Phouvieng Visathep has come a long way since crossing the Mekong River in a small boat from Laos to Thailand in 1975.
For three years, he stayed in a refugee camp, during which time he suffered from malaria. Then, in 1979, he immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Eureka, Calif. In 1987, missionaries knocked on his door, and he and his family joined the Church."My faith has grown and grown since joining the Church," he told the Church News. Today, that faith is helping him serve as first counselor in the Eureka 3rd (Asian) Branch.
Ever since the branch held its first meeting in March 1990, Brother Visathep has served in the presidency under the direction of branch Pres. Paul Thevenin. Pres. Thevenin's second counselor is Sanong Thongmanivong. Like the other Hmong or Laotian members of the stake, Brother Visathep is grateful for the branch so they can hear the gospel in their own language.
"The members can now understand the gospel," he said. "We feel like one in the branch. Before, I didn't have a lot of friends. Now I have friends."
When Brother Visathep first joined the Church, he attended the Eureka 2nd Ward. Like many others of his enthnic background, he had difficulty grasping the gospel because the meetings were all in English.
Pres. Thevenin recalled: "Asian members got lost in the shuffle. A lot of them were in my ward. I told the stake presidency we had to do something."
As a result, the stake presidency called him as branch president when the Asian branch was formed. "We started with 10 families," he related. "We now have 18 families."
Brother Visathep said that almost immediately the Asian members of the branch felt comfortable with their branch president. "He's a good man," Brother Visathep noted.
Members of the branch meet for sacrament meeting in the Eureka stake center. Children and youth join with another ward's Primary and youth programs because, unlike their parents, they are fluent in English. Adults of the branch meet in their own Sunday School.
In the years since the branch's creation, Pres. Thevenin said the members have grown both spiritually and temporally. "They are dedicated. I can remember the time the school system put on a multi-cultural activity. The ones who were very involved with assisting were members of the branch."
In speaking of Brother Visathep, Pres. Thevenin said: "My first counselor is well-respected in the community. He frequently gets calls to the school to translate for parents. He's more of a leader in the community because of his training in the Church."
Pres. Thevenin declared: "We have good people, that's what makes a good branch."