Coming to America

by Charles Cherry

We are in Jacksonville, Florida, visiting with family.

Yesterday we spent some time with a Karen couple who recently emigrated to the U.S. as part of the recent wave of political refugees from camps on the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

These lovely people are in a real fix. They have been living in one of the largest refugee camps in Thailand for the past twenty years or so. They were farmers before fleeing their homeland in east-central Burma, and neither of them ever attended school. They are completely illiterate, and do not speak any English.

From what we can tell, the U.S. government will provide a monthly stipend for a few months, then they are on their own. A wonderful young woman from Catholic Charities is trying to help them get acclimated, but she is a trying to attend college and is overwhelmed with all of the Karen families that have recently been brought to Jacksonville.

We helped them pay some bills – the wife had an electric bill in her purse, which indicated a past due amount that needed to be paid right away or the electric would be cut off. We also helped them make out checks for water and such.

These poor folks are simply overwhelmed – they do not have any grasp of how to live in urban 21st century America. They didn’t even know how to sign their own names – the wife had to be taught, and she scrawled her name out in block letters to sign the checks.

I am glad these folks, and the hundreds of families in the same situation, are out of the camps and out of harm’s way. Now, however, they have a completely different set of problems facing them, and the culture shock hasn’t even started to set in.

I am hoping that the local churches will soon become aware of the situation and step up to the plate to take these people under their wings. They are going to need ongoing, intense, specific help for quite some time. They need to learn English, they need to learn job skills, they need to learn nearly everything that we Americans take for granted.

We will be speaking to a church group on Sunday morning, and instead of our normal presentation about Myanmar Hope Christian Mission, we are going to focus on the plight of these Myanmar families that have been dropped on their doorstep. I hope and pray that they will catch the vision for what the Lord would have them do in this situation.

These people meet every requirement for being the kind of people that are closest to the heart of God:

They are poor and needy, some are fatherless, some are widows, they are definitely strangers in a strange land.

“Wash yourselves, make yourself clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; Cease to do evil.

Learn to do well. Seek justice, Relieve the oppressed, Judge the fatherless, Plead for the widow” Isa 1:16-17

“Thus has Yahweh of Hosts spoken, saying, ‘Execute true judgment, and show kindness and compassion every man to his brother. Don’t oppress the widow, nor the fatherless, the sojourner, nor the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.” Zech. 7:9-10

Ignoring the needs of the poor is the same as oppressing them; turning a blind eye to the suffering of the sojourner is a gross injustice against them. This is the time and the place for Church of Jesus Christ to rise up and be the Kingdom of God, and meet the needs of these people.