Kathy Moua saw how her faith grew each year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater through her involvement in InterVarsity small group Bible study and the annual Hmong Christian Collegiate Conference (HC3). “I wanted every college student to have the same opportunity I had, to grow and investigate their faith and Christianity,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to say, ‘I went to college and I didn’t get to experience this.’”
La Thao also wanted to see more Hmong students become followers of Christ. As an InterVarsity student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she discovered that she had leadership gifts that could be used in campus ministry. “I realized that InterVarsity was one of the few places that I knew that was actively doing ministry to Hmong students on campus,” she said. “I knew the campus was a strategic place to reach students.”
Both Kathy and La are now preparing to enter their fourth year on InterVarsity staff, Kathy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UW-M) and La at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Both campuses have a large multiethnic InterVarsity chapter that includes small group ministries for Hmong students.
The Hmong are from Southeast Asia; many living in Wisconsin and some other states are refugees. The Wisconsin Hmong population was 49,240 in the 2010 census. InterVarsity has been involved in Hmong ministry since 2000, with nine campuses currently having Bible studies specifically for Hmong students. About 150 students attended the HC3 conference at a Wisconsin retreat center earlier this year.
While some Hmong students come to college with a Christian background, as Kathy and La did, many do not, and have not had interactions or relationships with Christians prior to college. InterVarsity provides an opportunity for them to explore and discover Jesus. “InterVarsity helped me learn how to navigate loving and honoring my culture and my family while faithfully following Jesus,” Kathy said. “I want Hmong students to learn how to do that well.”
Kathy’s concern for multiethnicity and racial reconciliation goes beyond just Hmong students. At UW-M especially, Kathy has noticed that Milwaukee’s ethnic diversity is mirrored in the chapter, as is the ethnic segregation found in the city. In light of that, each year for the past three years the UW-M chapter has hosted a Proxe Station aimed at encouraging students to talk about the difficult subjects of race and faith.
The UW-M students seem to appreciate the chance to talk about topics that otherwise never seem to be discussed. “Because of the genuineness of our conversation regarding race and faith, a lot of them have really appreciated our vulnerability and our willingness to have these deep conversations with them,” Kathy said.
La was part of an Asian American Christian fellowship at UW-Madison that affiliated with InterVarsity as she was being invited into leadership and challenged to get involved in evangelism and discipling other students. “InterVarsity equipped me with the tools that I needed to do those things,” she said. “It challenged me to live my life daily as a Christian, and I had a better understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”
As La took risks for the gospel she grew to depend on God more and grew in her faith. And as she has worked on InterVarsity staff, she has also learned patience. “Seeing the growth of the HC3 conference over the past 10 years, I anticipate great things in the future,” she said. “There will also be times when there is no growth; I have learned to trust in God.”
Wisconsin is currently the only state where InterVarsity has Hmong student outreach, but Associate Regional Director Josh Bilhorn said that plans are being made to expand into Minnesota this fall, which has even more Hmong students than Wisconsin does.
“I see many Hmong students being some of our most dynamic leaders on their campuses,” Josh said. “It has been a joy to watch La and Kathy develop as staff, exercising key leadership of HC3 and Hmong ministry in our region.”
Both La and Kathy have been mentored by other InterVarsity staff, particularly Asian American staff. Now they are seeing more Hmong students coming on staff, and they believe that Hmong ministry will continue to grow as lives are transformed, campuses are renewed, and world changers are developed.