise only 20% of the population here.


“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Leviticus 27:19

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” – Martin Luther

Indeed, transient migrant workers matter too.


Born in and doing his undergraduate work in Malaysia, Rev. Martin Yee worked for 12 years as a transient worker in Singapore before receiving his Bachelor of Theology degree from Singapore Bible College in 1997. After working as a parish pastor for seven years, he then moved into his current role – as part of the administrative team of the head office his denomination – the The Lutheran Church in Singapore. He is happily married, with two college-aged children.

Living Stones – Rev. Justin Thornburgh

So how to respond as a Christian leader when dire human need and foolishness and arrogance mix into a toxic brew of death? Pastor Justin Thornburgh of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church in Indianapolis has an answer: become a living stone. Please read, comment, and share!

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student

Indianapolis, Indiana

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

I’ve been sitting with these words all week as I’ve been preparing my sermon for Sunday. Something about them has been rattling in my bones. I couldn’t name what it was though until I started looking through my Facebook feed on Wednesday afternoon and I began to see the news of the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. I began reading the familiar story of a black man living only to end up dead; chased down and lynched.

And then, just several hours later in my city of Indianapolis, Dreasjon Reed was murdered by police after being shot with a taser and running away. And to spit on his corpse one of the officers said, “Looks like you won’t have an open casket, homie.”

And I began to seethe.

I began to seethe and I woke up in some kind of mood.

CORRECTION Georgia Chase Deadly Shooting
Protest for Ahmaud Arbery.

States are opening up which will lead to more people dying (IN’s projection is up over 500% due to reopening). White people armed with assault rifles have taken to protesting because of their lack of ability to get a haircut or have a beer at the bar. They threaten and intimidate legislators who are actually trying to save lives, all the while the authors of the falsely called pro-life movement cheerlead a death march. A death march that leads to cashiers and security guards be sneezed upon and even killed.

All the while, as the white militant terrorists are storming state capitals, young unarmed black men continue to be lynched by the state, and children are still in damned cages.

Natalie Hijazi

These death dealers are littering the ground with gravestones; monuments to their worship of Mammon and Moloch. In their wake lives are destroyed. Children are left without parents; parents without children; lovers without their beloved. They leave their stones strewn across the road to silence and to scare; to intimidate and annihilate. Gravestones cover the ground.

Ahh, but here’s the thing, here’s the thing, when the powerful, tell Jesus to shut the rabble up; to pay attention to the signs along the road; to see the gravestones of those whose lives did not matter and to remember his place, Jesus turns it around and tells them that even if the people are silenced the very stones will cry out (Luke 19:29-40). The symbols of death will cry out and say their names.

And so, I was thinking about this week’s text from 1 Peter when all of this washed over me. What does it mean to be a living stone in the time of pandemic?

What does it look like when white supremacy is running rampant and unchecked privilege is killing people?

What does being a living stone look like when black and brown bodies are daily left on the side of the road, dead?


I’d like to think that it means that, resting on the cornerstone of Christ, we are being called to say their names. We are being called to join with the voices of the dead and dying and raise up a voice that proclaims life. I’d like to think that being a living stone built into the spiritual house means check our privilege if you are like me a cis-white man. I’d like to think that it means that we do everything in our power, having been ourselves called precious in God’s sight, to fight for the dignity of all of those lives left out and left behind.

The week’s reading concludes with these words, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1Peter 2:10) We have received mercy. We, living stone who have could have been cast aside have been shown mercy and been given a place in the work of God Realm.

Oh, and when we get that we are living stones, my how the world begins to change.

The church I serve is on the eastside of Indianapolis. For those who don’t know Naptown, the eastside is the side that people don’t want to go. I’m sure you can guess why. Our congregation rests in the highest poverty zip code in the county. Even before the pandemic, our unemployment was above the average, abandoned homes dot each block, overdoses and gunshots are regular occurrences. It can be rough, but it is also the most beautiful part of town because as this neighborhood has been ignored many have refused to be still.



There are many living stones in this neighborhood.

One is the director of our food pantry, who has used their imagination and ingenuity to not only deliver meals to people every day during the pandemic (over 2,500 to date) but has created an efficient, safe, and dignity providing pantry. And when why they do it, why do they every day drive around the city to pick up meals to deliver they say because someone did it for them. Someone lift them up when they were on the side of the road. They were hungry and someone showed her mercy. And now, this living stone daily shows mercy to those in our community.

Because in a time like this, a time full of fear, full of misinformation, and ignorant rage we the only things that can make a change.

The pretentiously pious politicians have had their turn and and have showered shame upon the hurting and the vulnerable. The prosperity proclaiming preachers have had their turn and they shred the Gospel with every turn of phrase. Now is the time for the living stones to cry out, to organize, to rebuild, to create, and to fight to bring about God’s Realm.


There will be sacrifice. It won’t be easy. Some of us will need to have our edges chiseled so that those parts of us loosen — our power, our privilege, our over-inflated egos—so that we align with the plumb line of God’s justice. But when we do, when the living stones cry you and are fully part of the temple of Christ, in the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.”

justinJustin Thornburgh is a 2012 graduate of LSTC and is serving as pastor of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN – where is an active faith leader with Faith in Indiana, part of the national community organizing network Faith in Action. He is a husband and father of three. If you would like to support the ministry of Emerson Avenue Baptist Church and the myriad ways we support our neighborhood in mind, body, and spirit – click here.

