by Mike Parks
CORNELIUS – There was singing and cheering and praying Monday night, Dec. 20, at Community in Christ Lutheran Church in Cornelius. And while that’s just what you’d expect from a church gathering during the holidays, it was a bit of a new experience for the majority of people on hand at this Christmas party.
The celebration was the first time many of the children ever opened a Christmas present, according to Ron Major, founder of a local tutoring program for the Montagnard children – a group of Vietnamese Christians who left their country to escape religious persecution. In Vietnam, Christian families have to worship in secrecy for fear of persecution by the government. Practicing Christians can be turned into the police for a reward in Vietnam, Major said.
Monday’s Christmas party was a reward for students in Major’s tutoring class who have put in the extra effort and succeeded even though many of them come to the United States with few English or reading skills.
“We are so proud of you guys,” he told the gathered students Monday night. “You could be out playing games or watching TV … but you’re coming and you’re learning.”
Major shows off his students like a proud father, pointing to each in turn as if he can’t wait to discuss their accomplishments.
There’s Doan, who failed every class he took before joining the program, and now is making all A’s and B’s, except for one C he’s working on.
Ban, who two years ago was amazed after reading his first five-letter word, now has advanced nine grade levels in just over a year and is getting a B in ninth grade reading class.
Then there’s 18-year-old Van Y, who with the help of the tutoring program will start English classes at Central Piedmont Community College in January and plans to soon transfer into the political science program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I want to help my people; they’ve been tortured (for their beliefs),” Y said. “I’m hoping to help my people, I don’t care about my own life.”
After dinner, all the children got to open presents, ranging from board games to new toys, before getting their picture taken against a Christmas scene backdrop. Afterward, each got to take home some warm clothing for the winter.
All the items were donated or bought with cash contributions, according to church staff. Lowe’s Home Improvement, Harris Teeter and Oakridge Dental all made donations, as did church members, both of Community in Christ and other churches, and the community.
And while some of the children got to take home tiny donated Christmas trees, odds are they won’t make a big display out of them.
“Christmas is totally religious for them,” Major said. “You won’t see displays and lights in their communities. It’s totally religious for them.”
Them Puih, 18, in his second year of the program wowed the audience by playing and singing “Silent Night” on his guitar. He wanted to give back to the church and the program that’s helped him so much.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I sing for God.”