Tonight my hubby and I and a couple others went on a tour at an inner city ministry for children in Akron, Ohio. We are looking at a new opportunity to serve through our church and this was part of our education. While we were waiting near a stairway, a bunch of school age kids were descending the stairs...several of them singing the contemporary Christian song, "He is Mighty to Save"... and I noticed many of them appeared to be of some kind of Asian extraction. I've been around enough Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, and Filipino people that I usually can note the physical differences of those people groups...but the appearance of these children was different from any I'd seen before. They were similarly very beautiful with large dark eyes, smooth roundish faces, and medium colored skin. Not that it mattered...but I was curious...
Have you ever heard of the Karen (pronounced kah-RIN) people? Me either! Nor did I know that there is a group of about 600 of them living in Akron....and more in other various places around the United States. Sadly, there is an ethnic cleansing situation that has been going on for years in Burma and thousands of this ethnic group have been living in refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border or in Thailand, or they are living in hiding in Burma. With no end in sight to their suffering, other countries have begun accepting them for resettlement. The United States started receiving them about four years ago...and it is predicted that many thousands will settle here in the near future.
photo from www.karenkonnection.org
Who are the Karen anyway? I found an interesting website with lots of information. I found out the the Karen people were some of the earliest converts to Christianity in Southeast Asia, with the first (Baptist) missionaries arriving there about 200 years ago. Apparently the resettlement efforts are in large part because of the Christian missionaries that continue to serve. So many that relocate here are believers.
Here are some of the children that are being helped by the ministry we visited tonight, called Urban Vision.
photo from www.urbanvisionministry.org
Many of these children are Karen immigrants who receive after-school help from dedicated volunteers in subjects such as English, language arts, and math. They also learn about Jesus and what it means to be a Christian through mentoring and Bible quiz teams for example. The children also receive a free meal...everything is donated. While we were there tonight, they were eating hot sandwiches, salad, and we saw the Karen children also eating something they are very accustomed to, white rice with hot sauce.
So not only did we learn about a fantastic ministry going on just a few miles from our home in the suburbs, but we learned something about a people group that was news to us...and we are grateful that our country is allowing them to legally immigrate. Once again, I am humbled to see how God works in the hearts of His servants and how He cares for the needy. I never heard of the Karen ethnic group before, but God has known them from the beginning and has a plan for them.