Last Sunday, we began what may be a first for Disciples in North America: a worship service in Khmer, the language of Cambodia.
Long Beach, California, is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Included in that diversity is the largest population of Cambodians outside of Asia. Many Cambodians came to the United States in the early 1980s, fleeing violence and oppression in their homeland. Today, Long Beach has the only official "Cambodia Town" in the United States, and it is not uncommon to see signs in public places printed in three languages: English, Spanish, and Khmer.
The idea to have a Khmer worship came from a group of Cambodians who joined Bixby Knolls Christian Church in early 2009. They liked what they found here at BKCC, and wanted to share that with family and friends who were not fluent in English. With help and guidance from Jinsuk Chun, the director of Asian Ministries for Disciples in the Pacific Southwest Region, we began making plans for the worship service.
Having no idea what to expect or how to proceed, my advice was to start slowly, perhaps with a Bible study, and to allow at least several months for planning. However, the Cambodians were eager to begin formal worship services, and months were reduced to weeks. I realized that there was a greater force behind all this, and when the Spirit flows, attempts to hold it back are futile.
For Sunday's first worship service, I was asked to preach, which I did. It was exciting to have my words translated into a tongue that is completely foreign to my ears! Traditional Cambodian scarves were also presented to me, my wife, and Bobbie Smith, our board chair. On behalf of the rest of the church, we acepted their thanks for allowing them to find a home here.
In many ways, starting this worship service is a blessing to everyone involved. One thing I realized last Sunday is that, for our Cambodian members, a printed order of worship is more of a "suggestion" than it is a strict ordering of what is to happen. At several points in the worship service, things happened out of order, and several members sang solos, presumably at the urging of the Spirit, since there were no solos listed in the program.
It reminded me of the time when I felt so constrained in worship by what was printed in the program that, for one Sunday, I did away with the printed order of worship altogether. You can read about that here.
We still have much to learn, but we're moving forward anyway. "Learning as we go" is certainly a lot better than sitting around, doing nothing. Besides, when the Spirit of God inspires us to start something, there's no stopping it.