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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Father - daughters bonding (and freezing) time at the Seahawks game. Grateful to the Panthers organization for the tickets. Now, go Hawks. Pound the Panthers. The family that karaokes together stays together. #ChoFamilyKPopFamily Family time in one of my favorite cities in the world - especially when the exchange rate is so favorable. Thank you, Vancouver, for being such a great refuge for our souls for the past 20 years. #QuestVancouver It's the day after...that day.
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It's never that perfect or easy but that we get to try to do these things is reason enough to be grateful to the One who gives us life.

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#PreachingToMyself This is what real life looks like after a crazy couple weeks. Grateful for this woman. I love her. She's gonna scream at me for posting this pic. #ThoseSocksThough Grateful for the opportunity to encourage 2500 youth leaders & pastors at the @youthspecialties conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Had prayed for wisdom to encourage leaders and courage to navigate a word for leaders post election about empathy and compassion for the unseen, marginalized, and those experiencing real fear.

Also, what a joy to have my church's youth pastor, @cobycagle, also here teaching. Some years ago, I was a youth pastor for several years in California, Korea, NY, and NJ. They were meaningful years but filled with challenges and loneliness. Sometimes, I felt unseen and insignificant - in comparison to "real" adult ministry. As a lead pastor now, I want to make sure I don't make those mistakes of overlooking our youth and children's ministry and their volunteers and staff. 
Pastor Coby, Pastor Katey, Pam, Jalle, and Jasmin: We see you. We appreciate you. We are grateful for your presence and leadership at Quest and beyond. Thank you and all of our amazing volunteers

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