This class was structured differently from any other class I had while I was in school. It was much more experiential that most other classes have the opportunity to be. Some of these experiences were organized activities we did together as a group. Others, we had on our free time in the evenings. I hope that by sharing about my experiences, you will see the difference of the culture of city life, and hopefully come to better understand the major cities in our world that so desperately needs Jesus. There were three main experiences that stood out from the rest, and gave a new way to relate to different types of people, especially the people of the city.
Theology of Traveling Culture – Airports and Subways
Flying to and from NYC was quite the experience for me. Prior to this trip, I had only flown once round trip (from Chicago to LA with my family to go to Disneyland), and that was when I was 15. By this trip, I was 22, and was pretty nervous to fly again. I was grateful to be traveling with 6 other OCC students, most of whom had traveled before. We drove from Joplin to Tulsa, flew from Tulsa to a layover in Dallas (Fort Worth), then from Dallas to Newark. From Newark, we rode a train to the subway, rode 2 or 3 different subway trains, then walked a few blocks before reaching the hostel where we were staying.
Did that just confuse you? It certainly confused me at the time! But it amazed me how many people in the airports and in the city itself were comfortable with this traveling culture. While it was weird to be eating in the airport restaurant next to my suitcase, it wasn't weird to most of the other people in the airport, like the businessmen or the seasoned vacationers. Although I was nervous, I had a good flight with a beautiful view.
And learning how to ride the subway was a crazy experience unto itself. Aside from learning how to find to the right train or standing while riding, the people we encountered on the subway were something to behold. Performers, business people, fellow travelers, and every other type of people you could imagine. Most of them, especially the locals, would tell you that they prefer living in the city with the subway, so they don’t have to have a car. It was so easy to see the brokenness in some of their lives just by looking. As I traveled and lived life in this environment for about a week, one of my favorite songs kept coming to mind.
Are these people going somewhere? Why have I never cared?
Give me Your eyes for just one second, Give Your eyes so I can see, Everything that I've been missing, Give me Your love for humanity. Give me Your arms for the broken hearted, The ones that are far beyond my reach. Give me Your for the ones forgotten, Give me your eyes so I can see.
This gave me an important perspective about those around me, and helped me to be a better traveler.
Theology of Fashion – Berdorf Goodman’s
But doing this was a powerful reminder for all of us that the wealthy are people just like us. There is definitely a significant cultural gap, one that our professor attempted to help us bridge with this assignment, but they are still just people. Unfortunately, bridging this gap is easier said than done. Even Jesus acknowledged the difficulties of a rich man coming to salvation. Although they are harder to reach, they need Jesus just as much as anyone else. I will never forget what it was like to wear that dress, and the powerful reminder that we are all still just people.
Theology of Worship – Different Worship Services
That morning, we went to the Lambs Church, and that was unlike anything else I have ever observed. The main thing that stood out about this church was it was multi-lingual. They offered services in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. It was good to see a church reaching out to these ethic groups in this way. The service we attended was English and Spanish simultaneously. Things were usually said in English first and then translated into Spanish. Most of the songs were sung in English but translated on slides.
During the sermon, it was a husband and his wife delivering the sermon as a team. He would say something in English and his wife would translate into Spanish. But, there were a few moments that they switched. He would say something in Spanish and she would translate into English. It was so cool!
Because it was Easter Sunday, they also did a simple drama while a woman sang a song in Spanish. It was beautiful. And the energy at church that day was incredible. They were so warm and friendly, and it was great reminder of every tongue, tribe, and nation that will be worshipping around the throne in heaven.
That evening, we went to Redeemer Upper West Side, and had a good but totally different experience. The Lambs Church almost didn't look like a church, especially on the outside of the building, while Redeemer was much more polished and “church-like”. There were even pews in the sanctuary, which is rare is most city churches, aside from cathedrals.
They had a totally of 5 services on Easter Sunday, 3 in the morning and 2 in the evening. The one we attended had a worship set that was somewhat jazz-like in its feel. If I understand correctly, they have different worship styles for the different services. What the other styles are, I don’t know, but jazz isn't a style I would have considered for a worship service. But they did the same songs for all the services. They even had the melody lines of the songs written out in the program.
The service itself was much more like services I was used to, except that there were so many testimonials throughout the service, testimonies of how Jesus and Redeemer Upper West Side had changed their lives. It left me thinking about the elements of a church service that are adapted to the culture around them.
I saw so many other things while I was in New York, so I want to make an honest attempt to list the other highlights of what I saw.
- We went to the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). Among all the awesome artwork we saw, we actually got the see the original painting of “The Scream.” We also looked around at some Post Modern architecture.
- We got to see St. Patrick’s Church, an old cathedral that was in the process of being restored. There was scaffolding all over the place, inside and out. While we looked around, we overheard some of their Good Friday service going on. It was pretty cool!
- We looked around/ate at Dean and DeLuca, Eataly’s, and Chelsea’s Market
- Our whole group had dinner at a restaurant called Liberty View, a great family style Chinese restaurant (for the other meals on the trip, we were on our own to find food). This restaurant was named such because we could see the Statue of Liberty from the front window! It was far away, but before dinner, we took pictures of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
- Our last night in the city, we went to see a Broadway play together! We got to see Spiderman Turn Off The Dark, and I enjoyed it so much! I want to fully review this musical in a separate post, but it was amazing! I had seen several Broadway musicals before this point, but I had not had the chance to see one in New York City! I enjoyed getting to finally see a musical on Broadway, and it was a fun group activity to end our time together.
- I got to see many of the famous sights in New York during our free time, including Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Union Terminal Station, the Brooklyn Bridge, Trinity Church (although we could hardly see it because it was dark when we got there), and Wall Street (including the Wall Street Bull!)
- My favorite place of all in New York was Time Square! I got to see many of the different stores, my favorites of which were the Disney Store and Toys R Us. I also got to see the fronts of many of the theaters, my favorite of which was the Gershwin Theater where Wicked the Musical is currently playing (a play I have seen twice on the national tour). It was so much fun!
- One of the awesome parts about the class was that not only was there seven other students from Ozark Christian College, but there were also eight others from Lincoln Christian University! It was great to not only experience the city together, but also make new friends along the way.
A City in Need of Jesus
My biggest takeaway from this trip is that I learned how to find “cultural texts” that taught me how to better relate to those who live in urban settings. Our professor urged us to learn how to have a situational awareness and cultural agility in all areas of our lives, and that is something for which we all should be striving. I hope that these memoirs from my trip will encourage you to pursue the same.
(Enjoy a few more pictures from my time in New York!)