By 2003, I was teaching the brightest little minds in America, owned my own home, travelled half way around the globe serving as NY Educational Envoy to Korea, married the man I loved and had a son I adored. Along with the good things came the bad; my father died suddenly, mom’s heart was failing, I battled pre-cancer and my beautiful son’s robust health was being eaten away by Chron’s disease.
In all those nightmare years, I prayed only once: While Davie languished in a hospital bed, I realized our fridge at home was nearly empty. I drove to the market, sat behind the wheel, bowed my head to whomever would hear my silent prayer and asked that we be normal again. I just wanted to buy a loaf of bread without the hideous constant shadow of losing my only child.
Within a year, a new drug saved my son, but if you think I praised God for His miracle, you’re mistaken. Non-believers are a tenacious lot. We worship our non-beliefs. Instead, I was grateful for modern medicine.
I never dreamed faith could begin at the hair salon. (Although if you know me, you also know it wouldn’t find me on a ski slope or a yoga mat.)
One February day, my Korean hairdresser asked, “Are you a Christian?” I hadn’t inherited my mother’s gift of skirting the question and before I could stop hemming and hawing, I assured him a visit to Living Faith Community Church if it didn’t snow. That Sunday morning, I regretted my promise as soon as my bare foot hit the cold floor. While sitting at the edge of my bed, I prayed fervently—for a snow-storm! The response was a majestic clear blue sky.
Atheists think arriving at church is like taking a boring college lecture; just get in, take a seat in the back and sneak out unnoticed. I arrived just as service was beginning… and stopped at the door. (Note to my readers- I’m a New Yorker and female, visiting unknown houses of worship other than the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral can be downright dangerous. I was about to enter a closed-door room filled with 100 strangers. And none of them had green eyes like mine.
“Hi, is this your first time here?” A young man with a clip board introduced himself as Gary as he corralled me at entrance. He was affable and adorable with a spray of freckles across his cheeks*.
Since I too had freckles (hidden under a coat of BB cream foundation), I returned his smile and took his form.
Shoot! I have to fill out papers? I scribbled my name and address, hoping everything was illegible enough so they couldn’t track me down like the Seventh Day Adventists Ladies who rang my doorbell on Sunday mornings. Yes, dear readers, I was that ill-informed. I didn’t even know the denomination of the church I had just entered.
I grabbed the only empty seat in the last row of what I assumed was a Korean-some-kind-of-Protestant church housed in a Conservative or maybe Reform Jewish temple in Queens. I’d probably be home in an hour and hopefully, Jim hadn’t eaten all the left-over lasagna while I was gone.
At first glance, I noticed three things:
1. Everyone seemed Asian (that’s good- I’m supposed to be in a Korean church and it looks like I am.)
2. Everyone is at least 20 years younger than I. (Not good-I don’t want to be the old white lady in the back.)
3. And everyone turned around to look at me-not good at all for my secret exit plan.
Like the church I visited in prep school, I was once again in a room filled with folding chairs, but this time all were filled. Another 30 something year old man named Peter* was speaking at the podium. His resonant voice both soothed and captivated me. Soon I was enraptured by his tale of his father in America*. “My Dad’s so impressed by designated handicapped bus seats. He says a country that thinks about the less abled bodied is a testament to its generosity,” he voiced.
Hmm. I’m going to like this pastor. I hadn’t been to church enough to know the first speaker is not the pastor. I gave Peter my full attention until he added, “…because life was very hard in China.”
China? I’m supposed to be in a Korean church. I looked around the massive hall for the closest exit. Obviously, I’m in the wrong church. This temple is a half-block long-the Koreans must be on the other side!
Folding chairs are not built for covert operations. Reaching down for my bag set off a tinny shriek that echoed over Peter’s presentation. A hundred heads of luxurious brown hair turned to face me.
I didn’t want to be here in the first place. I lost my day off. It’s freezing outside and Jim is eating my lunch right now. Damn it all. (I didn’t see the irony in damning at church.)
I felt a hand on my shoulder. Captured by the Chinese!
I followed helplessly as a stranger took my coat and led me to a seat beside hers. She was (and still is) tall, regal and drop-dead gorgeous) “I’m BJ*. We’re a pan-Asian church.” Had she read my mind?
“You look familiar.” BJ went on until we realized we shared the same hair salon.
I didn’t know it that day but, I had just stepped down on the road to finding my faith.
In January, I’ll tell of the passionate and indomitable Pastor Stephen Ro and describe finding 200 brothers and sisters in Christ I didn’t know I had.
*Special thanks to Gary Fong, Peter Ong and BJ Sung for making LFCC so inviting that I couldn’t help but return the next Sunday and nearly all the Sundays that followed.