Jimmy Tam is lead pastor of Sunrise Christian Community, a predominantly Cantonese evangelical church in Alhambra. The Hong Kong native made headlines recently when he was handcuffed at the Monterey Park Lunar Chinese Year Celebration following a dispute regarding the closure of the festival due to rain. Monterey Park’s mayor later apologized to him, the church and the other festival vendors at a recent City Council meeting. The Alhambra Source, as part of a new column on religious leaders in the city, talked to Tam about his 10-year-old congregation, physical healing prayer, reaching out to immigrants new and old and his surprising journey into the public sphere.
How would you describe your congregation and its theological bent?
We have a young and energetic congregation, mostly Cantonese speaking Chinese. We are Bible-believing but want a passionate spirituality. We focus a lot on prayer: besides prayer walking around the city (where believers walk in the streets and pray for the people and institutions they encounter), we also offer prayer sessions that provide emotional and physical healing, and spiritual deliverance.
Why is your congregation based in Alhambra? How does that shape your congregation?
We are in Alhambra because of the presence of the Chinese community. And when we first moved to Alhambra, we wanted to reach out to the Cantonese speaking Alhambra High School students.
What are some of the biggest issues facing your congregants?
Our congregation spans the different stages of assimilation for immigrants and thus each stage has different issues. For recent immigrants who often work long hours, the challenge is finding meaning and peace in their lives in the midst of so much cultural confusion. For our students, many of them need encouragement and support that tutors and mentors could help fill. For many of our college graduates and young families who are well assimilated into American culture and securely middle class, it’s clear they also are looking for direction in what it means to have a fulfilling life, despite the accumulation of material comforts.
How could the city, faith-based community, or residents better address your needs?
The city doesn’t seem to have a lot of connection with what’s going on in the faith community and doesn’t seem supportive of some of our efforts. We have been turned down from using public facilities even though we were offering a general workshop on college for high school students. And it’s been difficult to find a visible place in the city like Main Street where we could rent to use for our expanding worship. From other local churches, I hope we can have some more collaborations rather than competition.
What else would you like residents of Alhambra to know about your congregation?
We have a vision for having a prayer center for the community in the future. For example, when immigrant Chinese have problems and troubles in life or in the spiritual realm like ghosts, they often go to the temple or a monk to get an amulet or other charm for protection. We want this center to be a trusted place for people to go for divine protection or healing as well, regardless if they are Chinese or not. But we also hope that this center can be a place for praying and interceding for our local city as well: pasting relevant local newspaper articles and events that we can pray over for example.
After the incident getting handcuffed at the Lunar Festival in Monterey Park, what do you think you learned through this process?
Personally, it helped me grow in my faith a lot. I was able to grow in trusting in God and relying on others to pray for me and give me wisdom when I spoke at the City Council meeting or with the media. After hearing about the results of the lack of community belonging in Alhambra, there seems to be that same disconnectedness in Monterey Park as well. But I don’t want to see this incident simply turn into a church vs. city dynamic, or clash of cultures. I still want to be a blessing to the city, not just blaming others and getting angry. I would prefer all the good that churches are doing get in the news instead of an unfortunate incident like this!
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Interview was edited and condensed
Sunrise Christian Community Sunday services are 10:30am on the campus of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 412 N. Garfield Ave.