New connections in a game room on the side of a church
By the Rev. Daniel Griswold
Editor’s note: The following is the ninth narrative accepted for publication in the Advocate’s new South Carolina Stories of Racial Awakening Project. See guidelines, here.
I grew up in New Hampshire, and for much of my life lived in a mono-cultural society where people pretty much assume that people know how “things work.” In other words, we were enculturated into ourselves.
After college, and while in seminary in Massachusetts, my eyes were opened to new possibilities and new ways. The church where I ministered in seminary had a game room for anyone to enjoy with two pool tables. One day I noticed that a middle-aged man of Korean descent had begun practicing trick shots. I introduced myself and learned he had recently become a Christian at a nearby Korean house church but was looking for connection for his nephew and other family children under his care. I learned that while in school in Korea, he had played pool on breaks to diffuse stress, and that is what drew him to the room. I mentioned that I wanted to visit with his family and get to know them better, so we set up an appointment.
I did not know how to minister in a Korean context, so I started making connections with some Chinese-American and Korean ministers, asking for recommendations on what was proper. I was advised by our mission’s pastor at Grace Chapel, Jeanette Yep, to go to the grocery store and buy the biggest and brightest fruit I could find. Oranges are good. And then I was to present them with both hands under the gift and to lift the gift up to whoever greeted me.
When the visit arrived, I was greeted with smiles. I noted that there were several families there that day. There were a group of ladies caring for the youngest children together in the living room, and the young were watching our greetings from the stairway of the home. Immediately, I was ushered to the dining room table, where the father officially greeted me and I began to hear more about him as I thanked him for allowing me to visit. While we talked, the young men were silently standing by the table.
I heard then how he had become a Christian and why he had begun attending our church and hoped to find connection. He confessed that he didn’t know much about Jesus, but in our conversations, I realized that that wasn’t completely true. He knew more than many of our members, and I told him that. He smiled, and after about 40 minutes of conversation I began to offer to leave.
A look of concern came across the father’s face, and I realized I’d made a mistake. They had ordered pizza specifically for me to enjoy with them and hoped I would stay much longer. I realized I had to put my time schedule on hold. It was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. The family came around the table where we were sitting and shared the meal, taking it back to where they were listening. After some more time and prayer, I said my goodbye until the next time.
Later that month, I noticed that the father had invited several other Korean families to the game room, and in a sunny sitting area, many children were playing. He was ministering to other families looking for connection. One particular day, I went to visit with their group, and I noticed the father’s chair had a woman sitting in it, and there were people standing around her. The father saw me, and he ushered me to her, and introduced her as a missionary from Mongolia, who was visiting and was their honored guest. I felt honored to meet her, and as I heard from her and shook her hand, I realized that God was working outside of my own culture.
By being open to learn, I’d honored God, and He began a new work in a game room on the side of the church.
Griswold, age 34, is a white male and the pastor of the Ridgeville Charge (Trinity, Mount Tabor and Cypress UMCs) in the Walterboro District.