Left to right: Church Planting Consultant, Ko Saelee; Pa-chia Fa; Tong Yang; Wisconsin lay pastor, Chanchai Kiatyanyong; Athena Yang; Lisa Xiong (back); Lee Alvin Vang (front); Chao Thao; Houa Lee; Muaj Thoa; and Wisconsin Conference President, Mike Edge | Photo credit: Laura Hokanson
On Sabbath September 12, about 50 people gathered at Camp Wakonda to celebrate the baptism of eight new members into the Milwaukee/Madison Hmong congregation.
Among the group baptized by Wisconsin Lay Pastor Chanchai Kiatyanyong, former Wisconsin Pastor, Ko Saelee, and Wisconsin Conference President Mike Edge was a former shaman, Pa-chia Fa.
She was born in a small village in Laos and named Khau Fa. Her family were animists, and her father was a shaman, a person who puts people into a trance state to contact spirit entities and bargain with them for healing and blessings. In 1993, Pa-chia and her family emigrated to California as Hmong refugees, and she became a United States citizen. Many Hmong fled Laos because they were being killed for siding with the United States during the Vietnam War, so the United States welcomed them and helped them become American citizens. She moved to Wisconsin about 16 years ago.
In 2010, Pa-chia’s father died, and as is common in the animist world, his spirits came into her and told her she would now be a shaman as her father had been. She was not happy about this. The spirits are very controlling and required her to do many things she did not want to do. There are many curses and fears in the animist belief, and whenever people are sick or are seeking relief from a curse, they come to a shaman, such as Pa-chia, and she is required to make a sacrifice to the spirits for them. Usually this means killing a chicken and offering it up to appease the spirits in order to bring some relief. While shamans are most commonly male, females are at times chosen by the spirits as well, and she said there are many people who practice shamanism here in the United States.
Not long ago, Pa-chia became quite ill. Since shamans cannot offer sacrifices for themselves, she needed to find help. She decided to see a regular medical doctor, but while he recognized her symptoms were real, he could find nothing wrong with her. His advice was, “You need to see a pastor.”
Walking down the sidewalk near her home, she met a neighbor and during the course of their visit told her what the doctor had suggested. “I know my pastor would be very happy to come visit with you,” said her neighbor. The neighbor, Maitha Thao, was a Seventh-day Adventist and made arrangements for Pastor Chanchai Kiatyanyong to come visit and pray for her.
Pastor Chanchai had a first-hand understanding of the animist religion, as his father was also a shaman. Chanchai came to Pa-chia’s home, prayed with her, and her illness immediately disappeared. She was very impressed with the superior power of this Christian God over the spirits she knew about. She asked Chanchai if he could help her learn to be a Christian and study the Adventist faith with her.
This past fall, she began attending the Hmong Adventist Group in Milwaukee and expressed a desire to leave the spirit worship behind. On December 29, 2019, a group of about 10 people from the Milwaukee Adventist Hmong Group came to her house with Chanchai and Edge, to cleanse her home of the spirits and dedicate her home to Jesus. While part of the group kept up a steady chorus of hymn singing, the rest of the group burned the shrine, cut up bamboo poles and boards, hauled out carpet, and anything else pertaining to spirit worship. Then they went to the basement to pray as well. Whenever the dog would go to the basement he would bark continuously. They believe the dog could see the spirits that lived there.
In place of the shrine, they placed a picture of Jesus, and below it, Chunchai hung a picture roll. Since Pa-chia cannot read in Hmong or English, Chunchai and his wife met in her home every evening at 6:00 p.m. to study the Bible and Adventist beliefs through the spoken word and used the picture roll as a guide in helping her understand the scriptures.
There are quite a few Hmong people who come to Pa-chia for her shaman services, and she is hoping to share with them about her new faith in Jesus. When the house was completely cleansed and dedicated to God, Pastor Chunchai told her she needed to choose a new name now that she is a Christian. She chose to no longer go by her birth name, chosing Pa-chia, which means New Flower.
On Sabbath, Sept. 12, the rain could not dampen the spirit of rejoicing as Pa-chia, along with the other new Seventh-day Adventists, proclaimed their commitment to Jesus before all their friends.
“Since coming to the Adventist Church I have found so much happiness,” she explained. “I’m so happy I don’t have words to express. I am so grateful that even though I am very old, Jesus still wants to help me.”
Juanita Edge, Wisconsin Conference Communication Director