‘The next life is a new life’

‘The next life is a new life’

Why refugee Christians from Vietnam put a lien on their house to buy land for a church.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

HOUSTON — For many American churches, a Sunday potluck might feature casseroles, buckets of chicken and salads with crushed chips on top.

At the Vietnamese Church of Christ in this ethnically diverse metropolis, fellowship meals happen differently. The meal is a gateway of sorts, introducing visitors to the culture of a church community that doesn’t seem in a hurry to eat and get on with the day.

The main dish is prepared on site, and the menu rarely varies because it’s so anticipated by those who attend: seasoned spare ribs, rice, noodles with fish sauce, salad and homemade desserts.

Outside the Northwest Church of Christ’s youth room, where the Vietnamese congregation meets while raising money for its own building, men set up canopies emblazoned with Houston Texans logos to provide shade from the searing sun. They huddle underneath and prepare the beef in stages, thinly slicing ribs and marinating them with a blend of traditional Vietnamese seasonings.

These ribs are laid upon a sizzling grill, hot flames hissing at the contact. A breeze carries the tantalizing smells inside the crowded room where Hung Nguyen preaches, causing children to whisper excitedly to each other.

The youngest children babble in a blend of Vietnamese and broken English, while school-aged youngsters have a mastery of the language that comes from immersion in Houston-area public schools. Some of the adults speak both English and Vietnamese. A translator — sometimes one of the children — helps bridge any language barriers.

The tantalizing meal does the same, giving church members a way to engage their guests in conversation beyond what can happen in moments snatched before or after worship when everyone is looking at the clock.

Food is a universal language, as the saying goes. Showing hospitality is Scriptural.

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This story appears in the October 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.