ETHNIC CHURCHES: Unique Thanksgiving meal helps introduce Hmong to Gospel
EDITOR'S NOTE: Southern Baptists are one of the most diverse denominations in America, with more than 9,330 ethnic congregations -- almost one in five Southern Baptist congregations. Many ethnic churches -- from New Jersey to Oklahoma to Oregon -- are excellent examples of what it means to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ with a heart for lost people of any background. Baptist Press offers these five ethnic congregations as snapshots of Southern Baptist diversity and role models of congregational health.
Click here to view a photo gallery with more photos from Twin Cities Hmong Baptist Church.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (BP)--Thirteen groups of people spread out across St. Paul, Minn., to deliver more than 60 boxes filled with food for Thanksgiving meals. The groceries were welcomed with joy and gratitude -- and no small degree of puzzlement.
The families were delighted to receive the food because they needed it. They were puzzled because, as Hmong immigrants from Laos or Thailand, most had never cooked a turkey or even had a Thanksgiving meal.
The outreach was a partnership between Twin Cities Hmong Baptist Church in St. Paul and three other congregations: Calvary Baptist Church of Roseville, which donated the bulk of the $3,000 needed to purchase the food, Twin Cities Chinese Christian Church and St. Paul Fellowship.
Each box contained a turkey and traditional stuffing, as well as Asian staples like cabbage, Asian fruits, string bean noodles, carrots and Top Ramen. Each box included a page of instructions on how to cook a turkey. Each box also came with a presentation of the Gospel.
Most of the recipients had never heard that Jesus loved them, until team members delivered the food.
"Our goal is to share the love of God with them," says Zong Heng, whose husband, Chris, pastors Twin Cities Hmong. "We just want to reach out to the Hmong community. Even if they don't go to our church afterward, we want them to think about how much God loves them."
One of the recipients, Song Tao, tells the group the only time she and her husband had heard about Jesus was from Mormon missionaries who visited their home on bicycles.
Heng explains the difference between Mormons and biblical Christians, then the group prays with the couple.
"They said it was OK to call them later," says Zong, whose mother brought her to the U.S. as a 2-year-old.
The food distribution was conceived when Len Newquiest, a member of Calvary Baptist, called and asked if the Hmong congregation would help Calvary share the Gospel with some Hmong families. St. Paul is home to more than 26,000 Hmong people -- the largest concentration of Hmong people in the U.S. Maria Her, the worship director at Twin Cities Hmong, estimates 80 percent of the Hmong population in the U.S. have never heard the Gospel.
The Hengs had been praying about what their church should do for a Thanksgiving outreach.
"We believe it was a God-thing," says Chris Heng. "We created a flier in Hmong to go with the boxes, inviting the families to church and sharing Jesus' love."
More than half of the 80 volunteers who met at St. Paul Fellowship to pick up the boxes were from the Hmong church. Before delivering the food, the groups received directions, an informal training on Hmong culture and prayed together. Each of the groups had one Hmong-speaking person with them to share the Gospel in the heart language of the families they would be visiting.
"I'm pretty excited about this," says Her. "There is a really big need for something like this."
Twin Cities Hmong Church is unique because it welcomes all Hmong generations, Her explains. By providing translation devices during the service for Hmong speakers and singing a mixture of Hmong and English songs, the church tries to provide a balance for its members.
Half of Twin Cities Hmong Church is under 25 years old.
"We are reaching the second and third generations of Hmong but also keeping the culture for the first generation," she says. "We don't polarize one body."
After delivering the food, the Hmong congregation gathered to enjoy their own Thanksgiving feast mixed with traditional Hmong food.
"We pray that our outreach today will draw Hmong people to seek only Jesus and no others," says Chris Heng. "We wanted to put our faith into action."
Kelli Cottrell is a freelance writer who lives near Grand Rapids, Mich.