Since the fall 2006, refugees from Burma have been arriving on the north side of Chicago. Many are Baptists, and have found a faith home at North Shore Baptist Church. These newcomers represent several ethnic groups, primarily Sgaw Karen, but also Karenni and Chin. The English worship group is blessed to have them worship with us at 10 am. We include scripture reading in the Sgaw Karen language and often enjoy special music from Karen adults or teens. At 11:30 am, the Karen Fellowship holds its own worship service in Kraft Chapel under the leadership of Rev. Roger Poenyunt.
The connection between American Baptists and Burma (Myanmar) goes back to 1813 and the arrival of Adoniram Judson as a missionary. The ethnic minority "hill tribes" were very receptive to Christianity. Approximately 40% of the Karen people are now Baptists. These minority groups, each in their own mountainous area along Burma's borders, have been struggling for a measure of autonomy from the Burmese government ever since World War II. The current Myanmar regime, an infamously repressive military dictatorship, is determined to gain control of these resource-rich mountainous areas. For thirty years their strategy has included attacks on civilians, rape, forced labor, burning of villages, and putting landmines in farm fields. Tens of thousands of the Karen people have fled across the border to refugee camps in Thailand. With no immediate hope of peace and safety in their homeland, some are being resettled to third countries such as the U.S. Many American Baptist congregations across the U.S. are being revitalized by the warm spirit and fervent devotion of these newly arrived brothers and sisters in Christ. Helping them meet the practical challenges they face upon arrival gives our congregations an energizing focus for ministry.