I smiled and walked a few rows back to sit on the wooden pew.
"Hello." I said to the two women sitting in front of me.
They were just about to begin the service, the piano and violin doing a few more practice runs. A woman in a long Karen skirt walked towards me and smiled.
"How are you?" I asked in Burmese.
"I'm fine my sister, I've never seen you before..." she answered in Burmese and I seriously wanted to cry, because I've missed hearing the language.
"My name is Katie, I'm from Orange County but I lived in Thailand..." I quickly told her about what I had been doing in Mae Sot, all in Burmese.
I think she was impressed.
The service began and they sang a few English songs and some Burmese hymns. An old Karen man, the senior pastor walked to the pulpit and welcomed us to the church,
"If there are any visitors, would you introduce yourselves?" He asked in perfect English.
My new friend encouraged me to stand up, "Tell us about yourself in Burmese. Everyone would be so happy."
So I did.
Everyone was shocked, I forgot to mention that the entire congregation (there were about 40) were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. There was no one under the age of 45.
They clapped when I had finished and the pastor was so warm and welcoming to me.
I love how laid back their service was. People would come up onto the stage and share something or sing a song that had not been previously planned. The pastor was so encouraging and proud of his congregation for being bold in sharing their faith with one another.
Some things about the service were similar to my home Church in Mae Sot. They sang some of the same songs, had the same praying style, and loved and cared for each other like they were family, which I later found out many of them were.
When the service ended, I was immediately swarmed.
Men and women reached out to shake my hand and welcome me. Many of them told me about other churches in the area and restaurants that I could visit, all of them called me their younger sister or daughter, and invited me to come back often.
Most of the congregation moved to America in the 60's or 70's and they were eager to hear about what was going on with Burma and how I learned to speak so well.
I got many phone numbers and connections to more activities in Southern California. Many women laughingly told me that they have sons just my age, and they're single. We laughed and joked together, easily switching from Burmese to English.
Afterwards I sat in my car and just let the warmth fill my heart. I hadn't even realized that I had been feeling empty. I think that being there in that place, surrounded by people who spoke the language that I love, I suddenly realized that I have been missing a part of myself. It has been about 3 weeks since I left Thailand and my life there, and slowly, the realness of it has been fading. It seems like a place that I dreamed of, not as a reality. I was scared that I had lost it, but sitting there on that hard wooden pew, I realized that I will never lose my love for Burma, because it is engrained in my heart.
Later that night I called one of my best friends in Mae Sot and we spoke for a long time.
"Your Burmese is better." He said to me.
"What?! No way... I've barely been speaking and I feel like I was stumbling over the easiest words today."
"No your accent is amazing. You sound just like you are from Burma."
As I lay in bed that night, warm memories swam into my head and I rested easy, dreaming of my friends and of Mae Sot.