July 13, 1813, is the day the Judsons arrived in Burma, and many there continue to celebrate the day. Because of the many resettled people from Burma (Myanmar) now present in the US, many Baptist churches are once again marking this distinctive day.
Yesterday I preached at the Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, KY, spiritual home for many Karen in that area. The church made some critical decisions as these refugees began to trickle and then pour into their doors. They decided that they would be one church. As much as possible, they would share in all the things churches do together.
The relationship with Karen people began several years ago when the church sent a team to Thailand where they met Karen refugees streaming over the border from Burma. Two on that mission trip, Steve Clark and Annette Ellard, sensed a calling to work alongside these people. It is not surprising that as Karen arrived in Louisville, they remembered and sought out Steve and Annette, now appointed as CBF missionaries.
Many congregations simply share space and an occasional greeting from some official representative of the “real church,” but not here. Karen members of the church read Scripture, led in prayer, and provided special music; importantly, the worship bulletin had Scripture in both languages. Karen received simultaneous translation, which the older persons needed more than the younger ones!
A Karen pastor serves as part of the staff, and his presence is making a significant difference in caring for this part of the flock. There is a Sunday School hour for Karen, and American friends are a part of that. I was impressed that one of the non-Karen pastors of the church came to that gathering, greeted them in Karen, and then spoke with person after person, calling each by name.
The church is hosting citizenship classes, English classes, and finding ways to bring youth together. The nursery is brimming with babies, most of them Karen. The children’s sermon was a lively event, and I got a prime seat to view all the energy and curiosity as the children acted out the Parable of the Sower by planting seeds in various kinds of soils. Some fell on the carpet, and I bet they will sprout there, also.
Yesterday was a joy to me, not only because this was my former congregation, but also because I was able to witness a church embodying God’s welcome as they have been welcoming strangers. As one of the long time members remarked, “I cannot imagine our church without the Karen.” Christian hospitality is at the heart of the Gospel, and when it is practiced, something like resurrection occurs.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.