Fujian is a coastal province in China that is north of Gwangdong and across from Taiwan.
In 1995 and even 2004 the Fujianese were not a significant presence in Sunset Park. Now, the Fujianese seem overwhelmingly present. About one-fourth of the foreign born residents of Sunset Park are Chinese. Besides Fujian, Cantonese immigrants continue to settle in the area as well as people from the city of Wenzhou, Shanghai and other coastal regions of China.
The presence of Fujianese Christians is strikingly displayed in the largest new Christian church in the area, The Church of Grace to the Fujianese Christians in Brooklyn. On 6th Avenue the church is one of the fastest growing churches in New York. Over half of the church of three thousand are also new converts.
A mainline church, the Fourth Street United Methodist Church, is also growing fast because of its Fujianese congregation of over 1500, according to its pastor Rev. Zhaodeng Peng. The church hands out "12 Disciples Certificates" to anyone who brings 12+ converts to the church. Each year the church baptizes a couple hundred converts. Most of the converts are from rural areas. Quite a few, had already heard the gospel in China and some of the new members of the church actually were already Christians when they came to U.S.
Rev. Peng and his wife, Rev. Qibi Shi, were educated at the Three Self seminary in Shanghai. He is a key person in the United Methodist strategy to grow through Chinese immigrants. Rev. Peng is evangelical and teaches the Bible to enquirers after every Sunday service. In 2009 the Tien Fu Church was given title to the church. A Spanish congregation continues to share the building with Tien Fu.
We also interviewed Ms. Irene Cheng of the Christian Day Care Center on 8th Avenue. This center, supported by the NY Church of God, has been active a long time in the community. But now, Ms. Cheng says, "Before, we had Cantonese and Mandarin speakers here. Now, one hundred percent of our kids are from Fujian." Ms. Cheng is from Hong Kong and uses Mandarin to talk with the kids. "They are so unprepared for education in the United States. They were born in the U.S., stayed here for one year and then lived in Fujian until they were 4 or 5 years old. They don't know English and haven't had much educational input from their parents."
Taoism has also made a revival in Fujian. We interviewed the leader of American Fujian Taoist United Association at his temple on 7th Avenue. Master Kang started preparation for his temple by painting in red an inscription on the telephone pole in front of the temple site. Then, he consecrated the various statues of the temple and brought them through a ceremonial fire. Master Kang is an enthusiastic evangelist for his Taoism. He explained to us each of the names of the gods, their relevance and who is likely to worship them. Explaining that he runs a Taoist School here in the city, the temple master brought out his Taoist books and explained why we should read each one. He offered to answer our questions by phone if we had problems. Master Kang is also a feng shui specialist. Many Taoist masters in the city also practice shamanism.
Heather, a student from Texas A & M in Commerce, Texas, joined us for Master Kang's performance. She recounted her reactions to us later, "I actually had never even been inside any kind of worship place that was not a church so it was definitely a new thing for me. I was surprised at how incredibly friendly and willing to share he and his wife were. I figured they'd tell us to get out and that no pictures were allowed."
The master was excited and more articulate than many we have run across here in NYC. It was an interesting lesson for New Yorkers. He was enthusiastically sharing his faith, the names of the gods, what they could do, a little bit of the philosophy, and it wasn't offensive because his joy made it inoffensive. Humans seem to have an innate capacity to have joy, fun, exuberance. It is not always well directed but it is pleasurable to experience. Heather observed, "They seemed very open with their beliefs there...I wish all Christians got so excited about a visitor like that man did."
She also faced an ethical problem not unlike the Apostle Paul did in Corinth, Greece on whether to eat food offered to idols. Paul wrote about his ethical struggle in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Heather recalled her reaction, "I did wonder whether when the wife offered us water if it had been water offered to their gods. Since she brought it out from under the table, I was uncertain. Paul's advice about eating food served to idols came to mind and I found it interesting that if the water had been offered, that I had actually been put into such a situation." All in all, the interview and observations made her more attentive to her settings and reactions and hopefully a little bit better follower of Jesus.