Few things are more fun to me than a graduation! I have just returned from New Bern, NC, where a large group of Karen women and men have completed a certificate in ministry studies. They have been in class for fourteen courses, basically devoting one Saturday per course. Managing to fit this in around demanding work and family schedules requires great commitment.
The Judson Foundation Communities program assists resettled immigrants from Myanmar in the skills needed for congregational leadership. Ably led by Duane and Marcia Binkley, this educational initiative has met a critical need. The challenges of starting new congregations or beginning the cultural assimilation into American churches are significant. As one leader said, “all we knew to do was to ‘Google it’—and there was not much help on the responsibilities of deacons or how to have a business meeting!” Ninety-nine women and men have now completed this program.
One of the graduates spoke about his newfound excitement about his faith. “I did not really understand anything about Christian doctrine until this program.” I did not need a translator to sense his joy! Not only did the graduates have a deep sense of accomplishment in their studies, but also the encouragement they have received spurs them to further projects. A small group of Karen located in New Bern has recently purchased land that they might build a church in the near future. “We don’t care if it is a three year plan or a five year plan, we must move ahead.”
Two previous cohorts have met in American Baptist Churches in Ft. Wayne, IN, and Utica, NY; however, this group had been meeting in a CBF-identified church. There is a lovely symmetry to this, as ABC and CBF dually appoint the Binkleys. In the New Bern congregation, there are three sets of retired missionaries. It was not surprising to me that they have been chief advocates for this kind of ministry in their church and were rejoicing in the commencement celebration.
Celebrating completion on the second Sunday of Eastertide is fitting. The story of the Karen people is a story of resurrection. Many of those who have immigrated to the United States have spent time in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. Pushed off their land where they longed for independence, they have had the courage to start over. Tempered by suffering, their faith is deep and contagiously joyful. Being with them warmed my heart!
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.