I’ve been out of town fundraising for the last 2 weeks fundraising.
I love fundraising back in the bay, because… I have friends.
…Let me rephrase (because I definitely have friends near me haha). I have friends that I’ve grown up with my whole life, who know me, whom I don’t need to over-explain… and well, let’s face it. They’re asian. What I love most about my Asian cultural background is the sense of family, of instant belonging. I’ve showed up as a stranger at Asian American churches, and felt an instant welcoming. Like clockwork, even if it was the most awkward and unfriendly Asian American church, I’ll get offered some sort of meal at the end.
You see, I love meals, especially Sunday after-church meals, but for more reasons than me loving eating (which I do). I miss the feeling of getting approached and invited to lunch. I miss the laborious process of standing in the circle, debating what to eat and nobody deciding, until somebody just gets tired of it and decides. I miss sitting around 3-4 combined tables at a pho restaurant, exchanging jokes, talking about the sermon. I miss the bonding that happens during these meals. I miss… the community.
And in this process of being cross-cultural and learning how to love white culture, the one thing I haven’t quite adapted to is the individualist culture of white America… the awkwardness of just getting people together to eat after church. During my 2-year church search process in North County, I observed a certain process: people file out quickly and leave, until I find I’m the only one left talking to perhaps one person, who is a 25% chance of being a lunch buddy. I’ve just kind of folded into it all and joined the individualist masses in leaving quickly. Sunday afternoons are for you to chill out alone and watch TV or something. Community’s supposed to happen somewhere… but perhaps with the family or (I say it sarcastically) for singles, yourself.
So upon my return, I had really low expectations remembering my 2 year search for a church that was welcoming. I was a little embittered from the last 4 years of trying to make attempts at friendship in North County in the midst of my own busy ministry schedule, and then coming immediately from the Bay Area, where I had perhaps just one meal that I ate by myself. I was ready to face the impending isolation. Even worse, church that sunday had a father’s day theme. I really dislike being at those services away from my family, it always seems to serve as a reminder that I am far from home and far from familiarity. It reminds me of how hard it is to be cross cultural, no matter how heroic it sounds.
I love my pastor, and what he did was not wrong, just really hard for myself- He had all the dads stand up, and then all their families stand next to them so that the dads could pray for their families, because that’s what real dad’s should do (which is actually a really cool thought). Unfortunately, I was left alone without a family there, and I could almost feel that sense of isolation creep up on me…
But God has a way of melting the most bitter and cynical heart (of which I’m pretty sure I’m near the top of that list).
As I began to go down the dark vortex of sulkage, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the Jenkinsons. They were signaling for me to get into their family huddle. And I got up and joined their huddle… As I was there surrounded in the huddle of my adopted family and heard Mr. Jenkinson whisper his prayers over his family, I heard in between those whispers, the whispers of my Heavenly Father, reminding me that His embrace, fatherhood and friendship are immutable and immovable, ever so constant.
Ironically, after all my complaining of the lack of meals with people after church at all the white churches I’ve visited, there was a church bbq. I sat down with the Olaguibels and said “ah, mi familia!” and they welcomed me to pull a chair and sit with them. As I sat there in our church’s lawn exchanging jokes with the Olaguibels, I thought- really, this is family. I remember (now that I think about it) that I decided to stay at Las Flores Church because they were the first white church to remember my name. They even sent me a handwritten letter thanking me for coming a second time. The men’s group I had been going to at Las Flores this last semester has been one of the most convicting and faith building groups I’ve been a part of that was not comprised of just peers. And Pastor Dwayne, he remembers you. He notices and emails you when he notices you haven’t been at church one weekend. So I guess white people can do community if they try :P.
And no, this white church isn’t perfect… but really, when has an Asian church ever been perfect? God is reminding me that He provides, beyond whatever culture, whatever place… true family, home and community are in Him, and He’s a good dad that provides for all our needs. All I need to do is to remember to trust in that, as I forge further ahead in this place of ministry that not many others are in- that He is a God that brings streams in the desert, manna from the sky.