Jesus Is For Me: Le Que Heidkamp
Le Que Heidkamp
My story is interesting and random, but a lot of it is not intelligible unless you start from the beginning. As my wonderful husband Jeff has said, I love to greet people who I don’t know, and those who might feel like they're new and don't know if they belong. That's very much a part of my story.
My parents are both Chinese, and they were born and raised in Vietnam. I was born in Vietnam in 1976. It was the year that the Vietnam War essentially, technically ended.
My parents, being Chinese, were uncomfortable with the idea of raising their kids in Vietnam after that. So when I was 3 years old, my family – my parents, my grandmother, my sister and me – became part of the group of “boat people” who left Vietnam. There were hundreds and thousands, and even possibly millions, of Vietnamese and Chinese who got into fishing boats and just cast off into the water to leave. That was our family’s story; we actually took two boat trips. First we went from Vietnam to a little city in China where my other extended family lived. Then we took another boat trip to Hong Kong, because there was a camp which you could go to there that was like a little port of safety.
We stayed in the refugee camp for about a year and a half or so. That's actually really fortunate, because many people that end up in refugee camps often stay there for many years. Sometimes they are never relocated. You hear really sad stories about it.
We were fortunate. We were able to come to the United States. When we arrived in the U.S., we were sponsored by a lady, and we ended up going to Peoria, Illinois. The sad thing was that she had sponsored us because the government will give people money in order to welcome these families and help them resettle, but she actually took the money and took us to a refugee house and left us. That was pretty sad, but I was young at the time and I don’t remember all of these things.
This led to perhaps my first exposure to the church. My parents, to this day, are not Christians. The closest thing to religion they might claim would be Buddhism. So my first exposure to the church was our connection to the social service agency. A Methodist church picked up our sponsorship, and so they helped us find an apartment and donated things to us.
My parents were working really hard, but because the church was sponsoring us, we went to church every single Sunday. My father would fall asleep, and I would go to Sunday school. The thing that I remember the most about it – mostly because I didn’t speak the language – was that they had these wonderful flannel-graph pictures, and the very exciting thing in church was to put up the pictures. I would remember stories of the Bible because of that. I remembered Noah’s Ark, Jesus and his disciples and his followers; that stuff has stuck with me. The one thing that I also got from the church was this little Bible. It started with the Psalms and the Proverbs and had the New Testament, and I took it home with me.
We didn’t go to that church very long; we ended up moving away. But I do remember that while I was growing up I was very spiritually open-minded, and so was my family. We believed that evil spirits were a part of reality. So, to make myself feel better, I would read the Psalms.
Where we moved was a very isolated sort of place, a great little neighborhood. I ended up moving from Peoria to the Quad Cities to this little bedroom community called Coal Valley. The Quad Cities is a collection of mid-sized towns in Iowa. In Coal Valley there were 3,500 people, and the population was 97 percent white. I was part of a 0.5 percent Asian population. So where I went to school, there wasn’t an ESL program because there just wasn’t a need. There really wasn't anyone else my age who had my skin color. It highlighted to me just how different I was from the other students and the fact that my family was a refugee family. Our story was so different.
Growing up, I was very much the outsider, whether it was ethnically or socio- economically. I wasn’t allowed to have sleepovers, and within school I was a nerd. I did pretty well at academics, so one of the things that I noticed as I was growing up in high school, especially, was that most of my friends came from middle-class or upper-middle-class families, and their parents were very engaged with their education. My parents, on the other hand, were working so much that they didn’t have that opportunity. When we were applying for college, my friends’ parents would take them to places where you could check out schools, and my parents weren’t able financially to do that. So, again, it was this experience of being an outsider in my Advanced Placement classes, where all of these people were my friends, and yet I did not have the same story as them.
I noticed many of my friends were believers, usually either Catholic or Lutheran. I had no idea of the Assemblies of God, no knowledge of the Vineyard, no experience of charismatic churches. But I was a person that was very spiritually open, and so I’m that classic postmodern relativist that people would get so crazy over. They would share their faith, and I would nod and say “That’s so wonderful, Jesus is awesome! I have this little Bible that I read that helps me sleep at night. But this stuff is for you, not me.”
It’s interesting, because there are things that you pick up and internalize but don’t realize it until later in life. One of the things that I had internalized, because of where I lived and how I grew up, was that I thought there were churches for white people, churches for black people … and if you live in California, there were churches for Chinese people. After all, I'd seen the movie “The Joy Luck Club”! But where I lived, I didn't belong to any of those places.
So when people would share about Christianity, share about faith, share about Jesus, I would think it was awesome but that I didn't fit in there. I had such well-meaning friends, and they tried to help me fit in. They’d say, “We really accept you. We love you.” But they'd also say, “We don't even notice you're Chinese!”
I know they meant well, but the problem was, I saw my Chinese identity every day in the mirror. It's such a part of my history. I would think, “You haven't heard my story. You don't know about me growing up as a refugee and an immigrant. You haven't seen what I look like. You must not be looking at me.”
So when I turned 19 and went off to university, I was dating this guy – not Jeff. I wasn’t a Christian, but this guy was a solid Christian believer. He was dating me “against the rules,” because he was not supposed to do that. But he thought I was just so interesting and so smart and that kind of stuff. What he did, though, is he introduced me to this couple that lived most of the time in China but were from the United States. They were back visiting and sharing their experiences from where they lived. They taught English there, and they loved that whenever they got the opportunity to connect with people that were hungry to learn about Jesus, they would get to share their faith through telling stories about their experiences.
I don’t know if they thought I was a Christian because I was at this social gathering, but they sat and talked with me for three hours, specifically because I was the only Chinese person there. They sat and talked with me about their experience and how much they loved China, and how much they loved the Chinese people, and how much they saw of God in the people that they were relating to and the language and the culture. How they loved that God had created these people.
I had been hearing about Jesus my whole life, because I’m that open person that will talk to you about faith and spirituality. But it was not until that moment that it clicked in my brain. I had a Holy Spirit moment. I realized, “Jesus is for me.” All that stuff about the gospel and how he laid down his life was for me too. And I went home, and the next day I gave my life to him, and that’s what it took. It took somebody valuing me being Chinese, and connecting Jesus to that.
Mark Fields of Vineyard Missions has talked about seeing what’s right in front of you. I think that the Vineyard is so good at that. Finally I saw what the Father was doing, because the Holy Spirit had been working my whole life. Think about it: I had that little Bible where I could read the Psalms so I could sleep peacefully at night. That is why I am so committed to cross-cultural ministry and to missionaries and to church planting, because I want us to be people that will always find ways to include others, to bring the message and the good news of Jesus to them. We need to figure out ways to say it in words and in languages that they can hear. That’s my story. That’s where I come from.
I’m not much of a data person, but this headline caught me a couple of months ago about how last year was the first year that over 50 percent of children born in the United States were non-white. For the first time, over 50 percent. Our children are going to live in a world where they’re going to have friends from all different backgrounds, and I want to have churches where people feel like they can invite their friends. I don’t want to be a place where people say, “There’s a church for this group and a church for this group and that group, but there's not a place for me.” I think we can stay away from that. I think we can be a place for everybody.
The Spirit of God is moving in people’s lives, and there are so many of us in the Vineyard. The Spirit can empower us to open our eyes – and to help others open their eyes – to see more and more people around us that we can invite into the kingdom.
Le Que Heidkamp, Vineyard Ethnic Diversity Task Force; Mercy Vineyard Church, Minneapolis, MN
submitted October 10th, 2012