Diversity: The Key to Teaching Faith Across Any Lifespan

Copyright Glen Dawursk, Jr.  June, 2002

Please do not duplicate or re-create this material without written permission.  Thanks.



As a Christian educator, I know that God created all men in His image; that He did not desire for His people to be separate from Him or each other.  I know that God desired a lasting relationship based upon what a person knows in his heart rather than what he sees with his eyes.  And I know that God truly desires for all His creation to be apart of His “relationship” or the “ecclesia” (a Greek word for the invisible church) the church only God knows, the church of the heart not of the world.  The problem is simple; because of Adam’s fall, we now look at people differently.  Instead of seeing God’s creation, God’s image, when we encounter another person, we now scrutinize them based upon their differences from us.  We see with our eyes not with our heart.  We ignore the image of God and seek out the images of this world.  Because of our sinfulness, society has become based upon separatism, not diversity and judges people upon where they are from, how old they are and what they look like instead of the identifying the person within.  A current contemporary Christian song by the group Plum refers to a space in each person called the “God shaped hole.”  Like the popular child’s toy where the proper shape needs to be pushed into the appropriately shaped hole, so our society needs to see where each person fits into God’s plan.  Too often, our prejudices, preconditions and perceptions determine how that hole will be filled.  Often society condones the use of “religious rational” to justify how we ignore people of other beliefs, cultures or lifestyles.  I may not accept a lifestyle as proper, but does that mean that I should ignore the person?  Did Jesus ignore people?  Never.  Even in His most desperate hour, Jesus still sought peace instead of conflict, understanding instead of confusion, love and forgiveness instead of hatred.  From the cross Jesus offered life not death.  Society knows the answer to prejudism is tolerance and acceptance.  It knows that in order to change from a world of separatists, we need to be willing to embrace cultural diversity.  If we know the answer, why then, as Rodney King stated so simply during the LA riots of the late 1990’s, “Why can’t we all just get along?”


The question is as tangled with sinfulness as the answer is.  The solution is sinfully complex because of society’s desire to control the outcome.  We make rules to make people get along.  Society’s solution is based upon external motivations not on internal motivations.  I contend that until society deals with their “God shaped hole,” our world will continue to live with anger and resentment, hatred and war, and true peace and harmony will remain just a dream.  Thus, the need for crossing the barriers has to start when people are still children.  Diversity needs to begin at youth and span across the ages.  I believe that positive “Godly” exposure to multiple cultures is the beginning towards the ultimate goal of real diversity. 


Stories are important to the Hmong people for that is how they maintained their history and cultural uniqueness when the written language was removed from them by their oppressors thousands of years ago.  The Hmong share their life stories through a piece of colorful tapestry filled with pictures called a pan ntaub.  In order to better highlight concepts of diversity and the need to share the Gospel message via different ways, I share my story, my written pan ntaub.


I was raised on the North side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the mid 1960’s in a predominately white neighborhood.  I remember seeing a black boy, my age living on the same block as my house and later discovered he attended my parochial school.  He was quiet and respectful, unlike the black people I had seen on television during the race riots in Milwaukee.  As a second grader, I could not differentiate what the problem was between blacks and whites, so I walked down the block to the boy’s house and asked if he wanted to play.  I remember his parents being very protective.  His mother seemed to watch our every move.  I especially remember how strict they were.  I knew he was different by the color of his skin, but everything else seemed the same.  My mom was also strict and very protective.  However, my mom was also very prejudice against black people.


As I grew up, I saw black men stopping by our house occasionally to drop off Christmas presents for my father.  My dad was the set-up supervisor for A.O. Smith Corporation, a car frame manufacturing plant in Milwaukee.  These men worked under my father, and he was their boss, but something was different.  My father seemed to like these men but my mother did not.  I specifically remember my mother questioning my father as to why they had to come to our house. 


