When he was a child, Lor Xiong’s parents dedicated him to the Lord. Which is why, he believes, his parents have been supportive of his role in ministry even if it looks different from what he planned.
“All ministry is God’s work,” they told him.
Xiong, associate pastor for youth and children at First Baptist Church Icard in Connelly Springs, was born to Hmong refugees in Thailand. For the first five years of his life, his family lived in a refugee camp after his parents fled Laos during the Vietnam War.
Xiong doesn’t remember much of what life was like during that time. In 1988, they came to Providence, R.I., where he grew up with many of his cousins and extended family. But his life now is evidence of a heritage of faith rooted in earlier generations.
Xiong’s grandfather became a Christian back in Laos, where faith was often practiced as a community.
“In Hmong villages, if the chief or leader of the village becomes a Christian, usually the chances of the whole village becoming Christians is a lot,” Xiong said. “A lot of times, the Hmong people would turn to Christ because of spiritual oppression, spiritual bondage.”
The villages had deep roots in animism, he said.
Growing up in the 1990s, Xiong faced the risks of getting involved with gangs, but he instead concentrated on doing well in school.
“My parents were hard workers when they came here,” he said. “My dad worked third shift, my mom worked first shift. They were doing anything they can just to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.
“I took that from them — being a hard worker.”
He committed his life to Christ at a youth camp in the summer of 2002. Xiong remembered responding to the gospel before then, but “never to the point of, ‘This is it. I’m jumping in. Jesus is all I need.’”
After his baptism, Xiong had a cousin, KB, who discipled and mentored him. He decided to follow him to Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, where he studied music. It was the same cousin who later encouraged him to pursue a minor in youth ministry.
On weekends, he joined a group of students that drove about an hour to Winder, Ga., where there was a large Hmong population. They played basketball and volleyball with youth, ministering to them. It grew in him a love for youth ministry.
Xiong went on to earn an MDiv from Columbia International University in South Carolina and then got married in July 2008. He and his wife traveled from Columbia to Hickory, N.C., on weekends, for an internship ministering to Hmong churches. His experiences serving Hmong congregations continued to fuel a desire to reach students.
He saw a language barrier that proved to be an obstacle to preaching the gospel to the younger Hmong generation. Because most Hmong churches primarily speak Hmong during services, “the younger generation — they lose interest.”
Some churches have begun to shift to a bilingual “Hmonglish” format, but Xiong sees that that, too, can lose both audiences. When speakers switch between languages, younger or older listeners “miss out on certain key points, and vice versa,” he said.
Those plans have not exactly panned out, but Xiong’s experiences help him serve different parts of the community where he is now. For the past four years, he has served at FBC Icard, where it’s not as challenging to engage different generations.
“What I’ve learned from here is that the church needs to just be the church and be open to the community, whether it’s the Hmong community, the Hispanic community, the African American community,” he said. “My goal is to let them know that there is a church here, across the Dollar General, where Christ is preached.”