Student of the Month: Hyelim Yoon
Updated: Mar 31
Hyelim Yoon(she/her/hers) is a second-year MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She was born and raised in Cheongju, South Korea. After majoring in theology in Korea, Hyelim came to the US in 2019 as a recipient of the Fulbright scholarship to continue her studies in theology and pursue her vocation as an ordained minister. She is a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist church.
What are your interests in your field of study/work?
I am interested in empowering preachers who have minoritized identities to advocate for their own and/or others’ minoritized identities in their sermons, especially in congregations which may not share the same perspectives.
Last March, I experienced anti-Asian racism in the US at the beginning of pandemic. Although I had a number of opportunities to preach in both church and classroom settings since that incident, I found it extremely difficult to preach about my experience because the majority of my listeners did not think that anti-Asian racism existed in US society. Moreover, I lacked the language and methods to formulate my experiences into prophetic sermons. I struggled to find theological foundations for advocating for my own minoritized identity and feared that I might sound like I am preaching for selfish reasons. In nine out of ten opportunities, I ended up preaching about other topics although I greatly longed to preach about racism against AAPI communities every time I was preparing for sermons.
It is an indispensable yet exceptionally challenging job for a minoritized preacher to preach about her own minoritized experiences and to preach with prophetic voice in order to initiate systemic changes. I hope to equip preachers of minoritized identities with theological foundations and preaching methods to be the ones initiating systemic changes in our society through their prophetic preaching.
Who has inspired you to want to do the work you want to do?
While I grew up feeling empowered to advocate for others, I found it difficult to speak up for myself. This tendency gave me more challenges as I moved to the US where self-advocacy is crucial for Asian females whose voices are frequently neglected and unheard.
Witnessing a number of Asian female leaders speaking up for themselves and their communities has empowered me tremendously. I have discovered that someone who advocates for her own community or identity does not only initiate changes for herself but also paves the way for embracing others and equipping other minoritized individuals to advocate for themselves.
I also received a tremendous amount of encouragement from my ministry mentors who are not Asian females. Their impact in my growth taught me that people whom I can empower do not necessarily have to have the same minoritized experiences or identities as myself.
Courses I took that specifically inspired me to come up with the work I want to pursue include Dr. Eric Barreto’s “Race, Ethnicity and the New Testament” and Dr. Sally Brown’s “Sunday’s Sermon, Monday’s World: Shaping Witness.” The first course deepened and broadened my theological understandings of diverse minoritized voices and their colorful interpretations of the Bible, while the second course taught me practical ways to design sermons that inspire “ordinary prophets” to act as agents of redemptive interruptions in their Monday-to-Saturday lives.
What brings you hope?
I love watching animated movies because I find powerful messages of hope in those movies. Some of my favorite animated movies include Zootopia and Finding Nemo. In Zootopia, a small bunny dares to become a police officer even when she is discouraged by her parents and peers. This movie delivers a clear message that breaks down biases and prejudices in many ways. It is a beautiful movie that led me to think that this world still has hope because children grow up watching movies like this!
I watched Finding Nemo more than a hundred times until I memorized all the lines. I learned English by memorizing the whole script of this movie! When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? You just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming~ Dory’s lighthearted and never give-up spirit has always helped me to move on whenever I faced challenges in my life. We just keep swimming with hope and life will go on!