Sean at the Coptic Retreat Center
Duane speaking at a Chin service in Kuala Lumpur
Our group at the UNHCR offices in Kuala Lumpur
School kids at the Tham Hin Refugee Camp
Marcia by a stack of rice at the Tham Hin Camp
Roy Medley, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches speaking and Dr. Simon translating at the Mae La Camp
We’ve had a heavy travel schedule over the past 6 weeks that has taken us from Lake Erie to Florida in the US and literally around the world. We have one more conference to attend this coming week, then we’ll be able to be home for a couple weeks to catch up with things.
What a thrill to be able to visit our son Sean again in Egypt! While a large demonstration caused us to cut short a day trip to Alexandria and head for the airport a little early, we got to be tourists this time and see a number of the sites that Cairo and Egypt have to offer. Sean has always had a head for history and since college a particular interest in the Middle East so he was a great and informative tour guide.
Sean took us to a Coptic Christian retreat center outside of Cairo in an agricultural area. It is a beautiful place reserved for people wanting to rest, retreat or hold conferences. The Coptic Church was holding a conference for over 300 Christian young people from an area south of Cairo that has experienced violent persecution. The point of the conference was to provide instruction on how Christians as a minority in the country can make their voices heard in positive and peaceful ways in the newly forming, hopefully more democratic society that is being shaped in Egypt. After attending the evening worship service, a group of young men wanted to practice their English with us. One said, “I love Jesus. Do you love Jesus? I don’t hate anyone. Why do people hate us?” Good questions! May those of us who love Jesus continue to pray for the people and particularly the Christians of Egypt. Elections are scheduled for September so this will be a critical time for the country.
From Egypt we went to Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur we met up with Roy Medley, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, Kabi Gangmei, Director of Relief and Development for the Asia-Pacific Baptist Federation, Wayne Paulsen, Interim Executive Minister for the ABC of the State of New York, and Liz Congdon, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Trenton, NJ. These four would be with us through Malaysia and Thailand. In Kuala Lumpur we were also joined by Rev. Rollin Van Bik and Rev. Duh Kam, Chin pastors and leaders now living in the US.
The Chin Christian Fellowship of Malaysia had arranged for us to visit many Chin churches and organizations in Kuala Lumpur. The big issue for Chins there is registration with the UN. With registration, they have enough legal status in the country that they can avoid arrest. Without registration, arrest and detention are a constant threat. The problem is that the UNHCR is understaffed and can’t keep up with the 400 or so Chin that come into Malaysia each month. Right now, UNHCR is not taking on any new registration cases until they catch up with the current backlog. While they struggle to catch up, the number of new arrivals only grows and they fall further behind.
From Malaysia we went to Thailand where elections had recently been held. If our van driver is any indication of the mood of the country, the elections have at least temporarily relieved some of the tension that erupted into the destruction of a large part of Bangkok, and the Thai military taking over much of the city a year or so ago. We pray our van driver is correct.
We were able to get into the Tham Hin camp west of Bangkok as well as visit Dr. Simon’s Bible school in Mae La. We had hoped to visit more churches within the Mae La camp and to get into the Umpiem camp. However, Pastor Robert of the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC) told us that the Thai authorities are being strict at the moment so we had limited access. We also visited the TBBC office, the Refugee Services Center (formerly the OPE office) and UNHCR in Bangkok. In the Mae Sot area we had a great dinner with Pastor Robert at the KRC offices, visited Dr. Cynthia’s Mae Tow clinic, Pastor Newton’s Bible school and drove by the Umpiem camp taking a look from the road.
Registration is also an issue in Thailand. Since 2005, the Thai government has been preventing the UNHCR from carrying out any new registrations. The result is over 60,000 unregistered “new arrivals” in the nine refugee camps. These people are particularly vulnerable to the periodic threats of forced repatriation that come from Thai authorities, and are not eligible for resettlement. On the positive side, the UNHCR officials we met told us that the Thai government, US government and UNHCR have agreed in principal that they will allow divided families (the wife and kids in the US and husband in Thailand for example) to be reunited. There is no process yet to make this happen so divided spouses should not get their hopes up. At least though, the problem is recognized and being addressed.
Thank you for your prayers and support that make our work possible. We literally went around the world over the past 6 weeks and every stop had demonstrations, the threat of disturbance, and tension. Coming home to the US we find division to the point of paralysis as the government deals with budget and debt issues. Meanwhile, we work to live and survive. This past weekend we were at the Annual Youth Meeting of the Karen Baptist Churches in the USA. Our message to them came from 1 John 5:4 that reminds us that our faith is our victory over the world. It is a reminder for us all.
Blessings in Christ,
Duane & Marcia