MgClapf (greetings in Burmese)! A good friend of mine is part Filipino and Myanmarese/(formerly Burmanese). Also, a UMM Student I've known for 5 years is from here too!
Win poses at the UMM Computer Lab on January 2005 during winter break
Minnesotans caring for Karen people
Local churches minister to persecuted Burmese refugees
by Jeanette Murdock Corn
To many Minnesotans, Myanmar (Burma) is a mysterious land of sun-drenched pagodas and brown-robed Buddhist monks. With its repressive socialist dictatorship and "closed-door" policy, the country has become so isolated from the rest of the world that it seems to have disappeared.
For several Twin Cities churches, however, Myanmar's doors have opened. At St. Paul First Baptist Church, Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, and several other Minnesota churches, opportunities to minister to the people of Myanmar are becoming more readily available.
Bill Englund pastors St. Paul First Baptist Church (FBC). His congregation's historic building stands at the corner of 9th and Wacouta in downtown St. Paul.
A member of the American Baptist denomination, FBC has had strong ties with Burma for many decades. Those connections go back to 1813, when American Baptist missionaries Adonirum and Ann Judson initiated the church's Burma ministry.
Today, thousands of Burmese practice the Baptist faith.
Ten years ago, Winston Winn, a veterinarian from Burma's Karen ethnic group, responded to worsening conditions in Burma by immigrating to the U.S. Winn's grandfather had been an American Baptist pastor, and Winn had strong Baptist beliefs. After arriving in the Twin Cities, he began attending FBC.
Gradually, other Karen Christians resettled in the Twin Cities and many also attended the church. By 2000, the church had become a center for Minnesota's Karen community.
"Five years ago, things really began to change," church members say.
The first group, which has 80 to 100 members, is more charismatic. For several years, it met at FBC on Sunday from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Although it is still associated with FBC, it recently moved to rented space on Selby Ave. where services are conducted in Karen.
The second group uses more traditional Baptist worship. It has approximately 120 members and continues to meet at FBC at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. Its services are conducted in Karen and Burmese.
Roughly 100 Karen also attend the church's 10:45 a.m. service, where average attendance is 220. Although other parts of the service are conducted in English, Scripture is read in English and Karen, and Karen singers frequently provide special music.
For example, on Jan. 22, 17 adults and young people performed a Karen hymn and many wore traditional attire.
Most Karen who attend FBC came to Minnesota from Thai refugee camps.
A big influx came in 2004, when U.S. State Department restrictions for Burmese refugee immigration temporarily eased. That summer, the church received Karen immigrants at the rate of 20 per week.
The church experienced some burnout at that time, and longtime church members looked around and wondered, "What are we becoming? Have we become a Karen church?"
But the Karen, who are characteristically gracious and hard working, brought new life to the church.
"First Baptist used to be a typical downtown church with an aging congregation and declining membership," Englund explained. When the Karen immigrants came, church members realized they had received a special calling, or opportunity, but they also understood that they could lay aside this ministry.
"The church decided to move out of its comfort zone and we stayed there. As a result, our church has changed. We are not the same church we were five years ago," Englund said.
FBC has sponsored a few immigrants, but Karen come to Minnesota primarily through sponsorship of World Relief, Lutheran World Relief and other international agencies. The church's primary role is to "respond to them after they get here and try to get them settled."
Initially, the church puts together "welcome baskets" - laundry baskets filled with sheets, towels, household essentials, a rice cooker, and 50-pound bags of rice. With the help of volunteers from Five Oaks Community Church in Woodbury, it also collects and distributes used furniture.
For new immigrants, housing is often a problem. "For awhile, we kept an apartment in our church basement," associate pastor Loren McLean recalled. "At one time, 25 Karen immigrants were living temporarily in the basement of FBC. Eventually, the fire department told us we couldn't do that any more, so we closed the apartment."
FBC also sponsors English as Second Language classes and "Living in America" classes that teach basic living skills. Recently, instructors from Jane Addams School of Democracy taught classes about democratic government and U.S. citizenship. The church also has set aside money in a credit union CD as collateral for loans to responsible Karen newcomers who need to purchase cars.
In efforts to support Karen immigrants in their first months of U.S. resettlement FBC is assisted by Woodbury Baptist, First Christian of Minneapolis, Five Oaks Community Church in Woodbury, University Baptist Church and House of Mercy, St. Paul.
-Going to Myanmar
In its ministry to the Burmese people, Living Word Christian Center (LWCC) has taken a different approach.
In September 2005, the Brooklyn Park church sent a 12-member mission team to Burma's heavily populated capital city of Rangoon. Kent Otey, LWCC's missions pastor, led the team. Although Otey has made 16 previous journeys to Asia, this was his first trip to Myanmar.
LWCC staff members Jim and Kristin Hammond lived in the Asian nation of Singapore for two years, Otey explained. While in Singapore, the Hammonds learned about a two hundred member Burmese underground church. This church runs a Bible school that ministers to 125-150 students from Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. All students at the Bible school have identified calls on their lives to preach the Gospel and start churches in their native areas.
The mission team's goal was to build up this underground church through teaching and ministry, to encourage the church's pastor, and to share the Word with students at the Bible school.
