It’s been about 100 days since we hosted about 650 people at Neighborhood Church as the greater Oroville area was evacuated displacing thousands of people. It was a Sunday evening in February as I stood in front of our church with the Deputy Sheriff that I began to understand the magnitude of the evacuation and the overwhelming nature of that many people coming into Chico for refuge.
It was beautiful to have people of different cultures as our guests, and one ethnic group was some of our Hmong friends from the Oroville area.
Rev. and Mrs. Ted Andrianoff, who sailed from New York to Laos as missionaries of the C&MA first reached the Hmong people with the gospel. In 1950, the first person gave their life to Jesus and by 1975 there were 20,000 people who professed Jesus as their Lord there. Of this number, 70% were Hmong. When war came to Laos in 1975, many fled to Thailand and were relocated to the United States. In 1978, the Christian and Missionary Alliance called a meeting here in California that was attended by 25 Hmong pastors and leaders. At that time a “district” of Hmong churches across our country was started with 1,525 people. Today, there are 81 churches that worship honoring the Hmong traditions and culture, in the Hmong language across the United States. They have a membership of 29,437 people.
One member of this Hmong association meets in Oroville, California. The church is several hundred strong. When the people started arriving from the low lying areas to our church as an evacuation center, I began asking them if they attended the Alliance church there in Oroville – I was so excited when I found that quite a few who were staying with us who do attend their church, and they are followers of Jesus. This set me on a mission to meet their pastor and find a time to learn from their rich culture and see the beauty of God that is on display through the ways they worship Jesus.
On Sunday evening, at the citywide Oroville Thanksgiving Service, I finally met their senior pastor, Rev. Abraham NtsuabXeem Cha. I didn’t know if he would be quick to embrace me, and frankly I was a little nervous he wouldn’t want relationship with us (perhaps because we are different). When I asked if I could come to visit him some Sunday morning, in a thick accent he welcomed me, saying, “Of course. We are brothers… you are my brother and someday we will sing in heaven together.”
In a moment, sixty seven years of relationship between American Christians and the Hmong people flashed before me. I thought about the faithfulness of missionaries in the 1940’s to leave home, learn the language and give their lives so that this people group could have life to the fullest. It crossed my mind that we have had people in our church who have specifically built relationship and served this people group in our city, and I even thought about one of my daughter’s good friends who recently choreographed a dance to tell the history of (her) Hmong people.
So, a new chapter has started, where we will learn to serve and bless our brothers in Oroville. I can’t wait to see what part of God’s beauty that they can show us; no doubt that it will be a preview of heaven.