The teeny-tiny (in class size compared to American public schools) academy I went to was a big part of sparking a long dialogue that has affected my life: faith. It’s also one of the reasons I reviled the theology I was brought up in. When I see or run into people who attended this same school, I tread carefully to watch how (or if) they’ve adjusted their positions given that most do not live in solely majority-Christian environments.
“Hi, my name is Evangelical Christian, and I live in a bubble.”
What I saw: Christians nurture faith in each other, and what that looks like in practice is opening up the Bible and reading it (sometimes together or on your own), saying prayers (not just for what you need but for the good things you’re thankful for), and the shaping of identity by what you did and didn’t do (you were encouraged to tell people about Jesus and you were discouraged from wearing miniskirts because it caused…boys, not grown-ass men…to “stumble”? Hell yeah, stumble: I know this miniskirt makes my legs look good, you can look but you can’t touch). I also saw how on Sundays we would worship at a rented room at the Hilton.
Looking back…why did we worship in a fancy hotel? This congregation was composed mostly of white missionary families that comprised the community that was sending their kids to our school. To me, it was a bunch of ex pats that were doing some further insulating. I never really understood why we didn’t attend a Cameroonian church in the neighborhood. What was the purpose of closing ourselves off from beautiful Cameroon by paying to meet once a week in a bougie setting that wouldn’t have invited Cameroonians to join us? Church looked like a social club, one hour of chit chatting with people who looked like you for the most part, and who all spoke English even though it was a casual understanding that most people also had a second or third language in their back pocket in case they needed to whip it out when speaking to locals. Church was air-conditioned, with nice carpets, with ample room and comfy chairs. One of the churches I had gone to with my family (cuz when Mom or Dad were in town to visit or to pick us up for breaks, we went to Cameroonian churches), the concrete blocks were still gray and unpainted, we sat in wooden pews with others, the service was in French and sometimes translated simultaneously into a local dialect, and we were with fellow non-white folks. The culture was completely different. I remember that at the Hilton church, a visiting Cameroonian couple attended our worship service, and they were dressed in vibrant clothes, and the woman’s headdress scarf was colorful and bright…and we never saw them again after the one time. Who knows why they didn’t return, but I realized that our church had no outreach or invitation for those who were not like us- perhaps it was not meant to reach beyond the confines of these thick opulent walls.
What now? I get that humans gravitate towards what they know. When you are an ex pat living in a foreign country, you feel most at home with those who come from the same place as you. There’s nothing wrong with congregating together. But I was sad that said Cameroonian couple did not ever come back, and whether that was saying something about how out-of-place they felt. It wasn’t that we weren’t international, like our church name said. Our students were from around the world. A lot of the American missionary kids spoke multiple languages or called Cameroon home. But I didn’t like that this church was siloed, especially since the faith we followed was all about loving our neighbor. Weird.