People's Park in FallI found where all the foreigners are!

Well, at least half of them. They meet at the Tianjin International Fellowship here in town on Sunday mornings. I first read about this place in Jin Magazine when I first got here. But last week, I got personally invited by a new friend from Guyana. Since my week was especially lonely, I decided to finally check it out. I seem to have a history of controversial “fellowships” so I tried to have low expectations on my way in.

First thing I noticed: black people. This was very reassuring, because what I’ve heard from Chinese people so far is that there’s generally a lot of prejudice in this country toward people of African descent. They assume things when they shouldn’t and they don’t assume things when they should. It’s very sad, actually, but a lot can be blamed on Western media, I think.

All in all, though, the mix of people was quite diverse. Koreans, Japanese, Indians, Latinos, Africans, Kiwis, Aussies, Americans, Europeans, Hippies,[and Hipsters,] and young ones of all flavors as well. In fact, it was the most diverse room I’ve been in since that infamous TCK retreat I went to a couple years ago. But please, let’s not talk about that.

As I walked in to the tourism college, where the fellowship meets, I was stared at just as much as any other place I’ve been in Tianjin. Am I really that different? I guess I don’t care. Still, with all the stares, no one came up to talk to me even though I was obviously “new in town.” There were no greeters or welcomers or anything. Instead of standing around looking ignorant, I approached someone myself. They helped point me in the right direction and even showed me where to get a Western donut and some watered-down coffee.

It was time to start. We headed up a spiral staircase to the 3rd or 4th floor (I can’t remember) and were stopped at the door. “Passport please,” said the Indian-looking man. Passport? Seeing my inquisitiveness, he stated that only foreign passport holders were allowed inside the service. This was the Chinese gov’t protocol that allows them to meet in private. If they didn’t have this policy, they’d have to post Chinese officials at the door to make sure there wasn’t any proselytizing of Chinese people going on. Crazy, huh? They take their religious freedom pretty seriously here. (Sarcasm!)

I couldn’t help my cynicism when everything started.

The music was off-key and off-beat. The sound system didn’t work very well. The projector was from 1983. The seats were all in rows, facing the front stage. People were clapping on two different beats like they were from opposite sides of the world or something. We sang songs in other languages I couldn’t pronounce. I can safely say this place was anything but “seeker sensitive” and definitely nothing close to “emergent.”

The sermon began with a side-note on human trafficking, which I was very surprised to hear. Even if it wasn’t necessarily explained very well, at least the topic is being talked about, right? I’ll certainly have to ask more about this the next time I show up. The guy sharing this morning was probably in his mid-thirties or close to it. He read from John 4 & 5 and jumped around the rest of the book to support his thesis. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m kind of glad it wasn’t very long.

When he finished, another man got up there and took prayer requests from the audience and we all prayed for them. After that, he had people stand up if it was going to be their last time at the fellowship. I assume for people returning to their home country? And then after that, he asked if there were any new people in the community. My so-called friend made me stand up:

“Hi, I’m Daniel.” … “I’m from America.” … “I teach English and I’ve only been here a few weeks.”

It felt oddly confrontational – oh, and awkward, of course.

After the service, I got to meet a very nice couple from Wisconsin who work at the international school here in town and they even invited me over to their house for dinner the next night. I figure that if I am planning to be here a while, I should probably get used to this place, no matter what the presentation’s like. In the end, that’s not what matters. I can focus on the people… who seem to be here for admirable reasons anyways.

With that, I apologize.