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Merced Hmong Alliance Church

BY: Ron Orozco, THE FRESNO BEE, January 12, 2002, Saturday

The Rev. Stuvy Vang, pastor of the Merced Hmong Alliance Church, is on a humanitarian mission with nine other church members to visit Hmong villagers in Thailand, so an elder, Yong Chue Her, steps in with the sermon.

But before he preaches, Her surprises nearly 300 congregants by singing a solo in Hmong.

Earlier, congregants sang "Yexus Hlub Kuv" ("Amazing Grace").

Her's lyrics are taken from the Gospel of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

After Her finishes, he asks congregants to join him in a song. He stops in the middle, listening to see if they've learned the words. They haven't, but Her laughs it off.

Then he begins his talk, "To Serve The Lord," which is fitting with the church members on their mission.

Pastor Yang has been on the job since June, when the Rev. Xay Fong, who had been pastor since the church's establishment in 1982, was reassigned to Yuba City by the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which runs 48 Hmong Alliance churches in the United States.

Yang's substitute, Her, reminds the young people to pray for Yang, Dr. Long Thao and the others on the mission as well as the church's Sunday school teachers and elders.

"You can pray as easily as you ask your mother and father for money," Her says, drawing laughter from his flock.

Zamkou Her, the youth-group leader, chuckles in the front pew. Earlier, Zamkou held the interest of 56 students in the same sanctuary with a talk on John 3:1-21, a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus on being born again.

Zamkou Her spoke in English and Hmong, because nearly 90% of the congregation's youth are American-born. Some adult congregants, though, speak Hmong only, and Yong Chue Her closes his sermon by singing another song in Hmong, this time with a friend.

Here are some notes from a recent visit:

Does a stranger feel welcome? Vanter Moua, an elder, heads straight to new faces to greet them.

What's the first thing you notice from your pew? Flanking a wooden cross behind the pulpit are banners proclaiming: "Come Let Us Adore Him" and "Unto Us Is Born A Savior."

What might you see here that you can't other places? With outstretched arms, the Rev. Xu Xu Thao, a retired pastor, prays over 26 men's and women's fellowship members and elders in front of the pulpit.

Is this church thriving or dying? The church rents the sanctuary of the Evangelical Free Church and is raising money to build its own place of worship.

What's everyone talking about? The welcome that the medical mission members will get when they return to church Sunday.

Who's the behind-the-scenes hero? Vaaj Kwm Koo, who is just learning to play the piano, is a hit with "Auld Lang Syne."

Does this church reach out to the community? Youth-group members went house-to-house caroling for Christmas and the Hmong New Year.

The reporter can be reached at rorozco@fresnobee.com or 441-6304.

INFOBOX

THE BASICS

Location: Evangelical Free Church, 2876 G St., Merced.

Contacts: Phone, 209-384-7167; online, www.hmongdistrict.org.

Service: 2 p.m. Sunday.

Pastor, years of service: The Rev. Stuvy Yang, eight months.

Child care: Not available.

Congregation: 561.

History: Began in 1982 in Merced with seven families.

Religious association: The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Doctrine: "Jesus Christ is the true God and the true man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He died upon the cross, the just for the unjust, as a substitutionary sacrifice, and all who believe in him are justified on the ground of his shed blood. He arose from the dead, according to the Scriptures," says the Christian and Missionary Alliance Web site.

Key ministries: Men's and women's fellowship groups; Bible studies; Hmong, Mian, Laotian outreach. GRAPHIC: RICHARD DARBY -- THE FRESNO BEE You Chang, wife of church elder Yong Chue Her, sings along with nearly 300 other congregants during Sunday service at the Merced Hmong Alliance Church, established in 1982.