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Faces of Faith – Fang

I met Pastor Fang for the first time in 2012. He and a few other leaders from the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC)  gathered with me in a small hotel room in Hanoi, Vietnam. We spent a few days together studying the Word of God, quietly, so as not to attract attention. Then the men left to their villages.

Fang was a very polite and humble student in my class, but he challenged me with all kinds of questions about Scripture and leadership. At that time I seemed like a baby pastor to them, compared to many other Hmong pastors who preached their philosophies, ideologies and traditions. For almost two years, Fang and I confronted each other in the classroom on a regular basis. He thought that my teaching—that sinners are saved by grace alone—was not based on the Bible. His reasoning was that if sinners are saved by grace alone, it is too simple and can’t be trusted. It’s like giving a math test of 1+1 = ? to university students. He said, “Sinners need to cooperate in their salvation by doing good and living a holy life.” He added, “None of the other Hmong pastors teach like you. They all teach that if we are good, God will love us, and we earn our salvation through our own merits.” Even so, he kept coming to my training – thanks to God.

In June 2014, Fang came to me and said, “Pastor Lor, I apologize for being angry with you and even labeling you as a cult preacher. Now, I totally admit that sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Throughout my ministry, I’ve tried so hard to please God with good works. I thought that I could be saved through them. But the harder I tried, the more distant from God I felt. The more guilty I felt. I also gave many rules to my members. After two years of studying with you, I have been moved by the Holy Spirit to believe that I am saved through faith in Christ alone.”

Salvation by grace alone means a lot to Fang. He told me that since his members understood grace, they are more active in the church’s activities and more confident in their outreach to their community. Now they can say that they are saved and that they are children of God. Before that, they were hesitant to witness that they were saved because they weren’t sure that they were good enough to be saved.

Pastor Fang’s funeral

Last October, I was invited to preach for the Hmong National Conference in Lai Cau. More than 1,000 people attended the conference. Fang and his wife, Yong, came to me. She said, “Pastor, I appreciate your hard work and how you trained my husband in the word of God. He is now a better husband and is a more caring pastor to his members.” I asked his wife, “How so?” She said, “The love of God motivates my husband to love us more. He was a man of traditions, but now he has a gentle and humble heart.” I told her, “Praise God for his love and mercy! And continue to support your husband’s ministry.”

Sadly, on July 18, 2019, Fang was taken home to his Lord. He was on a trip to assist another family who had lost a loved one just two days earlier. He preached for several hours under a hot sun, and then he was invited to stay with a family for the night. Early in the morning when the lady was done cooking, she called out for everyone to come to breakfast. Fang didn’t answer the call. The man of the family went to wake him up. We still don’t know the cause of his death.

He will be missed by many, especially his fellow workers in Vietnam. His associate called me hours after his death, “Pastor Lor, Pastor Fang passed away this morning. It was a tremendous lost to the congregations in this area because he served his Lord and members from his heart. We all miss him a lot. We know that you will miss him too.” Through his ministry, the Holy Spirit brought many to believe in Jesus. He was a model of faith not only to his members, but also to the community near and far in Northern Vietnam. Both he and his wife worked so hard in their rice field to make sure that they could serve their family and members. He told me, “Pastor, I am not rich but I thank God that he gives me the strength to work in my rice field so that I can support my family and do the work that my Lord has entrusted to me.” I remember one day, after a break from long hours of training, he brought me a well-cooked whole chicken and said, “Pastor, my wife and I thank you for sharing the word of God with us. We have nothing to pay you, so we brought you this chicken.” I didn’t know what to say, so I split the chicken and ate it with him and the other students. That was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life. I ate the chicken with tears in my heart.

More than 600 people, both the Christian and non-Christian community, attended Fang’s funeral. I thank God that he knew the truth that he was saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No doubt he could have accomplished much more if he had lived longer, but God knows what is best for him and his family. Now, he is united with the saints in heaven, safely in the arms of our Heavenly Father. He is protected by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has no more tears, and he suffers no more persecution due to his faith in Christ. No more worries about his rice field so that he can take good care of his family and members. Peace is his in Christ forever!

Brothers and sisters, let’s remind ourselves daily that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Grace may not mean much to some of us, but for Fang, it was his only hope: his only hope in Jesus. He was willing to endure hardships for the sake of the gospel so that he could bring it to lost souls—sinners saved by grace through faith alone in Christ. God gives us the best treasure, so let’s share our best treasure to all nations, tribes, and languages through our prayers and stewardship.

Thank you for supporting the training in Hanoi, and please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Vietnam.

Written by Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

 

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Pastor Zang

Pastor Zang Lou is 54 years old, and serves as one of the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). He and his wife Pai Chang have 5 children – their extended family has 22 members, including 12 grandchildren. In 2011, Pastor Zang found Rev. Bounkeo Lor’s online sermons and invited him to train 60 leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is his story: 

I thank God for everything that he has given me and because he has called me to faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

In 1987, when I was 22 years old, I was invited by the government to serve my country as a policeman. I served as a policeman for six years. During that time the gospel came to my country, and many people were led to believe in Jesus. One week after many became Christian, the government sent me to investigate: to find out why so many people left their Hmong traditions to believe in Jesus. During my investigation, the believers told me that they left their tradition to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. Then I told them that if they believe in the Savior and the One that has power to rescue the Hmong from the hands of the devil, I will go back and explain this to the government.

That night when I slept, a man dressed in white and bright clothes came to me in vision and said, “Lou, I call you to believe in me. I am the Lord who chose you to lead my people and to train them in my Word.” When I woke up early in the morning, I told my father that this vision was very important. My father allowed me to believe in Jesus, and the whole family became Christian.

After this event, the government found out that I had become a Christian. They started to find ways to trick me and persecute me and the believers. But we stood firm in our faith, and we asked God to help us overcome the persecution. The power of God and the Holy Spirit gave me the courage and strength to endure persecution. I encouraged the Hmong brothers and sisters to believe in Jesus. In a short time, many more people in many other villages also were led to believe in Jesus. In 1994, we were eager to find someone to baptize us.

