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

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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

my tweets

  • Life has its share of pain but don't get down and cynical. Stay engaged. Self-care. Keep learning and growing. Remain hopeful. Be steadfast. || 4 hours ago
  • The Gospel, not social justice, is our identity as believers but the Gospel compels us to love God/love people incl. work 4 the common good. || 2 days ago
  • Folks often ask me, "What is social justice?" "Social justice" are fancier words for "Give a Damn". || 2 days ago
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