This is the second article addressing the Karen and Karenni refugees from Burma (also called Myanmar).
Late last spring Karen and Karenni families, resettled from Burma, began moving into the Alta Vista de la Montaña, the agricultural housing complex in North Delta, and their number continued to grow over the summer.
The families were resettled to Delta from the Denver area, Texas and Utah. Pastors and churches of the American Baptist denomination have assisted substantially in their resettlement.
The American Baptist denomination has a long missionary presence in Burma. In 1812 American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson sailed on the last ship out of Boston Harbor before the British attacked, starting the War of 1812. Judson spent 34 years in Burma and translated the Bible into the Burmese language.
Three years ago Rev. Steve Van Ostran, executive minister with the American Baptist denomination, visited First Baptist Church in Delta. Pastor James Conley said Van Ostran talked about his work in Denver with the refugee community out of Burma. He asked Pastor Conley and his congregation to pray about how they could become involved in this ministry.
In the spring of 2011 Pastor Conley was contacted by Janet Johnson, a Karen refugee advocate/volunteer from the Front Range who is personally invested in helping refugees from Burma.
Janet Johnson said, "Pastor James has been a critical key to the relocation of the refugees and their smooth transition to Delta. He and his staff did not hesitate a moment to 'get on board' with support of these people.
"First Baptist did mission work and provided Vacation Bible School that summer as well as this past summer to the Karen church in inner-city Denver."
Pastor Conley visited Burma for ten days in November 2011 for mission work hosted by the American Baptist Convention. He shared sermons and met with some of the seminary students, learning about their work in Burma.
To describe Janet Johnson as an advocate for the Karen is an understatement. She made four medical mission trips to Thailand to visit the refugee camps where Karen people were subsisting. After those trips she said, "I need to 'step out' and do something to help these humble, desperate people, either in Burma or the 'concrete jungle' of inner-city Denver where for years they wait for employment."
Johnson explains that the U.S. State Department and the United Nations screen families as countries offer relocation opportunities. Thailand refuses to assimilate them. Some refugees must wait years for placement somewhere in the world. There are now over 4,000 refugees from Burma in the Denver area alone, waiting to be resettled.
Most refugees come to the United States, she said.
Johnson came to the Western Slope in 2011 searching for ways to bring about resettlement and to find employment opportunities and available housing.
She said, "I saw evidence of God 'preparing the way' when my first approach to a major grower in Palisade revealed a family who had been to Burma, knew of this ethnic group and gave me a referral list of growers they knew would hire the workers, after a call from them.
"The next day I had 15 growers' names and 100 jobs. These jobs in the orchards are a natural fit as the Karen and Karenni are from agrarian backgrounds and villages. They grow up in homes where they use ladders to enter, which accounts for the natural agility and balance critical to working on trees."
Johnson's search for housing became a smaller task when she discovered the Alta Vista de la Montaña housing complex was under construction. The apartments were completed by the time of resettlement to Delta of the Karen and Karenni.
The residents of the apartments must earn 65 percent of their annual income from agricultural work and must be legal residents of the United States. Rent is based on the household's yearly income and will not exceed 30 percent of yearly income.
Johnson says, "These people want jobs and not government aid, which they are given in the inner-city. They see what unemployment does to a culture after living for years in refugee camps in Thailand to be safe from the genocide in their own country. They are a high moral, ethical culture grateful to be living in a free country with opportunity — especially for their children. I believe they will become some of our outstanding citizens one day."
Johnson said the prospect of moving families to Delta was a bit daunting but, with the help of Foothills Community Church of Denver, whose members had already mentored several Karen, the exodus of a few families seemed feasible.
When the families arrived in Delta, Pastor Conley and his congregation were there to help them with all the tasks necessary in settling in to new homes and a new environment.
Pastor Conley's assistance on behalf of the Karen and Karenni in Delta includes meetings with community groups and school district personnel to help with planning for Delta's new population's integration into the community. He and volunteers from his congregation, teachers from the school district and community volunteers tutor the students on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at First Baptist. He and members of the church drove the children to local doctors for the physical examinations required before they entered school. His congregation is there when need arises.
Some Karen and Karenni residents worship on Sunday at First Baptist, in a joint service, with an interpreter speaking in the native dialect for some parts of the service, and later in a shorter service in the native dialect of the Karen and Karenni. Pastor Conley participates in both services.blog comments powered by Disqus