We spent our Thanksgiving celebrating the Hmong New Year in the homes of the beautiful Hmong people of Sacramento. They have a story that needs to be told. I have never felt such love from people I was meeting for the first time. When we left, I exclaimed, “We have been walking among living miracles!”
The Hmong live in the mountains of Laos, Viet Nam, China and Thailand. Many came here as refugees after the US pulled out of Laos on the trailing edge of the Vietnam War. They had been US allies and freedom fighters in this war. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
During the 3-days we spent attending the festival I talked with many Hmong people. One was a perfect stranger, an older man who was pushing his disabled wife in a wheelchair. She had on a US Air Force baseball cap to shield her eyes from the sun. I asked him if he had served in the military and he related that 35,000 Hmong had died defending freedom in Laos. He told of how they would get radio calls. Once there was a downed American pilot. They scrambled to get to him first to save his life. Saving that one pilot cost 60 Hmong lives, but he added, “We respected the Americans and were willing to fight to save them. We just don’t want to be forgotten.”
This visit grew much more personal as we were invited into the homes of people my son served on his mission there. I could tell that in reality they had really served him. One brother (I must call him my brother) hosted us at a dinner at his home with his very large extended family. He related that he was a baby in about 1979 when his family fled from Laos. The American forces had pulled out and they had to evade the communist forces or risk being killed. The rest of the group wouldn’t travel with families with babies because the likelihood of being discovered due to their cries was too great. So their families were left behind. They gave the babies opium to keep them quiet. He related sadly that most of those babies died. He himself was unconscious for 3-days and had turned blue. Others in the group believed he was dead and told his mother to throw him away, but she refused. And now here he was, being good-naturedly teased by an older sister who was telling him that he was stunted because in his first year, the only nourishment he got was from the tree bark they ate to survive.
This same older sister was a tiny girl at the time and told of how her parents said very little of their struggles. She never realized how poor they were and never understood how desperate things had been until there was a discussion about the Hmong evacuation in college and she began to cry as she realized what her parents had done. After all these years she questioned them and they finally confirmed her own part in living through those very difficult years.
The family continues to have trials as we all will. His dear younger sister was suffering from stage 2-3 cancer but chose a path of faith and embraced the gospel. She is currently in remission, has been asked to serve in the temple and is engaged to marry soon. Our prayers are with her.
At another home I met another dear new brother who was an impressive patriarch. He came to Utah as a refugee and was sponsored by an LDS family. His son grew extremely sick and he grew fearful that this son would die. He asked their sponsor family what to do and the member offered to send some elders over to administer to him. After they did so his son began a miraculous recovery in a matter of hours. This brother told the members that he needed to join their church and began the process of taking the lessons and attending church with them. He is a great patriarch. His 12 children with their large families carry a marvelous light. I will never forget singing “Because I Have Been Given Much” in the Hmong language with them as he dedicated this evening with his family and the bountiful meal to the Lord. I left that home with a deep feeling of reverence.
Another dear couple opened their home for us to sleep in for several nights. They already had several other guests (my son’s mission companions and their families) at the same time, but he insisted it would be alright and it was. It was a special time. We filled his home, and his son, also just returned from a mission, slept on a couch, but we were a big family to them. They were sensitive to our every need and selflessly provided us with care and an abundance of Hmong food.
The grandmother in this home seemed to adopt my sons. For the festival this family dressed us all in the exquisite Hmong festival clothing, and this charming careworn grandmother ensured everything was worn just right. At the festival she took my sons by the hand and led them to the ball toss, which for hundreds of years has been a form of dating for single young men and women to meet and talk. Many marriages have come about from this tradition which used to carry a far more serious commitment to even join in.
At our host’s home this grandmother presented us with some of her needlework that was breathtakingly detailed and so beautiful. As she did so, in her beautiful Hmong accent she exclaimed, “I give you. Very hard. My back hurt, my eye hurt, my fingers hurt, but I want you to have.” I felt tears form in my eyes. The things this family did for us truly taught me love and the meaning of the word ‘speechless’. I was touched to my very core.
There are others in Sacramento I love as my own. Their stories are in the making and equally as sacred. I cherished my time with them also. I believe they know my care for them and my prayers for them.
As I serve in the temple I have increasingly come to love every person as a beloved son or daughter of God. As I met these good people in Sacramento I couldn’t help thinking about others I have met as I serve in the temple of God. A Karen-speaking branch of member refugees from Burma come there, struggling with the English language but full of similar light and gratitude. I have also assisted Swahili-speaking brothers that were so grateful for what they received they embraced the ordinance workers as they received the saving ordinances of the gospel. How special it is that our Father in Heaven teaches us His love through these children. How grateful I feel to see their beautiful love and light.
Every day we walk among living miracles!