I went to Hanoi and to Laos to learn more about the Word of God from Pastor Jouangwa Lor, one of my distant relatives. He baptized me and prayed for me. He also showed me how to baptize others so that I could return to my home town and baptize the people in my area. When I returned, I shared the Word of God with the people in my area and baptized 350 -400 people per day. Many people in northern Vietnam sought me to learn more about the Word of God, and so that I could encourage them and protect them from the government authority. Many times, the government wanted to put me into prison, but I overcame their evil authority with prayer. I strongly believed that God was with me, to protect me and the believers. In 1995 as the believers grew stronger, we start to form congregations in the area, and we appointed leaders to oversee the congregations. In 1993 to 1995, I trained the leaders and baptized more than 6,000 people. Most of our training sessions were done on farms or in the jungle.

I served the government until 2002. The government pressured me to renounce my faith. They gave me the choice of two documents to sign—the first one was to renounce my faith, continue my tradition, and serve the government. The second was to believe in Jesus but lose my position in the government. At that time, the power of God and the Holy Spirit led me to sign the document to believe in Jesus and to lose my position in the government. I refused to renounce my faith. But I told them that there was nothing wrong with believing in Jesus. I praise God that He protected me. The government did not dare to do any harm to me even though I signed the document to continue to believe in Jesus. Since then, they asked me to leave my position in the government.

I work hard to serve the believers. In 2004, the believers in my area were so hungry to learn the Word of God and to receive some training to be recognized by the Vietnamese government as workers for the church. We turned to Vietnamese pastors, but they did not truly guide us in the Word of God. We received training from them many times, but we kept learning the same thing over and over. We were very confused about the Word of God.

I praise God that in 2011 I met Pastor Bounkeo Lor. In 2014, Pastor Smith and Lor came to Vietnam together to teach us the Word of God. We asked them to do more training for the brothers in Vietnam. They told us that God can do everything, let’s continue to pray. Even though we only met them a few times, we started to love the teaching from the Lutheran church. The teaching of the Lutherans is the wisdom of God. According to Romans 10:12, when people hear the Word of God, people are brought to believe in Jesus.

I and the Hmong leaders in Vietnam are willing to serve our God without pay. We know that God is the heart for our lives, and the root of life for every soul that believes in him. And he gives us peace for both body and soul. I praise God for my brothers and sisters in the blood of Jesus and in his name that you have helped and supported the work in Vietnam. I will continue to love and serve my God more for the people in Vietnam. Our Hmong brothers really need more training. We ask you to pray for us. I also thank God that he opens the door more for church activities in Vietnam.

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An interview with Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, Bounkeo Lor

Rev. E. Allen Sorum, Director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, accompanied Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator, to Hanoi, Vietnam, to conduct a training for the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in June 2019. Sorum taught the Book of Isaiah and Pastoral Counseling and Family Ministry for Missionaries. Lor taught dogmatics. Half-way through this training session, Sorum and Lor had this conversation: 

Sorum: What are the special challenges that you face as you administer the WELS training program for the Hmong pastors in Vietnam?

Lor: Our biggest challenge here is probably that the translation of the Bible that most of our Hmong pastors have is not a faithful translation. This translation was done by the Hmong Christian and Missionary Alliance members and by the Hmong Baptists. They translated the Bible from their own doctrinal perspective. This means that their translation always talks about how a person must approach God with good works. A person must help God to save them. For example, the Bible most Hmong people have translates “justification” to mean something like, “You have to work hard.” The translation gives the idea that justification happens in a series of steps. Another problem with this translation is that it presents Hmong traditions as God’s Word. For example, the tradition of Hmong Christians is that it is wrong to drink alcohol. So the Hmong Bible translates the word “wine” with “juice.” The translation that most Hmong Christians have does not tell people the true teaching of the gospel.

Sorum: Has this translation made it difficult for our students in this training session to understand the Book of Isaiah?

Lor: The Hmong translation of Isaiah has made it hard to teach Isaiah. I must often correct our Bible’s translation of Isaiah before I can translate what you have said about the words of Isaiah. The Hmong translation makes it almost impossible for our people to see how Isaiah is talking about Jesus. For example, in Isaiah 4:2, the prophet describes Jesus as the Branch of the Lord that is beautiful. The Hmong translation doesn’t talk about a branch but about trees. How can a Hmong person see Jesus in a passage that says, “In that day trees of the Lord will be beautiful?”

Another example is in Isaiah 49:3. Isaiah says, “You (singular) Israel (Jesus) are my servant.” The Hmong translation says, “You (plural) Israelites are my servants.” This translation does not show Christ. This translation damages the beauty of these Servant songs throughout Isaiah.

Sorum: I understand why your students have had to work extra hard to get the right meaning and God’s encouragement from their Hmong translation of the Bible. You consistently take the time required to explain to the students what Isaiah is actually saying. God will bless this so these students can go back home to teach Isaiah and Christianity properly. What other benefits do you see these students in our training session receiving?

Lor: Our training session on Isaiah has helped the students in many ways. I think especially important is that our instruction has helped our students learn how to interpret the Bible. We are talking about the law and the gospel in Isaiah. This approach to studying Isaiah is totally new to them. The law and the gospel is so clear in Isaiah. They are enjoying it very much. Also, they did not understand how a prophecy by Isaiah can be partially fulfilled at one time in history and then completely fulfilled in a later time in history. For example, Isaiah is comforting the people of Israel by promising judgment upon their enemies. But the final fulfillment of the judging of the Christians’ enemies will happen on the Last Day.

Another way that our teaching is helping these men is that they are learning about how the Old Testament teaches God’s plan of salvation. These men read their Bibles. They know the Bible stories. But no one explained to them that all of the stories in the Old Testament show how God chose the Jewish people and rescued a remnant of the Jewish people so God could give Jesus to the world as a Savior.

