VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 02/06/08) - Under the auspices of the Burmese Refugees Task Force, American Baptist Leaders, Pastors and Lay People will travel to the refugee camps along the Thailand border with Myanmar, traditionally known as Burma, Feb. 11-21. Their goals are numerous and include ministering to the ethnic Karen people group in the camps, gaining a better understanding on the refugee-to-resettlement process, and reaffirming the historic ties between American Baptists and the Burmese people. The group will also visit a Thai government office that deals with refugee resettlement and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, the main Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that provides food and shelter to the camps.
Historically, American Baptists and Burmese Baptists share a common heritage and can claim each other as the catalyst for their formation. Baptists in the United States first came together to form what is today known as International Ministries, following the arrival of Baptist missionaries Adoniram and Ann Judson to Burma in 1813. Baptist work in this Southeast Asian country grew, especially among ethnic minorities in Burma, who have been persecuted in one form or another for the entire time Baptists have been in the country.
A political change in the Burmese government in the 1960s forced foreign missionaries to leave, including American Baptist missionaries, but International Ministries still maintains strong ties with the Myanmar Baptist Convention, which is over 100 years old.
In the past decade, increases in persecutions have prompted tens of thousands of Burmese to leave their homes and flee to refugee camps in neighboring Thailand. In the past two years, nearly 14,000 Burmese refugees that have fled Burma have been placed in the United States for permanent resettlement under the government's Refugee Resettlement program. American Baptist Churches USA through National Ministries assists some of those refugees resettled through the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program.
With their strong Baptist faith and the close ties generated by the Judsons that are still celebrated in their home country, many of these newcomers to the U.S. seek out American Baptist churches to worship in. It is not uncommon for a church's attendance to jump by 40 or 50 people in one week.
In response to the recognized need, the Burmese Refugees Task Force was created in 2007. Its primary goals are to educate and publicize the history and current situation of Burmese refugees, to support churches reaching out to these new people groups here in the U.S., and to encourage regions and churches to develop ministries and programs that would benefit new arrivals.
As the ABC delegation visits with refugees in the camps in Thailand, they will be filing blog entries along the way in order to share their experiences, pictures and reflections with American Baptists back home. The blog can be accessed at: http://abcthai.blogspot.com/ and visitors are encouraged to leave comments.
Members of the Burmese Refugees Task Force are:
Rev. A. Roy Medley, ABCUSA General Secretary Rev. Stan Murray, Director of South East Asia and Japan, International Ministries, Rev. Duane Binkley, Missionary to Thailand/US; International Ministries Mr. David Worth, Director of Development, International Ministries Rev. Florence Li, National Coordinator for Intercultural Ministries, National Ministries Mr. Ken George, National Coordinator for Direct Human Services, National Ministries Rev. Mark Caruana, Pastor, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Utica, NY Rev. Saw Ler Htoo, Karen pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC Rev. Duh Kam, Chin pastor, Chin Baptist Missionary Church, Silver Spring, MD Rev. Thlaawr Bawihrin, Chin pastor, Zophei Christian Church, Indianapolis, IN
Andrew C. Jayne American Baptist Churches USA Mission Resource Development http://www.abc-usa.org/