Burma was unlike other places he has traveled, Otey said. Not only was there great spiritual hunger among Burmese believers. There was also great spiritual depth.
"It seems like there had been a lot of spiritual seed. The seed of God's Word had been planted there in the past," he said.
-Burmese believers also have great depth of prayer.
"They don't have ready access to the Word, but they know the Lord from personal experience, and their theology lines up with Scripture," Otey said. "It does something to you to realize that there are believers in foreign lands that are walking more closely with the Lord than we are. Therefore, they're seeing an outpouring of the Spirit and manifestations of God that we're not seeing in America. It was just total unity, pressing into God. I've never been where it was like that."
The underground church's pastor came to Rangoon from a northern tribe, the Chin. This group is experiencing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seeing many miracles.
"The government is aware of what is taking place and is trying to prevent the spread of the revival by restricting travel to Chin. However, the revival continues to spread. No government in the world can stop something like that," Otey said. "We did everything God opened for us, and in about five or six days, we left. But we left totally changed because a love for the people was deposited into our hearts. It was a wonderful thing."
The Burmese people cope with grisly realities. Their government oppresses them. Their soldiers destroy their crops and burn their villages. If they are Christians, they are driven underground. Sometimes, they are forced to run for their lives.
Some have immigrated to a country whose citizens often describe themselves as "the Christian nation," but in reality, Burma's humble Christians have humbling lessons to teach Americans. Persecution has made them strong.
Kent Otey describes the Burmese as "deep." Bill Englund simply says, "They have affected us."
'To the jungle'
"And then we went to the jungle," she said. Her brown eyes twinkle as she smoothes her softly striped longyi and shifts her boot-clad feet.
Eighty-five year old Daphne Tun Baw, a tiny, well-educated member of Burma's Karen ethnic group, has "gone to the jungle" many times. Her eventful life illustrates the struggles the Karen have faced.
"All of my family are Christians," she said. Two great-uncles were missionaries, and Tun Baw, who speaks fluent English, attended a British missionary high school in her native city, Thaton. Afterward, she went to teachers' college, and then spent one year in a remote Burmese village because her grandmother insisted that she give her first year of teaching to Christ.
After completing her teaching service, she returned to Thaton, where she taught English in a girls' school until December 1941, when the Japanese invaded Burma and overwhelmed the British colonial government.
"Everyone evacuated to the jungle," she said.
When World War II ended, she moved to Tavoy, a river city. In 1948, when Burma gained its independence from Great Britain, she returned to her native town.
One year later, the Karen revolution began. "The government ordered us to surrender. 'No surrender,' we replied. Back to the jungle," Tun Baw says, shrugging good-naturedly.
In 1954, she married a former British naval officer, Daniel Tun Baw, who was a member of Karen's revolutionary army. Her new husband became ill with tuberculosis and spent two years at a hospital in the Burmese city of Syrian. When he recovered, he attended Bible college, after which he became a pastor in Namkham, a city in Burma's northern Shan state. While living in Namkham, Daphne and her husband brought up two sons.
Daphne's husband died in 1974, but Daphne remained in Namkham until 1985, when she retired from teaching and returned to her native Karen State.
Men were "at the front," but Tun Baw settled into a village that contained approximately 2,000 women, children and elderly. Three months after her arrival, however, the Burmese army attacked the area, and everyone was forced to flee across the border into Thailand.
Tun Baw never returned to Burma. For 12 years, she lived in villages on the Thai-Burmese border, and then she moved to a Thai refugee camp. "For 20 years, I had no permanent house," she said. She immigrated to the United States in October 2005.
Tun Baw's older son, Wilfred, came to Minnesota in September of 2000 and lives in northeastern St. Paul with his wife and three children. He is a coordinator for Vietnamese Social Services, a Karen sponsoring agency. In the past five years, Wilfred has helped 500 Karen relocate to Minnesota from Thai refugee camps, and he hopes to co-sponsor 2,000 Karen refugees in 2006.
Tun Baw's second son, Daniel, came to the Twin Cities with his wife and six children in 2005.
The family attends Karen services at St. Paul First Baptist Church.
Tun Baw says that she feels at home in Minnesota's tightly knit Karen community and expresses gratitude to the U.S. government for providing refuge to the Karen people. As she grows accustomed to snow boots and winter weather, her spirit is unbroken, despite the hardships she has faced.
"The [U.S] government told me to come to the United States and rest," she said. "But I don't want to rest. When my grandchildren come home from school, they don't know everything they need to know. I have nine grandchildren to teach. I have a lot to do."
Her determination remains strong.
Exclusive footage of Myanmar crackdown - 10 Oct 07
"For almost two weeks, Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley saw first hand the popular protests against Myanmar's military government and the subsequent crackdown. Each day he filed reports as soldiers were ordered to open fire on unarmed protesters. Three Al Jazeera cameras captured the events as they unfolded in the largest city, Yangon. The scenes of repression show the violent treatment meted out to protesters. You can Watch Al Jazeera's exclusive programme 'Inside Myanmar: The Crackdown' at the following times GMT:"
-World War II
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