Jesus once fled as a refugee from a cruel government with His parents, Joseph and Mary. He understands the hearts of refugees who have fled repressive regimes to find safety in the United States and Canada.
Don and Trudi Starlin, ASI members who live in Michigan, regularly seek out refugees in various cities to show them Jesus’ love. One girl they met told them, “When I was little, my grandfather dug a hole under our house. The soldiers attacked our village and we slipped down inside the ground and hid. The whole earth shook. After several days we came up and the entire village was destroyed. Others came out of their holes. We saw bodies all around. We felt it was safe enough to run, so we ran all day.”
They fled Myanmar (Burma) to the refugee camps in Thailand. Now this girl lives in America. She is very thankful for friends like Don and Trudi who have welcomed her. She is one of the 99,217 refugees who have come from Myanmar in the last ten years (wrapsnet.org). Millions in Myanmar do not know Jesus and this huge refugee group is an amazing mission field that has moved in next door.
It appears that about four percent of these refugees from Myanmar are actually Seventh-day Adventists, primarily from the Karen and Chin tribes. Companies of believers have been springing up in various places. There are now 39 groups of Seventh-day Adventists Karen working hard to get established. They find it very helpful and comforting to to worship in their heart language.
Don and Trudi travel often, frequently going two to five hours to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to encourage these groups. They have gone as far as Arizona and Florida. Gas money comes from their own salary. Don is a fourth generation electrician, running the Randall Electric Company. Trudi used to work for Adventist Frontier Missions and currently is on the board of ASAP Ministries.
When a Karen refugee walks into a Seventh-day Adventist church for the first time in America, he may be unable to speak any English. Some have been warmly welcomed. Others have been ignored. Trudi herself came as an immigrant in 1975. Her heart burns with a passion to have all church members in North America watching for refugees, reaching out with Christ’s love to help them and make a place for them in our churches.
Though ministry requires self-sacrifice, it can be very fun and rewarding. Last Christmas Don and Trudi decided to work with one of the churches to have a party. One hundred guests came from all kinds of backgrounds. They ate together, heard the story of Jesus’ birth, and each received a gift. Trudi’s father is Karen, so he came to speak in the people’s language. They loved it!
Don urges people to befriend newly arrived refugees. “You can adopt just one family!” He says, “They don’t know how to shop, how to go to the bank, how to turn the stove on, or how to drive.” Trudi recommends helping people learn English. This will break down barriers and make it more likely for them to get a job.
They both emphasize that the churches and conferences should quickly find ways to support the Karen leaders as full-time ministers while the harvest is still so ripe. Trudi noted, “Some of our highly qualified pastors from Myanmar end up in factories slaughtering chickens when they could be winning souls for God’s kingdom.”
Don mentioned the wonderful experiences of many Karen refugees who have been sponsored into Seventh-day Adventists schools, avoiding the drugs and gang problems associated with some public schools.
There are still many places with a large population of refugees from Myanmar that have no Seventh-day Adventist Karen church presence, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Church members can make a significant difference if they will watch and reach out.
Jesus said, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). Let’s join Don and Trudi in doing just that.
For more information on how to reach out cross-culturally to immigrants, refugees, and international students, visit the websites reachtheworldnextdoor.com and refugeeministries.org. If you cannot get personally involved, you can help those who are on the frontlines in this North American mission through asapministries.org
By Scott Griswold
Associate Director For ASAP Ministries