Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minn., is home to a congregation of Hmong - by now, second-generation American Hmong, who fled Communist takeover of the Kingdom of Laos in 1975.
In an age in which languages increasingly must become written down or else face the threat of extinction, Holy Apostles has engaged the translation of a Hmong-language Book of Common Prayer, led by clergy former and current. The final product will benefit the entire Anglican Communion, with Hmong speakers scattered throughout the world.
"We're the only ones working on this in the entire, worldwide Anglican Church," said the Rev. Letha Wilson-Barnard, the vicar at Holy Apostles.
"It's a way to keep our language alive," said [church member Boa] Moua, 29, who like many of her generation grew up speaking only Hmong at home. "Most younger kids can speak Hmong, because their parents and grandparents speak it, but they can't read and write it."
Rev. Bill Bulson, Holy Apostles' former vicar, who's busily translating right now, points to the need to get this right.
"A seemingly simple phrase like, 'The peace of the Lord be with you,' turns into a major debate. We end up having to go back to the original texts, some of which are in Hebrew, to try to decipher exactly what the person writing that meant."
Translation is part art, part science - and, in Hmong/English, an especially brave undertaking - one the Wycliffe Bible Society, even with its Lost Languages Campaign, has yet to begin.