HOF087: Brice Balmer/Lao Vang

Brice Balmer was co-pastor of the First Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ontario. In the late 1970’s, He played a major role in welcoming and helping resettle Hmong refugees, especially those sponsored by the First Mennonite Church and the broader Hmong Community.

He was involved and supported the Hmongs’ efforts to start their own congregation that for many years worshipped at the First Mennonite Church and has for the past forty years remained supportive and involved with the Hmong community. He also assisted the Hmong community to set up their own Sunday school. He has continued to be a mentor to some of the pastors and worked with the Hmong on various projects and activities.

Brice is recently retired from Martin Luther College associated with Wilfrid Laurier University in June 2019. He is a member of Rockway Mennonite Church, a church that continues an active engagement with refugee sponsorship.

Lao (Peter) Vang 

My family and I came from Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand to Canada on July 13, 1979 and was sponsored by Bloomingdale Mennonite Church in Ontario. My sponsors rented an apartment for my family in Waterloo, and they found me a job at Zehrs warehouse. I started working there on July 23, 1979 until September 18, 1980.

Being one of the first Hmong families who came to Canada that can speak Hmong, Lao, and some English in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, I was approached by immigration, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO) and the sponsors to help interpret for the Hmong, Lao, and Mien. Then I was hired as a Refugee Case Worker by MCCO from September 23, 1980 – September 30, 1983 to support and help the large group of Hmong refugees who came to Kitchener-Waterloo in 1980, and those who moved from other cities and provinces to Kitchener-Waterloo.

My main job was to help and support the refugees, sponsors, government agencies, doctors, organizations, and employers with interpretations, documentations, appointments, visitations, transportations, adaptations, etc. It was a great experience and honour to help the refugees, sponsors, government agencies, doctors, organizations, and employers. I will never forget having the opportunity to serve and help the refugees in adapting to a new life into a great country, Canada.

From the “hearts” of my family and the refugees, especially the Hmong, we greatly appreciate the Canadian government, sponsors, and all Canadians for welcoming us to Canada to live in a “freedom” country that we now call home. We love Canada and we are proud Canadians. Thank you, Canada!