International Ministries

Welcoming People from Myanmar/Burma

June 11, 2013 Journal
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     In the country of Myanmar/Burma, for over six decades, the Karen and other ethnic minorities have been attacked and driven from their homes by the Burmese government troops. With roots going back almost 200 years to Adoniram Judson, many of the Karen are Christians and often loyal Baptists. Since 2005, Karen refugees have been resettled in the United States and 15 other countries around the world. About 70,000 Karen have come to live in the US legally, and many have found a home in our churches or are starting their own congregations. Other persecuted ethnic groups are the Chin and the Kachin. A majority of both people groups are also Baptist.

We have served as IM missionaries for 26 years, having served most of those years in Thailand. Since 2007, we have been jointly appointed through a partnership between IM and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in which we remain based in the U.S. to help these refugees connect with each other and with our American Baptist and Cooperative Baptist churches wherever they are being settled in more than 150 cities.

We travel around the country visiting these growing immigrant communities and the churches hosting them and provide resources. We also make one or two trips to Thailand each year to visit the refugee camps and the various organizations that are processing the refugees for resettlement in third countries so we can get updates about the refugee situation on the border.

New Ministry Focus

There is a great need to help the pastors and church leaders of these immigrant U.S. churches to receive further theological training. So, in 2011 we began a partnership with the Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas. We are adapting the Seminary’s “FOUNDATIONS” Program, which is a certificate-level lay pastors training program in their native languages (Karen, Chin, and Burmese). This new program is called: “FOUNDATIONS—Judson Communities,” or FJC. The approach is to conduct classes in theological training in various locations around the country, making them more accessible to the students. They will receive a certificate from the seminary after completing the full program of classes over a one-year period. The goal is to help them fit into the U.S. clergy/church system and perhaps help give status and recognition to these pastors as they seek ordination.

There are qualified instructors originally from Myanmar/Burma and living in the U.S. who can teach in the Burmese, Chin, and Karen languages. These instructors all have theological training and degrees. They will be recruited to teach the course subjects using curriculum from Central Seminary and, if necessary, English-speaking instructors can be asked to teach certain subjects with translation. The first of these classes began in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in September, 2012, and are being taught in the Karen language. Another program, also in the Karen language, started in March 2013 in Utica, New York, which is the second-largest Karen community in the United States. We hope that at least 200 people will complete the full program over the next few years. A second level of training could also be added in the future if there is interest.

In Hebrews 13:1-2, the Bible instructs us to “welcome the stranger” in our midst who may be living in our communities. We should make the effort to find out who is living right outside the doors of our churches and then extend a warm welcome to these neighbors! Let’s seek to be a blessing to those around us who may need a friend and a “helping hand!”

In Matthew 25: 31-40 Jesus calls us to have compassion toward the “least of these.” Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees themselves in Egypt where they fled the wrath of King Herod after Jesus’ birth. So, may we look for the presence of Christ, the refugee, in the lives of these, our Karen, Chin, and Kachin brothers and sisters from Myanmar/Burma, or immigrants from any other place, who may be living in our neighborhood. As we accept and respect them, we allow them in turn to realize their own dignity and worth as human beings, so that they can then make a positive contribution to our churches and communities here in America. 

Within our American Baptist denomination, real partnership with our Baptist brothers and sisters from Myanmar/Burma should be cultivated for the mutual blessing God desires to give to all of us. We are missing out on a huge area of potential growth if we fail to engage these diaspora communities from Myanmar/Burma across the country. The 200-plus immigrant churches and congregations among the Chin, Karen, and Kachin represent the largest church-planting program in the American Baptist Churches! What an incredible opportunity this is for us to bless and be blessed!

For more information on the American Baptist tradition in Myanmar, request the 2013 Mission Study Guide.  Call 1-800-4JUDSON and request item #I394.