Largest Laotian Church Switches to English

Being without a full-time pastor for two years is a challenge for any church. But for Laos Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., a church that mainly ministers to the local Laotian community, the challenge has resulted in a language change.

The church’s former pastor led services in Laotian, accompanied by an English translator. Since then, only a few of the visiting preachers have been Laotian. Of necessity, most services have been conducted almost entirely in English.

Duane Terpstra, who does not speak Laotian, recently began serving as the church’s interim pastor. Non-English speakers can hear his messages in Laotian through headphones, translated by a church member in another room. Terpstra also leads Sunday school classes that are informally translated when necessary.

The language shift has been a natural one. Fewer than half of the members know Laotian; most worshipers speak fluent or limited English.

“The younger people want English, especially since most of them cannot read Laotian, even though they know how to speak it,” said Terpstra, who also leads the youth group each week. “Some of the younger ones only know English.” Most adults in the congregation also feel this is in the best interest of the younger generation.

Yet with a steady trickle of new immigrants coming to the church, many of them new to the Christian faith, church leaders want a pastor who can speak both languages well, said long-time member Bouavang Phonxana. “As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll all go to English,” he said, speaking of the Laotian churches in the CRC. “But there’s more people coming, and we don’t want to leave them behind.”

Whatever the language and whomever their next pastor, Terpstra said, “The church will continue to be a congregation of comfort for Laotians moving into the area or for those who are interested in the Christian faith.”

About the Author

Susan Vanden Berg is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. She lives in Holland, Michigan.

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