Laokouxang (Kou) Seying (1964-2019)
Editor’s note: Rev. Kou Seying, the Lutheran Foundation Professor of Urban and Cross-Cultural Ministry, associate dean for urban and cross-cultural ministry, and associate professor of practical theology died on Nov. 23, 2019. A wide range of Prof. Seying’s work is available for free at Concordia Seminary’s Scholar archive.
I first met Kou Seying by reputation. It was in June of 2000 when I began my second tenure as a faculty member for Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. My assignment was to teach missions courses and supervise the doctoral program in missiology. As I settled into my new role, graduate students, faculty members, and staff began saying things to me like, “Do you know Kou Seying? He was one of our best students and such a wonderful man. He was such a joy to have around, to have in the program. You have to meet him.” He had left his residential program just before my arrival.
It was two years later when I met Kou face-to-face, and at once I could see why he was so well-respected and loved. His contagious smile, open and outgoing personality, combined with an energy and enthusiasm in all that he did, were apparent. We first hit it off, though, talking about something that we soon found was dear to both of us—aviation. We both loved to fly, to talk about flying, to talk about airplanes, and to talk about beautiful sights only seen in the air from the cockpit of a Cessna Skyhawk or Skylane (check out his Facebook page for an example). Kou was an accomplished pilot, having earned a commercial pilot license with an instrument rating. He was also a Certified Flight Instructor.
Without a doubt, however, what defined Kou Seying more than anything in the minds of many of us who knew him was that he was driven by a deep concern for those people who are living in fear and uncertainty, who do not know Jesus as the Way and the Truth and Life, who are plagued by capricious spirits of their own, as he would say, “diabolical,” man-made religious systems. His love and empathy for all people who are suffering from the “bondage of the terrifying and mysterious” powers of nature were evident throughout his years of service to Christ’s kingdom.
Kou was especially concerned for those who struggled the most to make a life in America; that is, immigrants and refugees. He did not talk much about his own experience, but having been forced as a young man, along with his parents and siblings, to flee his homeland of Laos at the end of the Vietnam War, instilled in him a compassion for others who found themselves in a new land trying to make sense of it all.
This empathy he felt was toward people from all parts of the world—Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East. But especially it was his love toward his own people, the Hmong, that stood out the most to those who knew Kou and his ministry well. One cannot help but make the comparison with the Apostle Paul’s deep love toward his own people, the Israelites:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Rom 9:1–3)
One can almost hear Kou saying those same words in reference to his kinsmen. He sought tirelessly to articulate the worldview of the Hmong people, a challenging task. The Hmong people were impacted by a myriad of religious and spiritual influences as they moved around Asia. Even today the story is complicated as new movements in Hmong spirituality continue to appear.
Yet Kou helped the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, dominated by a Western worldview, to understand Hmong culture and worldview to more effectively bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to his people. In November of 2014 and May of 2015 two articles of his were published in Missio Apostolica (now known as Lutheran Mission Matters). In those articles he endeavored to outline the history of Hmong ministry in the LCMS, including a discussion of Hmong cosmology, an explanation of Hmong spirituality, as well as challenges and suggested approaches to bringing the gospel to the Hmong.
Kou’s concern for the suffering of his kinsmen is evident at the very beginning of his article, “Hmong Spiritism.” He gets right to the point: “Before further discussion on Hmong Spiritism, it is important first to establish the primary reason for such writing as this. People who are influenced by Spiritism are afflicted, oppressed, and in constant fear. The bottom line is that they are suffering.” The suffering of his people affected him deeply.
He wanted those coming from the Western perspective to grasp that Hmong culture is different, that Hmong people look at life differently, that they explain the world and what happens in the world differently. In that same article on HMong Spiritism, after discussing some of the phenomena that Hmong people involved in Spiritism experience, such as dreams, premonitions, erratic behavior, hearing voices, and so on, he must have envisioned a skeptical Western readership as he goes back to his central point: “As incredible and skeptical as these symptoms may sound, the bottom line is that people are suffering. It is only by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ with the power of His Holy Spirit that the HMong people can live above the powers of Satan.” This shows the heart of Kou Seying.
During his time on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Kou worked to bring about an understanding of the non-Western world to the fore. His calling as Associate Dean of Urban and Cross-Cultural Ministry was a perfect fit for someone with his experience. In a 2016 article published in Concordia Seminary, he described how he viewed his role:
My position is to help the Seminary be accountable with diversity. The Church has to accept this challenge as an opportunity to embrace and be accountable to the biblical mandate Jesus gives to us . . . Our accountability begins there. You can’t ignore your neighbors just because they have a different country of birth or cultures that are different from yours. The Gospel must go to all nations and all the world is here. If we do not embrace these opportunities, the Church, and the LCMS will be irrelevant in a very short time.”
Kou taught us the importance of relationships over against a culture that values time and task above people. He taught us how a communal culture functions, emphasizing both the negative and positive. He taught us how honor and shame are integral to the worldview of the majority of people living in the world today and helped us understand how those dynamics are both biblical and a challenge to those of us who come from an individualistic, task-oriented culture.
The seminary, and our church, will miss that voice calling us to accountability. In many ways, I am sure he felt like “a voice in the wilderness.” I know he felt frustration at times at the lack of progress, the obstacles in the way, the lack of understanding, or maybe even the lack of a willingness to try to understand. Even so, Kou was always a gentleman. He patiently continued in his mission to help build a culture of appreciation for the diverse cultures of God’s world. He sought to build bridges to understanding by treating others with kindness, empathy, and respect. Those of us who remain now that he is with his Savior must honor his memory by recommitting ourselves to those positive values and commitments that he held to and exhibited in his life and ministry.
 Jackie Parker, “Helping the Seminary be Accountable in a Diverse World,” Concordia Seminary (January 2016): 24–25.
 Seying, “Hmong Spiritism,” 93.
 Seying, “Hmong Spiritism,” 95.
 Parker, “Helping the Seminary,” 25.