Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2007

Students Gain Cross-Cultural Experience Just Two Miles Away

Andrew Nelson and Rebecca Miller were two of the students who participated in this cross-cultural experience not far from home--the Hmong culture in St. Paul, Minn. Students from Luther Seminary were joined by students from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif.

"The Twin Cities has one of the largest populations of Hmong in the United States," said Nelson, an M.Div. middler. "Minnesota has a deserved reputation as a Caucasian state, but in the heart of the place there is this entire other culture--with as much claim to the name 'Minnesotan' as anyone. It's so exciting."

The students had the opportunity to work closely with one church and its leader, Pastor William Siong, '04. Siong was pleased to share his community at Hmong Central Lutheran Church in St. Paul with the students. "I like to tell people about my culture and help them understand we have needs here," said Siong. "We need leaders to reach out here," he explained.

Rebecca Miller, M.Div. senior, learned a lot in the program. "It was such a great learning experience, to be in community together," she said. The students met daily for two weeks with members of the local Hmong community, including scholars,  business leaders and pastors. On Sundays, hey participated in Hmong church services throughout the Twin Cities.

During his experience, Nelson was struck by how different the Hmong worldview is from the one he's been taught to preach. "In the Hmong culture, forgiving sin is important, but so is being freed from the power of evil spirits," he said. "I learned that within this and other cultures, the language we use by default isn't the most helpful in all situations." He found that this knowledge changed him. "It calls me to be aware," he explained. He said it called him to ask important questions, including 'Who am I speaking to? How do they diagnose their problems? How do I address them properly? What's the most helpful way to address them?'

Miller was impressed by the hospitality in the Hmong culture. Nervous about attending a funeral on her first day, she wondered whether people might be upset by the students' presence. Would they be in the way? She was pleasantly surprised. "People came over and offered something to drink, asked us to have a meal with them," she said. "They thanked us for being there. It was amazing to be treated that way. It was like that everywhere we went," she continued. This experience prompted her to ask some additional questions about church. "What if the church was that hospitable?" she asked. "What if that was what it was like when people came into church?"

Miller found that the experience left her excited about local missional opportunities. "Refugees are everywhere {rural, urban, suburban}," she explained. "You don't have to go overseas (to work with them). This is a way for a congregation to do mission work on its doorstep," she said. Looking back on how the experience affected him, Nelson echoed her sentiments. "This experience changed my view of ministry." This experience was a significant one, even among the seminary's cross-cultural opportunities. "For a local experience, this is one of the most transformative I've seen" said Rod Maeker, Director of Cross-Cultural Education.