Mai [may] cringed as the woman she called mother yelled at her again. Why does she treat me this way? Mai wondered. Mai’s parents had died when she was a baby, and this family had taken her in. But she knew that they didn’t love her; they had told her that often.
Life in the jungle of Laos was difficult. The Hmong [huh-Mong] people lived in fear of the soldiers who scoured the countryside searching for “traitors.” Mai and her adopted family lived in a shelter made of tree branches and leaves. Each day Mai gathered firewood, helped cook the meals, and foraged for food.
One day Mai heard the sound of gunfire nearby. The village exploded into a mass of people shouting, running, and pushing to escape the soldiers. Bullets whizzed by, and people fell to the ground. The terror of war had come to Mai’s village.
Mai grabbed her baby sister, Kia, and fled into the jungle. She was on her own. She didn’t stop running until she could no longer hear the sound of gunfire. Baby Kia whimpered in hunger. Mai put her down and searched the area for something to eat—jungle plants, small animals, even charcoal and sticky yellow clay—anything to fill their empty stomachs.
Mai discovered other children fleeing the soldiers. “We must stay together and help one another,” Mai told them. Mai was only 11, but she became the leader.
The children moved constantly to avoid being captured by soldiers. When Mai overheard some adults talking about refugee camps in Thailand, she decided to follow them to freedom.
Then one day as the group made its way toward the border, enemy soldiers ambushed them and began shooting. Mai cried out silently, Owner! She had never heard the name of God and didn’t know Him, but in her desperation she prayed to the Owner of the sky, who, the old people said, made everything. Suddenly the soldiers stopped shooting and fell asleep.
“Run!” Mai whispered to the other children. Mai expected to hear bullets behind them, but all she heard was the pounding of her heart. The Owner of the sky had heard her prayer and saved them!
After months of struggling in the jungle, Mai crossed the border into Thailand and found the refugee camp they had been searching for. No longer would she have to fear the sound of footsteps. She would have rice and vegetables to eat.
Mai remained in the refugee camp for several years. Someone noticed Mai’s interest in spiritual things and urged her to become a shaman, a religious leader who, it is believed, can cure illnesses by calling on the spirits.
Mai married and had several children. When her husband died, Mai turned even more to her religion. She worshipped the ancestral spirits and even spoke with them. Many people came to her for healing and advice. During her years in the refugee camp Mai heard people talk about God, which in Hmong means King Owner, but she paid little attention.
After years of living in the refugee camp, Mai and her children started a new life in the United States. Arriving in her new country, Mai continued to practice her traditional religious beliefs among her Hmong community.
Then one day Mai became seriously ill. She was admitted to a hospital, and doctors didn’t know if she would live or die. As she lay in the hospital bed unable to speak or open her eyes, Mai remembered the day when she had called out to the Owner in the sky. Owner, save me now, just as you saved us in the jungles of Laos! Mai prayed in her heart.
Mai’s health began to improve. She realized that God had spared her life once more. She wanted to know more about Him.
Mai met an Adventist pastor and his wife, who introduced her to Jesus and invited her to worship with other Hmong believers. Today Mai knows that the Owner’s name is Jesus. Although she cannot read or write, she loves to tell others how Jesus led her through the jungle dangers and brought her to a new life in a new land, how He led her from her traditional beliefs to become a follower of God. “I want the Hmong people to know about my God, who created the world and watched over me even when I didn’t know His name.” ⎭
Mai Her Yang shares her faith in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the United States.