Prayers for Myanmar (Part 1)

by Sandra Hasenauer

2015-01-05 19.57.39I spent the better part of the month of December 2014 in Myanmar (Burma), visiting with our Kachin Baptist sisters and brothers and witnessing both their incredible ministry and their incredible needs. Although Myanmar has improved over the last five years, with a government making moves towards greater democracy and an improving economy as they have opened their doors to business from other countries, there is still an ongoing struggle for justice and security. Education is still expensive, resulting in many families being unable to send their children to school at all, or children being unable to continue their education past eighth grade (each successive year costs more in tuition and tutoring expenses). Medical care is often bought at a price–the wealthier able to afford better care than the poor. There are still battles being fought between the military and some of the ethnic groups, including the Kachin. The Rohingya have been frequently in the news as victims of violence and trafficking. The path to the next elections in Myanmar is still unclear, filled with potential pitfalls. Our prayers are still needed greatly.

In the midst of all this, I was deeply struck by the vibrancy of the ministries we were able to visit. I spent several days in the northern Kachin State, which is predominantly Christian and, of the Christians, predominantly Baptist. My traveling companions and I were shown tremendous hospitality as we met and visited with the leadership of the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry. It was an incredible week.

We visited the Good Samaritan Clinic, a ministry launched in 1995 by the Kachin Baptist women, providing health care to those in the Kachin State regardless of their income. Currently, the clinic is in a small building and has about 10 beds (only about 6 of those private), space for meetings with the doctor, a dental office, and a small pharmacy that largely carries local herbal remedies. The KBC Women’s Ministry leaders, however, described for us their plans for the future: They are engaged in a fundraising campaign to build a six-story, 100 bed, fully modernized hospital for women and children. Please hold this fundraising campaign in your prayers, that the medical needs of women and girls may be more effectively addressed.

The Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry also runs a Women’s Empowerment Clinic. Students between the ages of 12 and 45 are enrolled for a three-month course, during which they may concentrate on sewing or weaving classes, or a variety of other marketable skills such as cosmetology, embroidery, flower arranging, and so forth. There are between 25-30 students at any time; most live on site at the center, a few day students are from the local area. They also have Bible study and life skills training classes (such as money management). The prayer is that students would return home with their new skills and be able to find jobs to better support their families. As jobs are often few and far between, however, KBW plans on opening a factory to employ students, providing them with a steady income at the same time as the factory could help support the ministry. Please hold the Women’s Empowerment Clinic and plans for the factory in your prayers, that women will continue to be equipped and empowered both economically and spiritually.

A third sign of tremendous hope that we witnessed was the Kachin Baptist Theological College. This theological school, located on the outskirts of the Kachin State capital city of Myityina (pronounced “meeht-chee-na”), is also the midst of a new building project. The principal of the seminary was enthusiastic in his plans for the future as the new classrooms and worship space are completed. We were able to tour both the current building as well as the new construction–we found ourselves wanting to be able to attend classes in the new building too: they’re beautiful! As a later note: KBTC was the site of the Kachin Baptist youth conference in April–it is estimated that there were over 20,000 youth in attendance! Please hold the students, faculty, and staff of the Kachin Baptist Theological College in your prayers, that the new buildings may continue to serve God in the Kachin state for generations to come.

I found myself renewed in my own call to ministry through the deep commitment and faithful hope I witnessed in the Kachin Baptist Church and especially, for me, in the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministries. This is the first of two posts I’ll be sharing about my experience in Myanmar: I write these blog posts in the prayer that you will also give God thanks for the presence and ministry of the KBC and KBW among their people, their role in bringing peace to a struggling country, and their faithful commitment to God.

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headshot higherresRev. Sandra DeMott Hasenauer serves as associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries and is on the ABCUSA Burma Refugees Commission. This is her second trip to Myanmar (Burma), the first being in 1998. She has also visited the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, and enjoys the new life of her home church of Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, as in the last several years it has welcomed over 150 new friends and members originally from Burma.