The formation of my perspective continued as I entered high school.  Up to this time I had really no close minority friends.  My grade school class of 42 briefly had a Hispanic brother and sister – but other than that, my experiences were inconsequential.  At Milwaukee Lutheran High School I met a number of minority teenagers, predominately black.  While MLHS was almost 95% white, I intentionally got to know a number of the black students.  There my perceptions became more balanced.  I saw what the media presented about minorities, heard what my parents had to say, and saw how my minority peers acted and talked at school.  I specifically remember a Bible Study led by the president of our church district that especially “stuck with me.”   He proposed the question, “Is it wrong for a white man to marry a black woman?  Is interracial marriage wrong?”  I remember how he allowed the youth at the conference to discuss it openly before he directed us to a Biblical response.  He simply said, “No it is not wrong.”  He continued, “God is color blind.”  He did caution that the couple should consider all the societal and family consequences of their decision, but he emphasized that scripturally, there was no reason to neither condemn nor disallow such a relationship. While I knew from my religious studies that it should not be wrong, I had never heard anyone actually say it.  I was amazed.


At my 2000 + student parochial teacher’s college, I remember the Micronesian students who attended there.  They especially seemed different.: small, dark skinned, a cross between Asian and Hispanic in appearance. However, they also seemed to always be drinking and partying.  I did not dislike them, but the college made no attempt to integrate them or to show us their culture and I found myself keeping a distance from them.  I never really got to know any of them personally, nor did I desire to.  I now I regret it. 


After college I taught high school at a parochial school in Houston, Texas.  Here I observed from a distance the Hispanic and Arab people.  However, few minorities could afford the tuition at the school I taught at, so my interaction was limited to buying a “Big Gulp” from them at a 7-11.   I found them to be interesting but most of the time they were reduced to punch line of a joke.  I knew little about their culture and made no attempt to embrace it.


It was not until I moved back to Milwaukee I truly saw a change in me. Initially my wife and I bought a duplex in what would be considered an undesirable neighborhood on the North side of Milwaukee.  I remember an older kind black man who talked to me regularly in the alley behind my garage.  He was a family man who appreciated how I kept-up my yard.  Every Friday I became intrigued as the Orthodox Jews would walk in groves toward the temples located near our house.  Dressed in black entire families would file past our duplex.  I eventually got to know the Jewish rabbi’s widow who lived down the alley.  I was teaching at a small all-white parochial high school in a wealthy Milwaukee suburb.  My interaction with minorities was limited to my neighborhood and the occasional visit to an ethnic festival on Milwaukee’s lakefront.


As our family grew, my wife and I decided to move to our old neighborhood on the Northwest side of Milwaukee and we also became more active in our old church.   In the 1960’s and 70’s, St. Peter was predominately a white congregation catering to a transient middle class neighborhood.  By the 1990’s it had changed into a split neighbor hood of predominately minority and elderly people.  St. Peter also changed as more mixed marriages, black and white, Asian and white, Indian and white, joined our congregation.  Our school also saw an influx of minority children.  My children also attended St. Peter’s school and they eventually became friends with children from mixed families.  Even now, my children each have minority friends.  We often talked about prejudism with our children.  My wife’s parents also had prejudices, especially against blacks.  But as a Christian mother, she desired as I did for our children to be raised  color blind.”   Today, our children do not judge a person by their color, their culture, their religion or their age.  We have tried to instill in them an understanding that God created all people in His image and that all people are special.


When I moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, it was here that I first encountered the Hmong culture.  These small, seemingly mild mannered polite people had a fierce reputation here.  Anne Fadiman, the author of “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” referred to the Hmong as not liking “to take orders” and not liking to lose, “that they would rather flee, fight, or die than surrender; that they are not intimidated by being outnumbered; that they are rarely persuaded that the customs of other cultures, even those more powerful than their own, are superior; and they are capable of getting very angry.” (Fadiman, 17) While this may be true, this description could easily be used to describe you or me as well.  Some hypocritical members of the congregation I was employed by spoke of the Hmong culture bringing excessive crime to Wausau through gangs.  They spoke of the Hmong’s lack of desire to work and of their dysfunctionally large families.  The Hmong were made out to be a blight upon Wausau.  Just 25 years earlier, it was this congregation who sponsored the first Hmong family in Wausau, but over the next decade and a half, the prejudism of society set in and the front-page news articles spoke about the hatred and distrust of the community toward the Hmong people.  Strangely, I was not concerned.  Instead I became interested in finding out more about these unique people who lacked a real homeland and who simply desired lasting freedom, and the preverbal “American dream.” 


