Today I attended a wild party in New York City.
More specifically, this celebration was for the three-year-old daughter of the family with whom I am living. The party was held at their home church, Indonesian Full Gospel Fellowship in Elmhurst. Although I did not attend worship service, I did get to witness the interactions and friendly banter among church members that felt quite familiar. I've frequently referenced in previous posts how certain churches here have a similar feel to counterparts in Houston; this one made me feel like I was back at the First Indonesian Baptist Church, the church I attended up until high school. While watching the youth group this afternoon, I had flashbacks to my own childhood. It has been a while since I even thought about that era of my life (it feels like such a long time ago), so I was surprised at the level of fondness these memories conjured.
The birthday party was a madhouse, as can only be expected of an event with dozens of toddlers on the guest list. The family went all out with the decorations, putting up balloons and banners and handing out party hats and favors. Oh, and the food! I hardly ever crave Indonesian cuisine, but when I do get some, I remember how wonderful it is! The homemade menu: ayam goreng mentega (fried chicken in butter sauce), daging rica-rica (spicy beef seasoned with chilis, garlic, onion, and coconut milk), mie goreng (fried noodles), sop bakso tahu (Indonesian meatball and tofu soup), siomay (steamed fish dumplings), kue lapis (steamed layered cake made with rice flour), an iced drink made with shredded melons and cucumber, and, of course, birthday cake. Afterward, the games got a little crazy with bouncy balls, hot potato, and kids hyped up on sugar.
The festivities continued privately at home, where the birthday girl ripped into her presents. It was fun to watch the pure joy in her reactions to new toys, as well as her obvious indifference to the new clothes. I can also proudly say today marks the first time this little girl has ever bothered to speak to me. Either due to shyness or fear of boys, she has never acknowledged my presence in my three weeks of sharing an apartment, but after today's fun and games, she now randomly walks into my room to introduce me to her dolls.
I visited a new church this morning, the New Life Fellowship located just down the street from my apartment. The message was taken from Mark 5:1-20. In this passage, a demon-possessed man who is healed by Jesus asks if he can follow him, but Jesus instructs the man to stay in his hometown and spread his own testimony. Likewise, we sometimes say we want to follow Christ as an excuse to leave our own uncomfortable situations or conflicts behind, but God wants us to learn and grow from them and use them as a platform to spread His love and mercy. What the pastor pointed out from this story is that deep transformation usually occurs in the mess of life, in the places of fear, discomfort, and pain.
It was a phenomenal service with dynamic speakers and a genuinely diverse congregation, but as I know from prior experience, it takes a lot of time for me to feel integrated and fully invested in larger churches. As much as I enjoyed the message, and as convenient as it would be to attend a church so nearby, I know I personally wouldn't get as much out of it this year versus the other churches I've attended, but I would recommend it to anyone in New York as a place of authentic community and solid teaching.
|Waiting for the worship service to end and the birthday party to begin.|
|The birthday girl gets a makeover, including a blue princess dress and matching eye shadow.|
|Remember when you received gifts as a kid, and all you wanted was to grab and go? This photo captures that awkward moment when you realize you actually have to thank someone.|
|Hanging up decorations for the party.|
|Ah, the things a good father will do for his little girl.|
|The birthday girl and all the accompanying swag.|
|Grandma helps prepare the food.|
|Ayam goreng mentega, or fried chicken in butter sauce.|
|Daging rica-rica, a spicy beef seasoned with chilis, garlic, onion, and coconut milk.|
|Kue lapis, a steamed layered cake made with rice flour.|
|In line for mie goreng, or fried noodles, and bakso (meatball) and tofu soup.|
|The obligatory family photo around the birthday cake.|
|A small taste of how intense the games got.|
|This girl could haul it on the bouncy ball. So cute!|
|Next the dads get in on the action.|
|Enjoying her birthday cake.|
|Taking photos was impossibly hard at the birthday party because it was held in a dark, busy, and crowded basement where people kept getting in the way of my shots. So it was nice to catch the birthday girl at a quiet moment in a sunlit room upstairs. She still refused to smile for me though.|
|The birthday girl blowing bubbles. In the three weeks I've been here sharing the same roof, she hasn't spoken a word to me; I think either she's shy or afraid of boys. I mark the bubbles as the turning point when she actually came to acknowledge my existence.|
|The birthday girl and her brother play with her new paint set, a birthday gift from the party.|
|New Life Fellowship Church, which rents its space from the historic Elks Lodge. Hence, the giant elk in front of the doorway.|
|Folks wandering out after the service at New Life Fellowship.|
|Scenes from Queens No. 5: A deep purple flower weed sprouting out of the base of a telephone pole. It's amazing the random places you can find beauty in this world.|