Sunday after Christmas: Needing You This Christmas Season

By Jenn Leneus

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11 For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word]. For Zion’s sake will I [Isaiah] not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her imputed righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, and her salvation radiates as does a burning torch.And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice—not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10–62:3, AMP)

Christmas time is a season of celebration and of praise. It is a season of remembrance and appreciation; for even before we were of existence, before we had breath in our bodies, God saw fit to save us from a world of destruction. He provided a way before we even knew we needed direction. Christ left his throne of glory, and became human for our sake. He came for men and women alike; not differentiating between sexes, color, age, or religion, making one of more importance. He came to provide life to the lifeless.

We are called to walk in the image of Christ and to see as he sees. As women, we are beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. We ought to teach other women their worth and self-value. In this day and time where human trafficking is at an all-time high, but is being kept low-key as if it is not an issue, women all around the world are being degraded and treated as less than human. Are we any better than them? Do they deserve the life that they are given? Of course not! I believe we have certain issues in our environment so that we are able to grow as one in the body. For the body has many members, but each member has a specific task to complete (1st Corinthians 12:12). If there is an open wound in the body, the heart picks up its pace and pumps more blood to accommodate for the loss. In the same manner, we ought to go out and reach out to our sisters that are suffering, whether it is through missions, outreach, or simply prayer. We are commissioned to go out to the four corners of the earth to introduce Christ to others (Matthew 28:19).

In the spirit of Christmas, let us remember our sisters in prayer. Lift them up before God so that God may hear our cries and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s give them the assurance of being fearfully and wonderfully made. Together we can make a difference. Let us take this time to make a resolution to empower and uplift a woman, a young lady, or a little girl at least once a week. Who are we without each other? We are just one part of a body that needs our other parts in order to be fully functional!

Jenn LeneusJennifer Leneus serves as coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries (2014-2017) on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. A member of Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, New Jersey, Jenn served as secretary of the Youth Federation Committee for the Haitian Alliance of ABCUSA for three years. Jenn has helped plan several national events for young adult women sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She is a graduated practical nursing student and is working towards her Bachelors in Nursing.

 

Hope in Prayer

By Emilie Rodriguez

Prayer Vigil Border credit CWS Aug 29 2014

Prayer vigil at the border, 8-29-14. Photo used by permission, Church World Service.

The breeze comes in through the open car window as we drive across the U.S. border into Tijuana. I look out on streets filled with people going to and from work, school, maybe even wandering around trying to find a place to call home. As I inhaled, memories of my childhood fill my mind, trying to burst free: hitting the piñata at countless birthday parties, cheering as my cousins played soccer with our older aunts and uncles, falling asleep on our way home as we cross the border back to the U.S. We arrive at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Tijuana, the First Baptist Church of Tijuana. When we enter the building, my eyes widen in surprise. People from all over the United States have come to the vigil: Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Boston, San Diego—and that’s just the people on this side of the border. Still more were gathering on the other side of the border to join us in prayer.

It gives me hope that so many have come to aid the crisis, come to do something about it and support the efforts. The discussion begins and we conference with our brothers and sisters in San Diego, those who are going to meet up with us later at the park. We go around the room, discussing what has been happening in each of our regions, each person speaking about the children and families that are haunted by the atrocities going on their countries. They’ve seen the faces of these refugees and want to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. The preliminary discussion ends and we head to the Border Field State Park. There, the people in San Ysidro come to join us, facing us across the fence from the U.S. side of the park. There we stand united, linked across two countries, and we all feel hope coursing through each of us. We begin the prayer and as we pray to God, pleading that he helps us fight this humanitarian crisis, my mind finds peace. A sense of calm courses through me, and I know that no matter what happens, God will help.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez is convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, AB Women’s Ministries. A senior in high school, Emilie served as AB Women’s Ministries’ representative at a prayer vigil hosted by American Baptist Churches USA held at the border on August 29, 2014. To watch a video of the prayer vigil, click here.

AB Women’s Ministries 2014-2015 mission focus is “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” For information, resources, and a link to subscribe to monthly emails on the topic, visit www.abwministries.org.

Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?

