Open letter to those still in the Indian Church

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There are two types of people this blog post is for. First, the older generation within the Malayalee (Indian) church who like myself (as a teacher in a different culture than my own) often lack awareness of cultural differences or the desires of the younger generation to express themselves differently and creatively. Next, the younger generation who needs to go back to God and his words first as a means to better serve our churches.

For Pentecostals (particular branch of Christianity), Acts 2 is a pivotal piece of scripture. The chapter details what happens when the holy spirit comes at Pentecost. It’s some crazy stuff. Vs 2 explains, “Suddenly a sounds like blowing of a violent wind came from heaven.” Then “tongues of fire” came and “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” I remember my brother once pointed out to me that when people are praying in tongues, to the bystander they don’t look happy! People are yelling, crying and praising. It looks insane if you don’t understand what’s happening. And that’s touched upon. In fact people made fun of them thinking they had too much wine.

So now that epic scene has been painted- now imagine my horror when experiencing something very different at a conference this past weekend.

Carefully pick speakers and always think of the Vision

I encountered a book, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” and was captivated as a teacher but also as someone who loves psychology and trying to understand people. I just came back from a region meeting for Indians who are in ‘church of God’ pentecostal churches. Being honest, the Sunday service was dead. In Emdin’s book he refers to Pentecostal pedagogy as a model for teachers. But as I watched a Pentecostal preacher elicit call and reponse to no avail, my heart broke. This pastor poured his heart out to the audience and there we were- dead, as was I as a part of said audience. I felt uncomfortable praising loudly because everyone could hear me. I wanted to be back in my church where my praises mixed with the congregation in a beautiful melody. Some of my church friends had to remind me that the “norm” in my church isn’t the norm everywhere. In fact, today the main speaker reminded the audience that when he was young the meetings were all in Malayalam and the only portion of the message in English was one song. We’ve come a long way. Many people left my church leaving the current youth with a much stronger voice. We used to always threaten that we would leave but when some people actually did, everything was different. People weren’t leaving after marriage or as older adults, they left as college students and young adults. As a result, my service is entirely in English, the speaker speaks English and everything is catered to me, not perfectly, but our pastor tries. He advocates for our youth and makes a lot of mistakes but still sacrifices so much for the younger generation. However, despite my appreciation of my church, this past weekend wasn’t my first “dead” service at a larger gathering of malayalee youth.

Maybe it was that the call and response method isn’t enough? He would call out Amen only to hear faint amens respond back. Or perhaps it was because he asked men of God to imagine how God would use them to speak and women of God to dream of being pastor’s wives. Heck, maybe it was because he was a 60 year old southern white man speaking to a group of young 13–30 year olds. Whatever the reason, the room was hard to work with and I found myself saddened because it was a long time since I attended a meeting like this. I’m reminded of the book I referenced earlier, “For White Folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of ya’ll too” It’s really hard for white teachers, or even suburban minorities to come into the hood and expect to understand our kids, their music, clothing, food and so on. The same holds for my parent’s generation. Our worship sounds different, our idea of church clothing looks different, we prefer Amerian food compared to rice and chicken- we are different. So when you transplant someone unaware of our differences, it will be hard, as it is hard in teaching. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just as a teacher in the “hood” I need to be aware, but my students can still learn from me. And in our churches we are all still unified under Christ, we just need to be aware of the needs of our youth.

The scene I encountered this past weekend was not the scene of holy spirit coming to Pentecost, it wasn’t anything close. In college I got involved with a group called InterVarsity Christian fellowship and at our region gatherings it was a dance party- literally! We would go twice a year and the room would be packed and my worship with inaudible in the room. I could sing and praise in such freedom. The same thing happened at our conferences once every three years called “Urbana”. I felt such a freedom and strength in a room surrounded by fellow believers. The enthusiasm I once felt is drastically contrasted with the overall feeling from the meeting I attended recently. It felt like the preacher was pleading with the audience to offer something to God and we stood their limp and lifeless.

Go Back to the Basics.

