The role of another “Lin” for diversity

In the midst of the media hype surrounding Jeremy Lin, the new NBA star, the New York Times recently turned a spotlight on another young man named Lin.

This man, Lin Dakang, spends his days delivering Chinese takeout by bicycle on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A cover story in the March 4 Sunday Metropolitan section detailed the hazards of the road, his tips and his petition for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. His asylum petition has been granted, the Times reported.

I was particularly intrigued because he attends worship services in Mandarin at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Brooklyn and represents a denominational effort toward diversity that could be replicated elsewhere.

This Lin is from Fuzhou, the capital of the Fujian Province in China. His journey is much different from that of Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin, also a Christian, the son of Taiwanese parents, who grew up in northern California and graduated from Harvard.

Many Chinese from the villages and towns around Fuzhou have come to New York. I learned that in 2004 when I took a tour of the ever-expanding Chinatown with Ken Guest, a fellow member of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, who had just written a book, “God in Chinatown: Religion and Survival in New York’s Evolving Immigrant Community.”

After I read about Lin Dakang, I asked Guest – an associate professor of anthropology at Baruch College in Manhattan – for an update on the Fuzhounese and their Christian connections. “Guys like this guy in the story are everywhere,” he said.

Chinatown-based employment agencies team up with a dozen different Fuzhounese-run, long-distance bus companies that carry workers around the U.S. “Pretty much every little town between here and the Rockies has a recently-opened takeout Chinese place or an all-you-can-eat buffet,” he told me. “Those are almost all run by Fuzhounese. And the workers all come from New York City through those employment agencies.”

Guest, who is at work on a new textbook for Norton called “Cultural Anthropology: a Tool Kit for a Global Age,” said his recent studies indicate that 50,000 Fuzhounese restaurant workers are “in circulation all the time.”

Some of these workers are Christian. Of the four Protestant churches in New York that specifically cater to Fuzhounese immigrants, the congregation that Lin Dakang is part of shares Fourth Avenue church with a long-time Hispanic congregation. Called Tian Fu, the congregationis led by a clergy couple from Fuzhou and is recognized by the United Methodist New York Annual (regional) Conference. “They pack out the church every Sunday, twice,” Guest said. “It’s the biggest Fuzhounese church in Sunset Park (Brooklyn).”

While Tian Fu’s core membership is New York-based, he explained, the rest are transient. The congregation can draw 700 people on a Sunday, “but they’re not the same 700 every week.”

That’s precisely why church involvement is often “crucial” to the emotional and social survival of these immigrants, he said. Along with the spiritual support comes practical advice on topics like jobs, lawyers and health care. “It’s sort of like building a Christian kinship network,” Guest told me.

Seems like just the type of network that could fit into the United Methodist connectional system.

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Thomas Kemper, general secretary with United Methodist Global Ministries. Photo by Hector Amador for Global Ministries.

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