Submitted by Bonnie Sestito

"White House Civil Disobedience" August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

“White House Civil Disobedience” August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

Beginning in October 2011, the U.S. Government recorded a dramatic rise—commonly referred to in the United States as “the surge”–in the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the United States from these same three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The total number of apprehensions of unaccompanied and separated children from these countries by U.S. Customs and Border Protection jumped from 4,059 in Fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 10,443 in FY 2012 and then more than doubled again, to 21,537, in FY 2013. At the same time, a tremendous number of children from Mexico have been arriving to the U.S. over a longer period of time, and although the gap is narrowing as of FY 2013, the number of children from Mexico has far outpaced the number of children from any one of the three Central American countries.

“Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?” is AB Women’s Ministries mission focus for 2014-2015. Why is there a “crisis at the border?” Let us step into the shoes of those that have come to the United States from the Northern Triangle.

“I lived with my mother and two younger siblings. My biological father abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me. I have a warm relationship with my stepfather, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years. My main reason for coming to the U.S. is to join my stepfather. Threats were made that led me to flee when I did. The head of the gang that controlled my neighborhood wanted me to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap me or to kill one of my family members if I didn’t comply. I knew another girl from my community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members. I didn’t want this for myself. Once the gang started harassing me, I didn’t feel safe, so I stopped going to school and stayed at home until my family was able to make arrangements for my travel to the U.S.” (Josefina, El Salvador, Age 16)

“If they really do want to know how hard life is down there, they should go see it. There are kids who don’t make it past five years old because they die of hunger. Their parents can’t work because there are no jobs. Just give us a chance. Let us better ourselves so we can be something better than what we are today.” (Mauricio, Honduras, Age 17)

“I had problems with my grandmother. She always beat me from the time I was little. That’s why I went to live with my boyfriend—and because I was lonely and sad. But after we had been living together for about a month, my boyfriend also beat me. He beat me almost every day. I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left the same day.” (Lucia, Guatemala, Age 16)

“I like playing soccer outside, but I can’t really play anymore. My friends from my neighborhood all moved because their brothers were killed. The cartel killed them, and the entire family left. So now I don’t have anyone to play soccer with. (Jaun, Mexico, Age 13)*

“What can we do?” This is the question that AB Women’s Ministries is asking of American Baptist women across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Below are some suggestions.

Celebrate: The International Day of the Girl Child promotes girls’ rights and highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys. It is a UN observance that is annually held on October 11. Celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child giving your AB women’s or girls’ group the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from.

Join thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other faith communities across the country in the 2014 National Observance of Children’s Sabbath, designated for October 17-19. The theme is “Precious in God’s Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child.”   Celebrate by holding special worship services, education programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in improving the lives of children and their families. A copy of this year’s resource manual may be downloaded from www.childrensdefense.org.

You can plan ahead for an observance of International Migrants Day on December 18. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which ABCUSA is a part, has resources you could use in worship. International Migrants Day recognizes the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, and provides opportunity for advocacy on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants.

Research: Find out if there is something that you can do for “unaccompanied and separated children,” who may be living in your community.

Advocate: Call your Members of Congress and ask that they reject rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. If you don’t know who your Members of Congress are, go to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

Make a Donation: Give to Church World Service (www.cwsglobal.org) to support their response to the crisis with unaccompanied children and families:

  • Legal Services and Assistance
  • Religious Services and Pastoral Care
  • Hospitality at Drop-off Points (food, clothing, diapers, medical care, housing and bus tickets for those being left without any support)
  • Humanitarian Assistance in Honduras (assistance to returning migrant children and adolescents unable to be admitted to the U.S. specifically, providing food, psycho-social care, healthcare, and sanitation and hygiene services for some 1,000 children and teenagers in a designated shelter in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

AB Women’s Ministries has a page on our website devoted to the 14-15 mission focus, “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” You’ll find information and resources listed there, and you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to our monthly emails on the topic that give more updated information, links, and ideas for action around particular facets of the theme.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito is coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls with AB Women’s Ministries.

*Information was obtained from www.unhcrwashington.org, “Children on the Run—Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection: A Study Conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Office for the United States and the Caribbean Washington, D.C.” (published March 2014).

