View the photos full screen or see the Flickr set to get a closer look at Mein Evangelical Church. Photos by Nick Onken.
Discovering Myself Amidst the Culture of American Christianity
I had never before hugged or been hugged by a complete stranger until I met my student ministry coordinator for the first time outside Emerson Hall at Seattle Pacific University.
I grew up in a Mien Christian church and didn’t know anything about other churches. Our network of sister Mien Christian churches along the West Coast began after the nomadic Mien people were forced to flee from their homes in Southeast Asia and immigrated to the United States during the Vietnam War.
When I entered SPU, I was finally exposed to the traditions of modern American Christianity. A Mien-American Christian coming into a predominantly Caucasian Christian environment. Can I say culture shock?!
That initial hug began my process of overcoming the cultural barriers that exist for American-born Mien children with immigrant parents. At first, I started to believe that our traditions, even the way we conducted Mien church services, were wrong. I began to compare everything Mien to everything American. Americans don’t eat leftover dinner for breakfast. Why do we? The list went on and on. It was only after my Seattle Pacific Reachout International (SPRINT) trip to Indonesia during my freshman year that I realized that God created — and embraces — cultural diversity. The way I had grown up doing things wasn’t wrong; it was simply different.
I attend Mien Evangelical Church (MEC) in Tukwila, Washington, where I’ve been a member for the past 11 years. Our congregation of about 300 interacts much like a traditional Mien village. Every parent in the church raises every child in the church. The service feels choppy, revealing that Mien people aren't used to following a program. And while the pastor preaches to the Mien-speaking adult congregation upstairs, you can faintly hear the electric guitar strumming downstairs during the youth service.
In its 20 years of existence, MEC has never had a young-adult ministry until a few months ago, when a group of us approached leaders with our concerns. The church has seen too many youths finish high school and leave the church, confused by the relationship of their heritage to modern American society. I have experienced the confusion, but I’ve been blessed to have parents and mentors guide me through the process.
I can’t say that I have overcome all of my own internal struggles, but I do hope to serve as a mentor and leader to others. Maybe every person just needs a huge, genuine hug from a complete stranger to throw off their equilibrium, sending them searching for life’s truths.