by Maigold Vang
Ever since I was born, I grew up in an Asian church and I have never asked myself how I felt growing up in one. It was one of those things I didn’t question. I would see Caucasians attending an all Caucasian church, African Americans attending an all African American Church, Asians attending their own ethnic churches, and so on. Honestly, I thought this was the norm.
Growing up in an Asian church has many pros and cons. As a child, I was encouraged to bring friends to church and I did invite them. I was excited and couldn’t wait to show my friends how awesome my church was. But the questions they always asked was “Is it only Asians?” or “Do your church only speak your language?” Of course both of these only had one answer, yes.
Even though many adults in my church may not be fluent in English, they knew enough to get by. Because they were more confident in our native tongue, we only had service in our language. Having our service only in our language, Hmong, discouraged many people other than our ethnicity to attend. But in reality, I actually love it. Not the fact that other races don’t join us for service, but the fact that I get to listen to my language and actually understand the pastor. Even though I live in a country where English is a dominant language, I didn’t want to be like those who gradually lose their native tongue.
In the past, because of a language barrier the communication between my church and other churches, including the United Methodist headquarters, weren’t that good. There were opportunities to grow, opportunities to be involved, that I never heard of. Whether it was that no one informed my church or if my church never informed the congregation, I always craved more.
About six years ago, I remember attending a leadership training/workshop with my dad for the United Methodist churches around Charlotte. At first I didn’t want to go; I was scared to meet new people, especially people who I knew lived in the Charlotte area, but had no knowledge of my church. When we were there, I felt little compared to everyone else. Their stares were curious stares, just like mine. It was kind of like an eye opening to me, showing me there were many people who believed what I had believed in ever since I was born. We were able to decide which workshop we wanted to attend and at that time I was the secretary for the youth, so I went to the youth workshop. As I sat there everyone around me chatted away about how they’ve been and making plans for the next time their youth groups can meet up. I sat there awkwardly and thought, how do these people from these different churches know each other? Being only fourteen at the time and shy, I just sat quietly in the back and took notes. However, I realized that my participation meant that our small Asian church was slowly, but surely, grow.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t want to lose my native tongue by learning another language. However, majority of my generation and the generations after me only spoke English, making it harder for the adults. In order to communicate within the church, many adults took the initiative to learn more of the English language. It’s a slow process, but surely enough, both the native speakers and the English-speaking people at my church are able to understand each other.
I realized that my church used a ‘comfort blanket’. We needed to learn in order to grow but we were too scared to leave our little church and go out into the big world. As young people, we, the future of the church, never received opportunities to improve and grow. The language barrier was so great that no one wanted to step forward and be the middleman of both sides. But once some of our church members started taking initiative, opportunities began to show up. Craving more of God gave us opportunities to strive not only to improve ourselves, but make the world better. I believe that being in an Asian church makes me appreciate the differences of two different but similar worlds.
Maigold Vang is a member First Hmong United Methodist Church in Charlotte NC. She is currently a participant in FlameBuilders – a program designed to build leadership skills and cross-cultural competence among young laypeople from our conference.