From the mountains to the skies: The story of Hue Thao

Bounkeo Lor 

I knew Hue Thao and his story before the Lord took him home. I hope he will forgive me for putting words in his mouth so he can tell you his story in his own words. Hue Thao would tell you the following:  

“The oceans belong to the fish;
The sky belongs to the birds,
The mountains belong to the Hmong.” (Hmong saying) 

My story begins in the mountains of Laos. That’s where the Lord gave me life, although I didn’t come to know him until many years later. I grew up and developed a love of learning. I was one of the few fortunate enough to attend college. I became a school teacher in the village of Nammoung, Laos.  

Because of dangerous conditions in Laos following the Vietnam War, I fled to Thailand in 1988, and I stayed in the Ban Vinai refugee camp, not far from the Mekong River, for many years. I studied medicine and became a physician’s assistant. I met Bounkeo Lor, but he was just an acquaintance at that time.  

Then I had the opportunity to come to the United States. I settled in Fresno, California, and drove truck, ran a laundromat, and did other things to earn a living.  

Something marvelous 

A few years later I moved to Kansas City. That’s where something marvelous happened. The Holy Spirit brought me to Jesus. I had known a few Hmong Christians over the years. I knew a little bit about the religion, but nothing clicked. Then I met Bounkeo Lor again. Now he was the pastor of Grace Hmong Lutheran Church.  

A relative of mine is married to his sister, and we both happened to be at their house one day. We got to talking, and he invited me to his church. I attended a worship service, and he invited me to meet with him later that week. We sat down, and he presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had never really heard God’s grace explained to me before. If I had heard this earlier, I might have become a Christian years ago! But this was the time God chose to work in my heart and lead me to faith. My wife, Mai Vue, and I were baptized at Grace on Jan. 5, 2012. 

Something exciting 

The Holy Spirit kept up his work. I was excited to learn more about Jesus, to study his Word, and to bring the good news to my people who are still under the power of Satan. The Lord gave me opportunities to do all this. I also started theological studies in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) run by professors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. 

In the fall of 2016, I was called to be an evangelist at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church. I was excited to go and make contacts with the Hmong community. I enjoy talking and building relationships. I also continued my studies with the PSI. It was a one-year call, and I was looking forward to serving another one-year call as a pastoral vicar. I was hoping to hear in February if I would be asked to do this.  

I also started helping Pastor Lor with his work in various ways. I often served as his much-needed chauffeur. On one occasion I drove him and two visitors from Vietnam to meet Synod President Mark Schroeder in Wisconsin. I also served as a driver when we met some contacts in Laos two years ago.  

Pastor Lor invited me to go with him to Asia on several trips. While I was not ready to do any preaching or teaching myself, except for parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, I was part of his support team. I was hopeful that in the future I would be able to help with the preaching and teaching as well. 

The Lord gave me a love of music, and I wanted to use this talent in the Lord’s service as well. My wife, Mai, is frequently asked to sing at various events in the Hmong community, and we have put together several CDs with Hmong songs. Recently we were working on a CD with Christian music. I was hoping to use this CD to bring the gospel to more Hmong people.  

Something unexpected 

Then something unexpected happened. Early in the morning of Feb. 18, 2018, the Lord called me home. It was a bit of a surprise, because I was not suffering from any major illness.  

And so my story ends, or should I say, begins, in the skies. Could I have reached more souls if I had lived longer? Our loving Lord in his wisdom had other plans, and his plans are always the best. But there are still many more souls to reach. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into the harvest field.

Bounkeo Lor is the Hmong Asia ministry coordinator for WELS.  

Hue Thao’s funeral 

Bounkeo Lor 

Hue Thao’s funeral was an interesting hybrid of Hmong customs and Christian doctrine. Hmong funerals last for days, and many in the Hmong community come to the funeral, even if they do not know the deceased personally. The custom is to serve big meals for everyone who attends.  

According to Hmong custom, the coffin is made out of wood, not metal. Hmong traditional religion teaches that after death the soul director guides the soul to its birthplace to retrieve the placenta with which it was born because it is considered as the person’s original clothes. Then the soul director sends the soul to hell. The Christian teaching is much different. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism to clothe the soul with Jesus. He has directed the soul to the one thing needful: faith in Jesus. In other words, the Soul Director guides the soul of the believer to heaven to be with Jesus.  

Hue’s funeral started with a worship service on Saturday, April 14, followed, of course, by a meal. Another worship service followed on Sunday. This service lasted almost three hours! There was a sermonette in English, followed by a full sermon in Hmong. Hmong choirs from Grace Hmong Lutheran Church sang songs of comfort and hope. Then there was a meal with about 250 people in attendance. Many of these people were not Christian. The worship service was a great opportunity to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and to invite the people to worship at Grace. After the sermons on Sunday evening, a family in Hue Thao’s relation brought two of their sons to me to ask for theological training. They wanted to follow their Uncle Hue’s footsteps to serve the Lord.  

One pastor chose the words of Jesus for his sermonette: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4,5). Hue’s early death is a reminder that our time is short. We need to use it wisely, to get to know Jesus better through his Word, and to share him with others.  


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Author: Bounkeo Lor
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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