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Pasadena church welcomes home couple freed from Qatar

Matthew and Grace Huang chose to make their first public appearance at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena.
Matthew and Grace Huang chose to make their first public appearance at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Matthew and Grace Huang chose to make their first public appearance at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena.
American couple Grace, center, and Matthew Huang, left, speak with U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, right, at the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. An American couple cleared of charges in their adopted daughter’s death passed through passport control Wednesday and are set to leave Qatar. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)
Osama Faisal/AP

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Church members stood and cheered for Matthew and Grace Huang as the couple made their first public appearance in the U.S. since a Qatari appeals court exonerated them in the 2013 death of their adopted daughter.

A smiling Matthew Huang briefly thanked more than 1,000 congregants at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena for their prayers. The couple was accused by Qatari authorities of starving their adopted daughter, 8-year-old Gloria, to death. The Huangs maintained their daughter had died from complications of an eating disorder she acquired growing up in an orphanage in Ghana.

"The situation these past two years has been extremely difficult," said Huang, flanked by his wife and their adopted sons, Emmanuel and Josiah. "It's taught us a lot about patience and trusting God."

The Huangs returned to the U.S. on Wednesday, after Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. ambassador to Qatar urged the government to lift the travel ban on the couple.

"We're really excited to worship with you, who are our church family," Huang said. "It's something we longed for so long."

The David House Agency, which specializes in international crisis management and represented the Huangs, posted this video from the service:

Huang family returns to Lake Avenue church

Grace Huang was tasked with lighting an Advent candle, and her father-in-law Marshall Huang read from the New Testament.

The Huangs have credited their strong Christian faith with helping them through their legal ordeal in Qatar, which included about 10 months of prison time for each. Investigators had initially questioned why the Chinese-American couple would adopt children from Africa, and suspected the Huangs had intended to sell Gloria's organs.

The Huangs had moved to Qatar for Matthew's engineering work on projects related to the 2022 World Cup Qatar is scheduled to host.

Their legal battle in Qatar had disrupted his livelihood, and church leaders asked members to help the family adapt to life back in the U.S. Another pastor, Jeff Mattesich, said the church would be taking contributions at next Sunday's two services.

"To help [the Huangs] assimilate back to life in the United States is where the majority of this giving will go," Mattesich said.

The Huangs sat with their sons and relatives in a front pew to the left, facing the stage. But they did not give interviews, and left minutes before the service ended, escorted by security. The David House Agency tweeted that the couple has taped an exclusive interview with CBS that will air Monday.

Angela Lee, a long-time friend of the Huangs, said she has known them to both be active Christians since their high school years and talented musicians.

"We're glad that God made them come back together and to meet their family," said Lee, who goes to another church and attended the Lake Avenue service specially because of the Huangs' return.

From the lectern, Waybright said that the older of the two boys, Emanuel, was gifted at quoting Scripture.

"I just want all of you to know this young man can preach me under the table," Waybright said.

Waybright drew parallels between the charges the Huangs faced in Qatar and the "false accusations" Jesus endured.

After the service, Mattesich said it was fitting that the Huangs chose church as the first place to re-enter public life.

"First Sunday back, they wanted to be with their church family," Mattesich said. "It shows the level of their faith in Christ. Yeah – it’s powerful."