A Prayer and a Mile in Their Shoes

Contributed by Tansy Kadoe

womensbiblestudy2How do we walk in the shoes of those with whom we minimally share common life experiences? How many of us have had our villages burned, our livelihood robbed, or our lives threatened? How many of us managed to escape those nightmares to eventually re-settle in a foreign land where everything is different— language, food, culture, attire, life style…?

A good way to take a peek into the lives of the Karen refugee women is to meditate on their prayers. It is like reading David’s psalms and getting a glimpse into his heart.

While studying the book of Nehemiah in the weekly women’s Bible study held at Arizona Karen Baptist Church, the ladies took on a group assignment of writing a prayer in the format of the prayer stated in Nehemiah 9, in remembrance of their plight and God’s mercy. (Words from Scripture in italics.)

Blessed be Your glorious name! You are the God that granted favor to our ancestors. They were honest, loving, and above all, they sought You. You promised them the Book of Life. You kept Your promise and sent Adoniram and Ann Judson to deliver this precious Book to us. We were the first to embrace the Good News of Your grace. Your Book of Life is a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night for us.

“But we became arrogant and stiff-necked. We sinned by worshiping idols, committing violence, coveting dishonest wealth, and defiling our bodies. Our sins separated us from You; we were given into the hands of the enemies. We faced crushing oppression; constant fear made us flee in desperation; illnesses and starvation compounded the wretchedness. Our hearts shattered as we watched the untimely death of our loved ones and young children.

womensbiblestudy“We cried out to You for You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love. Therefore You did not desert us. You heard us from heaven and delivered us to refugee camps, where we were cared for and fed. You then brought us to the Land of Milk and Honey, America. Our children can go to school. We are employed. We worship You in freedom. We eat to the full and are well-nourished; we revel in Your great goodness.

“But Lord, rebellion rises against You, although Your Spirit warns us. We hold a false sense of security in materials. We no longer come before You in truth and spirit. Sufficiency has bred indifference. Some   were led astray to false gods and they abandoned their faith in You. We do not teach our children Your word, making them susceptible to ungodly influences.  As we watch them poorly adjusting to the new environment by making bad decisions, we shed tears.  Depression leads our husbands to drinking, and sometimes to prison. Once again, we are in great distress. Father God, please do not let all this hardship seem trifling in Your eyes.  Our hope is in You alone. We promise to love You and draw near You. Please rescue us for You are a gracious and merciful God.”

What better way to walk in the shoes of refugee women than by joining them in prayers?

Tansy Picture 1smTansy Kadoe is a member of Arizona Karen Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and she leads the women’s Bible study at her church.

Diaspora Missions

Contributed by Marcia and Duane Binkley

Our work since 2006 has been to connect Baptist churches in the U.S. with refugees from Burma being resettled throughout America by the U.S. government. Knowing the situation of the Karen in Thai refugee camps, we marvel at their ability to adapt to a U.S. lifestyle, language and culture. We have also been pleased to see so many U.S. churches with no prior cross-cultural experience extend Christian hospitality and acceptance to these newest Americans. With 90,000 from Burma already in the U.S., over 250 new churches and congregations have been started. The largest Baptist church-planting program in America today is the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program!

While learning of refugee resettlement in the U.S., our eyes have been opened to the many other people and language groups living in America. Others in Christian circles are noticing as well and a fledgling movement is being started that some call Diaspora Missions. The idea is that by reaching the international communities living in America, our local churches will grow and the world could be reached without leaving the country.

Virtually every major city in America and many smaller towns and cities are now home to populations speaking languages and belonging to cultures from everywhere on the globe. The U.S. census estimates “over 300” languages are spoken in homes in the U.S.A., and Global Research of the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board lists 541 “unreached people groups” living in America. However, many of us, and many of the churches we attend, don’t recognize the international nature of America today. When contact is made with people speaking something other than English, we see them as separate. Some churches may invite a non-English speaking group to use “their” building, but often there is a feeling of “us” and “them”. For still others, the response has been to wait until newcomers learn English and have assimilated. Only after they become one of “us” will they be welcomed.

