Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary T. Mathew, April 25, 1999. Interview K-0815. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Christianity eases an immigrant's transition

Mathew describes a church congregation that welcomed her and her family despite the fact that they were the only non-whites there. A sense of religious fellowship precluded any discrimination, she believes. She reflects, too, on the way membership in a new church and Bible study have reshaped and strengthened her Christian convictions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary T. Mathew, April 25, 1999. Interview K-0815. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

RASHMI VARMA:
What's the racial composition of the church member? Er. . . Are there other Indians who attend it, or you know—?
MARY T. MATHEW:
It's a white church. And, for the longest time, we were the only non-whites there. But of late, we have, like, oh, three of four African Americans also.
RASHMI VARMA:
So, you never felt out-of-place? I mean, you, the religious community was important enough to embrace you? You didn't feel any cultural differences coming in?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . .. . . this particular church is known for a very loving and friendly attitude, and the fact that we are from a different country only endeared us to them even more, because they felt like they and we were brothers and sisters in Christ. So, we felt very welcome and were heartily accepted and I don't remember a single time when we even felt we were different from anyone else.
RASHMI VARMA:
Were you as committed to church activities in India, or do you think that something about your immigrant experience, or coming here, that drew you towards, you know, getting more involved with religious community? Or was this just an extension of what you did in India, but in a different church?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Ahm. . .. In a sense, it was just an extension of what I have always done, because I have always grown up in a religious atmosphere. Ahm.. and my father, who is no more "quasa-pastor". However, after coming, I feel that my spiritual life has deepened a great deal just because there are so many more avenues to learn from, and there is a break with tradition that is possible here, and when you break with tradition, you always learn more and you come out of some, ignorantly-held customs and, that kind of things, which take away from the beauty of true religion.
RASHMI VARMA:
In India, like, you think caste, and [unclear] region, language, what do you mean by the fact that you are able to break traditions?
MARY T. MATHEW:
Okay. Ahm. . . To be very specific, the church I come from in India, always believed—and I think it could be a reflection of the Hindu notion of renunciation and so on—but my church would see poverty and illness and all of those things as, ahm. . ..., blessings! In fact, because they made you get closer to God and so on— but—and I always went with it. But after coming here, and studying the bible on my own, I realized that what God is promising is that you will be blessed financially, your body will be healthy, and so, the blessings do—. [pause] So I realized that what the bible is saying is not that lack is blessing, it is saying when you discipline yourself and walk in God's ways—these are the ways in which you will be blessed. And— and it— changed my entire perspective on life, and I began to pray in line with what I personally understood as what the bible was saying. And, you know, I began to receive answers and so religious life became a very thrilling, and fulfilling work.