Over the next six years, I encountered several Hmong families through our church and community.  I found them to be anything but a blight.  Their culture brought color to Wausau’s seemingly cultureless community.  Their dedication and love toward their families was a model for the dysfunctional non-Asian families found throughout the area.  Hugo Adolf Bernatzik, a German ethnographer who studied and worked with the Hmong in the 1930’s stated that the Hmong regarded children as “the most treasured possession a person can have.” (Fadiman, 22)  I see this as true today.  Dr. Dwight Conquergood, a doctor who ran a Hmong outpost during the Vietnam War described the difference between the cultures’ family views this way: “In a thousand ways, our [America’s] separatist, individualistic ethic gets enunciated daily: individual place settings at meals, the importance of ‘a room of one’s own’ even for children, advertising appeals and jingles such as ‘Have it your way’ and ‘We do it all for you.’ The enactment of Hmong culture, on the other hand is like a symphony; every part plays the themes of returning, recalling, restoring, reincorporating, binding together, and reuniting separated parts into a collective identity.” (Fadiman, 197)  To the Hmong, family is essential and large families are considered a blessing from God.  Though, as the Hmong teenagers become more Americanized, these families are starting to experience the same “parental disrespect” and independent natures of their American counterparts.  This was unheard of in Hmong culture previously where respect is considered a key component of the Hmong family unit. At a Hmong community meeting several years ago an elderly man stood up and stated, “Why, when what we did worked so well for two hundred years, is everything breaking down?” (Fadiman, 207)  This is more a question about American culture and less about the Hmong people, but it is always easier to blame others for our own problems. 


The Hmong work very hard.  During the Vietnam War, it was the Hmong who secretly fought on America’s behalf. They sacrificed over 10,000 of their people in the war effort with the simple promise that America would not forget them after the war was over.  But just as America has slighted the American Indians and other minorities in the past, we have forgotten the contributions of these American war heroes and have relegated them to the status of “trailer trash.”  I know several Hmong fathers who work several minimum wage jobs just to support their family.  Their work ethic and pride in their work reminds me of the way our history books describe America’s founding fathers.  These people are anything but a blight.  They are a blessing to our community and we could learn plenty about family relationships, work ethic and dedication to culture from these people.  These are some of the reason I have become so interested in the Hmong people.


In the past year, I have worked closely with about 40 Hmong youth ranging from ages 6 to 18 years old.  Through a bi-weekly youth group we call SEA-Life (South East Asians Living In Life Eternally) I have learned more about diversity and teaching faith across the ages than have I throughout my career – or for that matter, my entire life.  Today, I consider these youth and their families my friends.  I sincerely care about them and I have sought to learn as much about their culture as I can.  An old Indian proverb says, “Don’t criticize someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.”   This proverb has become my anthem in ministry.  Today, I seek to find ways to get into the life of the children and youth I teach and mentor.   I learn their story, not only so that I can better teach them the story of salvation in Jesus Christ, but because I have a sincere interest in these people.  Jesus demonstrated this concept often.  His passion for ministry began with a sincere compassion for the people.  He ministered to their needs before He ever preached to them.  He always met them on common ground.  This needs to be the focus of all ministry and education.  If we are to effectively teach children, mentor youth or instruct adults, we need to first meet them on a common ground.  Developing cultural and lifestyle diversity is the key to breaking down educational barriers.  Once these roadblocks are gone, effective learning can finally begin.


When I look at my life, I see how the balance of my father and my mother combined with the fact that my “God shaped hole” was filled with spiritual virtues rather than worldly ones, allowed me to approach prejudism differently than my siblings.  My brother and sister each observed the same qualities in my parents, but their spiritual life was empty.  Also, their educational and work environments allowed for a more crude approach to minorities.  They both therefore lean toward my mother’s perspective.  Recently one of my co-leaders developed a workshop on prejudism for our youth ministry.  The leader showed us a variety of photos including a Hmong, an Afro-American, an elderly Native American, and a GQ-style white male.  We were asked questions about what we thought about the people based upon the photos alone.  Interestingly, I was fine with all of the photos except the black man.  For some reason, I had apprehensions about him.  I could not explain exactly why, but I did not trust him.  As it turned out, the man was a Harvard degreed stockbroker, but my mother’s prejudice had poisoned my initial reaction.   If education, religious or otherwise is to be effective, we first must present a positive view of culture to all whom we train.  This will help to offset a potential developing prejudism from home and will encourage interaction among cultures in the classroom.  Secondly, when we teach a person of color, we need to consider their “story”, seek out and affirm positives within it, and correlate and coordinate positive aspects of it into the lesson plan or curriculum.  


