FRESNO, Calif. (BP) — The Hmong Baptist National Association, with Tra Xiong as the group’s new executive director, approved several major steps forward — that included an increased budget and combining next year’s HBNA meetings — during its annual gathering.
The HBNA approved an increased budget they believe reflects the group’s commitment to church planting and to its overseas missions work. Messengers voted to gather for an expanded meeting next June in St. Paul, Minn., in conjunction with a national Hmong festival. They also gave approval to developing plans for a Hmong training institute.
The Oct. 14-15 gathering of the Hmong fellowship of Southern Baptists took place at Hmong Baptist Church in Fresno, Calif., where about 500 people participate in Sunday morning worship with Rick Xiong as pastor. “Grow in the Knowledge of Him” was the theme, inspired by 2 Peter 3:18.
“The meeting was very important,” Tra Xiong told Baptist Press. “We get together and discuss the agenda so we can see one vision, and plan together to go forward with the ministry.”
A $23,000 budget increase was passed by the 27 messengers at the Hmong annual meeting, to $273,000, up from $250,000 last year. To encourage starting new churches and to partner with state conventions and the North American Mission Board, HBNA President Pao Ly told Baptist Press, the increased budget includes a stipend for Hmong churches that plant a new church in the next year.
A total of 60 people attended the two-day event, up from 44 last year.
Guest speakers included Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention; Jeremy Sin, national church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board; and Paul Kim, Asian American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
Ly noted the messengers’ support for the expansion of its church planting, missions, ministries and next summer’s HBNA gathering that will combine three HBNA events in the days before one of Hmong’s nationally-attended festivals showed the group’s interest in moving forward with the new executive director.
Tong Zong Vang, one of the founders in 1991 of HBNA, retired because of illness in 2010. Tra Xiong was named executive director this summer, after a five-person search committee spent six years narrowing the field.
“There were a number of factors that led to the final decision: the calling, experience, education and most of all, character,” said Ly, who also is pastor of First Hmong Baptist Church of Morganton, N.C. “Based on my own observation over many years, Tra is a man of God, kindhearted, humble, teachable, and very open to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.”
Xiong, in ministry for 26 years, planted churches overseas and in Minnesota, North Carolina and California, where he was on the state convention’s staff. With each of nine church plants in the U.S., he lived in the area for a year, during which he started churches and developed leaders who would carry forth the ministry, including 10 men who have become pastors.
The Hmong fellowship — through prayer, giving and going — has ministered in Vietnam for at least 8 years, where there are approximately 40 Hmong churches in the north and south combined.
In Thailand, where there are eight Hmong Baptist churches, “I went with a group of six last December to assess the situation, to see what their needs are so we can establish relationships,” Ly said. “This is a new work.”
Ly and his wife went to France in May, to participate in the ordination of a deacon called to the gospel ministry. That man now has become the pastor of the Hmong Baptist Church in Avignon, the only known Hmong Baptist church in France. The church is now partnered with HBNA.
The Hmong — their name means “Free People” — reportedly began arriving in the U.S. in the mid- to late 70s after they were granted political refugee status by the U.S. government because of their efforts to aid Americans during the Vietnam War.
Whittaker was a featured speaker at the Hmong annual meeting. He told the group, “You will grow, mature and become an influence for many.”
“I also shared with the group the memories of the time when thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, etc., came under the sponsorship of the Southern Baptist Refugee Resettlement program created by Oscar Romo and the Language Missions Department of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board),” Whittaker told Baptist Press. “It was the most exciting period in the lives of Southern Baptists.”
Those initial efforts to minister to the Hmong refugees led to today’s 58 Hmong churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Today many of those churches are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina and California.
In previous years HBNA has hosted small, separate events — an annual meeting, pastors and wives retreat, and, every four years, a national conference. Few pastors could afford to attend more than one event a year. In 2017, all three are to be combined into one four-day event June 27-30.
The combined gathering will immediately precede the annual Hmong Freedom Celebration and Sports Festival, which draws 30,000 or more Hmong from across the nation to St. Paul, Minn. The two-day event is better known as J4 because it takes place the weekend of July 4.
In addition to logistical advantages, leaders with the HBNA hope the decision to combine their meetings just before the J4 event will provide Hmong Southern Baptists with the opportunity to present the Gospel to Hmong festival-goers that weekend. The suggestion passed unanimously.
Approval also was given at the Hmong annual meeting to develop a plan for a training institute for Hmong pastors.
“We have a lot of first-generation pastors who really have not had any formal education,” Ly said. “They came to faith, served in the church and grew to become a leader in the church. … We saw there was still somewhat of a lacking in biblical training as far as theology and biblical interpretation, and some good foundations of biblical preaching.
“Pastor Tra [Xiong] and I came to HBNA officers and shared that concern,” Ly said. “Tra set forth the vision of having HBNA provide some education, an institute for pastors who have been trained, to teach those who haven’t been.”
The men presented the idea to the HBNA executive committee, Xiong said, and a formal proposal will be presented at next summer’s meetings. Officers will be elected at that meeting.
Current officers include Ly of First Hmong Baptist Church of Morganton, N.C.; Vice President Zong Vue Chang, lay pastor of Hmong Baptist Church in Rochester, Minn.; Secretary Shoua Lee, member of First Hmong Baptist Church in Centerline, Mich.; Treasurer Ka Xiong, a member of Hmong Hope Community Church in Spring Lake Park, Minn.
Officers also include Women’s Ministry Director Kelly Yang, a member of Hmong Baptist Church in Center Line, Mich.; Youth President Naoyee Lor, pastor of Hmong American Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich.; and Men’s Ministry Director Thony Yang, lay leader at Follower of Christ Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minn.