A Hindu woke up early on a Sunday morning, an especially difficult task during spring break, for a church service. My friends had been asking me to attend the Sunday service with them many times. I had always found my way out of it. However, neither my assignments nor my classes could cover my hide during the break.
Born a Hindu in a former Hindu kingdom and having grown up not caring much about religion, I was obviously a little hesitant to attend the service. While a Hindu attending a Sunday service was not unheard of, it was a rather new experience for me.
I was one of those people who rarely visited temples or sat during pujas (Hindu or Buddhist act of worship) back home, and I had never been to a church.
“Expect a lot of praying, singing and dancing,” said my friend Claris Kanife, a sophomore nursing major from Ezeagu, Nigeria, as we entered the church.
Given the fact that I was the only brown person in the room, I expected all that along with a lot of curious eyes on me. Having been asked about my ethnicity and religion far too many times since my arrival in America, I was mentally prepared for any question of that sort.
However, I was greeted with welcoming smiles and hugs. No questions asked.
Coincidentally, the pastor—Messan E. Aziadapou—started the service with a sermon about hospitality. When asked to define it, someone said it was opening your hearts and homes to people.
Another said it was welcoming people regardless of their religion and color, and the discussion went on. Their responses warmed my heart a little, and I suddenly felt at ease.
Unlike attending pravachans (Hindu or Jain saints’ discourses), where the attendees idly listen to the speaker for hours, this was very interactive. It reminded me of the times I could barely keep my eyes open while attending the pravachans.
After the sermon, the pastor asked us to stand up for the prayers. I was expecting to stand with my hands clasped and my eyes lowered to the ground as largely depicted in the media.
When I opened my eyes to peek at others, I realized everybody prayed differently. My friend, Claris, was on her knees; there were people lying flat on the ground and some with their hands casually in their pockets.
The pastor later told me that although most people pray that way, it was not necessarily the only acceptable prayer position.
“You can pray any way you like. You should pray from your heart, and all is OK,” he said.
While I was anticipating slow-paced hymns and prayers, I was taken aback by the loud, peppy music. As soon as the music played, everybody started to sing and dance their hearts out. The words to the prayer were displayed on the television like karaoke.
As I awkwardly tried to absorb the sudden burst of energy in the room, my friend pointed towards the television and gestured me to sing along. I gestured back that I had not worn my contact lenses. She laughed as I tried my best to sing along with squinched eyes.
As everybody took a seat after the prayer, a fellow attendee came forward to recite some verses. She further asked people to testify, and express their gratitude toward God.
A man told the story of how he got his dream internship at a renowned pharmaceutical company after three years and six interviews.
Another woman told a heart-wrenching story about her sister’s pregnancy complications and her own narrow escape from a car accident. Then, Claris testified about her selection for IMPACT college orientation and her nursing school application.
It was an incredible experience to see people cheer for one another’s success, and was nothing like I had ever seen at a temple.
It was so much more uplifting, and people were so involved in everything.
A few more testimonies later, the final prayer began. By now, I was not as awkward as I was before.
I assumed the end of the prayer meant the end of the service, but to my surprise, the pastor took everyone to a nearby buffet.
The overall experience was undoubtedly great. From the unity among the attendees to the involvement in the service itself, it was a completely different experience for a Hindu who had never been to a church.
I guess anything that starts with God and ends with food is great, right?