“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, ESV)
The missionaries to America that we have been focusing on during this mission series have what I call a heroic faith. They have endured much more than most of us ever will. Most of them have literally risked their lives for their faith. They work long hours at both their regular jobs and at their mission work. They are extremely dedicated to reaching lost souls for Christ.
But they still need training. Having the desire and willingness and devotion to be a missionary is not enough. Even the Christians in Philippi, a congregation that the Apostle Paul had founded, needed training, as Paul says in the passage above, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things.”
Just this past week I heard someone who claimed they were a Christian but they said only followed the New Testament. This is a heresy that goes all the way back to the early days of the church and a heretic named Marcion.
Missionaries need training to recognize these heresies and how to deal with them because they keep coming up. It’s easier for missionaries if they can quickly identify a heresy and say, “The church already dealt with that.” They can’t do that if they don’t have training.
The problem is that these missionaries to America cannot leave their homes and go to the seminary for training. Almost all of them are bi-vocational, they have jobs in the real world in addition to their mission work. If they left to go to the seminary for four years they would lose their jobs and their ministries would likely collapse.
All the early Christian missionaries were bi-vocational. The Apostle Paul, who set the pattern for mission work was bi-vocational. In addition to his mission work he was a tentmaker. I suspect that the four Apostles, who were fishermen before the Lord called them, continued to use their skills as fisherman during their ministries.
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) has developed a program for these kinds of situations through Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It’s called the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology, EIIT. It is designed to train these missionaries to America right where they live so that they don’t have to leave home for residential seminary training.
There are two components to this training program. The missionary takes his seminary classes online. The other component is that an experienced pastor is found to work with them in their class work and in their ministry. It takes longer than traditional residential seminary training but it allows the missionaries to remain at home, doing ministry.
Dr. John Loum, an immigrant from Africa, heads up the EIIT and has a very simple goal for the EIIT; he wants these missionaries to America that go through the EIIT to win this nation for Christ. He wants the EIIT-trained missionaries to be able to overcome the tribal, ethnic and cultural differences within the immigrant communities, and with the citizens of the US, to share the Gospel with them.
The traditional seminary training in the LCMS has always recognized the need for training on location. From day one seminarians are assigned to churches around the seminary to do what’s called field work. Then for the third of their four years of seminary training seminarians are sent out to local congregations to work full time under a pastor for practical training. This year is called their vicarage. It’s like an internship.
This brings us to today’s missionary to America, a man named Kai Lee.
Mr. Lee spent his early childhood in the mountain jungles of Laos. A member of the Hmong tribe, Kai’s family fought alongside the American army in the Vietnam War. Many of Kai’s friends and family members died fighting for the United States.
When the US pulled out of the Vietnamese war the natives of that area who had fought for the US were at the mercy of the Communist victors. The US allowed them to immigrate to the US as refugees. Kai’s older brother had fought with the American army in the war so he and his family, inlcuding Kai and their mother, were allowed to immigrate to America. They ended up settling in Fresno, California.
After high school, Kai held several jobs until he was eventually hired by the US Postal Service. He also came to know the love of Christ through the people of Peace Lutheran Church in Fresno, California. The members of Peace recognized Kai as someone who had the gifts necessary to be a missionary and supported him in his EIIT training. Today he evangelizes the thousands of Hmong in the Fresno area.
If Kai had left to go to the seminary, he would have lost his job with the Post Office, and the mission he was leading would have folded. Instead, Kai was able to stay in Fresno, complete the EIIT program and get ordained.
His congregation worships one hundred on Sundays. This past Easter he baptized ten new Christians. His ministry includes Hmong, Laotian and other SE Asian immigrants.
The traditional belief of the Hmong people is Animism. Animists believe that everything has a spirit. Some of the spirits are good and some are evil. The spirits of one’s deceased ancestors are called on to help in time of need. The religious leaders, known as shamans, serve as guides to help keep the spirits happy. The Hmong religion has no heaven or hell; all those who die go to the same place where their ancestors have gone before them. Thus, their religion has no Savior to rescue them. In place of eternal life in heaven they believe in reincarnation.
The LCMS Hmong Mission Society is headquartered in Richville, Michigan.
Starting at virtually nothing, the LCMS Hmong mission work has grown to 17 ordained pastors and 2,700 believers in the US. There are 23 ministries in 9 Districts of the LCMS. Overseas there are 3 ordained pastors and 600 believers in Asia.
After 11 years of work, the Society has produced its own Hmong hymnal.
Minnesota also has a large population of Hmong immigrants. The LCMS ministry to Hmong people in Minnesota is conducted through Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in St. Paul. This ministry is served by Rev. Toua Vang, is also a graduate of EIIT.
No matter how heroic our faith may be, we all need training, if nothing else, to help us recognize the ancient heresies when they rear their ugly heads again today. Through programs like the EIIT, missionaries to America can get the training they need right where they live and work.