Hmong Churches Embrace Multicultural Ministry

November 11, 2010

By Victoria Rebeck*
ST. PAUL, Minn. (UMNS)

Pastor Luke Thao knew Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church in Madison, Wisconsin, was serious about sharing ministry with his Hmong congregation.
"Sherman Avenue welcomes all people," Thao said. "They've never referred to us as 'you people' – that would have shown that they didn't really accept us."
The movement to multicultural ministry is being embraced and encouraged in Hmong congregations throughout the United States, as second generations growing up in the U.S. are used to experiencing many cultures in their schools and communities.
Their growing sense of the need for a broader community to address these issues was evident in a recent meeting in St. Paul of some 100 members of the Association of Hmong United Methodist Churches. The group agreed to hire a part-time executive director to promote local church ministry, empower lay-led ministry, and encourage member churches to support the association physically and financially.
Hmong – a people who have their roots in China, Laos, Thailand, and northern Vietnam –started arriving in the United States in 1975. Hmong have been important allies to the United States, fighting alongside American forces during the Vietnam War – a relationship which earned them the opportunity to immigrate to the United States on refugee status.
Today, most Hmong United Methodist congregations are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and North Carolina. 
Many Hmong churches in the United States conduct worship and ministry primarily in the Hmong language. However, as their children grow up, the challenge has become to embrace the multicultural reality in their new country as they nurture spiritual growth.
New models of ministry
Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church in Madison, Wis. is stepping up to this opportunity. The church's plan is to blend the Hmong Faith Church ministry and the English-speaking congregation, who share a building. Faith Church would continue to offer a worship service in the Hmong language, Thao said, but the two congregations would collaborate in leadership and ministry.
Thao started the Hmong ministry at that church in 2007, he said. The ministry has grown from the first six or seven families he initially recruited to 13 families today.
His wife, Kazoua Moua, visits Hmong women in the community and started a literacy class that included a meal and childcare.
Thao and Moua are optimistic about the plan for a multicultural congregation. "That we will be in fellowship together will show others that we are truly God's people," Moua said. "Actions demonstrate this more than words."
Working with youth
To appeal to the younger generation, the Hmong American United Methodist Church in Wausau, Wis., decided to blend traditional and contemporary elements into its worship service, Pastor Pha Her said. They also share their building with an English-speaking congregation, and are working toward more collaborative ministry, especially with youth. Next year they hope to have two small groups, and are now working on developing leaders for those groups.
ChristWay Church in Milwaukee aims to be more mission-minded and reach more people, said Pastor Thomas Thao. The congregation removed the word "Hmong" from their church name to enhance their outreach, and are inviting missionaries to speak at a conference the church will host this month.
Worshippers also developed a praise band that leads music at ChristWay and other churches. Their worship attendance is about 150, approximately 60 of whom are children. The church recently hired a director of youth ministry.
Youth ministry is a central concern across the association of Hmong churches. Next year the Hmong United Methodist youth camp, Casab, will observe its 25th anniversary, reported Mai Moua, vice president of Hmong United Methodist Youth fellowship and a member of Hmong Community United Methodist Church in St. Paul. Urging Hmong youth to discern where God is calling them into leadership will be the focus of their January 2011 retreat.
The association provides connections to Hmong United Methodists in the United States and Asia, encourages youth and women's ministries, and supports local and international missions.
Newly elected officers are: Thao of ChristWay United Methodist Church in Milwaukee, president; May See Yang Herr of Hmong American United Methodist Church in Wausau, Wis., secretary; Tou Ya Khang of Hmong Faith ministry at Sherman United Methodist Church, Madison, Wis., treasurer; Kao Zer Khang of ChristWay, youth director; and Phoua K. Yang of ChristWay, president of the Hmong United Methodist Women's Association.
*Rebeck is director of communication for the Minnesota Annual Conference.