Saturday, July 26, 2008

God's Word Bears Much Fruit

On July 21st, we attended the funeral of Ger Vang at Hmong Lutheran Church (LCMS) in St. Paul. Ger was the matriarch of a refugee family that came to America in 1976. The family was originally from Laos, where the father and oldest sons had worked with the CIA in an attempt to stop a communist takeover of the country. They ended up having to flee Laos in 1974, and spent 2 years in a refugee camp in Thailand. My husband's home congregation in southern Minnesota, along with a few other congregations in their circuit, sponsored the family and thus they were able to come to the US.

And so it was that on June 10, 1976 the Vang family moved into a farm house three-quarters of a mile down the road from my husband's family. There was a father, mother, 7 children, and an "adopted" son whose family was not able to escape Laos. All they had was the clothing on their backs, and a suitcase or two of worldly possessions. Only the oldest boy and the "adopted" son knew any English, and that was basically limited to "Yes" or "No."

And yet, as my husband recalls, there were no real language or cultural barrier between him and the young children in the Vang family. David (age 5) and Kou were fast friends, and have remained close friends (if not brothers!) ever since.

The Vang children were all enrolled at the local Lutheran grade school, where they learned English and were catechized in the Christian Faith. They were all baptized at my husband's home church. All of their clothing, household furnishings, toys, and food was donated by members of the local congregations. Members also helped find jobs for the father and oldest children.

The Vang family moved to St. Paul in 1978 in order to find better jobs and more opportunities, but they have always considered South Branch home. My husband and his family visited the Vangs a number of times in St. Paul. Most recently, Kou attended my husband's installation at his current congregation, and we went up to a house warming for Kou and his family when they moved into their new house.

At the end of June, David got a call from Kou to inform him that Kou's mother had died. They observe a 30 day period of mourning prior to the funeral, and Kou asked if David would say a few words as a representative of the congregations that had sponsored his family.

The funeral was fascinating. First of all, we were warmly greeted by the entire Vang family (now numbering some 82!) as soon as we arrived. We took the opportunity for a picture.

Back Row : Toua (the "adopted" son), Kou, David, Hannah, Glenda, Ellie, Ma
Front Row: Tou, Yia, Abby, Nathan, Sam, and Ma's youngest son

In their culture everyone remains outside of the church until the body is brought in. Then everyone pays their respects at the open casket. Mrs. Vang was dressed in a traditional Hmong outfit, with an ephod which read in Hmong, "Behold I make all things new!" The entire service was in Hmong. It began in the back of the church with the reading of Romans 6:3-5 while a pall was placed over the casket. The procession was led by a processional crucifix and a banner which read in English, "Behold, I make all things new!" The readings were from Psalm 90, 1 Corinthians 15, and Luke 24.

Oh, did I mention that this congregation was started by two of the Vang boys - Yia, who is an LCMS pastor to the Hmong in Wisconsin and Tou, the oldest. After the funeral there was a recessional and all followed on out to their cars. Now the procession of vehicles began across St. Paul to the cemetery.

At the cemetery, everyone was able to pay their respect once more at the open casket. Here we saw and heard much weeping especially from Ma, the youngest. In the Hmong culture, the youngest child takes care of the parents. Ma therefore, had never lived without his mother, and he , his wife, and children were very close to her and were all very sad. Even not knowing Ger very well, my own eyes swelled with tears and I tried hard to blink them back as I ached for those still on this side of heaven.

After this, the casket was closed, the pastor said a few words, the children laid a beautiful quilt over the top of the casket which was then lowered into the ground. The vault lid was placed on top, and the tarp over the pile of dirt was removed and two shovels placed in the dirt. (this was all done by cemetery workmen.) The pastor said some more, and at one point took some dirt from the shovelful being held by the person next to him, and sprinkled it onto the casket. Amazing Grace (in Hmong) was then sung by all.

The children and grandchildren each had a flower from the bouquets and threw them on top. Next starting with the children, they each shoveled dirt on top of their mother's casket. Wives and grandchildren all were next. My husband and his father were both asked to come and also participate. David shoveled three times and I knew that it was in honor of the Holy Trinity with whom we had faith and confidence that we will one day see Ger again.

After everyone who wanted to had participated in showing their love for their mother, grandmother, aunt, or friend by helping to bury her, some left to return to Ma's home where a family dinner was planned. But as we left the cemetery and the backhoe was now doing the work of the shovels, I saw that a good many and had stayed and where diligently watching over the burial.

Once at Ma's the women began working to prepare the dinner. Bananas and grapes were out for all to nibble on until time to eat. We took this time to visit with the Vangs.

Here David talks with Yia about the missionary work he does in Thailand.

David's parents also visited with them. Here they are visiting with Tou. Grandpa has his back to us and Grandma can't be seen because she is sitting right next to Grandpa.

And this is Mrs. Geistfelt. She and her husband (now sainted and enjoying the heavenly feast with Ger) gave the Vangs a home on their property to live in when they first came to South Branch as refugees.

Ma, who is sitting, and Yia, standing, are enjoying catching up with David and Hannah as much as David is enjoying it. In the background Phoua is checking to make sure the food is ready.

We had a delicious meal of rice and various beef dishes. One was a beef stew that was quite spicy, yet yummy! Also there were shrimp - whole shrimp with the heads and tail. Many of the Vangs simply ate the shell and all. We on the other hand, peeled them and then ate them - very good.

Right before saying good bye, I took this picture of David and Kou, each of whom treasure their friendship dearly.


Virtual Farmgirl said...

What a beautiful post. Even had me tearing up. Thanks for sharing this experience.

Glenda said...

Thanks for reading virtual farmgirl!