A theology hidden in the alleys

 My home church is the San Francisco Chinese Church of the Nazarene. My maternal grandmother started attending in 1957, my parents fell in love there (weird) and I spent way too many Sundays playing mediocre piano pieces during offering.

My home church is the San Francisco Chinese Church of the Nazarene. My maternal grandmother started attending in 1957, my parents fell in love there (weird) and I spent way too many Sundays playing mediocre piano pieces during offering.

I spent yesterday with an incredible team of Asian American women planning InterVarsity's Chinatown Program. This week long immersion for Chinese and Taiwanese American college students attempts to introduce an intergenerational theology that is embodied in family narratives and revealed in San Francisco Chinatown's history. There is an implicit discipleship of sacrifice, resilience, and gratitude woven in the Chinese American immigration experience and this program aims to cultivate a theology from within this lens. 

My experience in a multi-generational immigrant church felt awkward and separate from the wider evangelical network around me. My Sundays were off key hymns and bilingual sermons. There was an ongoing frustration about church that was often masked in language about family, surrender, and obedience. I think I get it now, though. Many of the Chinatown churches that served in the 1950's received little to no support from mainline denominations*- and certainly not contextualized resources for the Chinese and Chinese American congregations they were building. Almost in exact parallel to the hostility Chinese Americans faced throughout the nation, the notion that "we can survive because we are family" and "they can't take away what we have if we work hard enough to keep it" permeated monthly potluck sign ups and vacant Sunday School teacher roles. I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for the gift of resilience in Chinatown churches- that despite a world waiting for them to give up, they model the intensity and love that moves grandparents to learn Hillsong tunes and insists that the Christmas program must carry on. These churches look to the ones who came before them and those who come after them with a deep faith that these things are not in vain. This is, after all, a God who led Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

This is the story I hope Chinatown uncovers for students: the untold stories of struggling communities that grasped the light of the Gospel in a city that knew them only as strangers. I want to carve out space in my theology for the moments that Jesus made His name magnified when remodeled garages became sanctuaries. 

 

*Timothy Tseng// Protestantism in Twentieth-Century Chinese America: The Impact of Transnationalism on the Chinese Diaspora
The Journal of American-East Asian Relations
Vol. 13, Special Volume− Christianity as an Issue in the History of U.S.-China Relations (2004-2006)