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The World At Our Doorstep
October 3 and 4, 1998

MARK 16:9-16

Today is World Communion Sunday. "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news," commanded Jesus. The world is no longer out there somewhere, but is at our doorstep. When I was growing up in Minnesota, most Minnesotans were of European descent. My neighbors were Swiss. We were English and German. In my town which was four miles from our farm, the two churches-- Baptist and Methodist-- reflected a mixture of nationalities, primarily English. But, many immigrants lived by themselves. To the west were the Germans, with two huge German Lutheran Churches and parochial schools. To the north of us were the Swedes with Swedish Lutheran Churches. My wife, Ellie, grew up in a town where the Swedes, Germans, and Italians all lived in their own sections with their own churches. St. Paul was predominantly Irish Catholic. Minneapolis was predominantly Swedish and Norwegian.

When my mother died ten years ago, we took our children back to Minnesota for her burial. While there, we went to a Twins baseball game. Three reasons: my mother loved baseball, none of us had ever been to a game played inside a building, and the Twins were playing the Oakland A's. After a few innings, I felt that something was out of order. I asked the boys, "Look around the stadium. Do you see anything unusual?" The entire stadium was filled with white people, with a smattering of blacks. It didn't feel right! Contrast that experience with the Oakland A's stadium!

The world is at our doorstep! Here in the central valley, there are Africans, Mexicans, Chinese, Chileans, Irish, Dutch, Basques, Armenians, Portuguese, Swedes, Italians, Greeks, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Yemenites, East Indians, Hmongs, etc. Isn't this a wonderful place to live! The world is here, at our doorstep. "Go into all the world," commanded Jesus. We don't have to go very far to proclaim the good news.

Patrick McCarthy, who is securing licensing and grants for our After School Ministry, interviewed Connie Hadley, the principal of Charles Wright School across the street. The makeup of Charles Wright School is revealing. 40% of the students are Hmong Americans. 33% are Mexican Americans, and the remaining 27% are "other," including Caucasians! The world is at our doorstep.

As a teenager, one of the highlights each year was to go to the St. Paul Auditorium to see the extravaganza on missions presented by the St. Paul Bible Institute. The staging, lights, costumes, and music were outstanding, as they told the story and presented the challenge of going into all the world with the good news. The program would end with the auditorium gradually darkening, with a spotlight on a person singing a song like, "Only one life to offer, Take it , dear Lord, I pray; Nothing from Thee withholding, Thy will I now obey," followed by a call to commitment to go to the mission field. Part of my call to go to Japan as a missionary and part of my call into the ministry came from those events at the St. Paul Auditorium, presented by St. Paul Bible Institute which is a school of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination. I don't know if they have any churches in California, but they are strong in Minnesota.

Of course, at the time I didn't understand the significance, but I like to think that I heard mission work among Hmongs at those services. I wouldn't have recognized the word "Hmong". They were people far, far away from Minnesota, but who are now at our doorstep in Merced. It was Christian Missionary Alliance missionaries who proclaimed the good news to the Hmong people in the mountainous area of what is now Laos. Wang Pao Thao is pastor of our Hmong congregation. In the last century, his grandfather was a respected shaman among the Hmong people in Laos. During one festival, while he was conducting a sacrifice, lightning hit the animal. Pastor Wang's grandfather immediately stopped the sacrifice, believing it was a sign that what he was doing was wrong. He further had a vision in which people of white skin (which he had never seen), would come and tell him about the true God and how God should be worshiped and served. Years later, missionaries came. Grandfather was ready for them. Grandfather received them and believed. Since that time, his clan, including Pastor Wang, have been Christians. It was the missionaries who developed a written language for Hmong. The missionaries learned the language, put it into writing, and translated the Bible.

The Hmong people have a history that strongly resembles the history of Jewish people. The Hmongs had no homeland, and were often persecuted by the people around them. They moved from Mongolia (hence, the word "Hmong") down into mainland China, and lived there for centuries under terrible persecution. Some of them, to escape the persecution, moved to Laos where they were allowed to live in the mountains, isolated, and support themselves by primitive farming. They lived in relative peace until the CIA recruited some of them during the Vietnam War, including Pastor Wang, to form a secret army. Pastor Wang suffered wounds from a grenade in that war. When the Communists took over Laos, they began executing Hmongs because of their involvement with the U. S. Many of them escaped across the Mekong River into Thailand where they lived in refugee camps until our government relocated some of them to America. About half were refused admission.

Dang Moua went to the library in Richmond, Virginia, researched prevailing climates, soil conditions and crop yields. He chose Merced, and the wave of immigration began. Like European immigrants, Hmongs stay together. Today a sizable population of Hmongs live here in Merced. A persecuted people, without a homeland, like the Jews who preserved their identity through the centuries, Hmongs are now at our doorstep. We pray they will find a home here. We pray they will hear the good news proclaimed, and respond. In fact, our Hmong congregation is growing.

Our church is responding well to Christ's command to "go..and proclaim." We support Loretta Gruver who has now returned to Liberia after being banned because of the civil unrest. Loretta is a nurse who proclaims the good news by and while she trains Liberians to be nurses. One of the young people from our church, Nanette Stamm, is now a missionary to Bolivia where there is a growing Methodist denomination-- poor but vital. Nanette is proclaiming the good news by and while teaching nutrition.

But, the world is also at our doorstep. Through CATCH we reach out to children. We pray God to provide the means by which we can offer a daily after school ministry for the children who go home to empty houses, to watch afternoon TV, or get into trouble.

We are in a mission field, right here on this corner in Merced. We are all missionaries, even you. "Go into all the world," commanded Jesus, and the world is here, at our doorstep.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris