Hmong youth learns from childhood rebellion

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

KITCHENER, Ont. — As a child, Peter Her went to First Hmong Mennonite Church with his mother and younger brothers, but during his teenage years he tried to distance himself from his Hmong roots, his faith and the church.

“I didn’t want anything to do with God or with my people. I didn’t want to be Hmong. I didn’t want to be Asian. I wanted to be like everybody else. I wanted to be accepted by cool people,” he said.

Today, 22-year-old Her wants to use his education, Hmong language skills and understanding of Hmong culture to stop the trend of youth leaving the church and Christian faith.

“I definitely don’t want to see other young people go through the same problems that I did,” said Her, the eldest of six boys born to parents who came to Canada as refugees in the 1970s. Both of his parents were born in Thailand.

Her spent the summer working with youth and children at First Hmong Mennonite Church, a congregation of Hmong refugees who resettled in Canada in the 1970s.

His service assignment was made possible through Summerbridge, a Mennonite Central Committee-supported program open to people from Mennonite congregations of diverse cultural background.

The program is supported by MCC Canada, provincial MCCs and the home churches of participants. Her was among 15 program participants this summer.

Looking back, Her said his childhood rebellion led to dropping out of school and a life of drug abuse and violence.

“I worked 40 hours a week, and on weekends I would drink and have fun. But I wasn’t having fun. It wasn’t satisfying,” he said.

He started paying attention to how his co-workers lived. One man in particular, he noticed, didn’t talk about his Christian faith but lived his faith.

“His life was different than most people,” Her said. “He was loving, caring and compassionate. He had a purpose for life. He had direction. He knew where he was going, and I didn’t have that. My life was going downhill.”

From his early childhood churchgoing, Her knew he could find answers to his problems in the Bible. So he started reading the Bible and listening to sermons posted on the Internet.

Knowing that “God loves me so much, even though I have done all this crazy stuff” has given him new direction and purpose. Two years ago, he quit his job to go to school. He is a now a second-year student at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener.

Summerbridge enabled him to work not only with youth but also with older people.

Respecting elders, he said, is an important part of Hmong culture. Although he already speaks and reads the Hmong language, he improved his language skills and understanding of Hmong culture.

One of his goals is to return to Thailand and get to know his relatives living there.

“The Hmong population is very small, and life is hard for the Hmong minority,” he said. “I want to go back and let them know about God’s love and the peace that God can bring.”

First Hmong Mennonite Church is a congregation of about 200 people. Her’s mother and many others in the congregation were sponsored by churches through Canada’s private sponsorship program.


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