I sometimes hear the words "mission in reverse" when persons describe the arrival of formerly evangelized people as missionaries to the sending nation. In many respects, this is the story of the impact of the Burma diaspora on American Baptist Churches. Thousands of ethnic minorities have made their way from Myanmar, often by way of a refugee camp along the Thai-Burma border. Seeking religious liberty and a more peaceful land, they quickly find their way to a congregation--or plant one. Recent growth in American Baptist churches is due, in large measure, to their presence.
Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C., houses a large congregation, which was the site of an amazing celebration yesterday afternoon. Central and International Ministries commissioned Sayama (teacher) Marlene Po as an associate missionary who will serve as director of Central's Judson Communities program. This is a certificate program in ministry studies designed for emerging leadership in their respective congregations.
Over the past several years, Central has offered these courses in Ft.Wayne, IN; St. Paul, MN; New Bern, NC; Portland, OR; Nashville, TN; Oakland, CA; Syracuse, NY; and Washington, D.C. Over 325 graduates of this program are strengthening churches through the equipping for ministry they have received.
Some churches have decided not simply to host a congregation, but to attempt to fully integrate the refugees into their existing congregations. Challenges are great, and rewards are many; and the Body of Christ grows more luminous with this expansion of identity. Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, is one such church, and now they cannot imagine their identity apart from the many Karen who comprise the church alongside their English as first.language counterparts.
God has placed an open door before Central to work with persons from Myanmar--both in their homeland and here in the US. Our collaboration with Myanmar School of Theology is ongoing. We are just concluding Doctor of Ministry seminars on our campus, and students and faculty colleagues are returning to Myanmar today.
We give thanks that God is making all things new through vibrant partnerships among these Baptist kin. It is surely the horizon of the future.
Molly T. Marshall