22944_000_008These Hmong teens in Minnesota have found that keeping their faith still allows them to keep everything good and true in their culture.
Mylea Moua’s cousins make fun of her for going to church. Some of her close family members discourage her church attendance. Her friends at school wonder why she would ever want to be a Latter-day Saint.
Mylea’s challenges are not unique in the Twin Cities Second (Hmong) Branch of the Anoka Minnesota Stake. Many of the youth have less-active parents and nonmember family members who mock their religion. It would be easy for Mylea, a Mia Maid, to just quit coming to church. “A lot of Hmong people ask ‘How can the Church help you?’ They reject it,” she says. “I don’t really care what people think, because how I feel makes me happy. But I feel bad for them because they don’t have the gospel.”
Unlike many of the older Hmong generation in Minnesota, Mylea and the other youth feel it’s possible to be both Hmong and LDS. “I do the best I can and try to be a good example,” she says.
Sandy Yang, the Beehive president, is also doing her best to be a good example, though she says it is more difficult to share the gospel with her family than with her friends. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old. “It was hard, but I felt the warmth of Jesus Christ, and I knew everything was going to be okay,” she says. “I started to come to church more, and I learned the divorce was not about me. It was about my parents.” Sandy’s father is no longer active in the Church, but her mother and some of her brothers and sisters are. She says it’s her testimony that takes her through the hard times and keeps her coming.
Sandy and the other Hmong youth agree that regular scripture study and attending Sunday School really help to strengthen their testimonies. “I guess I know a lot because of the gospel,” says Toua Yang, Sandy’s brother. “Without it I wouldn’t know why I’m here or what I would do after I died.” He credits going to seminary and trying to teach others about the gospel with helping his testimony grow. Toua, a priest, plans to tell more people about the gospel when he goes on a mission in two years.
“We’re kind of the first generation, you know,” Mylea says. Even though many of their parents or even grandparents are members of the Church, the non-Christian Hmong traditions are still a strong influence in their lives.
Most of the older generation of Hmong people in the Anoka Stake are from Laos and Cambodia. The Hmong tradition includes the practice of shamanism, which involves ancestor worship and belief in good and evil spirits that can be summoned by a priest, or shaman. The Hmong culture and shamanism are linked, but are not the same thing, so the Hmong youth try to preserve their heritage while living the gospel and leaving non-Christian traditions behind. But their task is difficult.
Pang Yang, Toua’s sister, says death is the end of existence in the Hmong tradition. She’s happy she knows a better way. “It’s easier because I know what’s wrong and what’s right. The gospel is safer than the Hmong way. I think it’s easy because I know where I’ll go when I die.”
The Hmong youth are looking to the future—trying to rise above the difficulties of the traditions in their homes. Mylea and the others try to bring their younger brothers and sisters to church regularly to establish a tradition of faith in their families. Establishing a gospel tradition is a real goal, says See Moua, Mylea’s sister. “It’s not far now. It makes you want to keep the commandments,” See says.
Pang is also excited about the future. “I really look forward to getting married in the temple. That’s the one thing I really want to do.”
Ultimately, it’s their individual testimonies that keep these Hmong youth active in the Church while they face so much opposition from friends and family. “Sometimes you doubt,” says Mylea. “And I had doubts.” But when she learned more about the life of Joseph Smith and about the gospel, her doubts left her. “Everything was taken away from Joseph Smith, even his own life. Now I know he wasn’t lying.”
The other Hmong youth know challenges to their faith will come, either through their families’ traditions or just from their own doubts. That’s why they keep coming to church—the more they learn and the more they rely on the Lord, the stronger they become in the gospel. They know who they are, why they’re here, and where they’re going. And their testimonies grow stronger with each Sunday School lesson, each seminary class, and each time they choose to keep the Lord’s commandments and standards.
A pattern of living
Of all the traditions we should cultivate within ourselves and our families, a ‘tradition of righteousness’ should be preeminent. Hallmarks of this tradition are an unwavering love for God and His Only Begotten Son, respect for prophets and priesthood power, a constant seeking of the Holy Spirit, and the discipline of discipleship which transforms believing into doing. A tradition of righteousness sets a pattern for living which draws children closer to parents, and both closer to God, and elevates obedience from a burden to a blessing” (Ensign, Nov. 2000, 28). —Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Seventy