First Thai-Laotian Presbyterian Church is the sole recipient of the 2016 Sam and Helen R. Walton Award of $50,000. First Thai-Laotian began in 2002 with 15 people who wanted to reach the estimated 15,000 Thai and Laotian persons living in Las Vegas. The majority of the first generation of the immigrants attended Buddhist temples, but due to the language barrier the younger generations had begun to drift from the faith of their parents.
As First Thai-Laotian shifted its worship service to English, members of the congregation became aware of homeless persons in the community. Members say God began to open their eyes and hearts—God’s mission was not just to Thai and Laotian persons. Since beginning a homeless ministry, the congregation has helped 10 people move off the streets and have sent two members to the Lay Preachers Academy in Austin, Texas.
The church now has 68 members and 27 children, and became an officially chartered Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation on September 16, 2015.
The Walton Award funds will help First Thai-Laotian purchase its own church building in Las Vegas; the church has already raised more than $100,000 for a down payment.
The Walton Awards were established in 1991 as part of a $6 million gift from the late Sam and Helen R. Walton though the Presbyterian Foundation. The gift included an endowment of $3 million. Each year accumulated interest of up to $50,000 is given to chosen outstanding new church starts for site acquisition and capital improvements.