While trying to get acquainted to our new residence, a new country, totally new culture and new connections, we thought we would try different things to see where we would fit and feel comfortable. Watching church service on TV or asking friends to take us with them to church on Sunday wasn’t ideal for us. Having gone to church all our life starting from Sunday school, we craved a church home where we would be attending every Sunday and connect with other believers.
As we were walking on the neighborhood streets one evening, we spotted a church that we thought had roots or connection with our former churches in Kenya (Presbyterian and Anglican). Excited, we promised ourselves that it will be our home church where we will be attending every Sunday.
We couldn’t wait to go! On our first Sunday there, we arrived early, Ushers were very welcoming, we made sure we got good seats and were set to be nourished by the word. Our son was about six months and still breastfeeding. As people started to flock in, and the praise and worship team led us in worship, a lovely middle aged white lady sat next to us. She admired our dear son and then joined in worship. We were very observant of our surroundings and made sure we were closer to an exit, in case our son cried and we needed to go out.
The congregation was predominantly White, in their middle age or later adulthood. We felt out of place because we stood out from the crowd. We wondered if we were supposed to be there. But hey, don’t we worship the same God regardless of which church you go to? It was our way of comforting ourselves because for sure we were very uneasy. The crowd could tell we were new attendees. They were very inquisitive and some even asked where we were from, who we were staying with. Being new in the US, the last thing we wanted is to stand out from a crowd since we were still trying to study our surroundings.
We had observed several people holding their dogs and some dogs sitting on the floor but we didn’t make anything out of it. We were thrown aback learn that, that Sunday service was dedicated for animals. The priest asked the congregation to get up so that they could pray for their animals. I have no clue to this day what the sermon was about. Due to the quagmire we found ourselves in, our focus wasn’t on the preaching, or the spiritual nourishment we had gone for, but instead on how it was all so different from what we were accustomed to.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lords holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” –Ephesians 3:17-19
According to our culture, all I knew at the time about dogs was that, they stayed outside and acted as security at night in case burglars happened to invade, and they would zoom into action. The lady sitting next to us was holding a photo of a dog and was crying. At first we had no clue what was bothering her but offered to console her nonetheless. “Are you O.K.?” I asked her. “I lost him a few years ago.” (referring to the dog in the picture). How on earth were we supposed to console her? She was crying because her dog had died of old age. I looked at my husband to see if there were any words I could read on his face to express to the lady, to make her feel better but he was equally perturbed. What an awkward situation we were in! “God, why don’t you take away this cup in front of us?” He surely didn’t but then, I remembered my husband’s cousin had taught us the magic words of saying, “thank you” and “I am sorry.” I told her we were, “sorry for the loss,” but you could clearly tell she was mourning deeply.
Our son started crying immediately and I suppose my heartbeat scared him because it was racing so fast. I started breast feeding him immediately so he wouldn’t distract others who were listening to the word. Have you ever tried to breast feed a hungry child? You know that sound they make as they suck the breast either because the milk isn’t coming out fast enough or they are enjoying their meal? Well, it felt like his suckling noise could be heard a mile away. I grew up watching mothers breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, sometimes without covering their breasts. Although I covered our little guy while feeding, I didn’t think it was a big deal or someone would feel uncomfortable about it. A man sitting next to us got up and left right away, as soon as I started breast feeding. I didn’t know why he did that. We later came to learn he felt uncomfortable sitting next to a mother who was publicly breastfeeding. What a culture shock!
It took us a while to absorb and reflect on what we saw, and how we felt once we got home. We were doubtful whether we will ever find a church that we felt at peace. We were frustrated that people in the church would stare at us and make us so uncomfortable at a place where we thought we would find hospitality and unconditional love. We felt guilty that we were judgmental and may not have realized that probably, they meant well.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? –Romans 8:35
It took us a lot of soul searching and didn’t go to church for about six months from that day. We finally decided to try other local churches but most that we attended were comprised of either older adults, purely White or African American population. We needed a home church where we would interact with the young, the old, the White, the Black and all others in between. When we learned to drive, we drove a little further from where we lived, after a friend asked us to try out a church that was more inclusive and had an excellent kids program.
We drove there the first Sunday and 9 years later, we still call this church our home! Our three boy’s spiritual journey and foundation was laid there. Although the church had a lot of people, we couldn’t believe the diversity we saw. We didn’t stand out, and we didn’t feel like we were closing others out as well. Being in our twenties, we saw many parents with young kids with strollers and some breastfeeding. The peace in our hearts was undeniable. We could feel the love even when no one was really paying attention to us. We were in our home church! To God be the praise! Sometimes it takes several tries, some disappointments, some soul-searching before we find a church we feel we belong.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.(1 John 1:8)
Tune in next month and learn about crazy things first time moms do wrong without even knowing it that got us a referral to a physical therapist (we did) and the added pressure of trying to juggle and find work life balance.