This blog post was originally published on tumblr.
I remember one of the first times I met you at my dad’s retirement party. I had just moved back home and you were so intentional in finding me amidst a crowd to say hello. I remember when you said to me, “We can’t wait for you to join City On A Hill Chur—” You caught yourself, paused, and then preceded to say, “…or any other church in the area! Let me know if you need me to connect you to a pastor!” I didn’t know you then, but from what you said, I knew that you were not building a kingdom for yourself but for Christ alone. You were not trying to increase your congregational attendance, but made it a point to look out for lost sheep in a crowd to help them find a home that best suited them. You didn’t know at that moment that I didn’t want to join COAH (haha). And yet, I didn’t know at that moment that COAH would become a church that holds such a near and dear place in my heart.
I remember during our leadership team meeting when we were finalizing the budget for the year. We weren’t sure we’d have enough funds to do everything we hoped to. I remember when you said, “Just cut my salary, please! Give the funds to the ministries. Susan and I don’t need it.” I could barely keep my jaw from dropping. You don’t have much, and the little that you do have, you give so freely. You have taught me that wealth in the kingdom is not in how much we receive, but in how much we are willing to lay ourselves down. And I know without a doubt that our church can testify that you are always first in line to raise your hand and lay yourself, your family, and your comfort down for the Bride.
I remember one Sunday morning we were talking about the role of women in ministry. I kept telling you that I needed an example because I didn’t know what that looked like. I asked you if you knew any women in ministry and if it was even allowed in the Hmong church. I remember when you said to me, “Don’t wait for someone else. If you don’t see anyone doing it, then you go and pioneer a way for yourself and the girls behind you.” In that moment, your words were so convicting. I wanted to see. I wanted proof. I wanted a tangible example with a good track record. But in that moment, you reminded me that as children of God, we walk by faith and not by sight. And I’ve slowly learned how to do so simply by watching the way you live your life amidst countless uncertainties.
I remember when the Lord began to stir in my heart the desire to teach and preach. I texted you asking if girls were allowed to, and if so, what protocols I needed to follow in order to earn my way to the stage. I wasn’t sure how you’d respond, so I quickly prepared myself to be turned down. But I remember when you said to me, “Yes Maila! I’m putting you on in two weeks!” Under your leadership, people are given permission to take risks and to not have it all together. You have taught me that it’s not about doing things right as much as it is being obedient to the things God has called me to. You have taught me that it’s not about earning my right to do something or proving myself adequate. Instead, you have championed me to simply knock on doors and watch them open — many of which you yourself have partnered with the Lord to open for me.
I remember after preaching a sermon, you pulled me aside to talk. I immediately panicked because I thought I was getting in trouble for saying something heretical. Instead, you sat me down and I remember when you said to me, “I would not be doing you justice if I did not push you to go to school. Maila, you need to go. Worry less. Trust more.” I sat there with tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe in myself, but in that moment, I saw how much you believed in me. And that has made all the difference. You never stop cheering your sheep on and calling them higher; that’s just who you are. And it was this moment that became the starting point for me pushing past my fears and insecurities and doubts, so that I could take a step toward my destiny.
I remember just the other day when I visited home for fall break. The night before I headed back to school, I remember when you said to me, “Maila, do you have gas money?” I said yes, but of course, you were adamant to shove past my resistance so that you could shove cash into my pocket. People see you on stage. They hear the sermons you preach. And they watch you lead the church. But very few people see the little things you do that make a big difference. They don’t see the late night phone calls you stay up to have because a fellow brother couldn’t fall asleep. They don’t see the endless paperwork you have to fill out to make sure our church family can still function legally. And they don’t see the cash you pull out of your pocket to sow as a seed toward a young girl’s dream.
Pastor Toua, thank you for speaking words of love and life and destiny over your sheep. I not only appreciate you for the things you have said, but for the life that you live, which speaks even louder about the goodness of God our Father. We at City On A Hill Church are so blessed to be under the care of you and your family. We celebrate you and thank you for everything you do!
Love always, Maila