Lue Moa was born in a refugee camp in southeast Asia. The son of Hmong parents, his family became refugees after the United States pulled out of fighting in Vietnam. The Hmong people lived as ethnic and religious minorities in Laos, but, being on the margin of society in their own homeland, they fought the oppressive Laotian government on our behalf in the sixties and seventies. This allowed the United States to officially claim that we were only fighting in Vietnam while supporting our Hmong allies who fought North Vietnamese and Laotian forces for us. They believed that totalitarian victories of their Communist neighbors would be disastrous for them, so they aligned with us. When we lost, they lost.
Many of the Hmong people were slaughtered in the genocide that the Communist governments in Vietnam and Laos ordered against them in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from the region. In just a few years, hundreds of thousands of Hmong people became refugees. Many of the Hmong people, like Lue Moa’s parents, spent years in refugee camps in Thailand before being resettled in the United States. Little Lue and his family eventually made their way from the hot and humid climate of Thailand to the icy winters of St. Paul, Minnesota. There, Lue grew and was educated in one of the best public school systems the United States has to offer. Simultaneously, he was raised in the faith among the Lutherans who had helped to save his family from the murderous governments of his homeland. Lue went on to college, and, then, discerning a call to ministry, attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul to become a pastor in the Lutheran church. Last fall, Jen, Otto and I proudly celebrated Pastor Moa’s ordination and installation as the pastor of Valley of Christ Lutheran Church in Frenchtown.
I share Pastor Moa’s story, because he was a boy that we welcomed as a stranger – a boy who was Christ to us when he came as a refugee. Now, he is a messenger of the Gospel who weekly proclaims the love of Christ from his pulpit in Montana, just down the road from us. Stories like Lue’s are important to keep in mind as we consider how Christ calls us to welcome strangers in our midst. Jesus told us that by welcoming the stranger, we will welcome Christ himself. What’s more, he said that, when Christ comes again, those who turn away strangers will be told, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…I was a stranger and you did not welcome me” (Matt. 25: 41-43). Not only did Jesus say that it is good to welcome a stranger, he said that we must welcome the stranger if we desire to be welcomed into heaven. These are words of Christ which stand heavy over our nation at this time. The prophets in the Old Testament warned of the same thing. The nation of Israel was conquered and hauled off to exile because they did not care for the poor, the widowed, the orphan or the foreign refugees who came to them (Jeremiah 7:5-7; Ezekiel 47:21-22; Zechariah 7:8-10; Malachi 3:5).
Many people in our country and in Montana seem to be perfectly okay with turning away refugees. But, as your pastor concerned for the souls of people in our community, I must share that Jesus commanded us to welcome such folks within our midst. I hope that if we really are trying to live out Christian values as a nation, then we will follow the commands of Christ himself. We are not our government, and while the government officially represents us, it does not speak for the whole of who we are or what we believe. I am not sure how Jesus looks at America when our government and citizens reject his teachings and commandments, but I do know that as Christians we should listen to our Savior.
When we welcome refugees, we welcome Christ into our midst – just as Jesus promised. As Christ has welcomed us, we should welcome others in His name. Who knows, a refugee coming to America this year just might turn out to be a Christian pastor one day…