For most of my teens, my parents and I were members of a Protestant Chinese church not far from our house. While the church was far from being fundamentalist, it was conservative because of the congregation's right-wing views mixed with a traditional Chinese heritage that favored modesty and moral values. My parents assimilated easily into the Mandarin-speaking congregation, led by an amiable married pastor with a boyish smile and a strong handshake. Two years after we arrived at the church in the late nineties, my father was singing in the choir and my mother became one of the church bookkeepers. Eventually, my father also became a trustee. Meanwhile, at 14, I cautiously eased my way into youth group--50 Chinese-American teenagers who met every Friday night for worship, prayer, games, and wholesome messages, all led by an adult. Those Friday nights were moving, but also incredibly lonely. Youth group felt too much like a cliquish Christian version of high school. All the popular kids were the "deeply Christian" ones leading worship and Bible studies; they formed little groups, while the "fringe" kids were left out. Because I was shy and quiet, I became one of the "fringe" kids who wanted to be outgoing, but were often ignored. After a year in youth group, I decided to get baptized, which would make me a church member. I had always believed in Jesus and baptism seemed right, but my motive was not pure: I had seen some of the shy kids, once baptized, become fiery, new, popular Christians. By getting baptized, I would cement my faith and become a joyful, super-improved Christian. So at fifteen, on Easter Sunday, I was tipped backwards into a tank full of water to become an "official" Christian.
The Sunday offerings weren't adding up...
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