Dr. Conquergood, the American doctor in Vietnam, struggled with ways in which he could break through the Hmong vs. American culture barriers.  He went the extreme direction of learning, respecting, and adapting the Hmong beliefs and lifestyle practices for his American purposes.   In one example, he allowed the villagers to use herbs to treat an injury he had.  In the 1960’s and even in some areas today, America’s medical system refuses to embrace what many in the medical field call “witch doctor” science; but his consideration of their  culture brought him great respect and credibility among the people.  He also adapted their folklore and created a parade of characters including a new spirit he called “Mother Clean.”  This 8-foot dancing puppet taught the people about the importance of cleanliness and proper sanitation.  By using their culture, he was able to create a comfortable and positive environment for learning – and the results were very positive.   I am not suggesting a compromise of religious doctrine, rather just more consideration of culture and approach.  The people trusted this doctor and came to him for continued care and support.   The Hmong are a culture who does not make a “distinction between body and mind or between medicine and religion.” (Fadiman, 228) Understanding this, accepting this, and adapting this philosophy of thinking brought success to Dr. Conquergood and could be as effective in education and ministry within the church.  In the book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, we see the conflict of cultures at it’s worst.  In March 1993 a Hmong family brought their epileptic seizure struck three month old baby daughter to an American hospital in California.  Because the hospital did not understand the Hmong culture and visa versa, and because of a significant language barrier, the baby was initially misdiagnosed and mistreated.  The Hmong parents while concerned for their daughter’s health also considered the qaug dab peg (the Hmong word for Epilepsy which literally means “the spirit catches you and you fall down”) to be a blessing as it represented a call from God.  Most children stricken with quag dab peg become a txov neeb, a spiritual leader also called a shaman. The hospital did not understand or accept this thinking and sought only to follow the hospital protocols and procedures to heal this little girl.  They considered the parents to be ungrateful, backwards, and noncompliant. The process of cultural misunderstandings continued for the next 6 years with both sides distrusting each other and the child even being removed from the parents for almost a year.  At the end of this true story, the child who had been normal in every other way, is now brain-dead, comatose, and simply being kept alive by the care of her loving mother.  The question the author suggests is what if the barriers were not there?  Would this baby have grown to a fully functional, normal active child today instead of her current vegetative state?   The book implies that that the impact of knowing each other’s culture, knowing each other’s language, respecting them, and adapting them would have made all the difference. 


