International Ministries

Living with a Resettled Karen Family

June 16, 2008 Journal
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Today was another great day here in Minnesota. My host family is absolutely amazing. They are so nice and hospitable and they always make sure that I am comfortable and fed. They even gave me a radio for my room and a few American CD's to listen to in order to try and make me feel a little bit more at home. Actually listening to some music was amazing because I have not been able to listen music since I got here.

So, today I woke up a little late, which was kind of stunk because by the time I woke up the father of my host family, Nay Htoo, had already left to go work, so I did not get a chance to talk to him. I felt even worse when I saw that they had made breakfast and coffee for me. I was able to talk to the mom of the family in the morning which was cool, and then she was the one that dropped me off at the church. On the way to the church we were able to talk about her family here in Minnesota as well as her job as a Karen liaison to the public school system, which sounds like an amazing job. She helps students get plugged into schools by helping them fill out their registration and by providing translation between the school staff and the new Karen refugees to the area. We also were able to listen to some "amazing" music, Avril Lavine and Simple Plan, that really took me back to my high school days, which was kind of cool.

After she dropped me off at the church I met up with the rest of the team after they had been dropped off by their host families. Once everyone had made it to the church we met up with Pastor Bill from First Baptist Church (FBC) in St. Paul and he took us to the Vietnamese Social Services (VSS), who are in charge of helping refugees get settled in the Twin Cities areas once they make it to Minnesota. They help them find housing and jobs to work at. At VSS we were able to help out with an English class (ESL) where we helped some Karen people learn a little bit of conversational English and in return they taught us some of the Karen language, which was pretty sweet. The man that I was talking with taught me how to say some simple words/phrases like good day, good morning, bathroom, etc. Then what was kind of cool is he picked up my Bible that was sitting on the table and he had me flip up to Matthew 5:1-8 and then he read to me the Beatitudes, with a little of bit of my help to help him properly pronounce some of the English words. He was only taught up to verse 8, but by the end of our time together we had made it all the way through verse 12 with a pretty good understanding of the text. Then after that he taught me how to say, I love you, God loves me, Lord Jesus loves me, and peace - all in Karen. Something really cool happened between the two of us once we opened up the Bible together. Before we started reading together there was this sort of barrier or wall between the two of us. But once we opened up the Bible together and started reading the words of Jesus that wall was taken down, it was like we were instant friends even though we had lived thousands of miles of way from each other most of our lives and had only known each other personally for a few minutes. It was cool to see the one thing that we had in common unite us as brothers in Christ. Then after we did that we talked about our friends and family. We talked for close to an hour but it seemed like only a few minutes, and it was cool because we were able to talk about so much even though we both spoke two different languages.

Once we were done talking with the Karen at the ESL class we went out to lunch and then visited a small park by the Mississippi River where we took a team picture before we headed off to go visit a Catholic Cathedral located here in St. Paul, Minnesota. The cathedral was absolutely gorgeous. It put me into a state of awe both for such an amazing building but also for the God who is being worshipped there. It has to be absolutely amazing to be able to praise God there on a weekly basis, I am almost jealous of the people who have such a privilege. The inside of the Cathedral is just so breath taking with all of the statues, the colorful and intricate stain glass windows, the paintings, statues, and amazing stonework. I mean all of the thought that went into the designing and building of the church is mind boggling. To be honest though words really cannot properly describe the cathedral, so I apologize, but you all will have to come see it for yourself here in St. Paul. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Following our visit to the Cathedral we returned to FBC of St. Paul and met up with some of the staff of World Relief who are in Minnesota. World Relief, like VSS, helps refugees with the resettlement process here in the Twin Cities area, however World Relief works all around the country as well as internationally helping refugees transition into a new chapter of their life in a new community. We were guided to this encounter by an X-file, that was simply a green note card, which we figured out represented a green card so we knew our next encounter had something to do with immigration. Through talking with the staff we learned about the arduous process and all of the hardships that one goes through in order to be resettled in their new country. Many of them come from horrible situations in their home countries because of civil war and unrest seeking a better life, but so much stands in these refugees way. They have to deal with a new culture and language, some deal with loneliness and and a feeling of despair, all of them have a huge financial burden trying to pay rent and their travel loans as well as just trying to pay for utilities and every day expenses, then there is the huge pressure of trying to find a good job here in America. All of these hardships are things that the church can help with. In fact, we are called to help these people, our brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:13) and even the least of these (Matthew 25: 31-46). We are called to support. There are so many practical things that we as the church can do to help our brothers in sisters who are coming to our country. We can provide financial support. We can just be a friend, supporting emotionally and spiritually, the language barrier should not scare us- look at the church in the book of Acts. We can drive them to their appointments, making sure they make it on time. We can provide household items like forks, knives, plates, mugs, which most American households have a huge excess of. We can help teach them English. And refugees are all over America, we just have to look, and the good news is God's church is all over America as well. Let's mobilize and help our brothers and sisters in Christ who so desperately need us to extend them a loving hand in this difficult chapter of their life. We should do it because at some point in all of our lives somebody gladly extended our hand to us and it changed everything, and who knows the ones who you extend your hand to now could be the one down the road who extends their hand and saves you.

After our time at World Relief we all went back to spend the last night with our host family before leaving for Thailand tomorrow afternoon. Upon entering the door of my host family I was met immediately by the mom and daughter who offered me dinner. The daughter, Xin Xin, had spent the day cooking for us and she is an amazing cook because dinner was delicious. After I had finished my plate of food Nay Htoo walked in and informed we were having a barbecue so there was going to be more food to eat after I was done. So, I went outside for the barbecue and met some more amazing people before we set down to eat again. The first man that I was able to talk was Wilfred who is an absolutely amazing man with a great story to tell. He is so wise and strong, and our conversation really inspired me to start fighting for what I believe in, because his story is full of perseverance and strength. I hope that some day I become a man like him, a man who loves and sacrifices for those around him and not for himself. A man who truly follows Christ. The other gentleman that I met was a missionary from Burma and is just as courageous and note worthy as Wilfred. He had come over to the United States in order to discuss what the church could look like in places like Burma and he has huge vision for the Burmese church once he gets back to Burma. I am so excited to see what he is going to over there because God is really going to use him over there. Hopefully some day we will be able to help him with his mission in Burma. So needless to say with this kind of company around the dinner table our dinner conversation was absolutely amazing and so refreshing.

Once we were finished with dinner everyone left to go home and I was able to sit down and talk with the host family for the rest of the night. We talked about so many things, Thailand, family, relationships, education, government systems, the history of the Burmese conflict, the church and God. It was definitely one of the best conversations ever. Nay Htoo and his wife were full of so much wisdom that I was privileged to receive from them, especially when it comes to God and his church/people. In fact Nay Htoo said a few things that really made me think and I wish I could talk to you all about each one but time and space does not permit that, so I am just going to list a few of them and I hope you all think about them.

1.) We need one person who is well respected to organize and lead us (referring to the Karen Community)
2.) We help each other so that we can help another
3.) Everybody hears God and has a message to give not just the pastor
4.) God gives us seven days and he only asks for one, he must be angry when we only give him one or 2 hour.
5.) If you give, you have; if you do not give; you do not have.

I think these words have a lot of wisdom in them, and they come from a wise man who lives them out. We Americans have a lot to learn from our Karen brothers and sisters, and we have a lot to share. But how different could we be if the church applied the wisdom to their lives that these 5 pieces of advice contain. That is what I have been thinking about all night? Hopefully we can find out in the future!