Ordinands Presented with a Special Gift from Laos
By Lindsay Peyton
The stoles presented during ordination at the Annual Conference this year have an unusual origin. These red strips of fabric, decorated with a hand-stitched white dove traveled all the way to Houston from Laos, a country located between Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China and Myanmar.
A handful of Methodist churches are being planted in Laos, and the Texas conference shares Bishop Scott J. Jones with the Laos Mission Initiative. Indigenous pastors perform the day-to-day work of the effort, and Jones supervises the mission.
Dr. Jeff Olive, senior pastor at FUMC Conroe, traveled to Laos for the past three years, since Jones was appointed as the Bishop of Thailand and Laos. The team goes annually for the overseas Annual Conference.
He explained that there is a special significance of the stoles that came from Laos this year. “It shows this unexpected and beautiful relationship,” Olive said.
Two of the ordinands this year — Michael Whang, Oikon Chapelwood UMC, and Stephen Goldsmith, Journey of Faith UMC — led worship for the opening worship Sunday night leading the congregation with the song “Church.” In a moving worship service Tuesday night, 32 persons were ordained and commissioned (16 ordained, 16 commissioned).
“It’s tradition when ordained at conference to receive a red stole,” Olive said. “It’s a symbol and a gift.”
He was touched when, during his last trip to Laos, the Texas Conference presented stoles to the newly ordained leaders there.
“For the very first time, they have ordained elders in their community,” Olive said. “It’s really incredible to see their ministry flourishing even under the circumstances.”
He explained that a number of citizens in Laos live in poverty under the country’s communist government. Becoming a member of the UMC can even be dangerous, as freedom of religion is restricted.
Still, Methodist women in the country sell small items to support the church’s work – and also to support education and ensure that children go to school. Creating the beautiful stoles presents an opportunity for meaningful fundraising.
“The money goes back to support the work that they’re doing,” he said.
Pastor Beverly Barte, a missionary in Laos is actively involved in the ministry and heads the Livelihood Project there, which includes making the stoles.
She explained that two of the faithful Hmong Methodist members, Nang Neng Thao and Nang Kakhour Her, began making stoles in 2007, when the Rev. Tsuchue and Joua Vang were serving as missionaries in Laos.
At the time, 10 people who were trained to make stoles, and their products were sent to the U.S. to sell to clergy.
Barte said currently about four women are actively working on stoles. “This project helps the women earn some money, and also they always offer 10 percent of their profit to the women organization or the church,” she added. “If there would be more orders, the women would train and involve more women for this project.”
When ministers were ordained at conference this year, Olive thought of the women who are working so diligently to help the church grow in Laos and of the ministers doing their duty in the country.
“There’s a sense of oneness in our calling,” he said. “In Laos, they’re being ordained for the work they’re called to do. Now at the conference, we’re also being commissioned for the work of God.”
A true solidarity in mission results when this happens. “We’re trying to put down the roots for the Methodist movement in Laos,” Olive said. “We walk alongside them until they are self-sustaining.”