14 May, 2011

The Faith Entry: Wherever I Travel, There's God 2005-Pres

I knew I was approaching my church attendance habit until something very legalistic and rigid. Call it all those training with what I had to go through in The Salvation Army. (They were the ones who told me that I was praying and studying my Bible at the "wrong" time: nighttime before bed)

In 2004 I did another road trip to L.A. Only this time I did not attend any church service whatsoever. In fact if I'm not mistaken, Sunday was spent at an East West Players matinee show. Yes, I felt a little guilty about it. I was a part of Venture at that point, and I was actually going through a process of "freeing" myself from all the rules and dogmas. In fact when I shared with my friend Peter who was the pastor who baptized me about my plans in L.A, his response was simply, "have a great time and be safe." I was to learn a month after that trip that my mom had cancer.

I traveled twice in 2005. Once before my mom passed away and once after she passed. When I visited my friend in Kauai, I decided to attend a church service across from where I sub-leased a room for a week. I was very culture shocked afterwards when a couple of the local members invited me to the beach afterwards to "smoke some herbs, bruddah" I miss that church.

After my mother passed away in the summer of 2005, I realized that there was no longer Thanksgiving and Christmas for me. I was in touch with Jojo, aka my "Singapore Sis" for 10 years but never visited her during all that time. She insisted that I visit her and her friends because she was concerned that my staying in the Bay Area the first Thanksgiving without my mother would be too overwhelming for me. Jojo and her friends created a very busy itinerary for my first visit to Singapore and my first trip outside the U.S. since my 1997 mission trip. Church WAS on the agenda, but the unplanned "all-nighter" on Saturday evening sort of preempted the church plan, much to the dismay of Jojo, who was (actually IS) a very devout Christian. As I slept in that Sunday morning, she text messaged all her church friends how I slept in and blew church off.  Not only did I promise to return to Singapore shortly within the year, but I also promised to attend church on my next visit.

When I returned to Singapore in May of 2006, Jojo was assigned to a new job position which scheduled her to work on Sundays. I thought I was off the hook. Nope. Jojo waited for me at the airport upon my arrival and promptly handed me a schedule and directions to her church service along with the times and two phone numbers of her friends to call in case I got "too lonely." She also scheduled a Sunday dinner for us as a group so I could discuss with them how church went for me.

That Sunday morning, I took the MRT to the Singapore Expo Centre. I got off the station and just followed the group of people who were getting off and who were carrying cases. (I just ASSUMED their Bibles were in there) I followed the group to "Expo 8" and was bombarded with almost 12 different greeters. ("HELLO. WELCOME TO FCBC!") This was to be my first and not last visit to Faith Community Baptist Church led by their pastor "Apostle" Khong. I was going to enter only to learn that they "were still getting ready." I was confused as the service was scheduled to start at 1:30 pm and it was 1:40. So as I waited I saw HER: shoulder length hair, round doe-shaped eyes, soft smile. Suddenly the gates opened and the crowd literally raced inside. Not only was I lost and confused, I was shocked and still dwelling on those eyes that hypnotized me only seconds earlier. The band was blasting away and I found an aisle seat in the front row of one of the sections. People were clapping and jumping along to the music and just when I was about to lament about losing sight on the person who "wow'd" me for the first time, she takes a seat behind me. Music concludes and we're now directed to greet the nearest person and "bless each other." She was the nearest person.


Jenny* was once one of the secretaries for FCBC and is now attending the service as discreetly as possible. She heard me "bless her," and realized that I spoke with an American accent. She asked me for permission to sit next to me which I happily obliged. ("Thanking God" the whole time) At the end of service she invited me out to lunch. I accepted. At the conclusion of lunch we went back to the MRT and said our goodbyes. I quickly asked her when she was available again. She said her only available free time was the following Sunday. I invited her to lunch, she accepted.

To be honest, I was not planning to attend church that following Sunday. I felt that I did my obligation to the "Singapore Sis" and pacify her to keep her from reminding me that I slept in on Sunday during my first visit to Singapore. I had to admit, I was in total awe of this young lady I just met at the service. When I visited her that following Sunday, she was waiting for me...

...along with members of her "Cell group."

A Cell group is basically a Bible study group. They call it a cell because theoretically and in practice, the group would grow and expand with new members to eventually split and "multiply" into another cell group. Hence they would reproduce like an actual cell. When I accompanied her to the service, her cell group came along. I thought lunch afterwards would be more private.


Courtesy of the "Stranger from the US," this particular cell group (ALL FOUR OF THEM!) were treated to an entire Portugese/Chinese meal. I was lucky to carry an extra amount of cash that day. Throughout the entire lunch, I was bombarded with questions from her group leader:

"So Jarrett, where do you see yourself as 5 years from now?"
"We heard you're an actor, what have you done so far?"
"So how is your relationship with God?"

I answered as I gracefully and honestly could. At the conclusion of lunch, I accompanied her to the MRT, said my goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. It's unfortunate that her and I were not able to create something beyond the friendship we created, however meeting her at church when I visit Singapore is something I looked forward to.

Several years later on the winter of 2008, Jenny invited me to attend church with her at City Harvest. They too rented space at the Singapore Expo. It's just that their attendance was a few THOUSAND higher than FCBC. When I was there during the service, there was a guest speaker from the States. We were also greeted with an envelope on our seats. Our guest speaker spent the entire message explaining what the envelope was all about. It's an envelope with two promises: financial blessing for those who fill it with a minimal of S$1500 (US $1100) or a financial curse for those who decide not to return the envelope with money in it. I was very disturbed by that. As I attempted to meet the guest speaker and the pastor in charge, I was shoved around by the security in the front who curtly demanded I make an appointment in order to meet them. I was even more disturbed.

That was the last time I attended church in Singapore, though I visited Singapore about three more times afterwards.

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