Eugene Cho

life as a refugee and immigrant

My worldview is dramatically impacted by my story as an immigrant.  My parents [w/o telling me] took my brothers and I to the United States when I was six years old.  A week later, I was up and running as a first grade student at Sherman Elementary School in San Francisco.  Struggling with language, identity, and sheer terror, I struggled in the early years as a student including episodes of wetting my pants in school because I was so afraid to raise my hand and ask to go to the restroom.  I was six.  My brothers were 9 and 12 – I can’t even imagine how much more difficult their experiences were.

Now imagine living your whole life without a home in your own country – an internally displaced person [IDP], a refugee living in an overcrowded United Nations camp, or moving from place to place in the jungles while fleeing away from an army ordered to kill you in the government’s plan for “Burmisation.” .  During my visit to Burma couple years ago, one of the most vivid memories for me was visiting some of the makeshift schools in the Karen [an ethnic group in Burma] villages.  On the walls – along with your typical “educational posters” for reading and writing – were also graphic posters to educate the young children how to identify and avoid landmines.  Oh, how much the children of our world suffer because of our hideous sin and depravity.

Some choose and are fortunate enough to be selected to be part of an UN refugee relocation program.  Now, mind you, I think the heart of the program is amazing and I am thankful that the United States is one of these nations receiving immigrants and refugees from all around the world.  But life as an immigrant can be so brutally difficult.  Couple years ago, my family hosted a refugee couple from Somalia and they literally had never experienced electricity, a toilet, running water, etc.  After three months of “assimilation,” they are supposed to get a job and start working and make a life for themselves.  If it were so easy…

This past Sunday, my family and I had the privilege of visiting the one and only [and new] Karen refugee church community in Washington [Kent].  Some of them literally had stepped foot into the country a week ago.  When my family and I immigrated to San Francisco, we had family to welcome us.  There was a Korean church to welcome us.  There were structures in place to help us.  In the greater Puget Sound area, there are about 130-150 folks – total – in the Karen community and they’re all just trying to figure out how to survive.

Thankfully, there are those who do care.  Good people like Rich and Teresa;  Fellow Karen advocates such as Maggie and Steve Dun [who was featured in the Seattle PI recently and who’s been to Congress numerous times to plead on his people’s behalf].  Through the passion of these folks and our relationship with them, our church has had the privilege of doing our small part to assist this church community through the church’s Global Presence & Churchplanting Foundation. Last Sunday, I was able to preach at their church.  There were easily 100 people there including many children.  Because they are meeting in a small community park building, the kids are meeting in the chairs/storage closet. 

On another note, I was pleasantly surprised that a recent Karen refugee in his late 20’s recognized me from my visit to Burma two years ago and specifically to Area/Village 101.  I had the privilege of preaching at the church in that village where many trekked over an hour to welcome us as guests.  Several months later, I received an email informing me that same village was attacked and occupied by the S.P.D.C. [Burmese military army].  It’s a difficult story to process.  As Steve shared several Sundays ago in an interview at Quest:  While it isn’t close to the enormous magnitude of the genocide in Darfur or Rwanda, the situation in Burma and particularly with the Karen ethnic group is another brutal example of genocide – one that receives rare mention in the media.

If you’re interested in volunteering with this community, please contact our church.  Here are some pics from their church and community meeting:

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Filed under: religion,

9 Responses

  1. Patrick says:

    What did you think about the Rambo movie? Does it help the cause or not?

  2. Kacy says:

    Having faith is all you will need to get on with your life

  3. Kacie says:

    Thanks for this, Eugene. I live in Dallas and wrote this post last week http://weblog.xanga.com/papua2001mk/646912398/discovering-30-stranded-refugee-familiespractically-in-my-backyard.html.

    It’s about a large new Karen refugee community in Dallas that is so new that they have very few English speakers and almost no network of resources to help them with the adjustment. The needs are staggering. As we (some members of the mission I work for and myself) have just heard about this, we’re just beginning to try to figure out how to meet this need…. but there is a lesson to be learned. You never know what needs might be around you!! Your prayers for these people would be very much appreciated.

  4. alexoh says:

    Man, you think wetting your pants in school because you were afraid to ask to go to the bathroom is bad…I wet my pants right in front of my taekwondo master when I was a kid cause I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom.

    Anyways, thanks for the insight about the Karen refugees, very interesting. That is quite an amazing story about the refugee recognizing you.

  5. stushie says:

    Excellent story and one that brings hope for us all. God bless.

  6. U Myine says:

    Dear Sir

    There is an unlawful affairs in Myanmar.The court in Myanmar have
    unnatural decision.
    for example,U sein HLa ,District magistrate in Yangon,gets 30,000
    kyats for a case to accept .for a decision is unLinmited money.