I think also that the students have enjoyed learning about how Isaiah organized his message. There is an outline to Isaiah. It is like a plot. There are sections that talk about different things. We have learned about the Four Servant Songs. We have talked about the different servants of the Lord and especially the great Servant, Jesus. This is new for these men and they are enjoying it very much. They are very eager to take what they have received from the WELS training back to their people.

Sorum: Your fellow Hmong pastors have significant challenges to their ministry. They need a faithful Bible translation and faithful teaching materials. I know you are working hard to provide them materials. You have translated many good materials into the Hmong language including Luther’s Small Catechism. But in spite of the challenges these men face, they are doing wonderful mission work. In the few years that you have been bringing Lutheran training to the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), it has grown tremendously. One of the leaders of the HFC told me that they now have 700 pastors and 120,000 members. That is incredible growth in a few years.

Lor: Since we have started this training for my Hmong brothers, their church has grown very fast. This church is growing through the pure teaching of the law and the gospel. Through our training sessions, these pastors now have the ability to apply law and gospel in their sermons and in their Bible teaching. This is the reason why their church has been growing really fast in the last couple years.

Gospel centered training has also opened their eyes to see that it is not the law that motivates people. It is not the law that is the goal of their ministry. Now the people in the congregations understand their role as Christians. They participate more in their congregations. They are eager to share their faith. This is why their churches have been growing so fast in the last several years.

I would ask my WELS fellow members to continue to pray for the HFC. This is a communist country. We do not know when the door will be closed. We now have an open door to preach the gospel. With our prayers and God’s help, these pastors will be able to train their own future leaders for the church even if WELS will not be allowed to assist us. Based on the current situation, I don’t see any problems in the near future. I am very grateful to my WELS brothers and sisters for supporting this ministry.

 

 

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Pastor Chaplai

Pastor Chaplai is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Chaplai shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: In 1997 one of my children was sick. No remedies were helping. I decided that I wanted to visit a Christian church in our area, to see if they could pray for my child. Before I went, other people warned me about the dangers: “The church will make you give them all your money”, “If you decide to stop going to their church, they will persecute you.” We decided to go anyway. I brought my whole family. They kindly welcomed us and told us about the Bible. They prayed for us. We told others what happened. Later that year, my family and five other families were baptized. But as the church grew, the persecution against us also grew. We were fined by local authorities. We were arrested and threatened. One night the locals captured several families, put them all in a truck, drove 160 kilometers to a very remote place and dropped them off in the middle of the jungle to die. But they survived. One time many of the Christian men in our village were captured and taken to a house, where we were interrogated separately. They told me to denounce my faith like all the other men had done. I told them, “I don’t know about the other men, but I still believe in Jesus.” They locked my legs in stocks. They would threaten me, pretend like they were going to hit me, and demand that I sign a piece of paper renouncing my faith. When I refused, they would lock me up again until the next day, when the process would begin again. Finally, after many days, they gave up. They told me I was stubborn and let me go. I went back to my church and told everyone, “Don’t be afraid of them.” The community trusted me. Many families came to me to learn about the Bible. One time, in four days, 60 families became Christian!

I didn’t know much about the Bible. We did not have Bibles to give to people. As the church grew, the local government put more pressure on us. They would arrest us and slap us repeatedly in the face and then release us. But there were too many of us. Some officials came to our church pretending that they wanted to become Christian. They wanted to check us out and see what we were really doing. For two years we were being watched closely by soldiers. Finally they gave up and left our village. A few years later, I moved to Sa Pa to start a new church there. The persecution there was severe. In spite of brutal beatings, the Christians did not renounce their faith. One night, everyone in the village was baptized secretly in the freezing cold water of a nearby river (We didn’t know that immersion is not a requirement). For three years, I had to travel by night and teach the Bible to people between midnight and 5 am. We would sleep during the day. In 2003, I was chosen to be the leader of the whole area. In that same year, the persecution began to decline.

On ministry: My ministry has been very blessed. I might be the only pastor here who is able to say that every one of my relatives is a Christian – every one! I now oversee eleven congregations. I serve 1,934 members in 324 families. I still travel to new areas to tell people about Jesus. I have to be careful in some of those areas because of resistance and possible persecution. Because I was one of the first ones to believe in my region and because all the Christians think of me as their leader, so many people are coming to me all the time for all kinds of help. I must admit to you that ministry is very difficult. Many times I have wanted to give up. But I keep serving because I love God.

On learning: If it were not for these classes, I most certainly would have quit before now. I want to say thank you to WELS because you have given me peace. I did not have peace until I learned the gospel in these classes. All of us here are learning so many things. We take the things we learn here and teach them to our people. The printed materials, translated into our language, are very useful to us. All of us are baptized now, including our babies. We have peace and joy from the true teaching of God’s Word.

What WELS members can pray for: I ask the members of WELS to pray for me and the members of my churches. They are immature in their faith and do not understand “the priesthood of all believers.” They have not learned how to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God and to serve together in the body of Christ. I want to motivate them with the gospel, not the law.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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People group ministry

Dear Friend,

We call it “people group ministry.” Immigrants who have joined our fellowship in the U.S. and Canada take the gospel back to friends and family in their countries of origin. We praise God for so many opportunities!

This month’s WELS Connection shares the story of Dr. Paul contacting WELS for ministry resources for Pakistan. Eventually God brought Dr. Paul to the U.S. where he became a WELS pastor. He now plants International Friendship Centers that reach out to the local South Asian population through fellowship, educational, and faith-related activities.

Maybe you’ve heard of the opportunity God has given us in Vietnam. When the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) found online sermons posted by WELS Hmong pastors, which clarified their understanding of law and grace, they asked WELS for training. WELS began working with them and, by God’s grace, their church body has grown from 55,000 to 100,000. The HFC hopes to eventually reach as many as two million Hmong in the greater area!