Many of the children, youth and adults we educate come to us with cultural, societal and lifestyle differences.  Will we approach them with pre-conceived ideas based upon our dogmatic procedures, curriculum objectives, or spiritual mandates, or will we meet them on common ground?  As a Director of Christian education, I have found one story that especially made concerns me.  Wendy Walker-Moffat, an educational consultant who worked at a Hmong refugee camp during the Vietnam War suggested that “one reason the Hmong avoided the camp hospitals is that so many of the medical staff members were zealous volunteers from Christian charitable organizations” intent on converting the Hmong. (Fadiman, 35)  She shared a story about a Hmong man who was converted to Christianity, became an ordained pastor and eventually found his way back to the refugee camp.  When the Hmong pastor suggested bringing in a shaman to act as a mediator for the people at the hospital, the zealous Christian staff objected.  When they asked the pastor if he ever went to a shaman, he responded that he had.  When he saw their alarmed response, he quickly changed his answer to “No” and said that he had only heard of others who had gone to a shaman.  Walker-Moffat concludes her story be saying, “What they didn’t realize was that – to my knowledge, at least – no Hmong is ever fully converted.” (Fadiman, 35).  This also seemed evident at the “Diversity in Education” conference I attended this past Spring at the University of Eau Claire, where a Hmong woman described the Hmong funeral tradition.  She spoke of Jesus Christ and how He had saved her and then in the thought shared how she will be “re-incarnated” someday.  Even in my SEALife program where we are attempting to share aspects of Hmong culture and folklore contrasted against Christian beliefs, it is imperative that we keep the lessons simple, clear and concise.  I cannot throw a 40-pound Bible on any culture and expect it to make sense.  I cannot present the concepts of scripture the same way to everyone.  Flexibility in approach is necessary if we are going to be effective for the sake of the Gospel; and most importantly, we need to have a passion for compassion.  We need to share because we truly care about the person.  We need to be Jesus with skin on in order to truly impact others, not simply “Bible beaters” bent on saving the world.  Again, Jesus ministered first by His actions.  True concern and compassion breaks down all types of barriers. Jeanine Hilt was the welfare worker that became particularly involved with the epileptic child mentioned earlier.  She could have been considered the “enemy” as she was the person chosen by the state to enforce the rules considering the care of their epileptic child.  She was the one forced by the state to remove the child from the parent’s home for almost a year because the hospital staff felt the family was incapable of treating the child’s medical condition properly.  But when the this social worker died several years later, years after the child had entered her vegetative state, the mother cried.  “When I heard Jenny was dead, my heart broke.  I cried because Jenny had told me she wasn’t going to get married and she would never have children of her own, so she would help me raise my children.  But she died, so she couldn’t do that, and I felt I had lost my American daughter.”  (Fadiman, 252)  The impact of this person was not made by what she said, by what she did.  St. Francis Assisi, a catholic monk once said, “Always preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.”   This is the crutch of Christian education, but it also crosses over to all aspects of life.  If we want to impact our world, if we want break the cultural barriers, if we want to make a difference across a person’s lifespan, we need to start by learning the other person’s story, the other person’s pan ntaub.and then let God change their heart toward faith.

SEALife Lesson Plan: May 2, 2002




5:00-5:15       “Hanging out” in the YAT Cave (Youth house basement) or Gym

5:15-5:45       Whiffle Ball in Gym or parking lot

5:45-6:00       Community Builder at the Youth House

6:00-6:30       Bible Time:  What happens when we die?  & Jesus’ Ascension

6:30-6:40       Balloon Release

6:40-7:00       Walk to Ice Cream Shop
(Back-up plan: ice cream bars/sandwiches downstairs)


Token:           Give them each a Stone Pillow CD



·        The youth will experience fun and fellowship in a safe environment.

·        The youth will become comfortable with the teaching and the leadership of the program

·        The youth will learn, recognize and/or consider Hmong cultural concepts, folklore and beliefs.

·        The youth will learn, recognize, compare/contrast and/or consider Christian concepts, scriptural stories and beliefs.

·        The youth will experience the forgiveness of sins as the balloon rises out of site into the sky

·        The youth will be led toward a spiritual change of faith in Jesus Christ


Lesson:         What happens when we die? 


Hmong culture believes that God gives the soul an allotted time for life and a specific clan for a baby to be born into. When the soul takes on the human form and the baby is born, the placenta or “tsho tsuj tsho npuag” (“jacket” in Hmong) is to be buried in the parent’s house.  The boy’s near the main support pole of the house and the girl’s under their parent’s bed. It is always buried with the smooth side up so that the baby will not vomit.  If the baby gets spots, this means ants are eating the placenta, and the parents pour hot water over the burial hole to stop it. This burial allows it to be easily reclaimed by the owner’s soul when it begins it’s after death journey in the spirit world.  The journey of the soul must travel backwards from place to place where it has been in life until it finds the place where the “jacket” is buried.  Only when the soul has put on the jacket of it’s birth, can it continue its journey through the spirit world toward an eventual reunion with its ancestors; but the journey is not easy.  The soul may encounter dabs, evil spirits bent on destroying or punishing the soul.  Hmong folklore tells of giant poisonous caterpillars, man-eating rocks and monstrous oceans filled with dragons that the journeying soul must endure.  The goal of the soul is to reach a place that is beyond the sky.  Here they will be re-united with their ancestors and eventually the soul can be re-incarnated into a new baby.  However, if the soul initially does not find it’s “baby jacket,’ the soul will wander aimlessly for eternity. 


