It was a simple offer, but it was an offer Rev. Victoria Lee knew would make a difference to others. She posted the offer for respite and hospitality on a Chinese community chat group on Facebook during one of the worst ice storms in Oklahoma’s history. As if a pandemic weren’t enough, in October 2020 Oklahomans experienced an ice storm that left thousands without power in sub-zero temperatures for several days. Road and business closures left thousands without a way to work, exacerbating financial hardships already present because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the responses she received were a request for financial assistance. The woman had a five-month-old, her husband was out of a job because of the pandemic, neither were able to find another job, and they were facing eviction soon. Even though the two women didn’t know each other, Lee was moved by her situation. She learned that the woman’s family’s visa status made them ineligible to receive any sort of government funding, including stimulus funds. Without financial assistance, the family would have nowhere to go and no way to receive support or relief.
The request triggered Lee’s passion for helping others, and she started to learn more about how the pandemic was affecting the Asian community specifically. She learned that many international students who had been working on campus lost their jobs. Additionally, many students had their scholarships retracted due to fewer donors giving money to their school. As her awareness of the Asian community’s needs grew, so too did her desire to address those needs.
Lee got to work. She wrote a grant, organized its oversight, connected with other Asian churches in the conference, and set up a donation page on Facebook. The HOPE Fund launched on Facebook on Dec. 1, 2020 as an effort to raise $5,000 to go with the matching grant the fund received from Minority Local Church Concerns.
Within six weeks, the fund raised around $28,000.
“I feel like if I do it on my own, to help that family with the five-month-old baby, I’m very limited, but by pulling this together, we can do much greater thing,” Lee said. “I feel like it’s helping the kids and helping the community have awareness. Helping the community help others is my passion, and I feel like there are so many stories like this behind the HOPE Fund.”
Lee has been leading Charis Alive, a ministry outreach for the Asian community in Oklahoma City, for the past three years. She admitted that the effort to raise funds took the majority of December.
“Setting up even the PayPal link and Facebook posting, promoting, asking for money, keeping track of all the donations,” Lee said. “It takes a lot of time, but God’s grace is there.”
She didn’t limit donation recognition to a receipt for the parents for tax purposes. She invited her piano students to participate as well, and several families chose to donate in their child’s name. Because of their participation, Lee designed and printed out and mailed certificates of recognition for each child’s donation.
“A lot of parents came and thanked me for giving their kids a chance to participate,” Lee said. “Parents tell me their kids needs to think outside the iPad, and this gave them a chance to do that.”
Her piano students weren’t the only generous givers. A father figure, David Voelkers, passed away on Dec. 23, 2020. Voelkers had been a generous man while alive, so his family decided to offer those celebrating his life the opportunity to give to one final cause that he supported. It was very meaningful to Lee.
“Even my neighbor, who is Jewish, saw about the HOPE Fund, and they donated,” Lee said. “We appreciate everyone who’s donated. We know that the money doesn’t come easy for anybody, and for people to donate—even a family under furlough—is humbling. They see this need, and we’re just thankful.”
The HOPE Fund was open to all individuals and families served through the Asian Ministries Cooperative, a ministry of the Minority Local Church Concerns ministry in the conference. The MLCC is led by Rev. Bessie Hamilton, who is happy the MLCC was able to offer matching funds to the multi-ethnic work addressed through the HOPE Fund.
“To have someone like Victoria who’s so passionate and who’s working so hard to meet the needs of families, it’s just amazing,” Hamilton said. “I’m so excited for this ministry and what God has in store for it.”
Hamilton wants people to know that just because the pandemic seems to be slowing its spread throughout the state, it does not mean that families are not still suffering from being out of a job, without a visa, needing groceries or facing other stressors caused by financial insecurity. Hamilton thinks it says a lot about where local communities are when families are struggling to have their financial needs met.
“We still have families that are struggling to provide meals or put food on the table, or have some of the basic human needs that we take for granted,” Hamilton said.
“A year later, and people are still struggling with lost jobs; a year later, this is our opportunity to give back; a year later, after the pandemic and the position that it has placed a lot of families, this is an opportunity really just to be there in that way, to be the church.”
Lee said that the local church needs to be aware of its community’s needs and shine a light to help communities be aware of each other as well.
“We need to be bold enough to step up and lead, not just look at the situation and do nothing about it,” Lee said. “I feel like because of this HOPE Fund, Charis Alive has reached the Asian community in Oklahoma, and they know we have been blessing our community.”
Hamilton agreed, adding she is excited to see how the Asian Ministries group continues to serve others throughout Oklahoma.
“I’m just really excited. AMC is a brand-new ministry that just started under MLCC; Victoria is the chair, but this ministry just got started,” Hamilton said. “The support she’s already received. All kinds of people who are stepping up to help her do this ministry. It’s amazing, it really is.” §