Here are some other examples of “people group ministry”:

  • More than a hundred WELS churches serve a Hispanic population and are working with the Latin American missions team to bring the gospel to Latin American countries.
  • Eight WELS congregations have assisted South Sudanese refugees, which has led to outreach to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya (pictured), and Uganda.
  • Various WELS congregations provide devotional materials to East Asian members to share with family and friends locally and back in East Asia.
  • Two Liberian refugees (in Las Vegas, Nev.; and New Hope, Minn.) are training to become WELS pastors. These men lead congregations in the U.S. and have strong connections to congregations in Liberia, Africa.
  • Two WELS congregations serving Korean members are partnering with WELS’ sister synod in South Korea as people reach back to their home country.
  • A congregation in the Boise, Idaho, area serving Vietnamese immigrants is sending individuals to Vietnam to teach English and share the gospel while also assisting students in the country with coming to the U.S. to study at our schools.
  • We have been contacted by a Detroit-based immigrant from a predominantly Muslim country in Asia who has become a WELS member. He has experience instructing Muslim refugees in the Christian faith. He operates three Christian schools in Asia and is looking for doctrinal guidance.

Funding for these efforts comes primarily from the WELS Missions Endowment Fund. Member gifts of cash, appreciated assets, and planned gifts (through a will, trust, beneficiary designation on a retirement account, or insurance proceeds) go into this permanent fund designed to make steady annual distributions that increase as the fund grows.

At this point the WELS Missions Endowment Fund distributes about $480,000 each year. I am asking you to give to this endowment to increase these annual distributions so that we can keep up with the amazing people group ministry opportunities our Savior is providing.

Chenna was reached through the International Friendship Center when Dr. Paul and his wife saw him unloading luggage from a U-Haul and offered to help, introduced themselves, and invited his family for dinner. This kindness led Chenna to Bible study and then confirmation. Chenna is an example of the ultimate goal—reaching souls with the good news of Jesus. Please pray for these efforts and consider a gift today to fund people group ministry through the WELS Missions Endowment.

Cordially in Christ,
Rev. Paul T. Prange
Chairman, WELS Joint Mission Council

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Work in Vietnam continues – help us reach our goal!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lord continues to hold the door open as we share the saving message of grace in Christ Jesus with the Hmong people in Vietnam. Rev. Bounkeo Lor (pictured) recently accepted the call to serve as permanent Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator. Pastor Lor will continue to oversee the education program that he and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) are currently developing and implementing.

As calls are being made and finalized to staff the theological education center in Hanoi, WELS leaders traveled to Vietnam in June to work through details regarding the building and construction plans. Land has been purchased and cleared, and bids are being gathered for the construction project. Construction should begin later this year.

We are also pleased to report that WELS members and congregations have contributed more than $1.34 million in offerings toward our $2 million goal for this special mission opportunity. We praise our Savior and thank you for your faithful prayers and generous support!

There are more than 120,000 members of the Hmong Fellowship Church and 2 million Hmong people throughout Southeast Asia who are hungry to hear the truth of God’s grace. Will you help share the good news of Jesus with the Hmong people of Vietnam? Will you offer a gift today to help us meet our $2 million goal for the land purchase, construction, and the initial two years of operational costs? Together, let us pray that our Lord continues to bless the church and his people as we boldly share his grace here at home and throughout the world.

Walking together in God’s grace,
Rev. Larry Schlomer
WELS World Missions Administrator

P.S. Rev. Bounkeo Lor will be commissioned at the Taste of Missions worship service at 4 p.m. on July 13. Join us for this special celebration via livestream.

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Pastor Long

Pastor Long is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Pastor Tong Poa

Pastor Poa is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Poa shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: My parents and the children in my family were brought to faith through Christian radio broadcasts in our country. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Because the persecution against Christians was strong in our area, my family relocated to Houalenga village in Song La Province when I was about ten years old. There were other Christians there, but there were no leaders for the church. For that reason, I was asked to start leading liturgy at the age of 10.

On ministry: After I graduated from high school in 2008, I was also appointed a leader in the church. Now, 11 years later, I oversee 18 congregations in which there are 245 families with about 1,630 members. I work with one other pastor. We are in the city, and we serve the surrounding villages which can be reached from our city. I am married. My wife and I have 3 children ages 9, 6, and 2 years old. The congregations do not pay me a salary, but they do help pay for my transportation. There are many talented men in our villages, but the churches look to me as a leader. This is a special privilege from God. I wish I had more time for ministry. Some of the people I serve live in the mountains, and it takes me a long time to reach them. I travel by motorbike as far as I can, but then I must walk the rest of the way. To reach some of my people, I must walk 10 kilometers through mountainous terrain. Some of the places I serve do not have any cellular service.

On learning: I have been coming to these classes for 3 1/2 years now. I received training from others before, but these classes have helped me understand the Bible much better. I always return from here ready and eager to teach God’s Word to my people. Because I am the tallest pastor here, about a year ago the brothers gave me the nickname Saul.

What WELS members can pray for: Besides supporting my family and my ministry, I am also taking care of my parents, who are in their mid-60’s. In the past we struggled to survive, but the Lord has provided stability for us now. Please pray that the Lord continues to provide for our daily needs, so that I can continue to serve the spiritual needs of the members of my congregations. Please pray that God gives me health and strength and endurance, so that I can face any hardship.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Pastor Zongchin

Pastor Zongchin is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Zongchin shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: I was a businessman, and my business took me to Laos in the 1990’s. There I met Pastor Lor’s grandfather, who shared the gospel with me. He read to me from Matthew 24, where Jesus is talking with his disciples about the end of the world. Those words stuck with me. After I returned to Vietnam, I realized that I believed in Jesus. I gathered with the few other Christians in my village. I told everyone openly, “I am a Christian.”

