A seminary for displaced people

From IM’s Fall/Winter 2022 On Location newsletter. You can receive stories of God’s work around the world direct to your inbox when you subscribe with your name and email address through the form below.


On the border of Thailand and Myanmar, Kawthoolei Hope Theological Seminary is training leaders and peacemakers in refugee camps.

About seven years ago, Dr. Saw Wado had a dream to establish a seminary for deeper theological training among the camps of displaced Kawthoolei Karen people living on the border of Myanmar and Thailand.

For more than three decades, many Karen people have been displaced and are living as refugees on a long swath of the Thailand border because of ongoing political turmoil in Myanmar. This seminary could be a platform both to build Karen leadership and to train peacemakers in a context deeply impacted by conflict.

Although Kawthoolei Hope Theological Seminary (KHTS) was birthed in 2015, it remained homeless. Already working in partnership with International Ministries, Saw Wado asked IM Area Director for Southeast Asia and Japan Leslie Turley if there was any way in which International Ministries could help. “IM builds relationships with very loyal donors, who love the work our global servants and partners do, and who want to participate in that work,” says IM’s Associate Executive Director for Mission Advancement Zofia Dripps. “We have a process through which we can give our partners visibility and help connect them with our donors.”

Shortly after IM’s Mission Advancement team posted this project on IM’s website, a longtime IM donor surprised Leslie with a message to say that he had just donated $12,000—all the funding Saw Wado had requested to construct a home for the seminary. Amazed and delighted, Leslie’s immediate reaction was “Thank you, Jesus!”

Building work began in 2020 to construct classrooms, dormitories, a cafeteria/kitchen, and a library. On March 20, 2022, staff and students celebrated the opening of the seminary’s new permanent home.

Fully accredited, KHTS is growing rapidly, with 71 current students. The seminary offers a Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Socio-Cultural and Political Transformation, and Master of Arts in Ministry. IM recently appointed new Global Servants Eric and Yuree Lembke to serve at the seminary in teaching, technological support, evangelism and discipleship. They are currently raising the funds needed to begin their ministry there.

“The placement of the seminary is unique,” explains Leslie, who visited the new buildings last spring “It’s right on the border, on the side of a valley. Most days you can see from there the helicopters and fighter jets dropping bombs in Myanmar. That is why this work is so important—a big part of the seminary’s work is focused on how to build peace. I am thankful for the long history of IM that has continued to focus on coming alongside our partners in ministry.”

For Saw Wado, KHTS stands not only on a boundary line between two countries but exists to push the boundaries of what is possible, as the Karen people stand in their faith in God. “I want to see KHTS lead. I see KHTS in the international platform, preaching, leading workshops, lecturing in universities, and changing landscapes for refugees. This, on the one hand, can be absurdity but on the other it is courage. We will build a bridge for Karen unity, we will alter the conditions of the refugees, the migrants, and the diaspora, we will transform our geo-socio-political landscape, we will globalize the Karen identity. Don’t tell me this is impossible. This is hope. We shall overcome, and the future will be as bright as the promises of God. KHTS will be, and we will be, the agents of hope.”