The Rev. Joseph Tung Dang knows what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land.
Dang, 29, emigrated to the United States from his native Vietnam in 1988, joining his mother's family who had resettled in California's Orange County.
"It's very difficult, especially going to school. It was hard for me. The English grammar, even now, is still a challenge," says Dang, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Apostolic Church, a small congregation that meets at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.
Dang, an ordained priest in the United States-based Catholic Apostolic Church International -- a denomination that is independent from the Roman Catholic Church -- has worked to offer support to Asian and Asian-American students at Kansas University for the past two years.
Now he is expanding his effort to reach out to Asian immigrants living in Lawrence and Douglas County, particularly those who are from Vietnam.
Besides serving as an interpreter for them, Dang has helped the newcomers to navigate the complicated social, legal and healthcare systems that are part of life in America.
On Sept. 5, he launched a ministry of celebrating once-monthly, hour-long Vietnamese-language Masses in the downstairs chapel of Ecumenical Christian Ministries.
"We have quite a few Vietnamese in Douglas County, and we were talking about having a Vietnamese Mass offered, and the KU students could come join us," says Dang.
He estimates that about 25 people participated in the worship service, filling the small chapel.
"I was surprised at how many people came, and we hope to increase that number with more KU students. Eventually, we would move upstairs for more room, but this was our first time," Dang says.
He plans to celebrate the Vietnamese-language Mass at 2:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. The Mass is intended for Catholic worshippers -- admittedly a minority among Vietnamese.
The regular Masses celebrated at 5 p.m. on the other three Sundays of each month in Dang's church are in English, and any baptized Christian may receive Communion.
Dang says his new ministry is the only Vietnamese-language Mass offered in Douglas County.
"They (worshippers) are very happy to be able to go to a Vietnamese Mass locally, so they don't have to travel to Kansas City. They feel like they're home again, to be able to understand what is going on at Mass," he says.
After the Mass celebrated Sept. 5, Dang prepared and served a home-cooked meal for worshippers.
"I made Vietnamese soup with shrimp paste and noodles; it's a little bit spicy, but it's very traditional. Our plan is that every month after Mass, we're going to have a meal together. It's free of charge, and students are welcome," Dang says.
The new Mass isn't the only effort that Dang is involved in.
With the help of Victoria Li, president of KU's Asian American Student Union, he has recently founded Our Lady of Perpetual Help Asian Community Center, also based at Ecumenical Christian Ministries.
The center is intended to serve Asian and Asian-American students at KU, as well as Asian residents of Lawrence and Douglas County, offering a variety of educational, cultural and social activities.
"I think he's a great guy," Li says of Dang. "He's very motivated and determined to get this done, and I think that helps."
Li, 20, is a KU junior from Overland Park. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong before she was born.
"The Asian center is all my heart, and I am putting everything into it. I want to give back to the community," Dang says.
|A Vietnamese-language Mass is celebrated at 2:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month at St. John the Baptist Catholic Apostolic Church, which meets at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.The Mass, which is celebrated entirely in Vietnamese by the Rev. Joseph Tung Dang, is intended for Catholics. Asians in Lawrence and Douglas County, especially newcomers to the United States, are encouraged to attend.Dang is an ordained priest of the Catholic Apostolic Church International, which is independent from the Roman Catholic Church.After the Mass, a Vietnamese meal is served. It is free of charge, and Kansas University students are welcome to attend.|