On ministry:  But then the persecution came. I was followed by people and persecuted for 3 years. As I told people about Jesus, 15 families were converted. Because the persecution grew stronger, many of those families fled. I also had to move to the province of Song La. I remember thinking to myself that I was like Abraham, traveling to a new place which was not my home, because of the Lord. While I was there, a pastor from Laos came and taught me more about the Bible and about being a pastor. We studied the parables of Jesus and the meaning of baptism. He gave me practical advice about how to lead a congregation. Because of persecution by local government leaders, all the other Christians left; only I and my family remained. I sent a letter to the government in Hanoi. They sent a representative out to investigate. Then the persecution ceased for the most part. During the next 11 years I told people in my village and other villages about Jesus. In some areas I had to talk to people in the jungle, secretly, at night. Now I oversee 1580 members from 310 families in 14 congregations. Many of those congregations are led by elders, whom I am trying to train. I am a full-time pastor and I oversee many congregations, but I do not get paid as a pastor. In many cases congregations do not even pay for my travel to go serve them. I support myself as a rice farmer. I also grow a kind of grass that is dried and used for making brooms.

On learning: My ministry involves preaching and teaching and the training of elders. I need training so that I can do these things well. I have been learning Lutheran doctrine for almost seven years now. The training I am receiving from WELS is much better than the training I received earlier. Now I know how to interpret and explain the Scriptures. Now I am confident that I am preaching and teaching God’s Word correctly.

What WELS members can pray for:  I would appreciate it if the members of WELS would pray about my use of time. I want to have a proper balance in my use of time and money. Pray that I continue to gain more knowledge for teaching God’s Word to others. Pray that the WELS can continue to train me and the next generation of leaders in our church. In my congregations there are four men who want to be pastors. Two of them are my sons. They keep asking me, “How soon can we begin our training?”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Memorandum of Understanding signed in Hanoi, Vietnam

On April 24, 2019, WELS President Mark Schroeder, World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer, and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young checked in after their first full day in Hanoi, Vietnam, with exciting news to report: After surveying the land chosen for the theological education center, a memorandum of understanding was signed by WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) representatives confirming we can move forward with all land purchase, construction, and training plans!

Praise be to God! This is a huge step forward as we continue to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church in the truths of the gospel. Please continue to pray for this amazing mission opportunity and support it with your financial gifts. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

View additional photos from their trip in the WELS Missions Flickr album.

 


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Pastor Ham

Pastor Tsavxwm Ham is 50 years old and serves in Son La province of Vietnam. He comes by motorcycle and bus (a 9-hour trip) to the training seminars in Hanoi. He is the chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). 

I’ve been a pastor in Kon Tong village since 2006. Before that, I served as an elder in the church from 1996 to 2003. In 2003, I began studying to be a pastor through the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC). I passed that program in 2006 and became a pastor. In 2007, I was appointed as Chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

My story of how I became a Christian is important to me. Before I became a Christian, I was one of the men in my village who was educated in the Hmong traditions and customs. I was also the director for Hmong funerals and a funeral musician. During that time, I felt very sad. I wanted to help the people. They would always give me a lot of meat when I would do a funeral for them. They treated me very well – and I really wanted to help them. But I had nothing to help them with. The funeral could only leave them sad and empty. At that time, I also worked as a Shaman and a fortune teller for the people. In my heart, I knew that all of this was wrong and a lie, and I couldn’t keep on deceiving my people by acting as a fortune teller and a Shaman.

All of this time, instead of helping the poor families, I took money from them as the Shaman. I felt very bad about that. I thought about how I could change my life and do something to help the community. Around that same time, I heard a pastor preaching through a radio broadcast. A village near me had already become Christian, so I contacted the leaders from that village to get materials from them. Through the radio broadcast and the Christian materials, I also became a Christian and left my former life behind.

One year after I became a Christian, in 1997, I was arrested and tortured by the local government. The persecution of Christians was heavy at that time. Since I was appointed as the Chief of my village, I had some authority to be able to defend my faith and the new faith of my village against the persecution. But the attack against our faith was very harsh. In 1998, I was recommended by the local government to receive special training – ‘re-educating’ me because of my faith. The goal of this training was that I would renounce my Christian faith. But at the beginning of the training, they talked about what Christians believe about God and creation. It was meant to show me the foolishness of Christianity, but it motivated me to learn even more about God and the creation of the world. And when I came back from the training, I was even more motivated to serve my congregation.

After I returned from the seminar, the local government sent officers to follow me to my village. They ask me to renounce my faith. I said I would not. The officials told me that I must – and I told them, “you taught me to have more faith in God because your introduction of the seminar talked about God.” I confronted them because they were saying that I needed a license to have a church. But they hadn’t had a license to carry out the education seminar. So I told them that I didn’t need a license to serve a church in this area either. In the end, they couldn’t get me to renounce my faith and they went home.

But still, I received a lot of persecution and pressure. After the officers left, they sent 8 higher officers to arrest me. They arrested me and my wife and separated us. They questioned us both and threatened us. They wanted us to renounce our faith. But I asked them, “Why can the people in the city have a church, and the minority in the mountains cannot have a church?” They answered: “In the city, we don’t have laws to control this, but in the rural area we can’t allow there to be churches.” I asked, “who made these rules?” They wouldn’t answer. At that point, they said, “Why don’t we call a Hmong officer to talk to you in Hmong – we aren’t getting anywhere in Vietnamese.”

So they sent the Hmong officer to talk to me. I asked him the same question. He explained that this was not from the central government, but that these rules were added for the local government. I pushed on. “If it isn’t from the central government, how can you arrest me?” After a time, they delivered their response: We will not do anything to you, we will let you go home. Just don’t spread the news that we persecuted your family. They sent another three soldiers to watch me for three weeks. They wanted to make sure I don’t cause any problem for the government.

After this time, I met with the first believer in my area. I asked him to come to Hanoi with me. We would go to talk to the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church. We went and met with the president, but he didn’t help us. He just sent us back and said all sorts of bad things about the Hmong people. We were so disappointed. I was so angry. I resigned from my post as the chief of the village, and traveled by foot for three days through the jungle villages around my home to try to help out Christians who were being persecuted by the government and to try to get them released from prison. All the while, I tried to convince the local government officials that the persecution didn’t come from the central government, but from local government.

