Why Asian Christians love to party

After being exposed to different churches in college, I returned back to my Chinese immigrant church feeling quite superior. One thing I have always hated about our church and others like it is we have events at very inconvenient times. The youth group meets on Friday nights. That sucks. I would arrive at church on those evenings and be greeted by chaos. It was a sight: toddlers running around, moms jabbering in Chinese, elderly people blocking my path, and junior high boys chasing each other. My condescension quickly turned to bitterness and resentment. Being a youth counselor on Friday nights is a big-time cramp in an active 20-something's social life. It also might be a major reason many ABC believers who come back after college to help out with their youth groups have trouble meeting new people. And then there are the all-church retreats, which in our church network occur over Thanksgiving weekend. What kind of timing is that?

I remember speaking at a conference in Kansas City over Christmas in 2004 and there were a thousand Chinese people crowded in this hotel. The sponsors brought in their own food. Meal times were madness. Child care was insane. (Caleb, who was 3 at the time, had an eczema break-down in the room adjoining our workshop - we could hear him screaming while we taught). It was crazy. What makes Asian believers schedule events at times and in such a way as this?

The answer is pretty simple. Asians Christians love to party. We are straight-up, unadulterated, party animals. We like very specific kinds of partying. We are firm believers in the family - therefore, we want to party with as many family members as possible - from the babies to those that cannot move on their power. It makes sense if you're serious about partying. And what's most important about partying? No, its not the food. No, not the location. No, not the music. Asian Christians, all we care about is to pack as many different generations into the smallest space possible at the same time! Let the good times roll. But seriously, I've thought about it some more and it makes perfect sense. At least from an immigrant mentality.

Our Chinese church network started in the 1970s with a group of overseas Chinese (mainly from Taiwan and Hong Kong) students at San Jose State University. They got together weekly for Bible study. Out of that grew a Sunday fellowship and then an official church with a building. Along the way came marriages and children. The development of children's ministry wasn't so evangelistic as much as "what do we do with these kids while we study the Bible?" And that was the same thinking behind the youth group. It was meant to be an activity for kids while the adults met for fellowship.

These believers had a shared language, a shared immigration experience, shared goals and values, often shared occupations (high-tech), and a shared stage in life. How could they not become friends and spend all their time together? The church became the family unit, encompassing all of their social life. The reason mainstream churches (read: white) schedule youth activities on weeknights is because it frees youth workers and youth to have social activities on the weekends with friends or family. But what if all your friends and family are part of the church? And what if the church is your social life? And what if you work long hours during the week and don't have time to attend church or ferry kids to weeknight activities? Then going to church on Friday or Saturday night isn't an impediment to your social life, it IS your social life. Chinese believers don't go see relatives over Thanksgiving weekend because the break is way too short to hop across the Pacific Ocean. So why not have a retreat? After all, it makes sense since the church is your family away from home.

It has only taken me 23 years to finally understand this. But recognizing this has given me a greater appreciation for who we are as the immigrant church. I can see how vital a role the ethnic church plays in the life of the immigrant community. When my family moved from San Jose to Atlanta in 1989, we went to church because we wanted to meet other Chinese people. We would not be Christians today if the Chinese church were not an important immigrant gathering place. I appreciate the emphasis on family and community - there is a communal quality in immigrant churches that I have never seen replicated in more mainstream churches, no matter how small or large. I still get bitter sometimes. I have railed and ranted about the timing of certain events. Sometimes I wish we could have separate events and activities at more "convenient" times. I get tired of hearing the adult choir or crying babies. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to. But the truth is this: We Asian Christians love to party. And its a good thing.


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