That We Might Have Life: Black Healthcare Matters in the COVID-19 Pandemic – Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells

Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells, Program Director for LuMin/ Campus Ministry and National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association, shares a stirring post as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark on Holy Week services across the United States. With a word of judgment against the many systems in this country that oppress black people and people of color, as well as a word of charge to the rest of the church to address these problems head-on – he adjures the faithful of our country to vigilance and action as the spread of the epidemic exacerbates life and danger for the most vulnerable in among us.  Read, comment, and share.

Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, PhD student

Virus Outbreak Pence

Just as we entered Holy Week 2020, we heard some of the most grim news from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams who told the American people on Palm Sunday that “this (week) is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment” as COVID-19 infections continue to rise.

Many leading public health officials have described the week of April 5th 2020 ( Holy Week) as potentially the hardest and saddest week of increased deaths related to the coronavirus.  This pandemic has affected the entire world in very alarming ways.  It has also continued to spike the globally uncured diseases of racism and xenophobia.  The University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley recently retracted a statement (@tangcentercal) advising students that “xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings” is a normal or common reaction. This shows the high level of insensitivity and present day normalization of racism even from a school who’s demographics report that more than 30% of the student body is of Asian descent.

This institution’s culture and ethics in communication should be far above the curve for understanding racism of any kind as an unacceptable reaction to this pandemic.  But like many institutions, it continued to be complicit in the propagation of systematic and systemic racism. This must stop. Especially at a time when we are finding that people of color are and will be affected fatally by this pandemic at disproportional rates.

In fact,, reported that early data shows African Americans have contracted and died of coronavirus at an alarming rate. In the very city that hosted the African Descent Lutheran Association’s (ADLA) August 2019 Biennial Assembly (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 coronavirus cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is only 26% Black (as of 4/3/20).  This level of disproportionate rates of infection and death is a direct result of economic, political, and environmental factors that have been growing for decades.  These factors along with so many other sociological trends have put Black people at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave immune systems vulnerable and battling pre-existing illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, HIV, and asthma.

ADLA has ramped up advocacy  efforts to pressure the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to release race data related to the coronavirus. The CDC typically tracks widespread demographic data with all virulent outbreaks, but has provided little information  about race during this current pandemic.  This data is and will continue to be important to address racism and other disparities to healthcare access.


“You Do It to Me” – John Petts

If (this) Holy Week 2020 will begin the deadliest season (to date) of this pandemic, then America will experience a devastating loss of Black lives.  Now more than ever we must be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

We must also acknowledge that government and religious leaders have requested and strongly encouraged the nation to “shelter in place” and remain at home.  However, that becomes a very privileged request when many people do not have the same levels of resources to do so.  For instance, imposing curfews, demanding lockdowns, or even expecting people to stay at home without canceling rent, helping to secure adequate food and all other related bills is an unjust request.   With the impending rise in unemployment, this pandemic has created a greater wealth divide in access to basic income and adequate housing for all.

The CARES Act and stimulus package(s) will assist some people in this season, but it will not greatly protect the most vulnerable who are at higher risks related to this pandemic.

Holy Week 2020 should bring us all into a greater understanding of the realities of death and access to life in our nation and world.  We as people of faith easily grasp the understanding that Jesus died for all of our sins and brings us to eternal redemption.  He did it so that we might have life and that life more abundantly (John 10:10).  We are reminded, that God so loved the world and (God) gave us Jesus so that we wouldn’t perish but have access to eternal life. In the same way we celebrate access to a better life with Jesus, we must claim access to healthcare as a human right that provides a better life for all.  This COVID-19 pandemic is uncovering major disparities in access to health care. With the rising death tolls, we need high quality public health care that is guaranteed to all and not just as a private marketplace.


Many of the sociological trends (health, economic, etc.) affecting people of color globally and nationally can easily be seen among the participants, members, and leaders of color in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  For far too long, we have watched our friends and colleagues (especially of African Descent) die and grow gravely ill because of health conditions like those mentioned above.

The economic inequities among many of the ELCA’s congregations often reveals the most impoverished communities having to do so much more with fewer resources. Many rostered leaders of color are still struggling to pay health insurance premiums and deductibles out of meager church budgets and inconsistent paychecks.


We as a Church can do so much more to reverse these trends and inequities.  We need to continue to increase our support and advocacy for people of color who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic and are in critical need of help.

Let’s take up this cross that we bear right now in 2020 and follow Jesus who has led us to a better life for all.

thumbnail_FA8E4011-39C2-4606-BA51-BD06D77FB2D6Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells is the Program Director for LuMin/ Campus Ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). LuMin is a network of over 240 colleges and universities. He is also the National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ELCA). Pastor Wells is a graduate of Morehouse College and the Interdenominational Theological Center, both in Atlanta, Ga; and has studied at Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University. As a dynamic speaker, Rev. Wells is frequently called to share prophetic messages of ecumenism and social justice which motivates him as a leader and community organizer.