BADEN - Waterloo Region's Steinmann Mennonite Church is celebrating 40 years of refugee sponsorship.

Four decades ago, over 60,000 Southeast Asian refugees settled in Canada following the Vietnam War. And this Mennonite church was one of the organizations privately sponsoring numerous families.

The celebration was a reflection on overcoming all sorts of obstacles to transform lives for the better, and to pay it forward.

Bouavanh Vang-Her was only six years old when she came to Canada as a refugee in September 1979.

She was among thousands of Hmong people who made the journey.

"Forty years ago we probably would have been worshipping mostly in English, little bit of German, little bit of French. But now we're worshipping in 14 different languages, and Hmong is just one of them," says David Martin, executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.

Vang-Her's family was sponsored by Stephen and Sharon Gingrich in Baden.

"It was scary before they came. We didn't know what to expect," Sharon Gingrich says.

But the challenges were met with good times.

The Gingrich family brought their kids fishing, helped them find jobs and enrolled them in school.

"I remember always going to the farm and riding in the station wagon," Vang-Her told CTV News.

She was too young to remember her home country. But others, like her Aunt Ly, will never forget why they left.

"If you don't go, then you will be in jail for life. Or you get killed," Ly Vang says.

Vang-Her has kids of her own now, who know her history, and she says being a part of the celebrations means a lot to her.

The church says it has continued to sponsor refugees, with the most recent groups from Syria.