September 24, 2020

Former Witch Doctor Among the Baptized in U.S. Hmong Congregation

Juanita Edge, Lake Union Herald

On Saturday (Sabbath), September 12, 2020, about 50 people gathered to celebrate the baptism of eight new members into the Milwaukee/Madison Hmong Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Wisconsin, United States. Among the group baptized by lay pastor Chanchai Kiatyanyong and Wisconsin Conference president Mike Edge was a former witch doctor named Pa Chia.

Pa Chia, who grew up with the name Kau Fa, was born and raised in a small village in Laos. Her family were animists, and her father was a witch doctor. In 1993, Chia and her family emigrated to California as Hmong refugees, and she became a U.S. citizen. Many Hmong fled Laos because they were being killed for siding with the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and the U.S. welcomed them and helped them become American citizens. She moved to Wisconsin in 2004.

In 2010, Pa Chia’s father died, and as is expected in the animist world, his spirits came into her and told her she would now be a witch doctor as her father had been. She was not happy about this. The spirits were very controlling and required her to do many things she did not want to do. Many curses and fears are part of the animist belief, and whenever people are sick or are seeking relief from a curse, they come to a witch doctor, such as Pa Chia, and she is required to sacrifice to the spirits for them. Usually, this means killing a chicken and offering it up to appease the spirits to bring some relief. While witch doctors are mostly male, females are at times chosen by the spirits as well, and Chia said she knows of witch doctors in the United States.

Chia became ill. Since witch doctors cannot offer sacrifices for themselves, she needed to find help. She decided to see a regular medical doctor, and although 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 their visit, told her what the doctor had suggested. “I know my pastor would be very happy to visit you,” her neighbor said. The neighbor, Maitha Thao, was a Seventh-day Adventist, who made arrangements for Chanchai Kiatyanyong to visit and pray for her.

Chanchai had a firsthand understanding of the animist religion, as his father was also a witch doctor. Chanchai came to Chia’s home, prayed with her, and her illness immediately disappeared. She was 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.

In the fall of 2019, she began attending the Hmong Adventist group in Milwaukee and expressed a desire to leave 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, and hauled out carpet and anything connected to spirit worship. Then they went to the basement to pray as well. Whenever her dog went to the basement, it would bark continuously.

The church members placed a picture of Jesus in place of the shrine, and below it, Chanchai hung a picture roll. Since Chia cannot read in Hmong or English, Chanchai and his wife began to meet 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 to help her understand the Scriptures.

Quite a few Hmong people used to come to Chia for her witch doctor 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, Chanchai told her she needed to choose a new name now that she is a Christian. She decided to no longer go by the name Kau Fa and chose Pa Chia, which means New Flower.

Though September 12 was a rainy day, it could not dampen the spirit of rejoicing as Pa Chia, along with the others who were ready to be baptized, 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.”

The original version of this story was posted by the Lake Union Herald.