It is for this reason that a Hmong funeral is considered to be one of their most significant rituals.  Lasting usually three days, the ceremony gives the soul the detailed directions or instructions for its journey through the spirit world.  First the Qhuab Kev (“Showing the Way) is chanted.  This is done as close to the death as possible so as to begin the process of transitioning the soul into the spirit world.  The qeej (pronounced like “cane”) plays the “Song of Expiring Life” (Qeej Tu Siav), also called the “Last Breath” reed music. Finally the “qeej tsa nees” is played.  It is intended to help the soul mount the horse toward its heaven bound journey.  These combined with other rituals will assist the soul toward its goal of returning, or being re-incarnated (“thawj thiab”) as another Hmong baby someday.  However, if the ritual is not done or is done improperly, the soul may wander throughout the spirit world, never to be re-incarnated or re-united with the ancestors.


What the Bible says:


A few weeks ago, we learned about how Jesus, the Son of God, who lived a perfect life, was killed.  He was basically framed by his enemies and then crucified on a cross.  Jesus died for our sins, but after his death, there was no “three day” funeral.  He was quickly removed from the cross and put into a stone covered cave or tomb.  Yet, three days still has significance. As we learned last week, three days after his death, He rose from the dead.  He came back to life.  Yes, thee people who saw Him were shocked and amazed by this miracle.  He eventually appeared to hundreds and hundreds of people throughout the area. This leads to our lesson today. 


It was now time for Jesus to leave.  No, He was not going to “die” again.  He was going to go back home and prepare a place for us in heaven – or as the Hmong culture might call the “Place beyond the Sky.”  Let’s listen to the verses from the Bible that tell us about His ascension into Heaven. 


[Listen to Acts 1:1-11 from the NIV Audio Bible on CD] 


Now Jesus is coming back someday to take us to Heaven.  Does it say that we will need directions?  No.  Jesus will come back to take us to our place beyond the sky.  Heaven is a free gift from God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Pretty cool, huh?


But, what happens when we die?  Do we meet any fierce rocks or do we have to worry about poisonous caterpillars?  Nope. 


Our soul goes to heaven directly when we die.  There is no “journey” necessary.  With Jesus, we simply know that we are saved, that we will be with Jesus, God in Heaven.  How interesting that the Hmong funeral song speaks of  Showing the Way.”  In the Bible we read that Jesus said, “I am the way, the Truth and the Life.  No man comes to the Father but by me.”  If we try to “work” our way to heaven, we will be going the “wrong way.”  Jesus tells us to simply believe in Him as our savior and He will take us to Heaven.


I really like the story about the placenta, or the “jacket”.  Did you notice that the soul could not begin its journey until it had the jacket surrounding him?  We also require a sort of “surrounding jacket” to be saved and go to heaven.  Our salvation is made real through baptism.  Baptism as we talked a few months ago when we learned about John the Baptiser, is the poring of water upon the a person and while the word of God is spoken for the forgiveness of sins.  We are told that God’s Spirit covers the person with the “blood of Jesus” and frees us from eternal death.  That jacket of blood was offered for us on the cross.  A small child, who was born on Christmas Day, grew up to be the savior of the world.  He sacrificed his life so that we could share His life in heaven.  That baby’s blood became our “journey jacket” for our journey to the “Place beyond the Sky.”  


As for re-incarnation, only God re-creates, and he re-creates in us a new life each day – but not a physical life in a new body.  No, we will not be made into a different body, a different person.  We are not re-incarnated.  But, our “new life” is the His Spirit living in us.  Each day we remember our baptism and the sacrifice Jesus offered for us on the cross. Each day we are renewed or reincarnated by His Spirit and when we finally arrive at Heaven, we are told we will have a “new, heavenly, perfect body.”  We will be in the image of God the way He intended us to be.



Closing Activity: “Balloon Release”


·        Ask every youth to right down something that they are very sorry for.  Maybe it is the name of a person whom they have hurt or offended.  Maybe it is a wrong they have done toward a friend, family member, teacher, or God.

·        Tie the piece of paper to the balloon string

·        Release it outside.

·        Say: “Just as the balloon you released from your hands goes up toward the sky and disappears out of your site, so Jesus takes our sins, our guilt, or fears and anguishes.  Just like the balloon, as we release them to God through confession and prayer, they disappear.  God forgives us our sins ands they are not held against us. May these balloons remind you of Jesus’ ascension and the forgiveness He offers you each day.

·        Finally as the balloons rise into the sky, say a prayer of thanks giving for the forgiveness we receive and the assurance we have of heaven.


Glen Dawursk, Jr. 5/2/02

Reprinted from an article about our Hmong youth ministry in the Trinity Connection, December 2001.  Also available on the web at www.yat.org/sealife.htm.


Trinity’s SEA«Life
Brings New Life to Asian Youth

Glen Dawursk, Jr.

Text Box:

Almost two decades ago, it was Trinity who brought the first immigrant Hmong family to Wausau.  Our congregation’s deep heritage of mission outreach continues today with SEALife, a Hmong ministry developed by Trinity’s youth ministry department.  SEALife is South East Asians Living in Forgiveness Eternally and is intended for Hmong youth in grades 6 through 12.


Text Box:  

The idea for a bi-weekly Hmong youth group came out of the successful Hmong ministry camp co-sponsored by Trinity and Camp Luther last August.  That three day VBS-style program included recreational activities and Bible stories geared toward the Hmong culture.  The camp also included puppet programs by the YAT Puppeteers and outdoor activities led by a high school servant event team from Massachusetts. On the last day, all the youth were driven to Camp Luther for a day of swimming, hiking and canoeing; as many as 18 Hmong youth attended the camp each day.


Upon this success, the SEALife ministry was born. The program started out on Sunday mornings as a “Sunday school class” but was quickly replaced with the current Thursday night program when time and spiritual conflicts became an issue with the youth. The program is under the direction of Glen Dawursk, Jr. our Minister of Youth and Children, and Donna Krause, a certified Lutheran ESL Teacher with connections to the Hmong community.  SEALife meets at the youth house every first, third and fifth Thursday nights from 5 to 7 PM.  SEALife attracts over 30 youth each week.


Hmong (also spelled Mong) means “blooming fertile” or “agriculture.”  It is thought to represent the first group of people who grew rice or corn in South East Asia.  Approximately 50,000 Hmong live in Wisconsin – 6,000 in Wausau alone.  The Hmong community in Wausau is Text Box:  

made up of a variety of immigrants from Laos, Thailand, China, and other parts of South East Asia.  Based upon language dialects, the Hmong community is often differentiated by White Hmong or Green Hmong.  This language difference has become somewhat insignificant as the Hmong adapt to the American culture.  Only the colors represented by the traditional woman’s costumes still show this cultural diversity. 


As most of the youth who attend SEALife are second or third generation, they speak both English and varying levels of Hmong.  However, SEALife does have several high school youth who remember living is South East Asia and attending the Christian mission there.  Their contribution to the explanation of Hmong versus Biblical culture is invaluable. 


On an average SEALife night, the youth are allowed to “hang out” and enjoy the recreational activities of the youth house.  After about a half hour, they are brought up to the main level for community builders, announcements and other planned activities.  For the last 30-45 minutes, the youth listen to a Bible story custom related to a Hmong folk tale, religious belief, or other reference to their culture.  For instance, as our church celebrated the Epiphany, SEALife learned about the spiritual “Shamans” who came to visit Jesus.  This reference to the Biblical “wise men” is consistent with historical scripture and gives the youth a reference point to their culture. 


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The Hmong are traditionally “Animist.”  However, many Hmong families in Wausau are Christian and active members of several local churches.  It was wonderful to see hundreds of youth and adults holding balloons professing, “I love Jesus” at this years’ Hmong New Years celebration at DCE Everest last fall. 


The Hmong faith tradition promotes the idea that the spiritual world continues to coincide within the physical world.  The culture is filled with numerous specific and non-specific spirits that influence the outcome of each person’s life.    This includes deceased relatives, house spirits and spirits of nature.  Traditional Hmong seek out ways to please the spirits in order to protect their family.  Illness is believed to be a punishment from the spirits and a shaman or “medium” between the spirit and physical worlds, is a way in which they can communicate with them.  Animists also believe in reincarnation, and non-Christian Hmong believe they will return to Earth as a different member of their family or “clan.”


