I went to church for the first time here. There is only one protestant church here so there really is no doubt that that would be the one I go to, unless I go to the one in the next town which would cost me around 10 Euros for a return train ticket.

I met the pastor yesterday. He’s a guy from Congo and very nice, but I’d be concerned if I were to meet a pastor that isn’t nice. He showed me the gathering place, which isn’t really a church but a hall in the university that they rent for Sunday services. The place is a mere 5 minute walk from my house, which turns out to be super convenient, but what ISN’T convenient in this city?

So this morning, against my will of sleeping in, I got up and headed for my first Sunday service in Louvain-la-Neuve, excited and filled with curiosity as to what types of people I’d meet. I had hoped to meet some Chinese people – maybe someone from a fellowship?

Wrong. The 50 or so people there were ALL of African origin, with one exception – me. Well, that sure wasn’t what I was expecting.

About half an hour into the service, I had an urge to leave – damn you Satan. I felt incredibly out of place, solely based on appearance. I thought, surely there must be some people staring at me strangely right now? With that thought, I felt that 50 pairs of eyes, filled with skepticism, were simultaneously on me, and I was more nervous than ever.

Then an epiphany struck me. We were all there to worship, to praise our God. There shouldn’t be any barriers or boundaries between skin colours, races, countries of origin, background…anything at all. Why should I feel so excluded? Weren’t we all there for the same purpose? I kept praying that God would give me the courage to stay for the whole thing, at least this once, and that I wouldn’t feel so isolated. I sat in the back row, which didn’t help the cause.

And I’m glad I stayed. I got to experience a whole new style of worship that was so energetic, so lively, so PURE. In addition to singing, these men and women were dancing, playing drums and tambourines, praising from their hearts. There were songs in French and even songs in Congolese. I was utterly surprised.

The sermon today was about prayer and once again, it reminded me that I don’t know how to pray. None of us REALLY knows how to pray, and that’s why we need to pray more, more, and more. During the periods of prayer, I felt the hearts of these brothers and sisters, hearts that belonged to God, no matter what colour they were, what languages they spoke, what they studied. We were all as one.

At the end of the service, the pastor asked me to stand up to introduce myself. Strangely I didn’t feel too awkward, and all of a sudden it felt as if the 50 pairs of untrusting eyes had turned into 50 pairs of sincere eyes filled with an earnest welcome. I was surprised that they sang me a welcome song, so full of love and joy. At that moment I felt just a little embarrassed, but I bowed my head in prayer. I was truly touched and I thanked God for that courage that I prayed for, for bringing me here, for being with me the entire time.

I talked to a few people after the service and oh, how warm and friendly they were! It was my first time interacting with so many Africans at the same time, and it was such a refreshing experience. Whatever prejudice I may have held against them before, I sincerely ask that the Lord forgive me, and give me the chances to get to know these people better.

At one time during the service, I was seriously contemplating not coming back, but by the end, I decided to give this church another shot. After all, it is me who needs to accommodate, and I see no reason why I should give up so soon. There is a first time for everything, right? Why can’t I be the first Chinese girl to attend their church?

(As a side note, halfway during the service, a Caucasian couple joined, so I felt A LITTLE less awkward. Phew.)