Russell and Duenes

Thahn Pham at the Local Multicultural Church

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Thahn Pham is a Vietnamese man who recently immigrated with his family to Kansas City. He’s an engineer who now works for his multi-national firm’s office there. His English is passable, good enough for him to generally communicate with his co-workers in the Midwest, but Vietnamese is spoken in his home. He’s also a Christian; has been for over 20 years.

He and his family would like to learn English better and generally find their place in Kansas City. To this end, they begin going to an English-speaking church. The people there are friendly, and by all accounts, it is a multi-racial church. That is, the church has a good smattering of Hispanics, African-Americans, what appear to be Middle-Easterners, and Asians. Of course, the service is all in English and the praise and worship band follows the same general selection of songs as other Midwestern evangelical churches. The pastor and other leaders definitely place an emphasis on ethnic diversity within the church, doing what they can to be inviting to people of all races and cultures. They preach regularly on how God is a God of all nations, and that His desire is to have a church full of people from every tribe, tongue, people and language. All true, of course, and Thahn and his family find this refreshing.

Yet as the weeks and months go by, Thahn and his family still feel quite isolated in their new surroundings. It’s not that they feel unloved. Indeed, they truly love their brothers and sisters at church and are grateful for them, but most everything feels foreign to them. Yes, they expected this to a good degree, considering the fact that all ministry is conducted in English. But so much of the way the congregation “does church” is different from what they were used to back in Vietnam. The music was different, the way people talked to each other was different, the clothing was different, the social customs were different, even the way they celebrated the Lord’s Supper was different. The theological emphases were different as well, or at least, the way in which their Vietnamese pastor conveyed the truths of Scripture came across very differently than in this American church. It’s not that Thahn and his family cannot understand what is being said; it’s just that there is this yearning to be in a worship service that is familiar, to be among people that are culturally familiar; a yearning that hits them at a heart level as Vietnamese people. Though they have a desire to stay in the English-speaking church, they find themselves getting involved with some ministry at the local Vietnamese congregation.

Yes, the Vietnamese church is made up of virtually all Vietnamese people, and Thahn wonders about this. I mean, isn’t the church supposed to mirror the kingdom of God in its racial and ethnic makeup? Still, his heart rejoices when he is involved with the Vietnamese church in a considerably stronger way than when he goes to the English-speaking congregation. Eventually, Thahn and his family begin attending Sunday services at the Vietnamese church, and though they stay in touch with some of their friends from the English-speaking congregation, they feel they have found a home at the new church. Perhaps they should have tried harder to fit in at the American church. Perhaps “fitting in” doesn’t matter, and they should have born the burden of staying in the English-speaking congregation, even though it feels foreign to them, since “that’s what heaven will look like.” Thahn feels a little confused about these issues from time to time, but he just can’t find it within himself to leave the Vietnamese church. It feels like home, and he’s not sure there’s anything wrong with being in a church where he is more culturally and linguistically at home.



Written by Michael Duenes

August 10, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

One Response

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  1. This post is unlike most of your posts as you have purposely evaded stating your main point. Knowing you well, I understand where you are going with this, but it would be nice to hear it more directly. I realize you aren’t positing that the global church needs to embrace or create a multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic churches so that people feel comfortable around other believers of different cultures and backgrounds. I suspect your next post may refer to national identities and the Bible and what that may mean to our churches attempting to become diverse. I guess if I get that post, I’ll posit a bit too…

    russell and duenes

    August 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm

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