Twin sisters Mon Htaw and Mon Sorn were living as refugees in Thailand when their 7-year-old brother died from malaria because of a lack of health care. “He died in my parent’s arms,” Mon Sorn said.
They are from the Mon people, a Buddhist ethnic group, that today is scattered throughout the world and has experienced generations of oppression and injustice. There are about 1.3 million MON people around the world.
“That was the moment my father decided to get my sister, younger brother and me to America for a better future.”
It was a decision that would have a great impact on the sisters who were young children when their immigration journey began. The family was accepted into a refugee camp , where they waited for about a year before being approved to come to the United States. The sisters’ family moved in 2000 to Fort Wayne, Ind., which has one of the largest Mon populations in the country.
Their father got a job at a factory and enrolled the children in a Christian school. A local church adopted the family “and donated clothes, shoes, school supplies, food from the food bank, toys for my brothers and sister, and even taught my parents English while we attended Sunday school,” Mon Htaw said.
It also was when the sisters first heard of Christ and a message of love, forgiveness, and hope, something that impacted them deeply.
“At the time, I was still very young, confused, and didn’t speak much English,” Mon Htaw said. “To my understanding at the moment, Jesus Christ was a very significant person. I kind of viewed him as this really important guy in history.”
The twins spent their childhood learning about Jesus at their Christian school and church, while still attending temple weekly with their family and observing Buddhist rituals.
“Throughout my life, during every bad and good time I always prayed, but wasn’t quite sure who I was praying to,” said Mon Sorn, whose parents are Buddhist.
Mon Sorn began journaling to tell “someone” her problems. “I truly did feel like someone was hearing me, or at least I told myself that,” said Mon Sorn, who was struggling in school and felt lost. “It got to the point where every morning I got down on my knees, cried and prayed.”
The girls’ brother suffered from epilepsy and their parents were working hard to make ends meet financially.
Mon Htaw said their parents provided for their family as much as they could. “In return,” she said, “it was our duty as sons and daughters to work really hard in school and be successful so we can pay our parents back.”
“What my parents used to say is we worked really hard to bring you guys to America, so you guys must work really hard to make something of yourself here,” Mon Htaw said.
Mon Sorn reached a point where she was attending church regularly because it made her feel safe and happy. “My faith grew and grew, and I remember vividly saying to myself that morning on January 26, 2020, that I believe,” she said.
From that moment on, all Mon Sorn wanted to do was give her life to Christ. “Deep down I felt like I was always truly a Christian, but didn’t know how to say it or how to go about it,” she said.
Mon Htaw’s spiritual journey was wrapped in spiritual strongholds of insecurity, rejection, and pursuing money and success. She graduated high school as a 16-year-old and was accepted into IUPUI. She moved to Indianapolis to start school and then she became pregnant.
“That was a huge turning point in my life,” she said. “I carried this title of this ‘golden child’ who was going to do big things to being a single teen mom who dropped out of college.”
Her parents didn’t speak to her during her pregnancy. “I felt so alone and rejected,” said Mon Htaw, who described herself as broken at the time. She remembered from Bible study God’s unconditional love for her. “The only time I felt like I was enough was when I prayed and turned to God. He brought me so much peace and comfort,” she said. Mon Htaw turned her attention to God, finding mental and spiritual healing. “I had returned to school, sort of found happiness and purpose again,” she said. “I attended a local church to grow in my relationship with God”
She still experienced struggles in her life and last year the murder of her brother in a Fort Wayne shooting. But she also can see God working in her life throughout her experiences, including the pastor who impacted her life as a child.
“Migration, in my case, immigration, played a huge role in me coming to know Christ and I am just so extremely grateful for it,” she said.
“I think about the people who are still in the refugee camp today, waiting to come to the U.S., dreaming of living that American dream, which is awesome,” Mon Htaw said. “But imagine their lives changing forever because they also came to Christ.”
INVOLVEMENT WITH MIGROS AID
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Indianapolis in 2020, the Mon sisters, who are experienced in sewing, volunteered their time with Migros Aid to teach fellow immigrants how to sew face masks from supplies and sewing machines donated to Migros Aid. Some of the immigrants had never used a sewing machine before. More than 1,000 of the face masks were given early in the pandemic to immigrants who couldn’t afford to buy them and several local groups that faced shortages of masks.
Mon Sorn said she continues to share her faith in Christ with others. ”I will continue to do so for the rest of my life,” she said. “Sometimes as I’m driving or just thinking, I’ll say to myself I can’t believe I lived my life for so long without him.”
Both of the sisters have graduated from college and are currently working in Indianapolis. Please pray for them and the Mon people around the world (about 1.3 million and 99% Buddhist)