Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We Go to Church to be among Hmong

Memorial United Methodist Church Hmong Ministry, Clovis, California
Memorial United Methodist Church Hmong Ministry, Clovis, California
I had no idea what most of the words on the screen were, but I had a guess of what “Yesxus” meant. I checked with the Pastor Yeu after the service to find that I was right; it was the Hmong word for “Jesus.”

There are several things I love about this word. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” So I love that that the Hmong word for Jesus had “Yes” in it. And the next letter is “x”, which, of course, can be a symbol for Christ because “X” is the Greek letter “Chi” which is the first letter in “Christ” in Greek. You know, like in “Xmas”. And finally, there is “us,” so “we” are “in Jesus.”

If we’d been in a Korean or Chinese church, I probably wouldn’t be able to pick out anything from the writing on the screen, because the writing would be characters I don’t know. But Hmong people use the Roman alphabet. Their written language was developed in the 1950’s in Laos with the assistance of American missionary linguists. I know my conjectures about this particular word probably have no basis in linguistic reality. But I still think it’s cool.

We were worshiping in the sanctuary of Memorial United Methodist Church at the 10:00 am worship service. There are English language services in the sanctuary at 8:45 and 11:15, and it was nice to see people from the two language groups greeting each other as they arrived and departed. We were welcomed warmly by members of the Hmong congregation (and the English language congregations as well).

Pastor Veu Vang told us he wouldn’t be preaching that day. Four women had been at a women’s conference, and they would be sharing their experiences. He told me he had been serving the church for the previous year, and that prior to that he had been a part of a United Methodist Hmong congregation in Sacramento. (The National Hmong Caucus of the United Methodist Church has congregations in other areas of Northern California, including Marysville, Oroville, and Merced.)

Everyone stood as the service began. The keyboard introduction to the first chorus was vaguely jazzy (Al Jarreau came to mind). As I mentioned, I didn’t understand any of the words (but one) in the lyrics on the screens, and I didn’t recognize any of the tunes -- except one, after the offering was taken. Then we recognized the tune (but not the words, of course) of the Doxology. And those words weren’t even on the screen.
Though most of the words on the screens were Hmong, occasionally words in English would show up. “Announcements,” for instance, appeared when announcements were given. From a few English words thrown in with the announcements made in Hmong, we figured there would be a meeting of some kind after church. Also during the announcements, Mindy and I were introduced as guests.

The four women who attended the Women’s Retreat went to the front of the sanctuary to share. (Apparently there is no Hmong phrase for “Women’s Retreat” because we heard the English phrase used a number of times in the midst of Hmong.) The women all wanted to defer to each other over who should take the mic first (a quiet debate I’ve seen in any number of church services when a group is asked to share).

The first woman spoke in Hmong. When she handed the mic to a second woman, that woman said the first woman had asked her to translate some of the things that the first woman had shared. In English, the woman said they had learned much about prayer at the three day retreat. They were encouraged to pray at least five times a day: to begin the day with a morning blessing, to ask God’s blessing on the food at each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and to conclude the day with a prayer of thanks. They had also been encouraged to pray for their enemies. That prayer should be a “good prayer,” not just a prayer to get the person out of one’s life, but for God’s blessing to work in that person’s life. 

Then the second woman shared what had impressed her at the retreat. A missionary had talked about sharing the Gospel and stressed how important it was not to hold anything back. The missionary had said there were times she had held back on sharing difficult aspects of the Gospel, which had often led to confusion down the road.

The rest of the women shared their experiences in Hmong; afterward, Pastor Yeu spoke in response to what the women had said for fifteen minutes or so. (True of pastors everywhere, when they say they aren’t preaching, they still often do.) As he spoke, there was some interaction with members of the congregation speaking up, and at one point  the pastor brought a gentleman from the congregation up to the front to help illustrate a point.

After Pastor Vau concluded his remarks, the slide on the screens changed. We saw the English word “benediction” at the bottom of the screen, and indeed, the service concluded after a prayer.

We asked if we were right about our guess that a business meeting would follow the service. (Usually there is a Hmong adult Sunday School class.) We were told there would indeed be a meeting, a rather special one. Pastor Yeu had not been officially working in a paid position at the church, and the meeting was to make his position official. We heard that this was not the only exciting news in Pastor Yeu’s life. His wife had been living in Laos, but she would be coming the next day to the United States.

We were happy to have visited on such an exciting day in the life of this congregation. Many people thanked us for coming and encouraged us to come again. We’d like to. It is always a joy to be with faithful followers of Yesxus.

Service Length: 55 minutes
Sermon Length: 30 minutes (15 minutes of the women speaking, 15 minutes of the pastor speaking)
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by several people before we sat down, and both before and after church, people from the English congregation also greeted us.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none (but there was no place to record our attendance except the English language congregation’s attendance register.
Our Rough Count: 30
Probable Ushers’ Count: 45
Snacks: none
Musicians: keyboard (man)
Vocals (3 women)
Songs: “Kuv lug ntseog Yesxus”
“Tsuv Yesxus yog txhua yaam rua kuv”
“Yog peb tsi ntsib huv nplajteb nuav”
Distance to Church: 4.5 miles
Open WiFi: locked guest wifi
Tie/Suit Count: 1 suit
Church Website: