One of the Most Unwelcoming Moments I’ve Witnessed

On our way home from visiting my parents in Pomona, we stopped by Korea Town in Los Angeles to stock up on Korean groceries, since we now live 1.5 hours away from K-Town.

My wife was doing her thing and I was wandering around the grocery store trying to appease the ADD I always feel at grocery stores. Or, in shopping scenarios in general.

There was a Hispanic lady that was shopping with her young daughter at the store. In a sea of Koreans, it's easy to spot the non-Koreans.

She was shopping and trying some of the samples being offered at the store.

She and her daughter came up to the station that I was standing at wanting a sample of the udon the worker was offering. She went up to the worker and asked, “Can my daughter and I try some?”

The Korean worker, whether she really didn't know English or pretended that she didn't, shrugged and said, “Not ready now.”

The lady then asked, “Oh. Okay. How long until it's ready?”

The worker, now clearly annoyed, for reasons unknown, said sternly, “Not ready now.”

The lady replied, “Understood, but can you tell me how long? 3 minutes? 5 minutes? 10 minutes?”

Then the worker looked at the lady, threw her hands up in the air saying “I don't know” and walked away from her station leaving the lady, her daughter and myself in disbelief.

It was so rude and shocking, I felt myself turning red in shame.

I walked over to her and I said, “Hey, I saw that. So sorry what happened. That was messed up and rude.”

I don't know why I apologized, but I felt a real strong need to apologize on behalf of my people for this lack of hospitality.

The lady looked at me and said, “What can you do, eh? Guess we don't really belong here.”

Ugh. I mean, she said it with a smile, jokingly… but my shame turn to disgust which was made worse when the lady left the udon station, the worker returned to start making udon. Maybe it was coincidence, but the timing was too perfect.

I wanted to say something to her, but I was so annoyed and angry that I don't think it would've been a very productive conversation. If it was true that she didn't speak that much English, and with my Korean being so bad — what communication would there be?

When there were udon samples ready, I actually went looking around the store for the mother and her daughter, but couldn't find them.

But, Cmon! I mean, who treats their customers like that?

You can't expect that ALL your clientele will speak Korean. Heck– a lot of their workers aren't Korean.

But this incident got me thinking about how unwelcoming some churches are, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

I mean, just like the Korean grocery store can't expect all their clientele to be Korean, we can't expect that every Sunday will be filled with folks who've been long time members of our church or long time Christians.

Even if it's just from a psychological point. Once we think that there will no longer be guests/visitors/new folks then we'll probably never have guests/visitors/new folks in worship. Or at least that's how I tend to think.

I have heard of (horror) stories where churches come off as unwelcoming.

Like, when someone who's new sits in the “Johnson's” pew. And when the Johnsons arrive, the new comer is asked to move by the ushers to make way for the people who “rightfully own” that pew.

There have been churches I've stopped by where it was made apparent and known that I had worn the wrong attire to their church. You'd think that denim was from the devil himself.

Something I've been guilty of — assuming that people just know. That people know who I'm talking about when I say, “Go see so-and-so.”

Or when churches use overtly Christianese terminology or inside jokes.

While we may not be able to get rid of all the kinks, the point is that we should try to make our community of faith as welcoming and accessible as possible– for both long time members and first time guests.

We shouldn't foster an environment where people feel ashamed to ask the simplest of questions — “Where's the bathroom?” “Where's coffee fellowship?” “Who's the pastor?” “How long will the udon take?”

Churches, especially, should be a warm, welcoming place that embraces all people, regardless of what stage of life they may be in and/or where they may be in their faith journey.

No matter how different they may look or be from us.


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