Right after the church service ended, attendees walked to the pool where an inspiring baptism of eleven precious young people was held, some of whom are from Buddhist families.
They represent the Karen (pronounced ka-REN) diaspora, most of whom are refugees from Myanmar and Thailand resettled to North America in the last 10-15 years.
It was the first time in two years since the pandemic that these youth could be together in person; they traveled from 17 states across the U.S. as well as Canada.
Dozens of committed youth, some of them attending their first camp meeting, joined early morning united prayer sessions. Then followed rousing song services, powerful testimonies, and morning worship sessions given by students studying to become pastors. Seminars were offered on Karen history, culture, and mission, healing from trauma and overcoming challenges, health and more. Some presenters were Andrews University social work graduate students. Children’s meetings were also provided by dedicated volunteers.
Afternoons held lively outdoor games, while the evenings featured singing competitions, inspiring scripture recitals and creative skits. Most of the time the Karen language was used, but English was also used at times.
Sabbath school time focused on mission trip reports, and an interview of a young family who are going back to the refugee area as missionaries to their own people. They said that "chasing the American dream” was unfulfilling, and they decided to go back to the jungles to teach refugee children. Aspiring young pastors were interviewed and a group were prayed over by senior pastors. The sermon on the prodigal son was given by Ken Denslow, president of the Lake Union Conference.
Currently there are 56 Karen congregations spread across North America in dozens of states, with only twelve church supported pastors that are either part or full-time. Many groups are being faithfully shepherd by volunteer lay leaders. Pastor Jimmy Shwe, NAD Karen Church Planting Consultant, and his team of leaders have a vision for their youth to become strong leaders and workers for God. Frequent youth leadership trainings, youth camps, and other such as youth camp meetings give them motivation and tools for God’s work.
The Karen people are originally from Myanmar (also called Burma). Oral tradition passed down from generation to generation declared that their forefathers had once believed in the one true Creator God, but they had lost God’s book. Their elders repeated that one day their “younger brothers from the west” would bring God’s golden book back to them. They were longing and waiting for this to happen.
When missionaries finally arrived with the gospel, hundreds of thousands of Karen people be- came Christians. Storyteller and author Eric B. Hare was perhaps the most well-known Adventist missionary that worked with the Karen people. There are many faithful third and fourth generation among them who have become pastors, teachers, and leaders. Amidst the prevalent Buddhism and Animism of Southeast Asia, the Karen are a testimony to the “eternity in their hearts” (Ecc. 3:11) that God has planted in many distant tribes that have responded when the key is found within their own culture to link them to the gospel.
Carol Reynolds grew up on Eric Hare’s mission stories and is a former missionary to Thailand. She first met the Karen people over 40 years ago and cares deeply about the persecution they have endured. Carol has been greatly blessed and inspired by the faithful Karen believers who have been relocated to North America.
[baptism photo caption]: The Holy Spirit spoke powerfully through Pastor Stephen Mothapo, a Karen pastor in Iowa, who gave heart-searching messages on finding life’s purpose, victory over sin, the assurance of salvation, and God’s great love and plan for their lives. His powerful appeals and prayers touched hearts deeply as precious young people responded to the call for baptism and dozens rededicated their lives to the Lord and His service. It was unforgettable.