    In Tharkayta,Yangon,our court have many brokers .Ma Aye Nu ,
    working at Law office live in Yanpya 4 st 2/South ward join the judges
    especially Daw Su sanda win and lawyers .She takes money and can change
    any decision .She,only clerk,have 2 cars and many possessions.
    please Check them all any decision.It is seen clearly malfeasances.

    Daw Su Sanda Win and other judges made undue influence for public

    please announce the world for public .so the court can see right things

    U Myine
    Tharkayta

  7. Eric Blauer says:

    Spokane has a large and growing Karen and Chin population. Our church is heavily involved, you can read our story at http://www.jacobswellspokane.com

  8. […] that this community has moved to another location that better accomodates their growing community.  The last time I visited them, the kids were meeting in the janitor’s […]

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One Day’s Wages

My Instagram

Everyone loves the idea of  reconciliation...until it involves truthtelling, confessing, repenting, dismantling, forgiving, and peacemaking. Charlottesville. So heartbreaking and infuriating. We weep and mourn over the hatred in the hearts of these white nationalists. We weep and mourn but we can't be defeated.

As I stare at this photo that's making its round on the internet, I'm reminded of the utter importance of showing up. I'm grateful for the news media, law enforcement, clergy, and peaceful protesters that are currently there to report, protect, pray, and protest.

And this is an invitation to us. May we not be mere bystanders. May we keep pressing forward. Seek justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Commit to truth-telling, justice, reconciliation, peacemaking. Follow the ways of Christ. Every day. And it's important to note that we don't have to go to Charlottesville to do this. In fact, it's more important that we do this exactly where we're at. May we live out the call to reconciliation in our churches, workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, and around our dining tables. Lord, may it be so... We don't have to go to Charlottesville to do this. We have to do this wherever were called to be.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. /// Thanks to those who let me know that the photo wasn't actually from today but rather from last month in Charlottesville. - https://www.facebook.com/FrankSomervilleKTVU/posts/1551137301616258:0 Grateful for a spontaneous, last minute trip with Minhee to my old stomping grounds - San Francisco. 48 hours of visiting this special city that I called home for so many years.

Pic 1: Went to the Cliff House restaurant where we got engaged about 21 years ago to make out. Oops, sorry, I meant...to reflect on God's faithfulness over these many years.

Pic 2: Walked across the Golden Gate Bridge because it's such an iconic place - with some of the most incredible views.

Pic 3: Enjoyed a glass of some Cabernet Sauvignon and pretended to be wine connoisseurs at a vineyard.

Pic 4: Had lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Sam Tung, which boasts some of the best chicken in the country. And of course, we ate at In-n-out.

Pic 5: And finally, celebrated with the good folks at @thefreedomstory where @onedayswages received their annual Freedom Award. What an honor.

Grateful. Thankful for this sabbatical. Breathe.

Show yourself some grace.

We can't do everything for everyone in every situation. Do what you can and do it with a joyful heart.

Amen A family that eats sushi together stays together.

Seriously, I don't ever remember eating so much as a teenager but these kids eat and eat and eat. Perhaps, the reason why this kid is pushing 6 feet tall. Grateful for a special treat with the family at @JaponessaSeattle. I'm sharing an obligatory, "I love and appreciate my wife, she's amazing" photo. Also...because I did something naughty...or brilliant. ;) Seattle is in the midst of a crazy heatwave. Near 100 degrees, hazy, and humid. An excessive heat advisory warning has also been issued.

So, Minhee and I needed to run some errands. It waa horrible but sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. It's also known as adulting.

So, I'm driving and the air conditioning seems to have minimal effect. Minhee is in the passenger's seat and umm, when she's not paying attention, I turn on her seat heater to 5 - the highest level. All along, she's complaining about how hot she is...for nearly an hour...until she finally realizes what I did.

Bam. Boom. Gotcha.

Minhee, I love you!

my tweets

  • RT @mrmedina: When Bryan Stevenson speaks, we do well to listen. https://t.co/o5GJD0KWR2 || 12 hours ago
  • "Mourn with those who mourn." Lifting up the people of Sierra Leone in prayers. Hundreds dead and many more missing… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… || 14 hours ago
  • Dear Barcelona: We are so sorry. We mourn the violence and tragedy in your beautiful city. We pray for healing and yearn for peace. Amen. || 1 day ago
  • Love wins in the end but meanwhile, it fights for things that matter. Love isn't sentimental. It's both gentle & fierce. Seek God's Kingdom. || 2 days ago
  • In response to racism, folks often say, "It's a sin issue." Yes...but don't be naive. Sin creates sinful systems: youtube.com/watch?v=LEbUa0… || 3 days ago
  • Everyone loves the idea of reconciliation...until it involves truthtelling, confessing, repenting, dismantling, forgiving, and peacemaking. || 5 days ago