I took members from the churches into the jungle and we talked in secret about our faith. We talked about what the best way would be to avoid persecution. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have a good foundation for the Christians in the Hmong community. At one point, we went back to the CMA again, but they wouldn’t protect us – and they wouldn’t provide us with anything. They only gave us a few Bibles and sent us back home. The warned us not to say that we received the Bibles from the CMA. So, we went home, and I continued to meet with my members and the other Christians in our area. And we would pray together.

Another time when we were being persecuted and Christians were being arrested, I tried to debate with the officers. I told them, “Since I was 15, I was an officer in the government.” They sent a top general to come and talk to me. His goal was to convince me to recant my faith. He told me, “If any war comes to this country, it will come from the Christians.” But I said, ‘Christians won’t bring war. But if you will bring war against the church, that is your choice. We won’t deny our faith. If you want, I will call together all of the Christians in our province – and you can kill us all. But we won’t wage war.” I continued, “We have fought for this country. Their families have shed blood to protect this country.” The general sat silently. “I’ve never seen anyone speak as boldly as you,” he said.

Again, the general attacked: “Christians are bad people. Every Sunday they come to church and they are engaging in sexual immorality. The men and the leaders seduce the women.” I told the officers, “You come and stay with me for three days. I will feed you and you can stay at my house. We will go around and find Christian leaders who do this. If we catch any of them, I will be the first to hand them over to be executed. If not, you will need to apologize to this community.”

I continued, “You aren’t here to protect the people, but accuse them of wrongdoings – things that they aren’t doing.” I told them that if they didn’t stop persecuting us I would write down all of their names and would go directly to the United States Embassy and submit their names.

I remember – the general got so mad. He threw his documents in my face. But in the end, the general just left. They sent word: “We apologize, and we will leave you.” Since then, the persecution in my area has reduced. That was the local government at that time – but at this time the government has changed and there is very little persecution in our region.

Even though our region was one of the most persecuted in all of Vietnam, the Christians multiplied quickly. We worked hard to spread the gospel. I also ran a clinic in my house. Whenever we would admit sick people into our house, we would give them the gospel.

In 2004, I heard that the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) was welcoming churches into their fellowship. So I called the VFC to see if we could be part of that. At that time, I started to receive some theological training from them. In 2007 they appointed me to oversee 16 districts and the towns in them in my area. Then, in 2010, they appointed a few more pastors to help me oversee those congregations and then they called me to oversee all the congregations in the Songla province. In 2012, we were invited to the VFC’s annual meeting in Hochimin. There I was called to be the chairman of the HFC.

Currently, in the HFC, we have 240 senior pastors and 330 additional pastors. Many of our churches don’t have pastors and are served by local elders who have been appointed. In total, we have more than 100,000 members. In the congregation that I pastor, we have 58 families that are members. Some of the people who come to worship with us aren’t members yet. In total, we have an average of 380 in attendance every week.

In addition to serving the local congregation, I also personally oversee 30 pastors and around 18,000 members in my area. Our goal is to continue to share the gospel with the families and villages around our church and in our district who don’t yet know Christ. We have some goals for our congregation – our current church building and location is too small to provide for the growing church. We hope to build another church building on the hill in the village – a bigger church so we can have more people come to worship. We also hope to build a small park in the area around the church to attract tourists from other villages to our town and provide an opportunity for our members to do outreach to them.

The training we are receiving is key – the leaders and members in my church need more training in the word of God so that they are well equipped. We want to train leaders in our church to spread the gospel to the surrounding villages. When we receive the training from WELS in Hanoi, we take it back and train the local leaders with what we have received.

The pastors in my area have received training from a variety of churches in the past – the Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, and even Hmong pastors who have come from the United States. But each of these groups and individuals came and did the training based on what they wanted to accomplish. And all we learned were rules to follow, good works that must be done, and how to live good lives to please God. We would go to training from these churches, but among our churches, there was no stability, no peace, and no gospel. We had no unity among our churches because we all just interpreted the Bible based on our own ideas or the various things we had learned.

That all started to change in 2013 when Pastor Lor started doing training for us in Hanoi. Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages – and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.

Personally, since I have been receiving training from the WELS, I see a change in myself as well. Before this, I taught and used my own authority in the church. At that time, I thought, “I’m the smart one – I’m the one with training, and I am the one with the authority. I can force my members to do the right thing.” But since I have been studying with the Lutheran Church, I have changed. I have reevaluated myself and how I taught in the past – and know that I have taught false teachings. The training made me value my members more – and know that they need the gospel. I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel and taught them to understand that the gospel will motivate you to love and show care for each other. What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.

On May 29th, 2018, I gathered together 129 local church leaders at my congregation. I retrained them in Lutheran theology as we have learned it from WELS. I assured them and demonstrated to them that this teaching was the true Biblical teaching. After that training, they encouraged me to keep on receiving training so that in the future the local leaders can continue to receive training from me. It is their dream that they can all receive formal training as well. At that meeting, I also invited local government officers to attend. When I finished the training, they applauded my teaching. The head officer said that this was one of the best teachings that they had ever heard. They encouraged me to continue my training and bring it back to the villages so that the people can continue to learn the Bible and grow in their understanding.

We’re not done yet. We need more training – for this generation and the next generations of pastors. I’m 50 years old right now – I hope we can continue to partner in training until I am 60 or even 80 – until we can carry on this ministry by ourselves and be confident to train our own pastors and leaders. The HFC is scattered across 14 provinces of Vietnam.  It is our goal as HFC to be the ‘big brother’ and standard for solid Christian Hmong churches in all of Vietnam.

Finally, I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters in the U.S. to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation. All we can send is our ‘empty’ words of Thank You to you.  But we are thankful. We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam. Pray for us. Pray for our religious freedom in this country, especially for the Hmong in the rural areas. And pray that the many minority people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe it.

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Pastor Vue

Pastor Vue is 44 years old. He serves the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village of Munyue district in Dien Bien province, Vietnam. He travels one day by motorcycle to the closest large city and then one more day by bus to get to Hanoi for training. 

