Hmong Youth camps bridge generation gaps among diverse group … – Biblical Recorder

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) – Language is a distinct bond among Hmong people, who have no official homeland today, but generally trace their ancestry to China 4,000 years ago.
The distinction drives one of the major challenges Hmong Southern Baptists face today – building unity and cohesion across generations, as younger Hmongs adopt English as a primary language, said Christopher Vang, youth ministry director of the Hmong Baptist National Association (HBNA).
“Without the Hmong language, who are we?” Vang posed hypothetically. “I think that’s something a lot of churches are still holding onto, because they see that if we lose the Hmong language, there’s not a distinct way to identify us.”
The HBNA summer youth camps, held annually in Tennessee and California, have been a major tool in bridging the gaps between first, second and third generation Hmong in the U.S. today, Vang said. The culture and language are variously interwoven into the curriculum and activities.
With the 51 Southern Baptist Hmong churches scattered among 16 states, many travel long distances to attend the camps, including Standing Stones Camp in Tennessee in July, and Living Water Conference in California in August. 
The 2023 camps together drew 600 attendees from 30 churches, and generated 28 decisions for Christ and dozens of inquiries regarding the plan of salvation. A dozen youth were baptized at Living Water Conference, and 15 were baptized at Standing Stones, while others will be baptized in the coming months at individual churches, Vang said.
Xai Lor, associate pastor of First Hmong Baptist Church in Coon Rapids, Minn., said he has seven students scheduled to be baptized from professions made a camp.
Lor believes the camps model transgenerational unity.
“I believe that it models what the church should look like when it comes to holistic ministries,” Lor said. “I believe this camp shows the next generation that if we come together we will be able to see how effective the church can be.”
The camps showcase a variety of age groups in leadership, but Lor said the challenge is continuing the example in the local church setting.
“I don’t, however, believe that this is something that will easily transition to the local church due to our cultural context,” Lor said. “Culturally, age groups are divided to men, women, youth, and children. Usually we don’t interact much as a whole, but it is something we strive to reach.”
Peter Yanes, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee associate vice president of Asian relations, appreciates the HBNA’s investment in the next generation of leaders.
“It encourages me to witness our Hmong American Christian leaders investing in the next generation for discipleship and leadership development,” Yanes said. “It should be the focus of every immigrant church as they address this ever-changing culture to prepare young leaders to reach their generation with the Gospel for Jesus Christ.”
Vang himself accepted Christ at the Living Water Conference at age 16. Today, he leads youth ministry at Hmong Baptist Church of Fresno, Calif., where periodic Bridge Sundays combine English and Hmong language worship services.
“There’s this audience who no longer really speaks Hmong and they just speak English now. How do we cater to them? And we started an English service,” Vang said. “But we still want them to feel united as a church. So we have that Bridge Sunday to help that.”
Vang, 29, mostly speaks English but is taking classes to refresh his fluency in Hmong. His parents came to the U.S. as Vietnamese refugees.
“Being a second-generation Hmong person, I see the need to learn both languages,” said Vang, who describes the Hmong language as “very unique and precious.”
Many Hmong churches hold onto the native language to retain a distinct identity.
“We do have Hmong clothing, some Hmong food,” he said, “but for the most part, I think the Hmong language is the big indicator that we are Hmong. And I think that’s why we have this back-and-forth between the generations” regarding Hmong and English.
Vang sees himself uniquely positioned to bridge the divide between the first and third generations.
“I’m not only working with youth, but I’m working with parents,” he said. “I see that God has really given me a great opportunity to serve that need.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)


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