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Student of the Month: Hyejung Yum

Hyejung Yum (she/her) is a PhD Candidate in Theological Studies and an adjunct instructor at Emmanuel College, the University of Toronto. She recently completed a research exchange program for contextual theology at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. As a co-founder of Sowing for Peace, an intercultural peace ministry affiliated with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, she is enthusiastic about peace and justice education that facilitates intercultural relations across differences in terms of gender, race, abilities, sexual orientation, and religious tradition. She was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, moved to Los Angeles, USA, and is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

What are you studying and why? How will you use that in your call?

As a researcher, I would like to contribute to a robust theological discourse to foster decolonization and intercultural peace in which people thrive together across differences. In my dissertation, I construct a postcolonial intersectional peace theology for settler-colonial and multicultural contexts.

I have followed my passion for research in theology and ethics. Prior to my studies in theology, I worked as a software engineer developing mobile phones for five years. While I liked the career, I also had a strong calling for ministry. When I began my study in the Master of Divinity program at Fuller Theological Seminary, I was driven by my passion for peace and justice, connected to my marginalized experience as a migrant Asian woman.

In Los Angeles, I joined the Mennonite community, a historic peace church, and studied ethics and Just Peacemaking. Since that time, I have devoted myself to peace theology and ethics. With my increasing desire to conduct research on just peace, I began my doctoral study at Emmanuel College, the University of Toronto. Since the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre was affiliated with the school, I could develop my research with rich resources and networks of the peace church tradition.

At Emmanuel, I have expanded my research area to postcolonial, feminist and Asian discourses to understand the minoritized experiences theologically. My interest in Indigenous, queer, and disability theologies also increased through interactions with my colleagues in those areas. Furthermore, connecting with Asian scholars and colleagues in PANAAWTM and Asian Theological Summer Institute (ATSI) stimulated me to find my voice in theological work. My dissertation, entitled "Planetary Peace: A Postcolonial Mennonite Peace Theology in Multicultural Contexts," is the hybrid outcome across the theological traditions that have significantly shaped me.

For me, research is a process of understanding myself and the world in which I am situated and laying grounds so that I and others may stand, walk and dance on it. As I have been encouraged by the voices of others, I hope my works can also encourage someone to continue their academic and spiritual journey.

What have you learned from your leadership experiences? What student activities have you been involved in/led?

My teaching experience with diverse students has affirmed my vocation as a peace and justice educator. I taught a Master’s course on social justice and contextual theology last year at Emmanuel College, the University of Toronto. My students were diverse in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, mental and physical traits, and religious tradition. Since I believed that building genuine relationships with those different from oneself is a way of seeking justice, I prioritized creating a space for mutual learning from differences. As a long-term peace educator in communities, I used relational and embodied teaching methods such as ritual, covenant, and contemplation. We shared many stories about ministry with disabilities, justice in the Islamic tradition, pacifism in Engaged Buddhism, ministry with ex-prisoners, experience in 2SLGBTQ+ community, and sacred labor in the garden. In the midst of sorrow from the news of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves and Muslim families and Asian women victimized by hate crime, we lamented together, expressed solidarity with those in unjust suffering, and created a collective Land Acknowledgement poem entitled “I will not forget.”

Through working together, we learned why we needed justice and how our difference enriched our knowledge and experience. This is what I hoped my students and I would experience in our churches and society when I was teaching social justice. Since this course, I have come to better understand what bell hooks means when she says, “When students are encouraged to trust in their capacity to learn they can meet difficult challenges with a spirit of resilience and competence (Teaching Community: Pedagogy of Hope, 133).” I felt rewarded when I heard students thoroughly enjoyed the learning process with me and their classmates and increased their interest in and commitment to social justice. Through this experience, I have a desire to develop creative teaching methods for mutual and embodied learning relevant to peace and justice education.

What has been your greatest success so far? Your biggest learning experience?

In 2021, I received two meaningful awards: Louisville Dissertation Fellowship and James A. Reimer Award. Although I followed my passion in my academic journey, it was not always easy to continue this. Since my interest in postcolonial peace theology is new to many in Mennonite and theological communities, not many people understood what I was doing and why I did my research at the beginning. Also, only few people shared my experience as a migrant Asian Mennonite woman in theology. This motivated me to take innovative initiatives to pave my own road in my work. Thanks to those who have unconditionally trusted and supported me, I was able to continue this journey as a researcher. For this reason, I was excited when the potential and significance of my research was credited by the Louisville Institute.

Moreover, in October, I became the first Mennonite woman of colour to receive the James A. Reimer Award, conferred by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. This was personally meaningful because I felt my theological effort reflecting Asian migrant woman’s voice was now recognized by the Mennonite community!

What are you looking forward to most this year?

I plan to complete my doctoral program this year. I look forward to the next chapter of my life as a new adventure!

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?

I like hiking and camping. It has been a great part of my joy. I still remember the fantastic feeling in Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite on my first camping trip. To refresh myself day to day, I often walk to Ontario Lake 30 minutes away from my home with my partner, my best supporter and friend.

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