A quick survey of the Bible indicates God wants us to take a different approach. When Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets with his face still shining from being in the presence of God, one of the first things he said to the people of Israel was, “And you are to love those who are aliens” (Deut. 10:19). Throughout the Old Testament that command is repeated and we’re told the same rules apply to strangers, foreigners, and aliens that apply to us.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ cross-cultural encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well illustrates his love for those considered different. Then, in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came, there were at least 15 language groups represented. In Acts 11, Peter was at first criticized for taking the Gospel to non-Jews until he explained his dream. When it was apparent everyone could receive the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?” (Acts11:17) Peter seems to say when we don’t welcome the stranger, alien and foreigner, we oppose God. Ouch!

Recently, on a plane ride I sat next to an East European who came to the U.S. as a refugee several years ago. He has done well materially and has a high-paying job. After explaining that I was working with refugees from Burma and trying to connect churches with them, he looked hurt and asked, “Why did no church try to connect with us?”

I pass on his question for us to consider. As individual Christians, churches, organizations, and denominations, why aren’t we connecting more with the foreigner, stranger, and alien living near to us? Often, the main thing newcomers want is acceptance and a chance to be the people God made them to be. Our Lord accepts us as we are so, in turn, his church should be the first place newcomers to America should find acceptance. In the words of Peter, “Who are we to oppose God?”

(View a gallery of photos from multicultural church gatherings!)

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medium_DSC_0066Duane and Marcia Binkley are missionaries to the Karen in the U.S. and Thailand, jointly appointed by American Baptist Churches USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Sharing Our Space

2 LBC children Two years ago, the Lai Baptist Church—a young and emerging Chin congregation—came to us out of the blue and said, “We need a place to worship.  Can you help us?”

That request started me on a special journey of church leadership and faith that has been totally unexpected and refreshing.  And, of course, challenging!  Many of the members of this refugee congregation have arrived in the United States within the last couple of years, so their command of English and American culture is a challenge.  Still, it is clear that God has been blessing and growing me as I have waded into life with these brothers and sisters in Christ.

LBC childrenHere are three things that I have learned—and re-learned—from this congregation of young men, women, and children:

First, I have learned to listen closely.  Because of language barriers, I discovered that I cannot make assumptions about what church members are trying to tell me, and it is imperative that I keep asking questions to make sure that I understand them.  I work to make sure that my own language is clear, and simple.  I am grateful when we can speak face-to-face, (out of necessity, many of my conversations with the church leaders is by text messages) because I can read their faces and their body language to discern if there is clarity between us.

Second, I have learned to watch carefully.  When I have had the privilege of worshipping with the Lai Baptist Church, my own energy sky-rockets as I watch the members interact with each other, with their worship leaders, and with the Spirit of God flowing through the sanctuary.  Children are everywhere, often cradled at their mother’s chest or sleeping on her back, and the children move back and forth between mothers and fathers sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary.  The children are clearly at ease in this space and the parents keep a watchful eye on them, while also allowing them room to move about naturally in this community of faith. There is a level of noise and movement that is out of the ordinary in my own experience and I am learning how infectious and exciting the movement can be.

Third, I have learned to worship continuously.  What a profound reminder the Lai Baptist Church has given me as they tell me about their Sunday morning education hours in people’s homes, followed by worship in the Brighton Community Church sanctuary, usually followed by dinner together and evening worship.  To all of these times of worship and learning they add a Friday night prayer service in the sanctuary.  It is clear that the Lai Baptist Church has an appreciation for worship, fellowship, education, and mission that is contagious.

It never occurred to me that the presence of the Lai Baptist Church could be such a gift.  I am grateful for what my congregation can offer them, and blessed by their presence in my life.

IMG_0353This post is contributed by Rev. Lisa Drysdale, pastor of Brighton Community Church in Tonawanda, New York. The Lai Baptist Church began worshiping in the sanctuary of the church in August, 2012. Lai is one of the language groups that are part of the Chin ethnic community of Burma.