I’ve been serving in my current location since 2008. It is a relatively new village for us. I served in another city from 1999 to 2008 and then was called to serve in Galapa village in 2008.

I became a Christian in 1997 in the village of Kuangtao in the southern part of Song La province. At that time there weren’t any Christians in that entire village. I was the first one to become a Christian. I had heard the gospel from Pastor Ham, who is now the chairman of Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), and from radio broadcasts.

I had known Pastor Ham from the past – from before he was a Christian. I was always a person who was really afraid of death. Passing away really frightened me. When Pastor Ham shared about a new hope for people in death, that changed me. That’s really how I became a Christian.

After I converted, I found that there were many people in my village who were also interested in the Good News. Many people became Christians and we started a small congregation and worshiped in a house. In 1998, we built a small church building and I was elected to be an elder in the church. Around that time, the persecution from the local government against Christians became very heavy. In 2001, I was arrested and put in prison, tortured, and persecuted.

In 2008, I relocated from Son La province and was made pastor of the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village. My church is made up of 114 families and a total of 583 members. Three additional pastors were appointed by the church body to assist me. I was given an oversight role over all of the congregations in Dien Bien province. I have a total of 8 pastors under my oversight. In the southern part of the province there are 19 congregations and in the northern part of the provinces, there are 19 congregations. In total, I serve 2,640 members.

Before I became a pastor, I started to receive some training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) – very simple doctrine. We received training three times a year. They taught us the basics of Bible doctrine, but one of the largest challenges was that they did not teach us how to train our members. That training continued until 2014. During the final year of that training, I had already started to receive training from Pastor Lor in 2013.

After I began coming to this training, we all realized that we didn’t really understand law and gospel. The previous training we had just combined everything together. I know I used a lot of law with my members and I was very confused by what I was learning.

Today I thank and praise God that the Lutheran church sent Pastor Lor to train us. First, I see very clearly – the training has clearly shown us the Word of God. Each training session is divided into clear small portions we can understand. Second, the training is conducted in Hmong. Even when Anglo pastors come and teach us, it is translated into Hmong. And no matter who is teaching us, the message is always very clear.

Before, we used the law to force our members to do good works. As an example, we prohibited our members from drinking alcohol. At that time a group separated from our church because of this. Now I have gone back to them and apologized for our false teaching in the past and invited them back to our congregation.

Because we are teaching the Bible clearly and are properly using the gospel, and not just the law, we have more in attendance every Sunday. And our offerings have increased as well – ever since we removed the law that demanded offerings. There has been a tremendous increase in giving in our congregation.

Personally, I see now that I am living in Grace, and not under the law. This has meant a huge change for me and my understanding of God. I still am struggling to bring this same clarity to all of my members – but I see they are slowly growing as well. When I come back from training, they have seen a big difference in how I teach and preach. They see that the teaching that I bring back to them is the real Word of God. The Truth. That it is based on Biblical principles. And so they want me to continue to be trained so I can bring back more of God’s word.

As we continue to receive the training from WELS, I trust that we will continue to see our lives change for the better. I ask that WELS pray for the HFC. Pray that we will have a place to do the training – that we won’t have to continue to rent out another church and training space, but have our own space. This training is not just for our generation, but for many to come – until we are ready to handle the training for ministry by ourselves.

There are so many people who don’t believe in Jesus in my village and in my area. This is a big Hmong village – more than 400 families. Currently, our church building is small, we are already full when all the members come to worship. If we grow more in the future, we will have to expand – please pray for that as well. Also, there is currently some pressure on our congregation from the Hmong community – there are some in our community who want to cause problems for us. They accuse us of doing illegal things or create conflicts over our property. They accuse us of harboring illegal foreigners. None of this is true – they just want to cause us problems in the community. Please pray about this as well.

Personally, I also have a prayer request. I have already sacrificed my life for the Word of God. My family has been lacking so many things – I don’t get paid a salary from the congregation. I am happy to serve as I can. I support myself by farming. Please pray for me that I have the strength to carry the Word of God to the people. Pray that God would strengthen my life that I am giving to Him for service in His Kingdom. And pray that God would strengthen my family.

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Pastor Vang

Pastor Vang is 36 years old. He serves in Lao Cai province as pastor of Shan Zhou Fu congregation. He travels an hour by motorcycle and 4-5 hours by bus to get to the training in Hanoi. 

When I was 8 years old, my parents became Christian. That was in 1990. I became a Christian when my parents shared the Good News with me. In the early years, some of my brothers came to Hanoi and received training from the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church – our congregation was established by the CMA and was under them at that time. That was around 1991-1993. In 1998-1999, I served as the secretary for the congregation and began to serve in the church.

In 2001 and 2002, the persecution from the local government became intense against the churches in our area. As a result, we divided our church into smaller congregations and worshiped inside houses. At that time, we reached out to the CMA for assistance, but they did nothing to help. From then on, we didn’t have any connection with the CMA. In 2003, our pastor contacted the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC), and in 2004 we registered our congregation under the VFC.

I received training from the VFC from 2004 to 2006. Then in 2006, I was called by the church to be a pastor. At that time, I was still unclear about so many things in the Bible. Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness. That was the church that I had grown up with – if you don’t do good, or live according to the rules, you don’t count as a Christian. We always had a lot of legalism in the church. The pastors promoted many traditions to control the members.

There are currently 140 members in my local congregation. I also oversee 12 additional congregations in three different districts of Lao Cai. Those churches have a total of 1400 members. Those 12 congregations are led by elders – I am the only pastor. In our whole province, there are only 12 pastors, but we have a total of 65 congregations and more than 9,000 members.

All of us pastors are so very thankful for the training – and for WELS opening the door for us to receive this training. Every time I go back home, I conduct a training session for the elders that I oversee. Every time we focus on law and gospel and how to interpret the Bible. Even though I have received much training ever since 2003, I was always really confused by the training. I didn’t understand the scripture well. Since 2015, I started to receive training from the pastors here – Lutheran training. This opened my eyes. The first year, I was still trying to understand it all, but since 2016, I see the message is really clear. This made me really happy and now I enjoy my studies. I really enjoy our training here. We see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught. We truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.

