Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis., is a proudly bilingual congregation. Members from all backgrounds are happy to point to their two bilingual pastors as evidence that we are a bilingual family of believers. Whether I speak English, Spanish, or both, as a member of Bethel, I have Christian brothers and sisters who speak English, Spanish, or both. And I, as a member of Bethel, love that.
Now, when that’s a thing to be proud of, and when that’s a thing that brings joy to your membership, and when I love having brothers and sisters from a totally different culture and language, what you have is a place where anyone from any culture feels welcome. That’s what Jenny Chang and her kids found at Bethel.
Jenny is a second-generation Hmong immigrant. Her sister is married to a member at another WELS congregation in our area, but Jenny, herself, has no background in Christianity at all. Still, her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her to get herself and her kids baptized. Where does a person like that go? Where do you go for something your minority culture doesn’t provide, but when you’re not fully a part of the majority culture? Where do you go when you’re a child of Hmong immigrants and all you know that baptism is good?
Jenny came to Bethel. Her sister and brother-in-law encouraged her, but she took the initiative and spoke to Pastor Raasch and arranged for her baptism and the baptisms of her kids. She came to worship on Maundy Thursday (maybe one of the most intimidating services there is for someone with no background in Christianity) and then came back for the Sundays of the Easter season. She’s working around her and her kids’ schedules to get into Bible Information Class. Jenny found a place that welcomed her, not because they had the specific equipment to welcome second-generation Hmong immigrants, but because they had the equipment to welcome anyone from anywhere. And they learned to have that equipment—to be that welcoming—because they learned to take righteous pride and joy in their diversity as one family of believers from many cultures and two languages.
This pandemic has stripped away a lot of the distractions of Christianity and has left us with little else than our identity as Christians. What a blessing! What a blessing to be forced to celebrate who we are as believers more than what we have materialistically or what we do habitually. What a time to welcome people to celebrate that with us. What a perfect time for Jenny to hear her family’s encouragement and find the Means of Grace at a church that has nice things and does good stuff, but more importantly is proud of who Jesus has made us to be: his family from many cultures and at least two languages.
Written by Rev. Ethan Cherney, home missionary at Bethel Lutheran Church in Menasha, Wis.
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