The same message would have been very different for the older generation’s audience. Something was missing and I don’t believe it’s as simple as I would like to make it. I would like to just blame the older generation for not be culturally relevant, which they weren’t. But I know it goes deeper than that. What was the difference between the men who were praising on Pentecost and those who stood and laughed assuming they were drunk on wine? Well Peter addressed the mockers , “These men are not drunk as you suppose.” and explained that God had poured out his spirit on the people as he promised. Peter essential threw down the gospel for these people detailing how the world was made perfect, but then sin came in and created a division between Christ and us. Jesus was then sent as the bridge between that division created by sin. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose…But God raised him from the dead.” Peter points to the first thing we need to do.

Ultimately, so many people fall between the cracks and need to be reminded once again what Jesus sacrificed for us and how much he loves us.

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Looking back at scripture we see how these people respond, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Do you know what that feels like? Even reading those words pierces my heart. This generation needed Peter to remind them that they needed to, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So when I look at my generation, I see myself. A broken person who as a senior in highschool drifted so far from God that I needed to hear what Christ had done for me once again. I was that person who willingly, proudly stood limp feeling power in denying my praises. I was afraid and stupid as the fool who denies God.

Now 5 years later I am a very different person. But I still needed someone like Peter to remind me of what Christ had done for me and pierce my heart.

Yes, our meetings should be culturally relevant. And a preacher shouldn’t have to beg an entire audience to praise God. But looking at God’s word the answer to those on the sidelines who mocked was not anger or judgment but God’s word spoken through Peter explaining all that Christ has done. I believe our generation needs Peters with the ability to stop and minister to our youth.

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A Culture of Stress

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In a culture of triple shot espressos, rush hour trains, city-speed walking and endless work/class hours- how can I not worry? Living in New York City is not for the faint of heart and I’ve grown accustomed to intimate train rides with strangers at least once a week. I worry about pretty much anything and a strange part of me enjoys the worry. I rarely admit this to myself but feeling worried makes me think that I’m at least working. But in the midst of my “busy” and “stress” I hear God asking me, why do you worry Nina? God points to the lie that stress and worry should be a work day norm or even that I can blame my job for my worry. Matthew 6:25-34 warns us against embracing this culture of worry and anxiety.

 

1.Worry is rooted in a lack of trust.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

God reminds us that the opposite of worrying is trusting that God will provide as he does for the birds of the air. Ultimately worry stems from a lack of trust that we hold.

2.God will give you more than you can ever find yourself

27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

How many times have I tried to find my own solution to problems and acted in haste? I think back to when I needed an internship for my Communications major. I couldn’t afford to work unpaid and all of my attempts at securing a job always seemed to lead me to illegitimate internships. I finally trusted in God and only interviewed for two places. The first place offered me a better position after meeting me. I ultimately accepted the second offer which was at a company I never thought I was “good” enough for. I still remember college friends telling me I was wasting my time with the “Christian club” and yet during my interview, my work with said Christian club got me the internship. It was completely out of my control and I thank God for how he gives.

3.Instead of worrying about things, seek God, the ultimate provider

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
The secret to this passage is hidden in verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I am making a choice to seek God instead of money or prestige or success. Because every time I seek perfection out of my own strength I come to a striking halt. Instead, I choose chai lattes, quiet time in the mornings, long walks in the sun and trust in God. I lie to myself when I say that I am worried because of my job or graduate classes. Worrying is ultimately my choice and I can also make a decision to stop.

Adventures in Capris

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My first day in India I got ready for sari shopping wearing a pair of capris and a short sleeve t-shirt.  I didn’t think anything of it.  My mom definitely did but seeing as how I considered my attire modest if anything I ignored her requests to change.  If I wore the same outfit in America, I doubt anyone would think twice about what I was wearing.  I expected the same from India, boy was I wrong.

I should have known better, fresh from taking Anthropology class last semester.  Unfortunately, I really didn’t.  The minute I stepped out of my cousin’s car into the streets of India, I was met by dirty looks.  Stepping into the clothing shop I felt like a piece of meat… that was green and forming mold.  I’m pretty sure that my capri and short sleeve t-shirt combination was the equivalent of booty shirts and wearing a bandeau in America.

I couldn’t believe it, my mother was right.

Coming to India I couldn’t believe how different yet exactly the same everything was from America.  Sure they had unrealistic advertisements covering the walls of the city.  But their ads had women with fair skin, deep eyes and models who were even normal size from time to time.  I was shocked to see advertisements with women who weren’t particularly pretty to me.

