Missionary to America Lang Yang
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience…”
“What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a Hmong missionary to America?” That is the question I asked Rev. Lang Yang near the end of his video interview. His answer came from his heart: “patience.” Patience is one, maybe the one most important virtue of a missionary. Lang’s history bears this out.
Rev. Yang was born in Laos during the Vietnam War. His family was Hmong, and his father a guerilla fighter for the United States. After the defeat of the Americans, three year old Lang and his family escaped by boat, headed for a refugee camp in Thailand. He does not remember much about that time, but he does have haunting images of bullets breaking the water around the boat, and palpable fear, as people bled, and died. That was preparation for his for time in the refugee camp.
Not long after arriving at the camp in Thailand, Lang’s father and mother had the chance to go to America. They could not take the children. Lang’s fourteen year old sister became mother to Lang and his two brothers. They learned patience. The children spent four more years in the camp. Food was scarce. At night Lang trapped rats, and during the day caught crickets, so they would have protein. Prayer and Patience.
There was one great blessing in the camp. The Hmong are traditionally animists, but here was a Christian worship service in the camp, and a friend in the camp invited young Lang Yang to worship. He came to know Jesus, as a child, in a refugee camp in a foreign country.
A sponsor was found for his older sister but there was no way for the other children to go with her; patience and prayer were needed. Lang’s sister was brought to America by a church in North Carolina. Not long after, she convinced the church to send for her siblings. At eleven years old, in school for the first time, he entered fourth grade, and knew no English. Patience. He learned quickly, so quickly he became an interpreter for the church’s pastor in the church’s ministry to Hmong refugees.
Lang skipped sixth grade, then ninth grade. At eighteen, he graduated high school and for the first time heard in his heart the Lord’s call to full time church work. His heart said yes, his head said no. Instead, he entered training to become a policeman, and was hired as a deputy sheriff in North Carolina. That is when he turned down the call to full time ministry a second time. “No God, not now. I have a young family, I have to support them.”
There is a large Hmong presence in the Midwest. Many churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan sponsored refugees in the tumultuous 1970s. A rigid system of clans determines much of life for Hmong people. Those ties brought the young Yang family to Michigan. Lang took leadership in a family restaurant. They say the third time is the charm – and, with the restaurant established, the call to ministry came again to Lang Yang. It was not Lang whose patience brought him into mission work. St. Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” ( 2 Peter 3:9).
Lang entered the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology, and spent four years as a bi-vocational worker, earning a living, being a father and a husband and studying theology. He knew he would not receive an advanced degree at the end of the program, but his deep desire was to become qualified to publicly preach and teach the good news of God’s love. He has done that – as a Christian missionary he visits all the Hmong cultural festivals, demonstrating God’s love to the majority of Hmong who are still animists. He has done this as a chaplain for the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department, as a Chaplain for Denmark Township, and as Chaplain for the Civil Air patrol. As the current president of the Hmong Mission Society he gives support to twenty three pastors and eighteen missions across America bringing the good news of a God who loves all people, all families, all clans.
In the interview, Rev. Yang described sharing Jesus with one older Hmong woman.
For a lifetime she had turned her back on all attempts to bring her to Christ. Spiritual “bullets” from her animist beliefs frightened her, keeping her out of the water of baptism. But God was patient. Then, when she was ninety years old, the Word of God broke through her fears and brought her to Jesus; she entered the safety of God’s love through the holy water of baptism. One of Rev. Lang Yang’s greatest joys was in this woman’s ninety ninth year, when he led the celebration of her entrance into the resting place of all us refugees, God’s eternal kingdom.
The Lord will find and refines those He wants to serve Him. Patience is required, patience can be taught, but finally, it is a gift of the Spirit. The good news is, God’s patience is eternal.