Many of you may not know my faith journey and story as I have focused a huge part of my life and identity focused on service. Though I knew that faith was a huge part of my life, I did not know how to grasp it and continue to wrestle with it. But many things pointed me to the point I am now. Here, at this time and place in the universe. So let me start with my family history, a history that I had no choice in deciding when brought into this world.
The Hmong people, of the hills in Laos and Thailand, helped the American forces during the Vietnam War. As the war was coming to a close and the Americans evacuated, they also had a responsibility towards the Hmong for we were fighting alongside them. Thousands of Hmong families fled Laos and swam across the Mekong River to the refugee camps in Thailand with many families being separated or lost. When the American planes landed in the camps to send the Hmong to the United States of America as political refugees, even more families were separated: children, mothers, grandparents, etc.
My parents were both separated from their immediate families when they first arrived to the US. Though many families were scattered throughout the US, there were some cities in the US that accepted and welcomed these lost and confused people. One of those cities is St. Paul, MN. When family members found out that relatives moved there, it brought in more and more Hmong to Minnesota. A key reason for this exodus was through the kindness and generosity of the Lutheran Social Services and Catholic programs that invited the Hmong and taught them how to survive and achieve the American dream.
Therefore, the Lutheran church and my Hmong heritage in Minnesota have a deep relationship that I did not choose but am deeply appreciative of.
Growing up, my family did not follow the typical American-Christian traditions as we practiced more Hmong shamanism and animism. Throughout it all, my parents always reminded us to keep an open mind and learn to respect others and their beliefs. Keeping it to heart, I tried my best to cultivate that wisdom which eventually brought me to Augustana University (which back then was called Augustana College), a liberal arts Lutheran school in Sioux Falls, SD.
Being a Hmong kid from the burbs of the cities going to a city in South Dakota that I had no past ties to was…thrilling. I wanted to test myself and see if I could survive in the unknown. I wanted to challenge myself and my beliefs. I figured I was good at school and my parents’ lectures of “…when you become a doctor, engineer or lawyer, you can travel anywhere in the world and always find a job…” echoed in the back of my mind so I thought a degree in Biology with a focus on pre-med was the way to go.
So how does this relate to my faith?
It turned out that my favorite classes were religion classes. The professors and pastors on campus made sure that we wrestled with our faith and existing in that tension was okay. Grace was important. Understanding the Theology of the Cross versus Theology of Glory appealed to me so much so that I volunteered to be in Dr. Richard Swanson’s Passion according Mark throughout my time at Augie. Most importantly, those Lutheran professors and pastors made sure that we trued our minds and faith and by grace we are equal. This really itched the elitism and type-A culture I saw and experienced in college and specifically pre-medicine and it did not sit right. So the next best thing I could think of to challenge myself and give me more time to think through what was right was to get on a plane to Liberia, West Africa through the Peace Corps.
After my time in Liberia (which will come later in another blog post), I came back to Minnesota and got a job in Information Technology (IT) through a great, awesome friend Sam Bock. One of my biggest vexations is owing money so instead of thinking of applying to medical school and commit the rest of my life to something I was still questioning, I decided to work and pay off my loans. Throughout that time, Tabby and I were dating and I got to get really close with her family which I am so honored and privileged to be a part of.
Tabby’s father, Dell Sanderson, is a Lutheran pastor in Morris, MN. He and I have had great conversations about theology, community, personal faith journeys, the lot. He really shaped the way I viewed faith and encouraged open dialogue and conversation. We still continue asking each other questions and figuring things out and hearing his wisdom and seeing how loved he and his family is really inspires not only my faith journey but also where I want to see my family some day.
This is not the end of my faith journey and story but I hope it gives insight to how I have been shaped. I believe that faith is a very personal relationship you have with your God in wrestling with the human condition, chaos and the many Why’s of life. Faith can also be a beautiful thing in sharing and celebrating it with others in community. Faith is also something that can not be simply defined despite our society today needing that immediate satisfaction and answer. Faith is also not about judgement but grace and peace.
Four guidelines that I try to remind myself as we walk on our journey and as you accompany us are:
- Intentionally Living the Gospel
- Surrendering to Chaos
- Letting Grace Win
- Become Servant To, Not Service For
Of course, I do not fully understand the full meaning of each, which is the fun part 🙂
Peace and thanks!