I was shocked by how different life is for the average person in India.  I found myself sad for my parents who were forced to change their entire life upon coming to America.  They wanted to live in the land filled of milk and honey, paved with streets of gold.  But as I sit in India and think of what I have and what many people in India do not have-I realize the main difference is things.  The people here do not seem less happy because they don’t all own expensive clothes.  Different things make people happy.

I think about my church filled with India people.  A generation of immigrants who were born and raised in India with different values and standards.  Then I think of myself, someone born in America.  Someone who’s definition of love, beauty and an acceptable standard of living contrasted to everything my parents were taught.  I somehow developed a new level of understanding.

I was surprised to learn about the types of music that people enjoyed.  I always thought that something like music was simply universal.  I never understood how my mother didn’t appreciate the songs I enjoyed.  She was just primed under a different culture and mindset.

Ironically as I sit and type this listening to “Both of Us” by B.O.B I find myself laughing at the things that are important to people in America.  The things that are important to myself even.

I can’t believe I’ve only finished one day of my journey to India.

Arranged Marriages: they do exist

An article I wrote a very long time ago in high school, let me know what you think!

When you think about arranged marriages what exactly comes to mind?  Some may imagine a young girl forced into marriage with an older man with no say or consent in the matter, but in many cases this is now untrue.  Danielle Limeri, a junior, is completely against arranged marriages “I don’t think it’s right that people think they have the ability to decide others futures for them. Marriage should be about committing to the one you love because you know you want to be with them forever. Not because your parents decided it for you.”  Junior Jacie Schneider holds a similar view as well, “its not love so it’s not real, marriage is for love nothing else”

For the purpose of this article many people included are from different areas found in Long Island, Sherin George, a junior at John F Kennedy High School in Plainview is one who holds a different view about arranged marriages “In my culture, arranged marriages are prevalent and have their upsides and their downsides.  But, I think that it is important to say that today, arranged marriage is under YOUR control.”  Christine Verghese a junior at Deer Park High School holds a similar view “That doesn’t mean, the child must accept or be forced into marriage, without their own opinion. Rather the parent and the child must accept the newest addition to the family.”

For the first marriages, 41% of people end up divorcing, meaning that a little less than half of all marriages end in divorce while the divorce rate among arrangedmarriages, only holds around 4%.  How exactly is it that something that is deemed “not real marriage” lasting longer than marriages that begin with love?  It may come down to how families are largely involved in arranged marriages.  Susan Mathew a freshman at Molly College understands how important family can be when deciding who your life partner is  “I feel Arranged marriages by parents have gotten so much more different than it was a long time ago….It is when parents find someone they feel is suitable for you, but ultimately the decision is your own…you truly learn to love someone for who they are. It is something that is honored in our culture, obedience to your parents, and to God. It also shows that you are honoring your parents decisions.”

Verghese parents have been married for many years and she believes this in part because of their arranged marriage “My parents relationship is still growing strong. It’s not to say it’s perfect, no marriage is. There are ups and downs, meltdowns but they each forgive each other…There is no option of divorce, thus they must always reconcile, and I AM thankful for that….”  Mathew holds a similar view “”My parents have a good relationship, a kind that others would envy, they are best friends who tell each other everything, have an unconditional love for each other and for their children though they may have some disagreements they know how to get along…”  George had listened to her own father’s insight into the topic upon many occasions as well “My father, his marriage being arranged, once told me, ‘When you meet someone and fall in love, by the time you get married you know each other, and the love is leveled, whereas from the moment I met my wife, I began loving her, and it grew day after day, and it still is.’ “

This modern and altered form of arranged marriage is compared to speed dating by George “I like to compare it to “speed dating.” When getting married, you have total say on who it is you will be married to, you have total say in how much time you want to get to know this person, and you have the total authority to call this wedding off. In a way, its just an easy way of meeting someone new, and finding out if this guy or girl is the one for you.”

Joshua Joseph a senior at The Bronx High School of Science believes that arranged marriages can be good but is now growing ineffective among many levels “Arranged Marriages work when one or both members of the marriage focus and prioritize the family first. However, in our society we often focus on ourselves so this system could never work.  Arranged Marriages wouldn’t work for most people living in Western Civilization.”

Many people hold a similar view to junior Brittany Georgalas “Arranged Marriages are ridiculous….”, but knowing that Mathew’s parents have been married for 19 years, and Joseph’s parents for 26 years and counting, maybe something about it really isn’t all that ridiculous.