This training has changed me a lot as a pastor as well. Before the training I just preached the law – I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time. Now, I hate that time of my life. But since I received the training from Pastor Lor and Professor Bare and the other pastors, I have learned to show compassion to the sinner. I have learned to show Christ to the sinner.

Thanks be to God – thanks to all the professors and teachers who have come to teach. One thing I am certain of – the students coming are now certain of their salvation in Jesus Christ. They are confident that Jesus did everything for them. This is a special thing. And this is something they didn’t have before. Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were also just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.

The Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) is a very big church body. We have more than 340 pastors and more than 100,000 members. It is my dream that WELS and the HFC can hold hands together to do the ministry for the people in this country. I want to see the training continue – not only for myself – but for many people, for the younger generation. We will need much more training in the future. In my local congregations, we need more evangelists so we can send them to the villages around us and other places where people have not heard or believed in Jesus.

I pray for the training – that through this training our pastors can be united in the same faith and the same doctrine. And I pray that this training will continue into the future. That’s what I pray for. I also pray that in the future we will have our own facility for us to go and receive full-time training.

I also ask for you to pray for me and my family. I pray one day that I will be able to reduce my farming work so that I can have more time to do the ministry of leading the church.

Finally, I want to thank the Lutheran church for supporting the training. We don’t actually deserve to receive anything from the WELS – but they just give and support the training by sending professors and providing the financial ability for the training to take place. For that – I thank you.

Thank you so much. I will never forget you. You helped us to see the Word of God clearly. You have brought us the truth – and that has changed our lives.

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Unprecedented opportunities in Vietnam

“You have brought us the truth—and that has changed our lives.” 

Until a few short years ago, Chonghoua Vang, a pastor in the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam, lived by the law. And he taught the law. “I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time.” 

It was what he saw growing up as a Christian and what he was taught in his studies as a pastor. “Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness.” 

Vang began to understand grace when he started attending training sessions conducted by Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, in 2015. The church leadership had invited Lor to Vietnam in 2013 to train them after they saw sermons he had posted online. Lor and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute have made more than 24 training trips since then to train 60 HFC leaders. 

“Now I see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught,” says Vang. “I truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.” 

And this is something he shares with his 140-member congregation and the 12 additional congregations he oversees. “Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.” 

Members and leaders don’t only have joy; they have unity. Tsavxwm Ham, HFC chairman, says that in the past the HFC pastors interpreted the Bible based on their own ideas or from what they had learned from other church bodies. “Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages—and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.” In the years WELS has provided training, the HFC has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. 

The changes are so visible that the Communist government has noticed. And it likes what it is seeing, so much so that it is offering WELS an opportunity to build a permanent facility in Hanoi for theological training. 

“WELS is being given a priority that other [foreign] church bodies don’t have,” says Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “It’s an unprecedented, unique door that God is opening up for us.” 

Schlomer and Sean Young, director of WELS Missions Operations, traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, in June to meet with leaders of the HFC and the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) to discuss the possibilities. The HFC is a subset of the Vietnamese Fellowship Church, a Protestant church body that is officially recognized by the government. WELS will need to work closely with the VFC to build a training facility because foreign church bodies can’t legally own land in Vietnam. 

While the VFC has its own government-approved training facility in Ho Chi Minh City, the facility is not big enough to train all the Hmong pastors. Lessons also are taught in Vietnamese, which many of the Hmong do not understand. “They want us to build a training facility for the ethnic minorities, and there is a clear understanding that we will teach Lutheran doctrine,” says Schlomer.  

Building a new facility will allow the HFC more autonomy to set its own schedule for training; will give students from the hill country outside Hanoi a place to stay when attending classes; and will provide worship space for local Hmong to attend services.  

Schlomer and Young plan to return to Vietnam in the fall to work out more details. 

Says Young, “This opening in communist Vietnam is an incredible gift from God. There are tens of thousands of Hmong people who are thirsty for the Word, and this opportunity is ready to go.” 


Learn more about opportunities in Vietnam at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach. 


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Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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New Partnership To Broaden Outreach Efforts: Asia

MINISTRY TRAINING IN ASIA

Linda R. Buxa

Each year, pastors originally from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Korea meet at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to discuss their plans for reaching out and expanding their ministry. These men are the spiritual leaders and drivers of outreach to Asian peoples in North America and overseas.

One of these pastors (name withheld for safety reasons) is from a country that is in the top 30 countries that persecute Christians. Those who reject ancestor worship, animism, or Buddhism are either removed from their villages or beaten.

This graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute could safely stay in the United States and pastor the people he serves. Instead, he and his wife choose to spend their own money to travel back to their country of origin. There they risk their lives to tell people about the one true God.

“As I go into the country, they ask if I am going to talk about God,” he says. (They hold his passport and threaten not to give it back if he does.) “I said, ‘No,’ but in my head I said ‘Yes.’ ”

On his first trip, he spoke to a group about marriage. “The women were crying. I was teaching the husbands that God says to love their wives,” he says. They had never heard that before, and it brought them to tears. They begged him to bring Bibles the next time he came.

So he did, even though it could put him in grave danger.

As he walked through security, he had Bibles in his backpack. “At the gate they searched all my luggage. Except my backpack. I went through and gave away all the Bibles,” he says.


OFFERING PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL HELP

Meet a medical assistant in Southeast Asia who travels from village to village on his motorbike to share his medical skills with his patients. He also shares the gospel.

This man, who became a Christian when he was a child, wants to learn more about his faith so he can share more with others. To do that, he takes classes through the seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute via Skype. Twice a year, he travels to the United States to take classes.

He isn’t quite sure where his studies might lead. “For now, his focus is on studying and reaching others,” his translator shares. The people he reaches are hungry for the gospel and are looking to WELS for even more support. “They are excited to hear from the national church body.”


Linda Buxa is the communications coordinator at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.   

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

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Author: Linda R. Buxa
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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