The All Nations Community Church, which meets in the China Lounge at 3pm on Sundays, offers food for the Aylward community every Sunday evening. The Aylward dorms are where Providence students live, along with students from Excelsior International High School and some other organizations.
The church is small, but has a high population of Micronesians, as the pastor, Paul, is from Micronesia. Students Karolina and Marissa Branson visited the church a few weeks ago and were surprised by their order of worship. The men in the church performed a dance using a stick for a beat and sang a song in their language. One of the dancers, Jaybert, a nephew of Pastor Paul, said that Micronesian boys will learn the dance as soon as they are old enough to pick up a stick. However, they have changed the dance from a superstitious tradition into a form of worship to the true God. They have changed the words of the song to tell the story of Jesus’ birth to his resurrection. They say that the dance doesn’t symbolize a literal battle anymore, but the spiritual battle that Christians wage in their day to day lives.
The church calls itself the “All Nations” church, because Pastor Paul believes that it is important to remember that the gospel transcends all cultures. We are called to make disciples of all the nations. He said, “We need ‘global eyes’ to see the way God sees. All peoples are redeemable.” The Bransons went to the church to see what it was like and to learn more about the Micronesian culture.
One of the graduation requirements tied to cross-cultural communications is the Avodah Program. Avodah is a Hebrew word that means work and worship with service. Justin Bleeker, who runs the Avodah program, says that it is important to distinguish between corporate worship and worship in our everyday lives “corem Deo:” before the face of God. This program seeks to engage students in the diverse culture of Southern California. We glorify God by loving and serving him and we do that by loving and serving others. “One way to love them is to understand them, their culture and mainly the individual.”
One of the challenges of studying culture is the tendency to stereotype and (whether one admits it or not) the tendency to think “we” are better. Bleeker said that it is important to recognize differences while keeping in mind that all people are equal and we are all image-bearers of God. Dr. Ryan Mclhenny, history professor, says that cultural differences are great, but people have to be wary of thoughts like, “They’re weird.” “They aren’t weird,” he explained, “they are just different from you.” Bleeker said, “There is value in all cultures and there is always an exception to a stereotype.”
For those who live on the William Carey Campus, it is obvious that a plethora of cultures are represented on the several acres of land WCIU owns, including (but not limited to)- Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Micronesian (the security guards!), Mexican, European, and Haitian.
Several Providence students regularly eat dinner on Sunday nights at the Micronesian church in the China Lounge. Freshman Brielle England said, “I have met a lot of different people while eating dinner there. Every person that goes there has a different story to tell, and it’s really interesting to hear about their backgrounds and the way that they were brought up.” She said that living on the WCIU campus has been an eye opener for her. “It’s made me realize that not everybody is like us. There are many different types of people that can form a community.” Sophomore Vaan Huynh does not like the fish that they serve but she said, “Every Providence student should give them a try; it’s next door. Bring an open mind. I tried the fish and it was gross, but that’s how I found out. Eat different food and talk to different people.”
Bleeker has some tips for how students can apply what they learn from the Avodah program into the diverse community they live in everyday. He says that they should ask someone on campus what their story is. It takes time to understand a culture, and more time to understand an individual. “Investment, time,” and he added, with understanding, “But of course you can’t do everything.” He suggested studying scripture with people from other cultures to see the different ways that they interpret scripture. “Don’t hold your beliefs loosely, but be willing to engage people in ideas and give testimony of the hope you have.”
Pastor Paul said, “We are all a family. Come anytime and invite your friends to eat. They don’t have to go to church. Our lives should be enough of a testimony.”
So, Providence students, if you ever find yourself hungry on a Sunday night, around 5:30-6:30pm, go to the China Lounge and eat new foods and meet and learn from new people. In the words of Bleeker, “it’s amazing place this world we live in… We worship God by seeking to understand his world, and loving your neighbor”