On my way to the university I always passed by this church. I heard reverberations and singing but I had never thought much of the place. When the Multicultural Class lecturer assigned the paper, the place immediately came to mind. I knew it belonged to Africans because I frequently saw some African women standing outside greeting and talking to each other. They were not African- American because they did not speak to each other in English. At first I was apprehensive. I wondered whether I should enter the church. I do not know any Africans nor I do any African friends.
Humans have preconceived ideas of life other cultures, which may not necessarily be true. Not even research and an open minded approach prepares one for the misunderstandings and surprises that emerge in cross- cultural experiences (Puffer, 2004, p. 3) I know Africa has a lot of problems with hunger and wars. I know Africa is not as developed as the rest of the world. Africans do not fit the Chinese model of beauty because of their dark skin and their bigger bodies. One Saturday, I was just relaxing at a park nearby and decided to enter that church.
I was nervous because I really stood out. I did not want to stand out from everybody else. Everybody would know there was stranger in the place and look. I reached the door, and then I turned back. I was not very comfortable. That next morning around nine o’clock I finally gathered the courage and went into the church. Ushers at the door welcome me in and gave me a program. It was a large sloping theatre hall with a lighted podium. The choir was leading the congregation in song. There were about a 100 worshippers that day.
The noise was deafening, loud music from the speakers, shouting, singing, clapping, praying, talking in tongues, dancing, jumping. Apparently I came in the middle of praise and worship. I began observing the Africans in that church service. It was one of the many charismatic churches in the city. I made contact at the church when I decided to enter for the evening service. They sing in both English Swahili (the person I was standing next to graciously offered this tidbit. ) All around me black men and women raised their voices and sang.
The white faces were few and far between. There were absolutely no other Chinese in that church hall other than me. At first, I just stood transfixed in one spot. I wondered what was going on. I was overwhelmed because of the noise and the actions. Adult men and women jumping up and down crying and shouting some raised their hands in praise. It took time to adjust to the din. I am not very religious and even if I were I certainly would not make all that noise about it. I had never been to black church before. The congregation seemed to know all the lyrics to the song.
I assumed that is because they met regularly and sang them in each service. The people seemed to be happy and declared their joy all the time. There was a constant repetition of name Jesus. They members of the church greeted each other warmly and vigorously, some shook hands, others hugged each other. The choir was dressed in African designs and sang in Swahili. In my view the Africans view religion as a communal event and even though they are in a foreign land they want to hold onto their culture. To them, dancing and shouting is celebrating life.
Compared to my own Chinese community, which is very reserved at times, this display of exuberance would be frowned upon. The congregants (volunteered my neighbor again) were mainly from East Africa. At the outset I did not feel as relaxed as them. I just looked around me. Everybody was dancing and shouting. I was still. My neighbor poked me in encouragement. She held my hand and started swaying with it. At first I did not respond. Then she patted my arm in encouragement and I started bobbing and swaying with her. Her face lit up.
We danced together and jumped in unison until the praise session was over. The next item on the agenda was a worship session, which was more muted than the praise session. I preferred this to the latter because it was more in tune with my personality. I watched as the Holy Spirit took control over the congregants. I did not really understand it. The songs were very slow but emotional, There was weeping and praying in tongues. Then the preacher said his sermon, which was interpreted into Swahili word for word. I had been in a church before but curiously some of what he said was common sense.
There was some religious jargon in the sermon but it did not matter. It was fun to be amidst joyous and expressive people. Later after the service Joyce the lady who was sitting next to me invited me to a church event. There was a lot of African food and drinks. It was almost a party mood as they updated each other on their week. Joyce introduced me to her friends. I was surprised that in five hours I had meet more Africans than I had met in my entire life. After the event, she invited me ago. This is a routine every Sunday. They go for the service and afterwards feast together as one family.
Among the cultural patterns I witnessed was a shared communion. First, they worked, worshipped and ate collectively. Secondly, they kept their language and dressing even though they were in a western country. Third, they were more animated than the Chinese in terms of body movement, speech. I was biased about Africa. According to Joyce, Africa does have problems but not everyone is dying of hungry or conflicts. The countries are developing rapidly and democracy is taking root. Africans may not fit the Chinese definition of beauty but are beautiful in their self-expression.
I learnt ‘habari yako’ which is Swahili for ‘how are you’ and ‘mzuri sana’ which translates to ‘I am very fine’. I also made new friends that day and I am welcome to attend that church any Sunday. By the end of the service I had a new bounce in my step. I did have misconceptions and I was unsure of whether to enter that church. In fact, I did it just to complete an assignment for my Multicultural Class. Nevertheless, I am glad I went to the church because I have gained much more than I anticipated. Reference: Puffer, S. (2004). International management: insights from fiction and practice. New York: M. E Sharpe Inc.
Courtney from Study Moose
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