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: