Archived Voice Articles

Jena Helmus finds her place working with Lao Christians

By Jena Helmus

I didnít really know what I was getting myself into that first Sunday as I stepped out of the car. Across the small parking lot was a white, nondescript building bearing the name Lao Unity CRC. With arms full of books, bags, crayons, and food, we walked into the narrow hallway leading to the sanctuary. The fluorescent lights flickered uncomfortably overhead. When my eyes adjusted to the light, I was faced with pink upholstered pews, a hodge podge of decorations, a Laotian man struggling to operate a computer, a sea of dark hair and brown limbs (which I soon discovered belonged to my Sunday school children) swarming around a drum set, and directly in front of me, a short, smiling woman in bright fabric and gold jewelry politely pressing a bulletin into my hands. After my friend pulled me back to reality, my first thought was, I do not belong here.

Jena Helmus

Jena Helmus

Honestly, I donít remember much more about that first Sunday. The unfamiliar tone of the Lao language, the lilting Asian music, and rambunctious children were enough to leave my head spinning. But the next month, I found myself in the middle of the chaos again. After the offering, we headed downstairs to our closet-turned-classroom. Sometimes we had no table; other times we had no chairs. I never really knew what to expect when I got there, but the kids were always there waiting: Nam with her gold bracelets circling her tiny wrists, Tanner with his innocent eyes and tattered gray sweatshirt, Walker with his oval shaped glasses, Emily with her broken English, and Ding Dong with quiet stare. Month after month we met in the cramped classroom to share stories, color pictures, and have snacks. Their favorite food was Jell-o, so for weeks on end, I came armed with plates of brightly colored gelatin, most of which ended up on the table, floor, and walls. In addition to Jell-o, my bag was always packed with a stack of books for Walker, who didnít like crafts, and cans of Play-do for Ding Dong, who preferred the soft clay over crayons and glue. Our room was rarely quiet with Emilyís stories about school and home, Namís inquisitive mind, and Tannerís gentle laugh.

One Sunday as I was walking to the classroom tired from the late night before, I passed a long line of girls, at the end of which was Nam. She looked up with shining eyes and a big grin. ďHi, Jena,Ē she said, and then she was gone. Standing in the hallway, it suddenly hit me: somewhere amidst the swaying music, fuzzy pews, Jell-o messes, and brown hair I was pulled into this unfamiliar Laotian world, and in that instant, I knew that I was exactly where I belonged.