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Mennega still leads Tai Dam Bible study on campus

Dr. Al Mennega

Dr. Al Mennega

As you listen to Dr. Al Mennega talk about his Lao and Tai Dam friends, you sense that he feels grateful to know them, grateful to be able to hear their amazing stories.

“Their histories of where they have been and how they got to where they are today are astounding,” he says. “Fascinating histories of God’s grace. It’s hard for us well-sheltered Anglos to understand the hardships they have undergone.”

What you don’t hear from Mennega, a former Dordt biology professor, is that he’s one of the few “Anglos” in northwest Iowa who can come close to understanding their hardships, that he himself has been a channel of God’s grace for them, or that they’re probably pretty grateful to know him, too. But that doesn’t make these things any less true. For almost ten years now, Mennega has led a Bible study for Lao and Tai Dam people living in the Northwest Iowa and Southwest Minnesota.

The Bible study first began in 1997, when Reverend Tom Soerens was teaching theology at Dordt.  “I mentioned that I had been working with Asian refugees for some time,” says Mennega. This interested Soerens, who wanted to meet Khay Baccam, an ordained evangelist who lives in Sioux Center. Later, the three of them sat down together and discussed ways that they could minister to the Tai Dam and Lao people living in the area.

“Under Rev. Soerens’ leadership we started a Bible study, which met at Dordt,” says Mennega. “He gave a great impetus to the class.” Soerens returned to the mission field, but Mennega continued to work with the Lao/Tai Dam people.

The Bible study, which focuses on teaching the spiritual leaders of Lao/Tai Dam communities in Sioux Center, Sioux City, and Worthington, Minnesota, has studied a wide variety of topics over the years. Currently, they are finishing up a study of the Three Forms of Unity, which were translated from English by Baccam. Mennega mentions with pride the “enthusiasm” and “lively discussion” that accompanies their study of these texts.

But one of the most special moments for Mennega came when each student in the Bible study was instructed to prepare and deliver a sermon.

“When all the students had their turn, they insisted that I too had to take my turn,” says Mennega. “They also insisted that I deliver the sermon in the Tai Dam language. My Tai Dam was pretty rudimentary, but I rose to the challenge, delivered the sermon, and received great applause.”

Listening to the story, it’s hard to know who enjoyed the sermon more—the students, who got to experience the joy of studying God’s Word, or Mennega, who got to experience the joy of serving God’s people.

“The quality of the sermon’s language left much to be desired,” admits Mennega.  “But in their eyes it was a wonder that an American could give a speech in their language.  It was a great experience for me.”