Church Review: Memoirs of a lost sheep

By Wendy M. Thompson for Meniscus Magazine

Name of church: Chinese Independent Baptist Church 

Address: 280 Eighth Street, Oakland, CA 94607
Pastor Name(s): Dr. Alvin Louie
Denomination: Baptist
Additional Note(s): Has both English and Cantonese services

I didn’t intend to lose my religion. It wasn’t as if I had planned all along that I, at age 16, would quit going to church with my family.

I don’t pretend to be a believer. But I’m kind of what you call non-practicing, like Catholics who don’t take communion but still hold the Virgin close to heart.

Out of the whole church, mine was the only family with American last names, the only family with the African American father who was a regular usher which meant we had to all haul in early on Sunday mornings before the church opened. We were the brown faces in a sea of Asian ones; the silent ones in a room full of tongues chanting songs in Cantonese. We were born in that church and grew up with it, believing we were full-blooded Chinese like all the other kids there. So what we didn’t have names like Lim, Fong, or Chan — our mother was Chinese and we always went to Oakland Chinatown to eat dim sum after church.

Remembering that church is like remembering my second home. We went every Sunday, during the building renovation, during hailstorms and even in the summer when they had their annual Vacation Bible School. I was the last one in my youth group to get baptized, and when I did, my parents were overjoyed since this meant that my soul was still intact even though the rest of me was going at a full-fledged internal war.

I remember the Kings Hawai’ian bread they used instead of those paper-like wafer discs we had on communion Sundays. I remember the songs we sung halfheartedly, the way they conducted it so that one half of the congregation would sing opposed to the other and the choir would lead.

But I grew bored of all of this. I felt that I was losing touch with what was going on. Jesus and the Bible verses only worked on me as a child. As I grew older, I began searching for an identity and dealing with the dysfunction at home. I couldn’t see how Jesus and God and all the prophets and disciples had anything to do with me running away and joining a gang and being battered and raped by an ex-boyfriend. It was a separate part of my life, like a symbol of childhood that I lost when I stopped being a child.

My mom told me years later that it was my father who started going to that church and brought her — a Catholic — into it. She was pregnant with me and at first felt uncomfortable with it all. She was used to getting rejected by her own people for marrying my African American father. He wanted so hard to prove himself to the church, or maybe to Chinese people. But all I knew was that the father we knew at church was totally different from the screaming, cursing, abusive father we had at home behind closed doors.

Maybe I quit church because I felt it was a fraud. Or because I was tired of dressing in my “Sunday best” all we could afford was the stuff on sale at Target. I was far from the rest of the youth my age who were showing up to church with pagers, piercings, and in decked out Acura Integras. I felt disconnected, not Asian enough. And the whole Bible thing didn’t really work either when I went out and got drunk and high with my gang banging friends. I do want to go back one day and see how people have turned out. To reflect on a time when we went and were amused with the little puppet shows about David and Goliath. One day this lost sheep will come home.

Wendy M. Thompson is a 20-year-old Afro-Chinese American poet and video maker from Oakland, California whose work has been featured in Yell-Oh Girls: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American and What’s Hapaning as well as on She is currently an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside.