ROCHESTER, Minn. (BP) — Tra Xiong, executive director of the Hmong Baptist National Association (HBNA), sees a blessing and a challenge in spreading the Gospel in Thailand.
Fresh on the heels of an HBNA mission trip to Thailand in partnership with the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC), Xiong describes the southeast Asian constitutional monarchy as freely open to evangelism.
“Thailand is very free like the U.S., so it’s very feasible for us to do ministry,” Hmong said. But conversely, he believes the freedom the Thai people enjoy has made them more resistant to the Gospel. “In Thailand, it’s kind of tough for us to do ministry because they are free will. They choose whatever they want to do. And we don’t have many leaders to lead the church.”
Xiong, leading the HBNA to catalyze pastors to plant churches and evangelize in Thailand, sees great value in the HBNA’s partnership with the MWBC. He was among a group of 10 pastors, leaders and congregants who traveled to Thailand’s Nan Province July 26-Aug. 9 for missions and ministry. In cooperation with the eight churches the HBNA has planted in Thailand since 1999, the group trained men in biblical leadership, trained women in women’s ministry, and conducted English language camps for students in a public school that allowed the group to share the Gospel and evangelize.
“If the church will grow,” we need to get some people to help there,” Xiong said. “They don’t have any persecution there. So it’s a very good station for us to be there, so we can do ministry through Laos, Vietnam, China,” and other countries that are closed to the Gospel.
In addition to 54 churches in 16 states, the HBNA has planted churches abroad that have multiplied to encompass 50 churches in France, Thailand and Vietnam.
Xiong has led about 10 HBNA mission trips to Thailand in the past 20 years, but the 2022 trip was the first for Na Herr, MWBC intercultural catalyst and team facilitator.
While the HBNA and the MWBC have enjoyed a longstanding friendship, Herr said the 2022 trip was part of a MWBC Executive Director Leo Endel’s vision for evangelizing southeast Asia in partnership with the association.
“We’re a relatively small state convention,” Herr said of the convention of 200 churches, including 54 Hmong congregations. “A lot of our churches are small churches. They lack the resources and capacity to do their own trip, and so part of it is just giving an opportunity to our churches in our convention to be able to go on a mission trip overseas.
“And then leveraging our partnership with the Hmong association and their work that they’re already doing in Southeast Asia,” Herr said. “They have all the connections and all the relationships already in southeast Asia so we’re coming alongside of them, and we’re trying to pull a lot of our smaller churches whether they’re Hmong or not. We want all of our churches to be involved.”
The 2022 trip was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and follows years of targeted collaboration between the HBNA and the state convention.
Five congregations participated in the trip, namely Eternal Life Hmong Baptist Church of North St. Paul, Hmong First Baptist Church of Milwaukee, Wisc., Twin Cities Hmong Baptist Church in Roseville, Minn., Hmong Baptist Church Rochester in Eyota, and Rock of Hope Church in Wisconsin Dells. Four U.S. students were among the group.
While no professions of faith were recorded, ministers and educators in Nan Province asked the HBNA and MWBC to return. Herr is helping the HBNA plan a 2023 trip.
“It was nice to get an invitation back from a secular school,” Herr said.
Peter Yanes, executive director of Asian American relations and mobilization for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, commended the work.
“I’m grateful for their existing relationship that extended to do missions together in Thailand, where Hmong indigenous people are the second largest minority group,” Yanes told Baptist Press. “This is what missional cooperation is all about.”