A Hmong-American’s View on Faith, by Jessica Knuth and Holly Gregg
In a small house near Northtown Mall, Hmong families gather to worship. Husbands and wives sit together. Young children scream and chase each other down the aisles. Latecomers squeeze into the already packed pews. A small man in a dark blue suit looks out at his friends and family chattering, and takes a deep breath. “Let us pray.”
Vang Moua was one of the first Hmong people to immigrate to Washington after the Vietnam War. He had been raised as a Christian in the mountains of Laos. His small village had sheltered missionaries fleeing Communist China and they had shared the good news of Jesus Christ. The village embraced the gospel.
“Everyone said it was good news to everyone. We started believing Christ and accepting. The whole village became Christian. Evil spirits couldn’t get there anymore,” said his wife Paugh Moua.
Communism reached Laos in 1975. Vang Moua was a high school student, and knew if he could get off his village and into the crowded capital city, he would have a chance of making his way to the United States. Together with his three cousins and brother-in-law, Vang Moua was able to secure a qualifying interview at the U.S. Embassy in Thailand. Each had to travel separately to avoid capture. Finally, they made it out of the country and started their new lives in America.
Paugh Moua’s journey to America was even more of a challenge. She was one of the few Hmong people left behind in Laos as the Communist government took over, leaving her as a victim of the new regime. They were not allowed to grow food, and the government took everything they owned.
“We were hungry and we couldn’t buy any food after the war,” Paugh Moua said. “No salt, no rice, no nothing.”
In 1980, Paugh Moua attempted to escape Laos with her brothers and mother. The only way to escape was to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. Families hid in the woods during the day and swam across the river at night. Babies were fed opium to keep them quiet so they were not discovered. Many people died while crossing.
“My brother tied us all together with milk jugs,” Paugh Moua said. “My brother got shot and so I had to untie myself. My baby brother was tied to him and they both drowned.” Thai rescuers pulled Paugh Moua out of the river.
“I was scared but I knew I could ask Jesus for help,” said Paugh Moua.
Arriving in America, Paugh Moua was ecstatic to reunite with her friends and family again. An American family sponsored her in Salem, Ore., where she met and married Vang Moua. They re-located to Spokane where they started their family.
Now Vang Moua and his wife Paugh share an inviting home that they built themselves. Pictures of their children and grandchildren line the walls. Paugh Moua fries homemade egg rolls in the kitchen while the family chatters around her. Every one of their four children has a life of their own, but still gathers around the table every holiday weekend.
When Hmong families first arrived in Spokane, they had nowhere to worship in their own language. By 1980, enough families had gathered in the area to start a Hmong language church. In the last few years, they struggled to find a pastor.
Vang Moua had a successful business, but felt a call to lead the church. He took online Bible classes for six years, was ordained in 2008, and in November 2010, became the pastor. He continues his computer business as he teaches Sunday school and prepares sermons. Each sermon is presented with an English PowerPoint for the younger Hmong children and spoken in Hmong so the older members of the church can hear the message. More than 100 Hmong people sit shoulder to shoulder in a small house to attend church every Sunday morning. Vang Moua hopes the weekly Sunday school classes will become more rigorous and grade-appropriate in order to mold the church’s future leaders.
“I try to focus on what’s best for God’s family,” Vang Moua said.
Not only are the Mouas involved in their own church, they are active participants at Lifecenter Church every Sunday night. Vang Moua listens to the sermons and hopes to incorporate the atmosphere of that church into his own. Vang Moua’s son Zong Moua follows in his father’s footsteps and has started a small group ministry targeting Asian-American teens.
Just as Vang Moua’s family heard the Good News from missionaries in Laos, he wants to share the gospel with Hmong Americans. Vang Moua wants to build relationships with Hmong non-Christians and include them in church sporting events and potlucks.
But none of this is possible until the congregation finds a bigger building. Vang Moua said church visitors, even if they are Hmong, feel uncomfortable because there isn’t enough room in the church building. Some Hmong people in the United States may think they have everything they need as they experience wealth in a new country.
“As a Christian, I know you cannot do anything without God,” Vang Moua said. “We just keep praying.”