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Student of the Month: Mira Sawlani-Joyner

Mira is a Hong Kong born, “third culture kid” of Indian and Philippine heritage. Navigating multicultural spaces has been her lived experience and has informed her work in ministry in Hong Kong and Australia, and as the former Community Pastor in Forefront Church in Brooklyn, NY. She currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Peace Fellowship Church, a church committed to working with community organizers and activists to end gun violence in Washington, DC through its social justice arm, Peace Walks DC. She is also a recent MDiv grad of Wesley Theological Seminary, where she specialized in Public Theology.

What are the courses that you like most in your studies?

There are too many to name so I will name two: “Race, Religion and Resistance in America” and “Queer Theology, Queer Lives.” In both these classes, I learned about the specific ways in which people of color and LGBTQIA+ people experience marginalization. I also learned about how both these groups, especially people who are at the intersection of these identities, work for their liberation resisting dominant ideology. Learning about their experience in the context of the United States challenged me to view the world differently and examine how I live in this context too. I came away feeling more liberated in my identity as an Asian immigrant, specifically, a Filipina and Indian woman, unwavering in my primary identity as a child of God.

Have you been involved in or led activities in your context?

I did my field experience at a non-denominational, Black-centered, multicultural, multigenerational church called Peace Fellowship Church in Washington DC. The church is also a member of Peace Walks DC, a coalition of organizers, faith leaders, and survivors of gun violence working together to build community-centered solutions to safety and end gun violence in DC. The experience of working alongside fellow BIPOCs, especially as an Asian woman with class privilege, has been life-changing. It has taught me the vital difference between being an ally to my Black and Brown siblings and being a co-conspirator alongside them as we work towards liberation for all.

I was also involved in student government and the Asia Pacific Islander American student association at Wesley. My involvement in both these groups was during a time when our nation was negotiating a safe return to campus life. I worked together with my classmates to reignite a much-needed sense of community after the pandemic life.

What is your experience attending this year’s PANAAWTM annual conference?

I am always blown away by the speakers doing AMAZING work in theology and ministry and was particularly encouraged by the topic of “cross-racial solidarity” as it pertains to an area of ministry I feel called to. I was especially encouraged by what Sandhya Jha had to share on the role of grief in movement building. I believe that grief can be a bridge between racially divided communities that often get pitted against each other. As Sandhya shared, instead of allowing the grief to further divide us, we can channel that grief to do the transformative work bringing us closer to communal liberation. Can I get an Amen?

What has been your biggest success so far?

Completing my capstone project while working part-time in ministry and parenting full-time has been my biggest success. I feel very intimidated by academic work and struggle with imposter syndrome so for years I was afraid to pursue an MDiv, especially because of the added pressure as a mother of three children. I spent many hours typing at my desk under a dim light, with my children sleeping on the bed behind me to complete this project, and could not have done it without my community of friends and my partner’s support. It was a joy to be able to complete my capstone project on Howard Thurman’s mysticism as a tool for social change because I was able to share something that I took great interest in and was deeply passionate about.

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?

I grew up as a third culture kid in Hong Kong and have experienced discrimination because of my race and held a lot of internalized racism. PANAAWTM has been such a healing space for me and I have been challenged by the ways in which we have historically resisted colonized thinking. I am not an academic but I have deep respect and value for the work PANAAWTM members are doing and I am humbled to share in this space of learning. I look forward to when I can meet you all in person!

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