These beliefs are consistent with a law based religion and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ offers the Hmong community “forgiveness eternally.”  Many of their traditions also reflect New Age concepts prominent in society.  Therefore, it is easy for these youth to adapt to our Western world’s non-Christian philosophy of thinking.   The SEALife lessons each week include actual readings from the Bible in addition to explanations of the stories and faith concepts.  Many of the youth already are asking questions and seem to be seeking answers.  It is Text Box:  

exciting to see how the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts.


The goal of the SEALife ministry is not to segregate the Hmong youth, but rather to instruct them on our Christian beliefs and assimilate them into our regular youth programs.  Currently, 10 Hmong youth attended the YAT “Rock-in Lock-in” in November and several attended the Gifts Galore Sr. High Gathering in January.  Over-time, we hope that the SEALife youth will feel comfortable with our beliefs and become active members of our existing youth programs, Sunday school and church.


One of the biggest obstacles of SEALife is transportation.  The youth have no way of getting to and from Trinity.  Each week, the youth are called a few days before to confirm if they are coming and if they need a ride.  Once the list of names is complete, a map of rider’s locations is developed and volunteer drivers go to the homes of the Hmong youth.  Doug and Evlyn Selz and Brenda Simons have faithfully assisted as drivers for this project since the beginning.  At our last SEALife night, several Hmong youth asked if they could bring a friend.  The problem is we are already at capacity for transportation.  Often times our drivers have had to make additional trips in order to pick-up more youth.  If anyone can help drive from 4-5 PM and 7-8 PM two to three times per month, please contact Glen Dawursk at 843-7023.  Please keep this new ministry in your prayers as God leads and directs these young people to know the Savior of their world also.




Fadiman, Anne, The Spirit Catches You And You fall Down,

            New York, Farrar, Strause and Giroux, 1997


Falk, Dr. Catherine, “The Hmong khaene (Qej Hmoob)”,

            www.hmongnet.org/hmon-au/qeej.htm, January 10, 2002


Falk, Dr. Catherine, “The Hmong in Australia”.

            www.hmongnet.org/hmong-au/ozhmong1.htm, January 10, 2002


Falk, Dr. Catherine, “Hmong Music of Courtship”,

www.hmongcenter.org/hmonmusofcou.html, May, 2002


Hmong Cultural Center, Inc., “Hmong Folktales and Folkore”, “Hmong Daily Life

in Laos”, “The Hmong Language”, Hmong Class”, “The Hmong

Population”, “Hmong Marriage Customs”, www.hmongcenter.org, May, 2002


Johnson, Charles and Yang, Se, Myths, Legends and Folk Tales from the

Hmong of Loas – Second Edition, St. Paul, MN, Macalister College, 1992


Lee, Gary Yia, “Culteral Identity In Post-Modern Society”,

www.hmongcenter.org/culidposso.html, May 2002


Lee, Gary Yia, “Hmong Culture View and Social Structure”,

            www.hmongcenter.org/hmonworviewa.html, May 2002


Leepalao, Tougeu and Lee, Nachee, “Definition of Hmong New Year.”,

            www.hmongcenter.org/defofhmonnew.html, May, 2002


Lindsay, Jeff, “The Hmong People in the U.S.”,

www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html, Jamuary 10, 2002


Thao, Paoze, Mong Education At The Crossroads,

            Lanham, Maryland, University Press of America, 1999


Yang, Neng, “History and Origin of the Hmong”,

www.hmongcenter.org/briefhistory.html, May, 2002



Other Contributing Resources / Experiences


I attended/participated the following educational
experience during the past 6-8 months:


·        The Hmong News Years Celebration in Wausau, WI,
November 16-18, 2001

·        Course Workshop: “Diversity in Education – Hmong Americans”, University of WisconsinEau Claire, WI, February 27, 2002

·        Hmong Tapestry Presentation: “Proud to be Racism Free” presented by the Hmong Student Association of the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Points, John Muier Junior High School, Wausau, WI, March 16, 2002

·        Hmong Cultural Show hosted by the Asian Student Organization of the University of Wisconsin – Marathon County, Wausau, WI, April 4, 2002