Asian American churches plan acts beyond prayer for healing

Mallory Rahman and her daughter Zara Rahman, 4, who live nearby, pause after bringing flowers to the Gold Spa massage parlor in Atlanta, Wednesday afternoon, March 17, 2021, the day after eight people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long in the shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
Mallory Rahman and her daughter Zara Rahman, 4, who live nearby, pause after bringing flowers to the Gold Spa massage parlor in Atlanta, Wednesday afternoon, March 17, 2021, the day after eight people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long in the shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County. (AP Photo/Ben Gray) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Asian American Christian leaders said Thursday their congregations are saddened and outraged after a white gunman killed eight people — most of them women of Asian descent — at three Atlanta-area massage businesses. And they're calling for action beyond prayers.

Asian Americans were already rattled by a wave of racist attacks amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the United States. While the motive behind Tuesday's rampage remains under investigation, some see it as a wake-up call to stand up against a rise in violence against the community.

The lead pastor at Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, located a few miles from two of the spas that were targeted, said he will ask congregants during his Sunday sermon to “not just pray, not just worry," because "it’s time for us to act.”

“I’m going to urge people with love and peace that we need to step up and address this issue, so that ... our next generation should not be involved in tragic ... violence,” the Rev. Byeong Han said. “That’s what Christians need to do.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry says diplomats in Atlanta have confirmed with police that four of the dead were women of Korean descent, and are working to determine their nationality.

Jane Yoon, a congregant at Korean Central Presbyterian and a 17-year-old high school junior in nearby Marietta, said she increasingly worries for her family, which is of Korean descent, and was shocked by the killings.

“I was definitely very outraged," she said. "I was in shock at first of the news and just also how close it is to my community.”

It also hit home on a very personal level: Last week, she said, she was in a car accident and another driver punched her in the face and body before she was able to call 911. Yoon said the woman, who was arrested, did not make any racist comments during the assault, but she couldn't help but think about rising attacks against Asian Americans.