Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We go to Church among Mennonite Hmong

Pastor Nou Shoua Moua introduced us to Ping and suggested he could sit between Mindy and me. Not to translate the whole service, but just to give us an idea of what was going on. For our second week in a row of worshipping in a Hmong church, we had no expectation of understanding much of what we heard, even though there was some English mixed in.

For instance, before he sat with us, Ping made an announcement. We heard the words “fundraising,” “barbeque,” and “you know, future youth stuff.” After the service, Ping told me that he’s the leader for the youth group. It’s mainly high schoolers, he told us, about ten kids. On Monday nights they get together to work on music, but they often do things after church (though not on this day -- Father’s Day.) Many of the parents want their kids to be involved in church where they’ll continue to hear and speak Hmong. It’s a concern that the kids are losing their connection to the language and the culture.

There were a number of young children in church as well. We first sat across the aisle from a toddler who was was intent on engaging in a staring contest with me, but after we moved to the next row to make room for another family, I guess the toddler won.

In the bulletin, the songs were listed by number. The first (#1) had the tune called Old Hundredth, which we’ve often heard sung as the Doxology, though this morning the song had at least five verses.

I was curious, because a number of people were singing from hymnals, but all the hymnals in the chair in front of me were in English. I asked Ping, and he told me a lot of people bring their own hymnals.

Because it was Father’s Day, the women were leading the music. A group of ladies led that first song and another, then more women come forward to sing an anthem in honor of the fathers.

Before the service started, several men had worked to get a screen and speakers set up in front of the sanctuary. Then there were… technical difficulties. I’m old enough that I’ve seen film and slide projectors malfunction, VCRs act up. Now, even with computers and Powerpoint, it is still not a perfect world. There was quite a bit of scrambling at the computer. (The desktop projected on the screen had the soundtrack for Twilight: Breaking Dawn at the top of the library. Some smart aleck called out, “Just play Twilight!”)

Eventually, the slideshow began, alternating pictures of fathers in the church with inspiring quotes about fatherhood (such as “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society” from Billy Graham, and “Anyone can be a father but it takes a real man to be a dad” by someone or other.)

All of the fathers were called to the front of the sanctuary, so at Ping’s urging, I went to the front as well. If it had been a police lineup, the witness might have been able to pick me out of the crowd. Pastor Moua prayed for us (I assume -- there wasn’t much English in the prayer).

Then the women went to the back of the sanctuary and picked up the Father’s Day gifts. Mindy brought the mug filled with candy to me. The man next to me received his mug from a very small girl standing next to a woman. Another man teased him, “You’re supposed to get your gift from your honey!” I assume those had been the instructions in Hmong.

Pastor Moua then said (according to Ping) that because of the slideshow mishap there wasn’t time for a sermon, so he closed in prayer after inviting everyone to go into the kitchen for baked goodies (donuts and sesame balls among the treats).

I asked Pastor Moua after the service what he had planned to preach on; he told me he was going to preach on the family, from Ephesians.  When I asked his history with the church, he said he’d founded the congregation back in 1990. He and his wife moved to Colorado, but came back about ten years ago.

I spoke with Chang, a church officer, and asked him about strengths of the church. He told me their pastor was very good about reaching the community. He has a radio ministry, which provides great opportunities to reach the Hmong community through the medium. He said the church runs workshops that minister to the community, and their pastor does, at times, make trips to the Hmong ministries that the church sponsors in Thailand.

I talked to another man, Daniel, about what he believed were the strengths of the church. He spoke of the strong leadership and the good family values the church provided.  We also talked with Kao, Pastor Moua’s niece. She said that her uncle preached love, and whenever people faced trouble, the church came together to meet people’s needs.

When we arrived, many people welcomed us, and when we left, many people asked us to come again. It would be a pleasure to return, even knowing I wouldn’t receive the great Father’s Day swag I got on this visit. (And about my mug, which reads, “Best Dad Ever.” The other mugs can’t possibly read that as well, can they? You can’t lie to everyone else like that.)

Service Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Sermon Length: no sermon
Visitor Treatment: The pastor and Chang, the church officer, greeted us when we arrived, and the pastor’s wife greeted both of us as well. We signed the guest book just inside the sanctuary.
Followup by Tuesday Morning:
Our Rough Count: 68
Probable Ushers’ Count: 75
Snacks: water bottles, orange juice, apple juice, donuts, and sesame balls
Musicians: piano (man)
Vocals (6 women, and 6 more joined them for the Father’s Day song)
Songs: “Old Hundredth” (tune; we don’t know what the words were)
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (probably)
“Father’s Day song”
Distance to Church: 6.5 miles
Open WiFi: locked guest wifi
Tie/Suit Count: about half the men (and many of the women) wore suits of one kind or another
Church Website: